At the time of the first arrival of Europeans in what is now known as America and Canada there were between 10 and 90 million Native Americans on the continent. The figure is very imprecise because the Europeans never took much care to count the Native Americans before they set about stealing their lands and killing them.
It is believed that the North American Native Peoples came over from Northern Asia via the Siberian ice land-bridge over the Baring Strait into what is now Alaska. DNA testing has confirmed links with the present day Ainu people (also nearly persecuted to extinction) that survive in Hokkaido (Japan) and Sakhalin (Russia) and Native American tribes.
These early inhabitants of the ‘New World’ moved south down into Mexico and then South America. The reason even today Native Americans and indigenous peoples are referred to as ‘Indians’ is because Christopher Columbus happened upon the New World by accident while trying to find a route to India. He originally thought when he made land fall that he made it to India and so described the inhabitants as ‘Indians’. It is typical that such a mistake remains to insult Native Americans even to this day. There are few things more irritating then someone who refuses to say your name correctly.
The Native Americans warmly greeted the first arrivals from Europe in the Sixteenth Century. They were happy to help with food and shelter and wanted to learn more about the steel and copper instruments the white men brought with them. The attitude of Native Americans has always been of respect for nature and for other peoples. Land was communal and resources were husbanded for the common good. Such an ideology did not fit in with the white invaders who, despite their prophet exhorting brotherly love, really loved private property and gold above all other things.
It was not long before the peaceful co-existence between Native Americans and the white man started to fall apart. The Native Americans realized that the white man would arrive in huge numbers. At the same time the colonialists bought diseases that wiped out millions of people. These diseases included: measles, smallpox, cholera, and yellow fever.
Things got worse with The Indian Removal Act of 1830. When Native Americans objected to being forced off their ancestral lands the conflicts began. Men, women and children were slaughtered at the Battle of Wounded Knee in South Dakota in 1890. This is just one of many battles that saw the US army indiscriminately kill Native Americans.
Relocation programs moved Native Americans to the worst land. Families were separated, and an attempt to commit cultural genocide via stopping customs, banning native languages and supposedly ‘civilizing’ the ‘red man’ began.
In 1876 Native Americans were moved by government order to reservations.
It was not until the Indian Citizen Act of 1924 that Native Americans were given official citizenship. This was a payment for the sacrifice made by Native Americans fighting in World War I.
Native Americans Today
Now there are over 500 official tribal governments within the USA operating semi-autonomously. According to the 2000 census there are 2.28 million Native Americans. Most of these people live on reservations. Unemployment on reservations is 5 times the national average. Communities are torn apart by alcholism and drug abuse. The easy money representated by casinos does nothing to help the Native Americans to help themselves.
This is what A.I.R Policy Center is about – helping Native Americans to help themselves. We have been wronged by the white man. We must reclaim our language, culture and traditions – fight in the courts for the return of our homelands and most of all, help each other to restore our diginity and learn once again to live in harmony with nature.