North America Prior to and After the Arrival of Europeans


The quest to know the exact period when North America was first inhabited prompted a great deal of research. For example, according to Gimpel, it was initially believed that North America was inhabited after people's migration across the Bering Sea about 40,000 years ago (53). However, the author states that more recent discoveries have moved the estimated timeline to an earlier date - 90,000 years (Gimpel 53). The first inhabitants of North America were believed to be of Asian origin who had made their way to Alaska from Asia while crossing the Bering Strait during the Ice age. Thus, people continued moving towards the south while adapting to their environment. Based on the environment, the inhabitants of the cold north became skilled fishermen and hunters, while those who lived in the woodland were involved in building wooden houses and canoes. On the other hand, those living in the hotter south became corn growers while also using sun-dried bricks for their houses. Hundreds of tribal groups emerged, and each group acquired a lifestyle that was based on their regions' geographical and climatic conditions. The arrival of Europeans to North America had brought significant societal changes as evident in the change in North American people's culture and overall lifestyle.

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North America Prior to the Arrival of Europeans

Prior to the contact with the Europeans, North American peoples formed different polities, ranging from bands, composed of small families, to large empires. Thus, people's cultural orientations corresponded to the biological zones that also had influenced their occupation and overall lifestyle. According to Gimpel, a part of the population was actively involved in hunting as they occupied the Great Plains, while the peoples of Mesoamerica were primarily farmers (25). Different peoples also associated themselves with different language families such as the Uto-Aztecan and the Athapascan (Smith). The members of a particular linguistic group did not necessarily have a common culture, and in some cases, they were not allies.

Before Europeans had arrived, a higher percentage of North Americans were mobile hunter-gatherers, but many of them slowly started diverting their attention to the resources that were locally available to them. As a result, various regional generalizations developed such as Plano traditions, Artic and Dalton among other traditions (Grayson, 32). Over time, people demonstrated a shift from overreliance on hunting and gathering as they had shown a more regional adaptation, resulting in a mixed economy, characterized by seasonal wild vegetables, fish, some game and foods, harvested from plants. Although a large part of the population still continued hunting and gathering, some started practicing varied hunting traditions alongside sophisticated meat procurement methods. To the extreme south of North America, people domesticated various common crops such as squash, tomatoes, and corn.

The development of agriculture in the southern regions of North America led to several cultural advances. For instance, a writing system developed courtesy of the Maya civilization. Thus, people started using a complex calendar besides creating the zero concepts ahead of anyone in the old world. Moreover, this culture remained even after the arrival of the Spanish colonizers in Central America (Grayson 31). However, the Aztecs, who occupied the region further north, had become more politically dominant. To the Southwest of North America were Anasazi and Hohokam societies that were highly involved in agriculture. These societies practiced ditch irrigation and lived a sedentary village life prior to the arrival of the Spanish.

Societal Changes after European Settlement

Christopher Columbus proposed to have a voyage west from Europe in a search of a shorter route to Asia. Upon receiving support from Isabella I and Ferdinand II, Columbus embarked on this journey and arrived in the land in the Bahamas later in 1492 (Grayson 43). Initially, Europeans were mainly involved in trade and exploration, but later, they started establishing settlements. North America's main colonizers were England, France, and Spain; later, other colonial powers, such as Sweden, joined them.

After the arrival of Europeans to the New World, a drastic change in the culture of the native peoples occurred. These peoples' identification with particular cultural and political groups was also affected by the arrival of foreigners (de Champlain). Thus, several linguistic groups became extinct, while others changed within a short time (Kehoe 74). Europeans documented the names of cultures for native North Americans, and the recorded names were rarely similar to those that they had used a few generations before. Moreover, European settlements posed various challenges to the native peoples of North America. A section of the population demonstrated interest in peaceful coexistence with the European colonizers so they chose to adapt to the European lifestyle. At the same time, others, who were keen on preserving their traditional culture, decided to move to the areas that were unpleasant to the European settlers (Kehoe 63). After the arrival of Europeans, many native North Americans created new tribes or confederations as a way of responding to colonization (de Champlain). Among the popular groups that emerged were the Cherokee, the Huron, and the Mohegan. To the south, pre-Colombian sedentary societies emerged, but these societies were not as politically and technologically advanced as Mesoamerican civilizations.

The Interaction Between Native Americans and European Colonialists and the Resultant Conflict

With an increase in the number of white Americans, the population started moving from the coastal areas, thus forcing the Indians, who inhabited the Eastern river valleys, to leave the areas while moving west onto the Great Plains. Although native North Americans did not have horses, the Indian nations started acquiring these animals after the latter had been brought by the settlers from Europe (Kehoe 52). The acquisition of horses facilitated the movement of Indians onto the plains, and they were also capable of hunting buffalo more easily. The movement marked a change in the native people's activities as most of them chose to abandon farming and rely on buffalo hunting for their needs. Thus, people started leading a nomadic life as they followed buffalo herds that moved across the plains (Easton). Within a short time, over 30 tribes inhabited the plains, with each tribe having its area. There were some instances of conflict between the tribes, but they generally lively peacefully.

The movement of native North Americans was influenced by the pressure that the European settlers had piled on them. Thus, Europeans had to make their choices of preferred areas of inhabitation, hence forcing the natives to move to the plains that they (Europeans) considered less suitable for them. Sokolow stated that the invasion by the European settlers had marked a decline in the population of native Indians (57). The population suffered from diseases, such as smallpox and measles, that decimated entire villages. The Indians were quite susceptible to these diseases since they did not have immunity. The natives were also aggrieved by the pressure that had compelled them to leave their traditional hunting and farming lands. After the forced relocation, native Indians faced unbearable challenges while settling in other lands. Eventually, they suffered from malnutrition and many of them died.

The French took control of New France by 1663 and established metropolitan control over it. As a result, a new era of more formal colonialism emerged in North America. According to Sokolow, the rivalry started to develop between the European powers that led to a series of wars on the landmass of North America, hence significantly impacting the development of the colonies (72). These wars continued until after the French forces had been vanquished. As a result, France ceded the majority of its claims of the Caribbean. The decision that the French had made to leave North America was a big problem to the majority of native nations that were disadvantaged by the loss of their biggest ally as the Anglo-American settlements expanded. The Pontiacs rebellion saw the fight between tribes in a struggle that was aimed at defending the tribe's rights for their lands. After the independence of the United States, the country witnessed a massive expansion to the west, leading to the acquisition of the Louisiana territory later in 1803 (Kehoe 46). The successive expansions was complicated due to the differences between the free and the slave states that later resulted in the Missouri Compromise in 1820. Canada similarly suffered a division between the English and the French communities that led to the civil strife in 1837 (Sokolow 24). Several political tensions were witnessed in Mexico where conservatives were pitched against liberals.

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From this discussion, it became evident that the period before and after the arrival of Europeans in North America was characterized by several cultural and lifestyle changes. Before the arrival of Europeans, a section of the native population was actively involved in hunting, an activity that was supported by the environment that the population lived in. Many peoples lived on the Great Plains, so hunting was a viable practice for them. On the other hand, the population that occupied the territories of Mesoamerica was mainly involved in farming. Apart from the various economic activities, people also associated themselves with different language families that were a vital element of their identity. The arrival of Europeans caused drastic changes to the cultural and economic practices of native North Americans. While a section of the population chose to peacefully coexist with the European settlers by adapting their lifestyles, others chose to move to the areas that were less pleasant to the colonizers and adopted a hunting culture. Moreover, many native North Americans created new tribes or confederations as a way of responding to colonization. The arrival of Europeans also led to numerous conflicts as people fought for the ownership of prime lands.

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