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Ok I've been debating with my coworkers about the native Americans. Specifically were the white men justified in running them off their land. I've argued that to run someone off of their land those being run off would have to have a concept of property rights. Does anyone disagree? I'd like to hear rational arguments not emotional appeals which is all I get at work

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There are a few points to make here.

1> The property rights issue. Native Americans had no concept of property rights, and in most cases were nomads wondering the country side. It's pretty hard to observe something that they don't understand.

2> Moral standards. The moral standards of the Indians were very low in comparison to the Westerners who came here. They did not treat each other very well and in the case of some tribes the treatment was horrific. You can't expect to be treated any better than the standards to which you yourself hold. See present day Palestinians for an example.

3> Having said that, it's also true that the Europeans who came here were far from perfect, but they too can only be as good as the standards they themselves hold to.

At the end of the day it is best for everyone that the European standards won the day. I mean, nobody in their right mind would want to live according to Native American standards of 200+ years ago. Most “Indians” today are part of the larger American society. They are living in a free country and enjoying all that comes with that, rather than living in tepees eking out a life. People who make the sort of arguments you are referring to do no appreciate the greatness of achievement that is Western society, largely because they have not been taught properly. In fact, most have been taught that America and the West are evil.

I think it's also interesting to point out that it is usually multiculturalists who put forth these arguments and multiculturalists don't care one whit about what is right and what is wrong. They are moral relativists and anti-Westerners who prop up the worst societies in the world today (Islamic, for example), despite how brutal those societies are.

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Really important point: the distinction between the indigenous North of the Rio Grande and those South of. HUGE DIFFERENCE.

I concede that the behavior of the religious insane Spanish in Mezzo America is "one thing" and deplorable, but I do NOT let that infer judgement on what happened in the North.

Beware of the claim that 25 million thriving souls inhabited the New World and these were robbed and killed by the Europeans: North of the Rio Grande...you have a nearly empty continent. If you attempt to add things up, you will have a really difficult time supporting a few hundred thousand in 1492, let alone millions. The Indigenous were not stupid! They went where it was warm. For instance, unlike with the huge cities south of the Rio, the largest known center that could come close to being called a 'city' was in the Mississippi culture and is estimated to have a max population of 25,000. That's the biggest. Do the math.

So, to claim that the Europeans had no right to ANY of this empty wilderness is to claim that a handful of people who were there owned hundreds of thousands of acres EACH.

Now, I am not justifying the completely despicable treatment of certain of these small tribes. Any glance into what was done to the Cherokee makes me boil with rage.

John Donohue

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Beware of the claim that 25 million thriving souls inhabited the New World and these were robbed and killed by the Europeans: North of the Rio Grande...you have a nearly empty continent. If you attempt to add things up, you will have a really difficult time supporting a few hundred thousand in 1492, let alone millions. The Indigenous were not stupid! They went where it was warm. For instance, unlike with the huge cities south of the Rio, the largest known center that could come close to being called a 'city' was in the Mississippi culture and is estimated to have a max population of 25,000. That's the biggest. Do the math.

So, to claim that the Europeans had no right to ANY of this empty wilderness is to claim that a handful of people who were there owned hundreds of thousands of acres EACH.

John Donohue

This is not entirely true. America north of the Rio Grande was actually well-inhabited, as recently as the Spanish expeditions around the Southeast and into Texas in the 1500s. The vast majority of these Native Americans, upwards of 90%, were killed by diseases from Europe that traveled farther than the actual explorers ever did. Trade routes were extensive: archaeologists have found obsidian from Montana and Idaho in Illinois and Indiana as early as 400 AD. Shells from coastal California regularly showed up in the Great Basin (Utah, Nevada, etc.) Also the idea of all the Native Americans being nomadic may have been correct for a narrow stretch of time but it is also misleading - many Native American settlements prior to the massive die-off were quite permanent and great proportions of the populations were sedentary. I do not care to speculate as to whether they recognized property rights because in all honesty I have no idea, but my point is that the characterization being made of the Native Americans as wild nomads is not entirely accurate and I think people are treating the 1800s plains tribes as the archetype for all the non-Europeans living on the continent, which just isn't true.

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Many times what happened is that settlers would establish farms and then they would be attacked by some tribe, where their wives and children are killed. The Comanche and Apache were brutal tribes, for instance. Cases like that would naturally result in the desire to get rid of Indians in a quest to civilize the country and protect the citizens from future harm.

