Multidimensional Colonial Relations

Native Americans struggled under European attempts to colonize them for five centuries. The period from 1820 to 1870 is called the U.S. Hegemony because after the American Revolutionary War the US stopped regulating its relations with Native Americans through treaties and suggested them to move to Louisiana that had just been bought from France. While fighting the Indian Wars the US government tried to conquer Native Americans through domination in economic, political, and cultural spheres. The Southeastern Nations positively responded to the suggestion of the US government to acculturate them by teaching the language, culture, and religion of white Anglo-Saxons. Native Americans saw it as a means to overcome their differences and become the US’s equals in the understanding of US citizens.

Whereas some tribes of the Southeastern Nations adopted the US political system of the constitutional government and were engaged in a new form of economic relations such as cotton farming and slave ownership, other tribes remained economically and politically marginalized. The acculturation of the Southeastern Nations was directed by economic, political, and cultural exchanges, which resulted in the adoption of capitalistic economic patterns, the constitutional government, and many aspects of Anglo-Saxon culture such as language, religion, clothing, housing conditions, etc. However, the multidimensional theory of cultural, political, and economic colonialism cannot explain for what reasons not all tribes, or not all people within a tribe, accepted the change.

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Geopolitical Environment

The US gained dominion over the Southeastern Nations in 1820. Whereas the Spanish and the British competed with the Americans over Native lands, the Native nations recognized the US as the domination of the US colonial power to the exclusion of other international powers. In order to assure the US hegemony, the US government acted in several directions. Seeing the decline of fur trade due to the Industrial Revolution, the US government established factories on Indian territories where Native Americans could take goods on credit. Then Native Americans were offered to pay their debts with land tenures. Economic dependence on the US government was furthered by the decline of buffalo, deer, and other game and Native Americans no longer could provide their own means of sustenance. Native Americans had to turn to other activities for subsistence than the ones they got used to. Whereas they used to hunt and till the land in equal measures, now they could only be engaged into husbandry and farming.

The mainstream America expected complete assimilation of indigenous people. Under the auspices of Civilization Acts of 1790s, Native Americans were enrolled into boarding schools, were baptized, so through culture, religion and education they were acculturated into Anglo-Saxon culture. Some Native tribes responded with attempts to accept some elements of white American culture without losing their national identities. Especially the Cherokee succeeded as they developed the Cherokee alphabet sent their young people to American educational institutions, ran plantations, kept slaves, and in other ways emulated Anglo-Saxon ways of living. The Cherokee were the first among native tribes who established their constitutional government. Then the Chickasaw, the Choctaw and the Creek followed their lead several decades later. However, despite their agreements with Native tribes and the rulings of the Supreme Court, the US government carried out the forceful removal of Native Americans from their lands.

Although Native Americans tried to acculturate in some acceptable manner for them by remaining their culture and national identities, the US hegemony deprived them of their traditional subsistence through hunting, dislocated them from their lands, and dissolved their constitutional governments making the US president head of Native American tribes.

The Impacts of Markets

Native Americans never understand the logic of capitalism because they maintained themselves at the subsistence level. They valued the culture of sharing and the surplus from hunting and agriculture they usually traded for other goods from other tribes and shared within the tribe. When Europeans would try to encourage them to bring more pelts and get more goods in return, it did not stimulate Native Americans and they would bring fewer pelts. For example, if a trader offered two guns, instead of one, for fourteen pelts, a Native American would bring seven pelts to get one gun as usual. Because of the European trade, local deer and beaver were overexploited. Additionally, the Industrial Revolution made textiles cheaper and it also interfered with fur trade. As a result, fur trade declined and some Native Americans switched to cotton production.

British textile factories were booming and required cotton as raw material. The native tribes in the South began using their lands as plantations and turned into southern slave holders. On the whole, their plantations were of modest size in comparison to white plantation owners. However, they were able to organize small-scale farms for cotton, cattle, and pigs. It resulted in a social change for Native Americans and stratification. Wealthy plantation owners and merchants became rich and equal to white planters. However, they were never accepted into the white society. They had to stay in their reservations and next to their own people. Southern society did not accept full-blood Indians and even mixed-blood natives. On the whole, wealthy Native American families were a small portion of the tribe while the rest continued their traditional lifestyles refusing to accept both Anglo-Saxon culture and capitalistic economic orientations. Inasmuch as part of Native Americans accepted the acculturation and assimilation, it was inevitable that they would change socially and that a class system would be introduced to Native Americans as well.

