July 21, 2008

Indians owned slaves

In a thread on the Colonization game at Racialicious, some presumably well-educated people didn't know that Indians owned slaves. For instance:And this argument that Native American’s owned slaves! I must have been asleep in history class that day. Could someone point me in the direction of some books/articles?The following articles explain the situation:

Slavery and Native Americans in British North America and the United States: 1600 to 1865Most Native American tribal groups practiced some form of slavery before the European introduction of African slavery into North America; but none exploited slave labor on a large scale. Indian groups frequently enslaved war captives whom they used for small-scale labor and in ritual sacrifice. Most of these so-called Indian slaves tended to live, however, on the fringes of Indian society. Although not much is known about them, there is little evidence that they were considered racially inferior to the Indians who held power over them. Nor did Indians buy and sell captives in the pre-colonial era, although they sometimes exchanged enslaved Indians with other tribes in peace gestures or in exchange for their own members. In fact, the word "slave" may not even accurately apply to these captive people.

The situation of enslaved Indians varied among the tribes. In many cases, enslaved captives were adopted into the tribes to replace warriors killed during a raid. Enslaved warriors sometimes endured mutilation or torture that could end in death as part of a grief ritual for relatives slain in battle. Some Indians cut off one foot of their captives to keep them from running away; others allowed enslaved captives to marry the widows of slain husbands. The Creek, for example, treated the children born of slaves and tribal members as full members of the tribe rather than as enslaved offspring. Some tribes held captives as hostages for payment. Other tribes practiced debt slavery or imposed slavery on tribal members who had committed crimes; but this status was only temporary as the enslaved worked off their obligations to the tribal society.
Slavery among Native AmericansThe Haida and Tlingit Indians who lived along southeast Alaska's coast were traditionally known as fierce warriors and slave-traders, raiding as far as California. Slavery was hereditary, the slaves being prisoners of war. Among some Pacific Northwest tribes, about a quarter of the population were slaves. Other slave-owning tribes of North America were, for example, Comanche of Texas, Creek of Georgia, the fishing societies, such as the Yurok, that lived along the coast from what is now Alaska to California, the Pawnee, and Klamath.

After 1800, the Cherokees and some other tribes started buying and using black slaves, a practice they continued after being relocated to Indian Territory in the 1830s.

The nature of slavery in Cherokee society often mirrored that of white slave-owning society. The law barred intermarriage of Cherokees and blacks, whether slave or free. Cherokee who aided slaves were punished with one hundred lashes on the back. In Cherokee society, blacks were barred from holding office, bearing arms, and owning property, and it was illegal to teach blacks to read and write.

By contrast, the Seminoles welcomed into their nation African Americans who had escaped slavery (Black Seminoles).
Comment:  As with warfare, the key point isn't that Indians engaged in the same practices as Europeans. It's that the Indian version was much less cruel and inhuman. A slave captured as the spoils of war and adopted into the tribe is a far cry from a slave abducted from his home, stripped of his humanity, and shipped across the ocean as chattel.

1 comment:

writerfella said...

Writerfella here -0-
Yes, that's what happens if you sleep that one day in history class when they teach history...
All Best
Russ Bates