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Comparing European and Native American cultures

European and Native American cultures had distinct views on land ownership, gender roles, and religion. Europeans believed in individual land ownership, male-dominated households, and exclusive Christian worship. In contrast, Native Americans had a communal approach to land, more egalitarian gender roles, and a pantheon of spirits. These differences led to misunderstandings and adaptations in their interactions.

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  • piceratops ultimate style avatar for user Abby
    It seems like Native Americans were monotheistic, or at least their equivalent of monotheistic, with one primary Great Creator. So how does this differ from the exclusivity of European Catholocism mentioned at ?
    (7 votes)
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  • male robot donald style avatar for user Wayne Law
    Why in this video that it seems like Native Americans become equivalent to the Europeans, like sharing and comparing and even marriages, wasn't it that European enslaved them and took their lands without discussions?
    (7 votes)
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    • purple pi pink style avatar for user Athena Gemmell
      I believe that it depended on the area of colonization. From what I've seen, in the northern, British colonies, it was more likely that they didn't enslave the native people. Versus in the southern, Mexican colonies, the Spanish were more on the lookout for labor and resources. It was more likely that the British were more open to marriage with the natives than the Spanish.
      (14 votes)
  • blobby green style avatar for user Melissa McCord
    the reason why i think there were so many culteral
    differences was because they were different cultures
    (11 votes)
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  • duskpin ultimate style avatar for user Imran
    How did they manage to establish communication with each other if they didn't know each other's language or culture?
    (5 votes)
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    • piceratops ultimate style avatar for user Hecretary Bird
      It was definitely difficult, more than interacting with somebody of a different language and culture today since the natives were vastly different due to their and the Europeans' isolation from each other. I guess they at first relied on ideas that were common to most every human, like "if I don't attack you, I might not be hostile". Then, perhaps they used pantomiming or something to learn words of each other's languages. Then there would be people who knew bits of both languages, and could translate for others. Many native tribes had experience learning languages while trading with different tribes, so it may not have been as impossible of a task as you think.
      (12 votes)
  • starky sapling style avatar for user Alaythia Brewer
    NGL, this was real interesting. I got to tell my grandparents about it and we all thought it was fun. They don't talk about this stuff in public school, so it was really cool to hear the differences and see what was adapted and merged from each society to create what we have today. It's just cool!

    Also, has anyone else struggled with this unit because of the constant article reading and wanted to just hit to snooze button on them? lol
    (9 votes)
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    • aqualine tree style avatar for user David Alexander
      The way education is set up in the USA, teachers are required to present a certain list of "facts" so that students can pass certain tests. The required content has to be taught at a slow enough pace so that ALL students, not just the quickest students, can pass the test.

      Courses like this one, at Khan Academy, are helpful for students who want to go wider and learn more than will just be "on the test."
      (3 votes)
  • duskpin sapling style avatar for user Camden McNealy
    I think the most significant difference is that are the gender role,because the woman were more free and they had more rights.They didn't half to help with all the cooking and and sometimes they could hunt.
    (10 votes)
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  • male robot hal style avatar for user paullehofer
    why didn't the asians get in on colonizing the new world?
    (7 votes)
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  • leafers sapling style avatar for user Adrienne
    Did the Native Americans have a name for their religion?
    (3 votes)
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    • piceratops ultimate style avatar for user Hecretary Bird
      The native Americans weren't just one people. Being made up of such diverse tribes, there were and still are many Native American religions. Many of these were animistic to some extent, but they were all very different from each other. If you really need a name for the Native American religions, name them based on the tribe that practices it.
      (12 votes)
  • boggle purple style avatar for user Rose
    How was the history between the Europeans and Native Americans documented?
    (6 votes)
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  • duskpin sapling style avatar for user Treasurely Me...
    Why was food the only way to get into the colonizing the new world??
    (4 votes)
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    • male robot donald style avatar for user CorruptXFan
      I don't see where it says food was the only way to colonize the new world, but food was a very big trade item back then. The Old World had foods that Native Americans had no idea that it even existed, so they would give many things for the food. The Europeans could trade with each other, but it was a totally different place than where they had been and they could get new things from a new place. So they traded food they got from the Old World and traded it for furs and other things that the Europeans would want from the Natives.
      (8 votes)