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Cultural Exchange

Cultural exchange is inevitable in the situation of colonization. It is human nature to imitate others. Therefore, both the colonizer and the colonized take something from each other in terms of culture, language, education, etc. Talking of how American culture affected social change for Native Americans, it should be mentioned that it depended on a tribe. The Five Civilized Tribes were affected the most, to the point when they adopted the constitutional government modeled after the US government. They believed that the constitutional government would equal them to Anglo-Saxon Americans and they would accept them as their equals on all levels including the political one. These tribes would emulate the lifestyles of the southern planters by running plantations, growing cotton and keeping slaves. Also many of them adopted Christianity. For them, the adoption of American culture was instrumental in their transition to capitalism and a change of social class. They agreed to send their children to the US educational institutions, they sometimes gave them Anglo-Saxon names, and they joined Christianity. Additionally there were many mixed-blood marriages.

However, other tribes acted differently in relation to Anglo-Saxon culture. For example, the Cheyenne retained traditional native religions along with Catholicism and Protestantism, while the Iroquois were divided over Christianity and even now the conflict is deep. The capitalistic mindset was absolutely un-Native American who never strived to gain wealth and make profit and only the adoption of European education and Protestant work ethic allowed them to change themselves in a European mold. Through education Native Americans learnt about capitalist values and how they can benefit from participating in the market. Through Christianization Native Americans understood Protestant ethic that is the basis of capitalist mindset. Inasmuch as Native Americans saw that life was good and given by supreme powers they knew their mission on the earth was to retain what they were given. It explains their reluctance to earn more than they need. In contrast, Europeans under the influence of Christianity believed that there is evil in this life and they should transform the existing way of life and they were motivated by a constant drive for perfection. From it stemmed a desire to work and earn as a manifestation and a proof of their goodness. Therefore, cultural exchange was crucial in the rise of class, capitalism, and constitutional governments and no social change could be possible without cultural exchange.

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The Combined Colonial Arguments

Colonialism impacted the Southeastern Nations in three ways. Each indigenous community had to change geopolitically, economically, and culturally. Under the influence of the US government, the Southeastern Nations saw that they could retain their territory and political self-dependence only if they adopt the US political structure, which they did by establishing the government and making up the Constitution. Each tribe relied on its political resources and understanding of the situation so not all reacted similarly to the same geopolitical pressure. Whereas the Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, and Creek adopted the constitutional government, others did not. Similarly, the economic influence of the colonizer did not affect the largest percentage of indigenous population. A small part of Southeastern Nations responded to “economic specialization of labor, production, and entrepreneurship,” switched from fur trade to cotton trade, and were able to change their working conditions in order to make profit; however, 95% of indigenous people were economically marginalized and continued to live at the subsistence level. Culturally the Southeastern Nations also accepted the change and allowed Anglo-Saxons to educate them and their children, to baptize them.

The Southeastern Nations learned English and adopted many ways of everyday life Anglo-Saxons propagated such as cuisine, medicine, housing conditions, etc. The combined colonial arguments can explain capitalism, constitutional governments, class structure, and nationalism to some extent; however it should be remembered that Native Americans did not passively accept everything they were forced into. In response they continued live in their traditional community, subsist on their traditional practices the ones which survives and demonstrated cultural conservatism in terms of their religion, language, and lifestyles.

A Critique of the Multidimensional Theory of Colonialism

However, the multidimensional theory of cultural, political, and economic colonialism can only explain what coercion was exercised in relation to a colonized nation but does not give reasons for the response of the indigenous people and how the change occurred. Whereas it is clear that under the influence of the geopolitical context the Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, and Creek established the constitutional government, the multidimensional theory of colonialism does not explain why other tribes did not follow their lead. All southeastern tribes could have participated in cotton economy but only the Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, and Creek did it.

Whereas the multidimensional theory of colonialism explains why they did it, it does not explain why others did not. Therefore, each tribe should be examined through the lens of cultural, political, and economic effects of the multidimensional theory of colonialism to see what influences shaped each tribe and in what period. It will allow one point of view. At the same time, the colonial process should be completed with the viewpoint of indigenous people. The way Native Americans view themselves and the processes within their tribes is crucial to make the integrated argument of all aspects of colonial relations between the colonizer and the colonized.