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Indians in the United States and Canada: A Comparative History, Second Edition

Indians in the United States and Canada: A Comparative History, Second Edition

by Roger L. Nichols

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Drawing on a vast array of primary and secondary sources, Roger L. Nichols traces the changing relationships between Native peoples and whites in the United States and Canada from colonial times to the present. Dividing this history into five stages, beginning with Native supremacy over European settlers and concluding with Native peoples’ political, economic, and cultural resurgence, Nichols carefully compares and contrasts the effects of each stage on Native populations in the United States and Canada. 

This second edition includes new chapters on major transformations from 1945 to the present, focusing on social issues such as transracial adoption of Native children, the uses of national and international media to gain public awareness, and demands for increasing respect for tribal religious practices, burial sites, and historic and funerary remains.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781496210982
Publisher: Nebraska
Publication date: 09/01/2018
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 552
File size: 3 MB

About the Author

Roger L. Nichols is emeritus professor of history and affiliate faculty of American Indian studies at the University of Arizona. He is the author of numerous books, including Warrior Nations: The United States and Indian Peoples, and the coeditor of Natives and Strangers: A History of Ethnic Americans.

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Indians Meet the Spanish, French, and Dutch, 1513–1701

Their ancestors migrated east from Siberia into Alaska and then south into the rest of North America some twelve to fourteen thousand years before any Europeans "discovered" the continent at the end of the fifteenth century. During those millennia the people now known as Indians developed hundreds of societies with differing languages, social practices, and adaptations to their local environments. In eastern Canada the Laurentian Iroquoians supplemented their gardening with hunting and fishing near their Saint Lawrence valley towns. Their Algonquian neighbors hunted and gathered along the north shores of the great river while the populous agricultural Hurons lived to the West. South in Florida and along the Gulf Coast much larger Indian societies would encounter the Spanish early in the sixteenth century. Agricultural people such as the Coosa, Apalachee, and Natchez had developed large and complex societies based on rich soil, plenty of rainfall, and a mild climate. Farther west beyond the plains a variety of smaller groups inhabited the semiarid and arid part of the Southwest, where Zuni, Hopi, and other pueblo dwellers all had well-established settlements. Wherever and however these people lived in 1500, they could not escape some contact with the Europeans who probed the continent repeatedly.

The entire native world differed drastically from that of the Europeans. There were no empires or kingdoms and probably only a few loose confederacies with which to deal. Even most groups now recognized as tribes or nations developed those identities after 1500 and often as a result of contact with the invaders.

Usually Indians lived in village societies with only limited cultural ties to people who used their language and who shared broad social practices. The Christian view of nature placed humans outside and above it. Resources existed for humanity's benefit. God ruled from beyond the earth. While Indian groups held many differing ideas and practices, they shared a more reverent approach to nature. Animals, trees, and other living things as well as the sun, moon, and sky all possessed spiritual powers recognized as important for day-to-day actions and for help in making decisions. A shaman or spiritual leader helped interpret these forces and conducted needed ceremonies to keep people healthy and their lives in balance with the other forces of nature.

Most Indian groups lacked the formal hierarchy Europeans took for granted. Civil chiefs, usually older men, made local decisions after often lengthy discussion brought consensus. There were no elections, and if some villagers rejected their leaders' decisions, they could always leave the community. Social rather than governmental pressure brought acceptance and obedience to the agreedupon behaviors in the village. During times of crisis war chiefs directed village affairs. Women played only a modest role in public affairs, focusing most of their efforts on crucial needs such as food production, clothing, and shelter. Children learned necessary skills from adults in the village. Shaming and ridicule rather than corporal punishment enforced discipline. Although local economies varied, most included some combination of agriculture, hunting, and fishing as well as gathering and trade. Frequent sharing and the expectation that good leaders helped those in need limited wide extremes of wealth. In fact, among some groups people considered those who gave away much of their goods as successful.

