Cultural Clash: Native Americans vs. Europeans

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How did the first encounters between the Europe and Native Americans affect the conquest of America?


Encounters between peoples who had not previously known of one another's existence were bound to be profoundly unsettling. Europeans were culturally taught to see others as savages, while Native Americans were inclined to view strangers as gods. While the Native Americans prophesied the arrival of Europeans, Europeans fantasized about what awaited them in the lands they hoped to "discover." To illustrate, when Christopher Columbus[1] first encountered the Guanahani people, he came tob believe that they were physically and culturally "naked." The primary encounters of the Europeans and the Native Americans were often terrifyingly brutal.

In 1492, the population of the Native Americans in the United States alone was from 5 to 15 million people. By 1900, the population of Native Americans was down to 250,000 because of disease, exploitation, enslavement, war, and genocidal federal policies. Indians were considered as a sub-human race that must be removed or terminated. Their status didn't give them a basis for legal recognition in the Americas. If we consider the injustices that were served to an entire race, we begin to heal the damage and pain American Indian people still feel today.


The Europeans even coerced the Natives into learning and practicing their customs. From the start, Spanish soldiers were motivated by a fervent mission to convert the Native Americans to Christianity, while others raped Indian women. The Spaniards enslavement and harsh treatment of the Indians they encountered gained Spain a reputation as the most oppressive colonial power in the Americas.

Along with the arrival of the Spanish, a host of European disease spread among the native populations who were not immune. Smallpox especially all but wiped out entire Indian peoples & cultures. As a result, weakened by disease. Some native peoples became more accepting to live within Spanish missions, where they attempted to build new kinds of communities. Clash1.jpg

The meeting between Cortés and Montezuma is one of the most epic moments in the history of first encounters between the peoples of Europe and the Americas. Cortés took Montezuma prisoner after being luxuriously greeted. Spanish soldiers invaded the Tenochtitlån villages and commited a mass murder. In response to this massacre, the people of Tenochtitlån rebelled and forced the Spanish to leave the city. Following the Spaniards' departure, the natives resented Montezuma for welcoming Cortés to the city. Thus, Montezuma himself was killed. After Cortés and the Spaniards fleed from Tenochtitlån, they planned a renewed attack on the city. In the mean time, a minor epidemic of smallpox broke out among the natives. The Spanish used the natives'weakness as an advantage, and they effortlessly conquered the feebled capital.

Cortés was one out of many early Spanish adventurers who were in search of riches as they moved further into the interior of he Americas. Francisco Vasquez de Coronado, upon arrival at the Zuni village in 1540, ordered the reading of a document called a "requermiento," [which means requisition] which explained the Spaniards' intentions. This document became a prelude to some of the most brutal encounters between Spanish soldiers and Native Americans. Before engaging in battle with the Indians, they were expected to read a brief statement stating that the Spanish had only arrived on a holy mission that was blessed by God's authority. If the Indians resisted, the requerimiento stated, they would be killed or enslaved and would only have themselves to blame. Since the document could only be translated in Spanish, the recuerimiento was an excellent trick used to kill Indians without the feeling of guilt.

As you can see, the Indians had no desire in gaining wealth. A village, or several villages, might have the use of a length of woods, a river bank, or a lake for certain reasons, but their was no particular right of ownership where land could be purchased or sold. In contrary, the Europeans had a contrasting idea. They had a strong belief in exclusive ownership of property. Thus, land was a seperable part of the environment for the Indians, but the English viewed it as an object to be bought and sold.Land ownership was a key factor not only to wealth, but to superiority: The more land you claimed, the more vital and dominant you were. On the other hand, Indians received power and respect individually by being courageous in battle, skilled in hunting, and

having leadership qualities. Obviously, the two cultures were destined to clash.
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At first the Indians did not see the danger, because at first the Europeans appeared harmless. There were too few of them, and their visits were random. As long as the whites kept their distance, the Indians believed they had little to fear from these odd-looking people with their strange ways. Indians were very tolerant to foreign cultures. They saw no reason why you couldn't worship both their gods and those of the Englishman at the same time. They encouraged new arrivals to join their villages and marry their daughters. In contrast, Europeans only believed in one god and the worship of any other was a sin. Although Indians welcomed change, English people were opposed to integration, and those who were caught doing it suffered severe punishment or death.

