Since the arrival of Columbus in 1492, American Indians have been in a continuous struggle with diseases. It may not be small pox anymore, but illnesses are still haunting the native population. According to statistics, Native Americans have much higher rates of disease than the overall population. This includes a higher death rate from alcoholism, tuberculosis, and diabetes than any other racial or ethnic group. Recent studies by Indian health experts show that diabetes among Indian youth ages 15-19 has increased 54% since 1996 and 40% of Indian children are overweight. Even though diabetes rates vary considerably among the Native American population, deaths caused from diabetes are 230 percent greater
Did Europeans purposefully infect the Native Americans? That question will never be answered. Whether intentional or accidental, the truth remains that disease was indeed brought to the early Native American culture due to European expansion. The true question is in Taking Sides, issue 2, Was Disease the Key Factor in the Depopulation of Native Americans in the Americas? In this particular issue two sides are represented; yes by Collin G. Calloway, and no by David S. Jones. Let’s take a look at Calloway’s perspective towards the issue.
Though warfare and attacks on entire villages took a definite toll on the populations of Native Americans, disease was by far the biggest killer. We’ve all heard the stories of smallpox infected blankets being given to the Native Americans, and other such atrocities, but I was simply dumbfounded at the actual numbers of dead due to Old World diseases being introduced to the New World, North America. While it has been somewhat difficult for scholars to determine the exact count of Indians who died from disease, they have fairly accurate estimates.
Many factors have contributed to the abysmal condition of Native Americans in the United States. Two of which had the most impact have been poverty and alcoholism. There are many possible reasons why Native American’s were introduced to alcohol. For instance, their religious practice incorporated alcohol to be able to achieve a transcendent experience. It was not escape from reality that Native Americans sought, but more about fulfillment and discovery of oneself. However, Native Americans were uneducated of how potent alcohol was and what was to come from it being abused by the uneducated, and younger generations. Unfortunately, Native Americans have played a more ambiguous role on proliferating and facilitating the spread of alcohol throughout their communities. Alcohol has led to many health conditions in Native Americans, including kidney failure, and blindness. These health conditions have also led to diabetes, and with little hope from loss of land, Natives Americans still to this day live in poverty.
As the Spaniards arrived in America, Europeans immediately contracted syphilis from the Indians. Meanwhile, “The Europeans, for their part, gave the Indians measles and smallpox.” (Document B). Chaos arose and population declined, killing off many Native Americans. The outrageous, smallpox outbreak stuck all around Latin America. According to Alfred Crosby, the author of “The Columbian Exchange”, “…the communicability of smallpox and the other eruptive fevers…that any Indian who received the news of the Spaniards could also have easily received the infection.” (Document C). Similarly to the bubonic plague in the old world, the smallpox and measles were the “black death” in the new
However, the Native Americans didn’t just use these resources they garnered solely for food - they used the resources in several aspects of their lives, specifically for health. The Native Americans were dependant on the use of plants and other resources found in nature to use for curatives. Historians often attest that these curatives were far superior to the ones that Europeans used, and thus the span of life for Native Americans was often longer than that of the European people (The People). However, upon Native American and European contact, the Europeans introduced new, foreign diseases that were deadly because the Native Americans had never been exposed to these diseases, and thus did not have natural immunities to them. This was the same for other infectious diseases introduced to the Europeans, namely syphilis. Although, the amount of Europeans affected by syphilis was not even near the amount of Native Americans killed by some of the European diseases brought over in the Columbian exchange. Bartolomé de Las Casas commented on the epidemic of European viruses that killed thousands of Native Americans: “Who of those in
The diseases exchanged between the Old World and New World resulted in a drastic change in demographics and world population in both the Americas and in Europe. The most deadly disease transferred between both worlds was smallpox. Smallpox, as described by historian Alfred W. Crosby Jr., in his book The Columbian Exchange: Biological and Cultural Consequences of 1492, states that “Smallpox is usually communicated through the air by means of droplets or dust particles… it has been a steady, dependable killer, taking every year from 3 to 10 percent of those who die. Where it has struck isolated groups, the death rate has been awesome” (Crosby. 44). When one contracts smallpox, the effects are felt for a lifetime. As a Spanish person living in
"Native American medicine is based on widely held beliefs about healthy living, the repercussions of disease-producing behavior, and the spiritual principles that restore balance." -Ken "Bear Hawk" Cohen (Chrisman 1).