Clearly, with at least six hundred groups on the scene in 1500, generalizations are difficult at best. Yet it is clear that Indian life differed widely from that of the incoming Europeans. Technological differences make this point most vividly. Some coastal groups used large, well-constructed boats, but they rarely ventured beyond sight of land. Europeans ships, however, served as miniature movable communities. They carried the goods needed to keep people alive for weeks, even months. Metal implements differentiated Old and New World societies, too. Iron, steel, brass, and copper implements usually worked better and lasted longer than the Indian implements of wood, bone, or stone. Gunpowder, metal weapons, and body armor often gave the newcomers an immediate military advantage over Indian arrows, war clubs, and wooden shields. Having domesticated animals allowed the Spanish in particular to march hundreds of miles or more with their own mobile food supply. True, Indian hunters knew their environment well and proved to be exceptionally good providers, but hunting involved a higher degree of chance than herding tame animals. Having access to horses and dogs also helped the Europeans gain military victory when they might not otherwise have done so. Written records allowed them to record, and perhaps to alter, agreements made with local Indian leaders.

Like the native groups, the Europeans differed among themselves. Yet they also shared many basic ideas and practices. All of them lived during an era of growing nationalism, continuing religious quarrels, and bitter economic competition. Highly ethnocentric, they saw themselves and their institutions as the pinnacle of civilization. All four of the early colonizing powers — Spain, France, Holland, and England — had experienced bitter, protracted religious wars and turmoil. Each seemed to consider itself as clearly superior to its European neighbors and certainly more "civilized" than the native peoples of North America. Whether the result of religious nationalism as in Spain, a quest for trade and markets as for the Dutch and French, or the bumbling and half-hearted efforts that characterized English actions, all four powers saw exploration and colony founding as important for national self-esteem and power.

Attitudes of superiority, whether the result of Spanish success against the Moors or English victories in Ireland, crossed the Atlantic with the Europeans. Christianity, usually a particularly chauvinist brand of it, stood out in stark contrast to the religious ideas and practices of the Indians. Their accumulated knowledge of science, geography, and technology all added to European feelings that God really was on their side. Despite repeated early failures and disasters, the invaders rarely seem to have questioned that their destiny might not include grabbing large chunks of the continent and subduing the resident peoples they encountered. They came for God, glory, adventure, wealth, fame, or perhaps merely an opportunity to escape difficult conditions at home. Whatever their reasons, when they arrived in North America during the sixteenth or seventeenth centuries, they encountered a world foreign to their experience — a place with vast resources, many opportunities, and strange peoples who in some cases presented the most difficult challenges of all.

The Spanish opened the story with the 1513 expedition of Juan Ponce de León from Puerto Rico to Florida. Seeking riches, slaves, or perhaps the legendary "fountain of youth," he found none of them. Instead, in 1521, on his second trip to Florida, an Indian arrow gave him a mortal wound. Other wealth seekers followed, often seizing native people and carrying them off into slavery in the Caribbean. Spanish ships ranged north up the eastern coast at least as far as Chesapeake Bay and west along the Gulf Coast as far as Texas. Everywhere they went, these early explorers brought misery and destruction to the Indians they met. Cabeza de Vaca offers the only exception to this dismal record, and then only because he lacked the power to abuse his hosts. At least in the Southeast, news of the kidnapping, rape, robbery, and warfare that the Europeans brought spread quickly, and by the middle of the sixteenth century many Indians either fled or resisted Spanish incursions.

While the Spaniards got to North America first, Jacques Cartier's explorations in the Saint Lawrence valley of eastern Canada preceded their major land expeditions farther to the south. The Frenchman avoided much of the Spaniards' open brutality and greed, but his dealings with the northern tribes barely remained peaceable. By the time he got to eastern Canada, the tribal peoples there had opened informal trading with the European fishing vessels along the coast. Despite these early contacts, Cartier knew little about the native peoples when he crossed the Atlantic, as his early actions toward them demonstrate.

