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European expansion profoundly affected Native American societies, and in the long run (and in many cases the short term) the effects were catastrophic. When Native peoples throughout the Americas first came in contact with Europeans, they struggled to figure out what to do in response to the intruders. Many opted...
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European expansion profoundly affected Native American societies, and in the long run (and in many cases the short term) the effects were catastrophic. When Native peoples throughout the Americas first came in contact with Europeans, they struggled to figure out what to do in response to the intruders. Many opted to seek alliances and trade relationships with Europeans, who brought weapons and other material goods that could confer wealth and prestige on those who had them. Others sought to resist the Europeans from first contact, though this response was less common. In any cases, debates about what to do with Europeans divided Indian peoples among themselves, with factions forming. For example, Massasoit of the Wampanoags was persuaded by Squanto and others that the best response to the arrival of the Pilgrims was to seek an alliance against the surrounding hostile Narragansett people. Many of Massasoit"s people, however, differed, and this threatened to tear them apart. This trend would be persistent until the late nineteenth century. Contact also caused considerable economic change among Indian people as traditional trade relationships were permanently altered and they shifted to economies that would meet the demands of European traders. Southeastern Indians, for example, engaged in brutal slave trading wars in order to satisfy the demands of Carolina traders for Indian slaves to ship to the Caribbean. Later, they hunted whitetail deer nearly to extinction to meet a growing demand for deerskins. But by far the greatest effect on Indian society was the demographic catastrophe that followed contact. Infectious diseases destroyed millions of Native American people, a tragedy that posed a threat not just to life but to their worldview as well. Traditional leaders, charged with keeping their people safe, had seemingly failed, and new ones, often war chiefs, emerged. This trend, exacerbated by the loss of lands to Europeans, led to unimaginable turmoil in Native societies. Many people, decimated by disease, were adopted by surrounding tribes. The Catawba, for example, came into being by absorbing other peoples displaced by war and disease.