Anita's post

Elizabeth Miller (MNHAN241@SIVM.SI.EDU)
Wed, 13 Sep 1995 10:32:55 EDT

Anita wrote on Tuesday, 12 September, that not all Europeans tried to wipe out
the American Indians, and that some, like the Spanish, sought to convert them
rather than extinguish them. On this point, I'm afraid I have to disagree.
Although the apostolic zeal of Spanish missionaries may have been real, the
missions were definitely frontier institutions of the government, financed and
protected by the King and the military. In many cases, the indigenous peoples
on the frontier were forced into missions to make way for Spanish settlers --
the indigenous way of life was forceably changed, and natives attempting
to practice their traditional way of life wereoften punished severely. Most
studies of health before and after contact indicate that the missions were
extremely unhealthy places to live, and the mortality rate increased dramatical
ly due not only to infectious diseases but also to poor nutrition and
sanitation. The goal of the mission system was to do away with opposition to
Spanish settlements and exploration, and they succeeded remarkably well.
On the other hand, I do agree that not all European contact was intention-
ally detrimental to the health and/or everyday
lives of Native Americans. In some areas, missionization either did not occur
at all, or there were very few missions. The primary type of contact in many
areas of North America was trade contact (e.g. the Central Plains) for quite
some time. In such areas, although epidemics did have a heavy impact on the
sheer numbers of peoples, health doesn't appear to have decreased dramatically
even though lifestyle changed dramatically over a short period of time. In
terms of general well-being of living individuals, regardless of their cause of
death, the quality of life doesn't appear to have changed much. I guess it
all depends on how you define the term "wipe out." If it is defined as
actually killing, or causing the death of, tribes, then the Spanish are as
guilty as most other European and Euro-American groups. But, there are cases
in which tribes were not "wiped out " -- cases such as northeastern Nebraska.
If the term is defined as changing the lifestyle, and attempting to modify the
culture of indigenous groups, there are probably cases in which this was not
the intention of Europeans, but I can't come up with many cases where it didn't
happen, even unintentionally.
This is a subject of interest to me -- I did both my thesis and
dissertation research on the effects of contact on the health on Native
Americans. So, of course, my thesis and dissertation are the primary
references I'll give here:

Miller, E (1995) Refuse to be Ill: European Contact and Aboriginal Health
in Northeastern Nebraska. Arizona State University:Tempe.

Miller, E (1989) The Effects of European Contact on the Health of Indigenous
Populations in Texas. Texas A&M University:College Station.

Feel free to address comments to me privately at the address below.

Elizabeth Miller, Ph.D.___(MNHAN241@SIVM.SI.EDU)
Office of Repatriation, MRC 138
National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution
Washington, D.C. 20560 (202) 786-2933