chapter  9
15 Pages

Native Americans and the Demographic Legacy of Contact

WithRussell Thornton

Native Americans occupy a demographically and socially disadvantaged place within contemporary American society. The pattern of requiring low percentages of Indian “blood” for tribal membership and dealing with the federal government to certify it also may be seen as a result of the demographic legacy of contact. Societies in Western Europe during the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries were able to withstand severe demographic shocks, in large part because of the particular nature of their demographic regimes. Native Americans lacked acquired immunity and perhaps natural immunity to the new diseases the newcomers brought from Europe and Africa. At the dawn of the twentieth century, when the population of the United States and Canada had grown to over 80 million, there were only about 250,000 Native Americans in the land area of the United States and another 100,000 to 150,000 to the north.