Video transcript

- [Instructor] In the first years of interaction between Native Americans and Europeans, there were a lot of aspects of each other's cultures that each group found, well, just plain weird. Europeans and Native Americans looked, dressed, and thought differently in fundamental ways that lead to misunderstandings and even violence between them. So let's take some time to compare some ways in which Native American cultural ideas differed from European cultural ideas. So how is it possible to make a direct comparison between Native American cultures and European cultures? One way is to choose a few categories of social interaction and belief and identify how each group conceived of them. Here, I've chosen ideas about land and property ownership, gender roles, and religion as areas to compare. Now before we start, I wanna put a big asterisk here and say that these are generalizations, just as the English, French, Spanish, Dutch didn't have all exactly the same religion or a concept of proper gender roles. The Algonquians, Iroquois, Pueblos, and Mississippians weren't identical either, but there were some similarities among European groups and among Native American groups that allow us to compare and contrast them more broadly. So let's start identifying these differences and exploring what effect they may have had on how the two groups perceived and interacted with each other. One major difference between Europeans and Native Americans was in their ideas about land ownership. To Europeans, land was owned by individuals and passed down through families. They had the right to fence off a plot of land and prevent trespassing. For Native Americans, land ownership was less defined and more temporary. One tribe might claim control of a hunting range or one family might farm a plot of land for a season but they didn't own it forever. Most land was free for everyone to use but not to own. So when Europeans arrived, Native Americans might agree to let them farm and hunt in their territories but they didn't expect that Europeans would then fence off that land and prevent others from using it. Likewise, Europeans were confused when Native Americans continued to use land that they thought they had purchased to own forever. Native Americans also tended to have a more communal approach to property and trade. To them, trading relationship were important and they require a lot of feasting and gift giving to cement ties between tribes. Europeans were frequently frustrated by the amount of pomp and circumstance Native Americans demanded to complete what they saw as a simple business transaction. Partly, this had to do with how Native Americans viewed property in general. While Europeans gained high status in society by owning a lot of things and therefore being rich, Native Americans achieved high status by giving a lot of things away, being a source of riches for others. So unlike in Europe where there were huge gaps between the rich and the poor, Native American societies were comparatively egalitarian. It was pretty rare for someone to go hungry if their neighbor had food to spare. Europeans couldn't tell if Native Americans were just naturally generous, kind people or if they maybe just didn't get how business worked and to Native Americans, Europeans seemed greedy and selfish, allowing others to starve and do without so that they could enrich themselves. Differences in gender roles also confused the groups. In European societies, men were the heads of household and they were in charge of outdoor labor. Women took care of the home but they also have relatively few rights. They couldn't participate politically, own property, or get divorced. In Native American societies, men hunted and fished and conducted warfare which often meant that they were away from home for weeks or months. Consequently, women did the farming since they were home to tend the crops. Native women also had a lot more freedom than European women. They could get divorced, they could give political advice to councils. Many Native American societies were matrilineal so children belonged to their mother's family rather than their father's and when a couple got married, the man moved in with his wife's family, not the other way around. To Europeans, gender roles in Native society almost seemed like they were flipped upside down and they took this as evidence that Native people were uncivilized. To Native Americans, it looked like Europeans could barely care for themselves. They had to be taught how to farm, how to fish, even how to hunt effectively in the new world. Finally, Native and European religious practices differ, at least, on the surface. Native Americans tended to believe that one great creator had made the world and that nature was imbued with spirits who would reward or punish them based on how well they took care of the land. In fact, this actually wasn't that much different from the Catholicism of Europeans who believed in a single god but also many helpful saints. But where they differed was in exclusivity. When Europeans introduced them to Jesus and Mary and the saints, many Native Americans were happy to include them in their pantheon of helpful spirits. But this angered Europeans who insisted on exclusive worship of the Christian god. All of this differences lead to fraught interactions between Europeans and Native Americans. But despite these differences, they also adopted many useful aspects of each other's culture over time especially in terms of trade. Native Americans were keen to get their hands on the metal implements for cooking and farming and hunting that Europeans possessed as well as guns and horses which were great for transportation and also for making war. Europeans were also willing to take part in the social rituals and trading rituals of Native Americans, sometimes even marrying into Native American families so they could get access to furs hunted by Native Americans and to Native Americans as allies in their wars against rival European powers and the Americas. So as we wrap up, I encourage you to take a closer look at this chart. Is there anything you find particularly surprising about these differences? Where do you think that Europeans and Native Americans were most likely to find common ground between them? And lastly, which of these cultural aspects do you think was the most significant difference between Europeans and Native Americans and why?