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Sat Aug 31, 2019, 04:48 PM


BY ERIK LOOMIS / ON AUGUST 31, 2019 / AT 3:48 PM

The 1619 Project is a great thing. The reactions to it by the right were totally over the top, which was elucidating and useful. Helps when you have the right enemies. Anyway, I have no criticism of it all, except to just make a comment, which is that Native history continues to be completely isolated in our discussions of the past, including on the left. I would argue that you simply can’t understand American race without centering the experience of Native Americans, but far too often, our racial history and racial present gets reduced to black and white. That’s a problem. Slavery was not a specifically African phenomenon. Not only were there lots of Native slaves in the United States, but from the perspective of Europeans, it barely mattered whether the slaves were Native or African. The point of colonization from New York to Argentina was to force people of color to labor for free. There were specific historical and demographic reasons why that eventually trended to Africans, but we still don’t get the complete picture without including Native people. Thus, I was very glad to see Andrés Reséndez be included in this broader discussion on what histories of slavery are still being left out of American classrooms.

Between 2.5 million and 5 million Native Americans were enslaved throughout the Western Hemisphere in the centuries between the arrival of Columbus and the late 19th century, when the system declined markedly (but did not disappear entirely). In contrast to the enslavement of Africans, which included a large percentage of adult males, the majority of enslaved Native Americans were women and children.

In Colonial times, the Carolinas were a major Indian slaving ground. New Englanders captured rebellious Indians and shipped them to work on plantations in the Caribbean. And French colonists in eastern Canada took thousands of Indians captive from the interior around the Great Lakes region.

During the 18th and early 19th centuries, however, the traffic of Native Americans on the Eastern Seaboard was replaced and overshadowed almost entirely by Africans. Not surprisingly, Americans living east of the Mississippi River lost awareness of earlier forms of Native American bondage. When they spoke or wrote about slavery in the 19th century, they invariably meant African slavery.


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