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Legends of American Indian Resistance
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Introduction Long before Europeans arrived in North America, Indians from the Atlantic to the Pacific populated what would become the United States. They lived a life of relative freedom, able to maintain their traditional culture and practice their religious beliefs as their ancestors had done. This freedom, of course, was not absolute. American Indians’ movements were limited by the availability of food, water, and other necessities such as materials for constructing their homes. They also had generally defined areas for living and hunting, and if they crossed into other Indian people’s traditional areas, conflict was possible. Life was not easy, nor was it necessarily peaceful. Many Indian nations had traditional Indian enemies, and warfare was not uncommon. Nonetheless, within these limitations, each Indian nation enjoyed consider- able freedom. No nation told another nation what to do, and even warfare seldom threatened a people’s very existence. From generation to generation, Indians lived according to their traditions and beliefs and were able to maintain a clear identity. ThencametheEuropeans.WiththeirarrivalintheNewWorld,lifegradually— and in some cases suddenly—changed for the native peoples. A major cause of that change was the Europeans’ desire for land. Land for Europeans was some- thing to own, whereas Indians, although exercising territorial rights to tradi- tional homelands and hunting grounds, did not own the land. They certainly did not individually own portions of the land. In their view, the land was to be reverenced, and one would no more cut open the land as European farmers did than one would cut open one’s parent or grandparent. Likewise, no one would claim to own something that was viewed as essentially a spiritual entity. As Europeans and their Euro-American descendants steadily moved west- ward from the seventeenth century through the nineteenth century, they took the land that they wanted, often by national policy. When Indians were in the way, they did their best to remove the native peoples. That removal might be by killing the Indians or, later, forcing the survivors onto reservations. These reservations usually consisted of land that the Euro-Americans did not