The Indians' feelings toward the Europeans were mixed, depending on the experience they had had with them. On one hand, they were impressed by English technology--especially their weapons. Guns in particular appeared to the Indians almost magical, creating noise, fire, smoke, and instant death with no apparent reason. On the other hand, the Indians were somewhat resentful of the whites: They did not seem to be able to get food for themselves, and they lacked the will of Indian males in the face of hardship. Overall, the Indians were cautious of the whites, but not intimidated by them.

While there was still a vast population of Indians throughout the Americas, they grew confidence in their army. They also felt that they could easily defeat the Englishman, who were greatly outnumbered. On the contrary, they were very wrong. In July 1624 in the Virginia area, sixty armed Englishmen trespassed into the center of Indian territory. The English were outnumbered by about 800 Indian warriors. For two days they battled. The Indians suffered many casualties while the English had only 16 wounded and no casualties. In the end the Indians had no choice but to abdicate.

At that time the war between what once had been Powhatan's mighty confederation and the English was effectively over. There was no longer any possibility of the Indians running the English out of the Virginia area. The English had one the clash of the culturea in Virginia: therefore, they were now able to claim the land as their own.

Furthermore, the Native Americans had better relations with the French. They traded with the French and were friendly and reliable towards them. They did not have any issues with the French since the French were fair and did not want to steal their land. They gave them information and food and friendship which was vital at the time.The French's attitude toward the Native Americans had always been more friendly than that of the English. French priests and French traders had kept generous dealings with their Native American neighbors.


Since their initial encounter with Europeans in the late fifteenth century, American native populations have experienced vast losses of life, land, and social cohesion. Illness was usually the first, and most damaging, effect of colonization felt by indigenous peoples. Diseases such as smallpox, measles, and influenza were introduced by Europeans and reached catastrophic heights among Native Americans, who had never been exposed to these diseases and had no immunity to them. As colonization and westward expansion continued, Native Americans were victims to war, genocide, removal from tribal lands, relocation, and forced labor. These factors all contributed to the extinction of 50 to 90 percent of the indigenous

populations by the end of the nineteenth century.

The Indians and the European conquest were an aide to the development of some states that we have today, such as Florida and Virginia. The cultural clash between them was the beginning of the cultural melting pot in which we live today. Although it had its downfalls, such as the spread of European germs and diseases that reduced native populations by as much as 90 percent, many new immunities were inherited by the next generation. Furthermore, the great empires of the Aztecs, Mayas, and Incas, which had developed over centuries, were undone in a matter of years, but new tribes were started based on some of the beliefs and customs of all of them.

Overall, the cultural clash between the Native Americans and the Europeans did positively affect the conquest of the Americas. In exchange for their religious teachings and new technology, the Europeans were given new forms of music, art, and food from the Native Americans to trade with othe parts of the world. The cultural clash of the Europeans and the Natives also resulted in the formation of new races and religion. This clash is part of the reason for the diversity of cultures in the Americas today.


Starting from the fifteenth century, Native Americans have been overlooked as the inferior race. Fortunately, that opinion was altered by the late nineteenth century. The United States will forever be in debt to these people for stealing their homeland from them, but there are still a very small percentage of North America's population. These two opposite cultures fought for land and cultural dominance of the Americas. Obviously, in the battle between Europeans and Native Americans, the Europeans were victorious.


American Indian: First Nations people. [2]

Bacon, Melvin & Blegen, Daniel. "Bent's Fort: Crossroads of Cultures on the Santa Fe Trail." The Millbook Press, 1995.

Baker, Betty. "Settlere and Strangers." New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc. 1977.

Collier, Christopher. Clash of Cultures. New York: Benchmark Books, 1998.

Conquest of the Americas[3]

Esler, Anthony. "World History: Connections to Today." Prentice Hall 2005.

European Colonization of the Americas[4]

First Contants- Expanding Trade. [5]

How did Native Americans help the French? [6]

Lepore, Jill. Encounters in the New World. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.

Lukes, Bonnie L. "Colonial America." San Diego, CA: Lucent Books, 2000.

Maestro, Betsy. "Struggle for a Continent." Harper Collins Publishers, 2000.

Native Americans. [7]

Native Americans. [8]

Ways Europeans Changed Native Americans. [9]