The Social and Economic Inequalities between the Native Americans and the Colonists in the Nineteenth Century

Last Updated: 20 Apr 2023
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Before the Thirteen Colonies were formally established, the American land was resided by indigenous people who are now referred to as Native Americans, American Indians, or simply by the general term indigenous. However, as English colonists migrated from their homelands to the New World, clashes began to erupt between the two groups of people. Lacking the technological means to defend themselves and being prone to diseases that the Englishmen carried with them, Native Americans were vulnerable in the face of the hostile English settlers.

As a result, settler colonialism, defined as a distinctive form of colonialism that replaces indigenous population with an invasive settler society, forcefully removed Native Americans from their ancestral land. Additionally, it also marginalized the Native Americans, inserting them into an artificially created social hierarchy, as a process of racialization, the imposition of a racial classification on to a previously unclassified group. Settler colonialism was best exemplified through the removal of Cherokee people along the Trail of Tears, among other examples of Indian removal, and racialization of the Native Americans was shown through the ex parte Crow Dog court case. Both processes contribute to the production of social and economic inequality between the Native Americans and the English colonists.

In the 19th century, the agricultural market in the United States was beginning to expand due to the advancement of technology, transportation, and the production of cotton and tobacco. As the number of plantations soared, labor and land became widely sought after, leading to an increase in labor forces and the forceful removal of Native Americans from their lands in order to clear paths for more plantations and railroads construction. Indigenous tribes such as the Choctaw, the Cherokee, the Seminole, the Creek, and the Chickasaw were therefore relocated to west of the Mississippi and into Indian Territory under the Indian Removal Act.

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The process of settler colonialism was reinforced through the way the invasive English colonists took lands away from Native Americans, replacing them to become the majority population, and gradually removing them from lands that were supposedly theirs. As explored in Patrick Wolfe's article "Settler Colonialism and the Elimination of the Native," there is a tendency to intertwine the results of settler colonialism to genocide (Wolfe, 387, Lecture 2.2). While not necessarily true, settler colonialism does generate elimination of the indigenous population. It follows that the number of Native Americans decreased immensely after relocating to Indian Territory, which signified the loss of political and social power that Native Americans should supposedly possess.

The result of settler colonialism led to the process of racialization, which created an artificial social hierarchy that placed English men at the top, and Native Americans near the bottom. Consequently, Native Americans did not have rights to vote, or to protect themselves against possible discrimination (Johnston-Dodds, 3, Lecture 4.1). The murder of Spotted Tail by Crow Dog illustrated the diminished power that Indian tribes possessed as the federal power of the United States grew.

In 1881, Crow Dog shot and killed Spotted Tail, both of whom are Native Americans, on reservation land (Lecture 4.1). According to tribal tradition, Crow Dog needed only to pay restitution to Spotted Tail's family. However, some authorities stepped in and prosecuted Crow Dog for murder in a federal court, and Crow Dog was found guilty. Although the Supreme Court later held that unless authorized by Congress, federal courts had no jurisdiction to try cases where the offense had already been tried by the tribal council, and Crow Dog was therefore released, the court case represented the beginning of the federal government trying to limit tribal sovereignty.

The process of racialization served to undermine the political and social power of Native Americans, which further lowered their status in the social hierarchy. The combined effect of settler colonialism and racialization produced social and economic inequality between the English colonists and the Native Americans. As a result of settler colonialism, English colonists were able to occupy the most fertile lands and the coastal areas, where they could increase the production of agricultural goods and trade with other countries to make money. In contrast, Native Americans were forced to leave their ancestral lands and relocate to places they have never been to.

Along the way, they had to suffer from harsh weather and lack of food, thus greatly reducing their numbers. Even after arriving, they still could not compete economically on equal terms with the English colonists, since they did not have the technology and the convenience of living near coastal areas. Suffering from economic inequality, it follows that Native Americans also did not have high social status. Moreover, notions such as Manifest Destiny, an aspect of racialization, in the United States tended to enhance white supremacy; therefore, it further degraded the social status of Native Americans.

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The Social and Economic Inequalities between the Native Americans and the Colonists in the Nineteenth Century. (2023, Apr 20). Retrieved from

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