Culture wasn’t the only thing that the Europeans brought over to the Americas. Along with their customs and rules, came the diseases that the Native American’s have never been exposed to. The Europeans brought many communicable diseases such as small pox and measles which were transmitted to the Native Americans through trade goods or someone infected with them. This quickly annihilated most of the Native American population.
When the European travelers came to America they brought over may diseases including small pox, influenza, measles, and Scarlett fever. The Native Americans had never been exposed to these diseases before consequently they did not have antibodies to fight of these diseases which meant that many people would die from the exposure to the various diseases. The introduction of these diseases created a high death toll in the Native American population, killing more than half of the original population.
It is estimated that 60% to 90% of Native American tribes had died from new diseases brought from the Columbian Exchange from the Europeans. Numerous diseases such as the infamous smallpox were introduced to the Native Americans and were degrading to the population as the Europeans grew a type of immunity from the diseases unlike the Native Americans. Conflict between the Spanish and the Native Americans brought war which encourages diseases to spread through hand to hand combat. Cultures and tribes were on the brink of extinction, as European expansionism and imperialism succeeded in claiming land that was formerly the Native Americans. The mass genocide and epidemic of various diseases towards the Native Americans reach to new heights due to the Columbian Exchange as Europeans militants strived for land and gold at the cost of the Native American’s
In the article “1491” by Charles Mann , Mann also talks about the most devastating impact from the contact between Europeans and Americans came from the spread of biological agents like smallpox, smallpox had the most effect on the Americas’ native populations there population could of been destroyed stated in the article that “Dobyns estimated that in the first 130 years of contact about 95 percent of the people in the Americas died—the worst demographic calamity in recorded history.” This shows just how serious smallpox was on people considering that they had no immunity to these diseases and because of this it was able to cause a major loss of population and of the people who lived they were still heavily affected by it. Mann also states “It is well known that Native Americans had no experience with many European diseases and were therefore immunologically unprepared—"virgin soil," in
The history of the United States began with Virginia and Massachusetts; their histories begin with epidemics of unidentified diseases. Smallpox was the worst and the most amusing diseases that were out. Smallpox were just killing down all the Native Americans, they didn’t know what to do with it all. The epidemic destroyed half of the Cherokee in 1738, in 1759 almost half of the Catawba’s, in the first years of the next century two-thirds of the Omaha’s and perhaps half of the population between the Missouri River and New Mexico.
Many Native American’s died due to diseases, but the one who survived obtained many great things from the Columbian Exchange. The number of indians before the diseases of the New World killed most of the native population is disputed (Document 3). Though, it is known that a great fraction of them did die, but it was not from labor (Document 6). It is actually from diseases such as Measles and Smallpox. Since Indians had no immunity against these diseases they spread quickly, often devastating populations before conquistadors got to the villages (Document 7). The explorers unintendedly spread these silent killers throughout the New World because they were naive to the idea of contagion and cleanliness.
Historically the treatment of Native Americans has been highly problematic, especially throughout the colonization of the New World. Although, when colonising some Europeans took a merciful and sympathetic approach to the Native Americans, generally the treatment towards the indigenous people was not humane. Not only did the Native Americans die at the hand of the settlers, they also died from diseases that had been brought to the new world by explorers for which they had no immunity. In some cases diseases such as smallpox wiped out entire tribes. Together, the introduction of diseases and the actions of the European settlers had devastating effects on the Native Americans.