In early July 1534, while he sailed in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence, Indian canoes approached his ship for trade. When efforts to wave the unwelcome visitors away failed, the Frenchman ordered the ship's cannons fired in an effort to frighten them. When the Indians continued their approach, the sailors "shot off two fire-lances which scattered among them and frightened them so much that they began to paddle off." Once Cartier realized that the Indians came to trade, he allowed some Montagnais to board the "vessels as freely as if they had been Frenchmen." By late July 1534 the Frenchman had met a large number of Indians who had descended the Saint Lawrence to fish for mackerel. These people happily accepted the beads, combs, and small knives that Cartier's people handed out. They had little to trade but welcomed the manufactured goods and told Cartier of settlements and possible riches far up the Saint Lawrence valley. Instead of showing gratitude for that information, the explorer kidnapped two sons of Donnacona, chief of Stadacona, a village near present-day Quebec City.

Although Cartier's kidnapping damaged relations with the Indians, his captives proved useful back in France, where they told stories of rich settlements and kingdoms in the Canadian interior. These tales brought increased support for continuing exploration as the explorer had hoped. In 1535 Cartier led a squadron of three ships up the Saint Lawrence to Stadacona. There he made a winter camp and announced his intention to proceed further upriver despite the obvious reluctance of his Iroquoian neighbors. Ignorant of local Indian practices, he failed to ask permission of nearby villagers before setting up his camp and ignored the need to meet with Chief Donnacona and to make at least a ceremonial alliance with him. His actions angered the villagers, who viewed French actions as discourteous and threatening to their economic well-being.

Unaware that by custom his hosts claimed the right to control who might ascend the river or to collect tolls from those who did, he led his party to a larger Indian settlement called Hochelaga near present-day Montreal. There the villagers welcomed the French happily as Cartier handed out small presents. Despite the Hochelagans' warm reception, the explorer hesitated. Because his base camp at Stadacona lay closer to the Atlantic, he returned downstream that same day. At Donnacona's village, the French experienced a difficult winter. The chief's sons had warned their father not to trust the visitors, while the French grew increasingly suspicious of the Indians. By midwinter Cartier had established a policy of noncontact with the Indians. His worst fears seemed to come true when scurvy broke out among his men by midwinter, but when the Indians learned of the whites' difficulty, they taught them how to make a medicinal tea from white cedar bark and conifer needles to cure that disease. In addition, the Indians traded food to the French for metal goods, chiefly knives and awls. As the winter ended, the treacherous Cartier kidnapped Donnacona, his sons, and several other Indians and took them back to France, where all but one of the captives died. This action antagonized the villagers without gaining any particular advantage for the explorers.

In France Chief Donnacona's descriptions of rich kingdoms of the interior convinced French officials that they should launch another expedition to North America. This time they planned to establish a resident colony under the command of Jean François de La Rocque, sieur de Roberval, with Cartier serving as pilot for the expedition. In May 1541 Cartier set out with several hundred colonists. Once at the destination he set up his camp at Cap Rouge, a short distance upstream from Stadacona. After two bad experiences with the French, the Indians greeted the invaders sullenly. When Cartier claimed that the chief and the other villagers had decided to remain in France rather than admitting that they had died, the Indians said little but clearly disbelieved his story. Relations between Indians and French deteriorated quickly, and during the 1541–42 winter the Stadaconans and their tribal neighbors raided his camp repeatedly. Later evidence suggests that the villagers may have killed as many as thirty-five of the French. In the spring of 1542, after telling Roberval that the Indian threat made successful settlement unlikely, Cartier led the survivors back to France. Undeterred, Roberval brought still more would-be settlers up the Saint Lawrence. Scurvy and starvation defeated this effort, too, and in 1543 the French returned home, abandoning settlement in North America for more than sixty years.

These first tentative French efforts at exploration and trade brought few positive results other than laying a firm basis for that nation's later imperial claims to a part of North America. The Iroquoians' attitudes toward the Europeans ranged from cautious welcome, a willingness to trade, and some efforts to help the newcomers to misunderstanding, suspicion, and open hostility. The kidnappings complicated relations between the invaders and the local population. Indians objected when the Europeans ignored or broke the local economic and diplomatic customs to push into the interior. Cartier's failure to get Indian permission to locate settlements near existing Indian villages did nothing to endear the French to the Indians either, but at least in those cases the intruders could plead ignorance. When Cartier failed to find usable water routes to the west or to open a profitable trade, these early explorations proved unproductive. With high costs in both men and goods and no immediate economic return in view, the French government withdrew its support without learning much from these experiences. By the time the French returned to the Saint Lawrence region sixty years later, the descendants of the resident villagers had left the area, so even the Indians retained little knowledge of these matters.

