The history of the American continent is long and articulate and saw its turning point in 1492, after the very first contacts with the Canadian Vikings, with the discovery of Cristoforo Colombo. During the following centuries, from the 17th to the 19th, many Europeans competed for the domination of what today is known as the USA, exterminating almost entirely the old Indigenous populations that had survived the diseases arrived from across the ocean.

the Southern part and the current Mexican area was not spared with the “conquistadores” destroying cultures and ethnic groups forever

The extermination went smoothly particularly at the very beginning when just the European diseases decimated the area. Very often this detail is omitted by books, however the conquest of America was possible mostly due to the infective illnesses that caught the majority of the population, died almost immediately the arrival of the adventurers.

According to Wikipedia:

it is counted that between the l’80% and the 95% of the locals perished because of diseases from the 1492 to the 1550

Smallpox, measles, flu as well as cold or chicken pox were the number 1 cause of the 10% death rate of the global population, which back then would count around 500 millions lives.

After this necessary introduction, useful in order to understand how it was possible to easily put hands on such a huge continent, it is important to remember how the remaining populations were killed off too so that the seizure of lands and resources was possible.

The purpose of this article is to ponder over the historiography of certain human processes such as conquests and extermination. It is rather known how the “Black Legend” about the Spaniards would make them look way more scary than they actually were, but not equally known is the process of forgetfulness on the natives slaughter.

The global historiography, from a more Western viewpoint, has avoided for a very long time words like genocide, slaughter and similar. Furthermore, in the American schools it is not mandatory to study the part of history about the natives as a foundational part of the history of the continent. Just during the middle of the 20th century, the understanding of what had happened started to take shape. It is mainly due to reads such as “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee” by Dee Brown that people got sensitised about a part of the cultural heritage that was almost unknown.

The extermination was systematic in order to snap up as much resources as possible. The way Western culture puts this dramatic oppression is not in a sense of invasion but rather as a discovery, as if the continent, before the arrival of the white men didn’t exist, or nothing noteworthy was there to remember. The research though can bring back to life the memory of that population that, for millions of years were the main characters of the American history.

North America and its nations

In North America in the 19th century there were about 1,000 nations while today it is counted to contain 566 different ethnic groups still active in the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Many of those are completely extinct but even the few ones left aren’t much more than scant groups here and there. During the wars for the conquest, the wild West and the following years with the Indians wars, the total amount of the native Americans in the US reached its lowest figure with 250.000 people spread in a gigantic territory. Today the natives regained ground with their 2 millions and 900 thousands people, representing though just the 1.5% of their total. The most populated  areas were Navajo, Cherokee, Choctaw, Sioux, Chippewa, Apache, Black Feet, Iroquois and Pueblo.

The regions in North America that are divided for languages and similar traditions are eight:

North East coast: it was one of the easiest places for the natives to live. They didn’t have to grow plants and the natural resources were enough to feed all their people. Renowned for their wooden houses, totem and long canoe.
Plateau: the area amongst the mountains Cascade and the Rocky Mountains, where life was challenging its inhabitants the most. Very often their houses were built underground and they would live off hunting and farming.
California: the nations here were beyond 100 and would survive thanks to the abundant natural resources.
Great Basin: the area included between the current Nevada, Utah and Colorado. Here the soil was arid and difficult, quite uninteresting for the natives whom in fact came here very late.
South West: in this area there are some of the most densely populated tribes such as the Navajo, gli Apache e i Pueblo. They would build houses with bricks, hunt, cultivate, representing one of the most advanced populations in terms of organised survival strategies.
The Great Plains: here it lives the most famous population for its buffalo hunting as well as their Tepee, tents which they would set up following the migrations of its great herds.
North East: In the current New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimora and Washington, there were tribes of both nomad and non-migratory people, whom would find supplies and resources from big rivers and the coastal areas.
South East: here there is the most populous tribe, the Cherokee, which like the others nearby were non-migratory people and would deal with agriculture.

Le loro lingue

Despite there is not written language left of the ancient populations, they developed almost 1,000 different types of communications. Of those ones we can still count roughly around 296 whereas the other 704 are long gone, for good. The ones remaining are today classified in 29 macrogroups with some of them belonging to none of the classifications. Today there are very few of those languages that are still spoken and, it is said, most of them will go forgotten within the next 100 years.

To better understand the wealth of the different native cultures it is possible to imagine how, within a radius of 100 km (65 miles), two natives would have been able to communicate only with hand gestures.

Of the 1,000 different types of languages available, only 8 will be the one surviving the passing of time: Navajo, Cree, Ojibwa, Cherokee, Dakota, Apache, Black Feet and Choctaw. This is possible because they are still spoken by a fairly big number of people.

The other languages will disappear, like it did a good part of the history of the American Indians

The wish is that the historiography will be able to delve into the past, making possible to do justice to an extremely developed population, so different from the values of conquering and colonising so dear to the Europeans.

Matteo Rubboli

I am a publisher specialised in the digital distribution of culture and founder of the portal Vanilla Magazine. I don't wear a tie or branded clothes, I keep my hair short so I don't have to comb it. That's not my fault but just the way I've been drawn as...

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