Updated: Sep 28, 2020
Prior to Columbus sailing around looking for an alternate route to the “Indies” or India, Native Americans enjoyed a relatively peaceful life. Sure, there were sometimes that tribes or groups might have fought for land, resources, or other reasons, but their existence was primarily one of harmony with the Earth.
With Columbus’s arrival in the Caribbean, many Europeans began to flock to the “New Land,” which meant the North American Continent.
In what is now US soil, Native Americans were initially called Indians due to Columbus’s search for the “Indies” and India. This term was a misnomer, and today we call them Native Americans or First Nations Peoples. From the time the Europeans arrived, everything changed.
Native Americans were forced from their lands, and their resources were stripped from them. Once the United States became an independent country, few people were given rights, and most of those people were the White European settlers. African slaves and Native Americans were not even considered citizens.
African slaves were brought to the US as property, so it is not surprising that they would not be treated as people. The closest they came was being counted as 3/5 of a person for electorate purposes. Natives were not even given that much. Through the “Trail of Tears.”
Natives were pushed westward and forced to live on separate lands, called reservations. On these reservations, they maintained their traditions and culture but were rarely allowed to participate in society as other citizens. As a matter of fact, they were not even granted the right to vote until 1940—two decades after women and more than half a century after African Americans. However, most Native Americans and African Americans were not able to vote until the abolishment of poll taxes and literacy tests in 1965.
Native Americans were not even considered citizens of the United States until the 1924 Indian Citizenship Act, which only granted citizenship to Natives born after the act. Those already alive would not be considered citizens for sixteen more years. The people who could trace their roots the farthest back on US soil had the least amount of rights and were not even citizens of this land. Once granted rights, the US swung between extremes with the autonomy of tribes. For a period, they were required to assimilate into White society. However, eventually, they were given the right to govern themselves on reservation lands and were treated like their own nations within one nation.
Today, they enjoy all of the rights and freedoms that come with being United States citizens, but that does not mean that there are no more problems. Lack of access to resources for so many years and the challenges of being separate entities make it more difficult for many Native Americans to enjoy the same benefits being a citizen offers for their White counterparts. While the government may no longer be actively removing Natives from their lands, many people still view and treat them as second-class citizens. Discrimination and racism are alive in the US, and unfortunately, the Native Americans are still feeling the brunt of it.