Spanish Forays in the South and West

Like the French, Spanish exploration was overseen by the royal government. Yet because the Crown begrudged spending large sums for New World ventures, it contracted with adelantados or what the English would call proprietors to direct specific actions in America. These men expected to gain wealth, power, and perhaps public offices if they succeeded. So when they set out to enrich themselves, spread Christianity, and bring new regions under Spanish control, their efforts resembled the goals of their European competitors. A few years after Ponce de León's death in 1521, the Spanish renewed their interest in North America, their effort coming at the same time that the French entered the Saint Lawrence valley. After several small probing actions along the east coast of Florida, in the summer of 1539 Hernando de Soto brought a force of some six hundred men to Tampa Bay. From there he began a four-year march of attempted conquest and destruction as his men crisscrossed parts of the Southeast. That region was one of thickly settled villages belonging to a variety of chiefdoms. At each stop de Soto enslaved enough people to keep his force supplied with laborers. As word of Spanish atrocities spread, most of the villagers in his path fled or resisted. Although his men enjoyed superior weaponry and body armor, as well as having horses and dogs to help, Indian attacks gradually weakened the invaders. In May 1542, while on the lower Mississippi River, de Soto died. His faltering expedition struggled back to the Gulf of Mexico and from there continued south into Mexico.

While de Soto and his men butchered villagers in the Southeast, reports of Indian wealth in the southwestern deserts reached Mexico City. There, in 1538, Viceroy Antonio de Mendoza sent a small party led by the Franciscan Fray Marcos de Niza north to investigate. A year later the priest returned with tales of Cibola and other rich Indian cities. Soon the viceroy appointed Francisco Vasquez de Coronado to lead an expedition north. He, in turn, gathered a well equipped force of at least three hundred Spaniards and one thousand Indians. In 1540 the party began its trek into what is now the United States.

To their dismay, they learned that Fray Marcos was either a liar or deluded. There was no truth to his stories of large cities with easy riches to be found. Nevertheless, optimism and greed persuaded Coronado to continue. First he captured the Zuni village that Fray Marcos had called Cibola and used it as his headquarters. From there he sent out reconnaissance parties. Then he moved the main force east and camped near present-day Albuquerque. During the 1540–41 winter the nearby pueblo peoples fought with Coronado's men repeatedly, as the invaders destroyed at least a dozen villages and forced hundreds of survivors to flee. In early 1541 Coronado marched east seeking the land of Quivira. After crossing parts of Texas and Oklahoma, the tired explorers halted in central Kansas not more than three hundred miles from where de Soto's men, then in Arkansas and having found nothing they recognized as wealth, were preparing to turn back. Later that year Coronado was injured and decided to return to Mexico City. In 1542 he led his weary followers back south. They returned with plenty of geographic information but little booty.


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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations,
Acknowledgments for the Second Edition,
1. Indians Meet the Spanish, French, and Dutch, 1513–1701,
2. Indians and English near the Chesapeake, 1570s–1670s,
3. Indians and English in New England, 1600–1670s,
4. Trade, Diplomacy, Warfare, and Acculturation, 1670s–1750s,
5. Striving for Independence, 1750–1790s,
6. Old Threats, New Resolve, 1795–1820s,
7. Cultural Persistence, Physical Retreat, 1820s–1860s,
8. Societies under Siege, 1860s–1890,
9. Surviving Marginalization, 1890s–1920,
10. Change, Depression, and War, 1920–1945,
11. Attacking Native Cultures and Communities, 1940–1970s,
12. Indigenous Resources, Rights, and Self-Determination,,
13. Indians and the Modern State, 1980s–Present,
Selected Bibliography,

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