I'd have to look at specific cases, such as the Cherokee, who are often referred to as being "peaceful", but I do know that Indians were living at a primitive level, and they did engage in brutal and gruesome acts against settlers.

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My post was about the 'count.' The urban legend is that the continent north of the Rio Grande was filled with a vast population of cities and nations. This is wrong. I have been looking at this issue for a few years. You read a story about "this nation" and "that nation" and then find out it is a few thousand people or even a few hundred. The biggest centers were in the Mississippi culture area around present-day St. Louis, in the wooded interior of the Mid-Atlantic states, along the Atlantic coast, and in southern Florida.

There are a lot of wild claims out there, dubious numbers about "the count." However, I have not found any study pointing to a substantial population center, such as one finds in the South American (especially the Aztec) cultures.

The huge continent north of the Rio Grande...perhaps 200,000? 500,000?

Again, this does not excuse specific abuse; it is just a reminder not to let anyone build a picture that the Europeans came in and conquered a settled rule of law continent.

John Donohue

I definitely suggest anyone discussing this subject look into the case of the Cherokee. They were far more than peaceful! They were a constitutional true nation. The white south could not abide this. They got the racist "populist" Andrew Jackson to destroy the advanced Cherokee nation and remove them to friggin' Oklahoma.

John Donohue

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I definitely suggest anyone discussing this subject look into the case of the Cherokee. They were far more than peaceful! They were a constitutional true nation. The white south could not abide this. They got the racist "populist" Andrew Jackson to destroy the advanced Cherokee nation and remove them to friggin' Oklahoma.

John Donohue

The only way they could be a constitutional nation is if they got their ideas from the West. Is this what you mean?

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Well, if someone phrases the question the way you did, "Did they have the right to drive Indians off their land?" then you can simply dismiss that, because rights are a specific thing. They apply to individuals.

If you don't acknowledge them, let alone respect other people's rights, then you don't have 'em. The Indians didn't so End of story.

However, if people bring up genocide, extermination, murder, then you need to refuse to talk in generalities (because they don't exist-while the Holocaust for instance was the work of a single entity, the Nazi State, for a single reason, completely unjustified, the extermination of the Indians was not that: specific groups of whites did specific things at specific times, some of them justified and as a response to horrors committed by Indians, some of them murderous and unjustified.)

What you need to do is ask for specific "crimes", and then you can read up on those events, and judge the specific acts both whites and natives committed objectively. Don't let anyone get away with vague generalities which are used to compare pretty much anything nowadays to the Holocaust.

P.S. I say Indians because I can't bring myself to use two words to describe something. It's laziness, but I don't care about which people use.

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Well, if someone phrases the question the way you did, "Did they have the right to drive Indians off their land?" then you can simply dismiss that, because rights are a specific thing. They apply to individuals.

If you don't acknowledge them, let alone respect other people's rights, then you don't have 'em. The Indians didn't so End of story.

If rights are inalienable, how is it that Europeans had rights and Native American did not. Does one have to acknowledget the existence of rights for one to have them? How would that apply to an ignorant/illeterate/uneducated European -- or are you suggesting that all Europeans were educated and acknowledged the existence of inalienable rights? If so, with whom did the Americans fight the Independence War with?

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If rights are inalienable, how is it that Europeans had rights and Native American did not.
I think Jake's wording was mistaken. Specifically, they had no right to the particular land (in various instances), and because of their disregard for others' rights, deserved no recognition of any rights they might have had. That is, if you deny rights, you have no moral claim on others that they should respect your rights.

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I think Jake's wording was mistaken. Specifically, they had no right to the particular land (in various instances), and because of their disregard for others' rights, deserved no recognition of any rights they might have had. That is, if you deny rights, you have no moral claim on others that they should respect your rights.

I have to admit this is something I have never understood well...WHY did they not have a right to particular pieces of land? Do you really have to make property rights completely explicit for them to be respected, or can de facto property rights on the basis of a longstanding society living in the area be legitimate? I frankly don't see why they can't. This is one area I've never quite been sure about...by what right can somebody just show up and start living on land that other people already live on? To say that "the Indians" didn't respect property rights or even have a concept of them or that "the Europeans" did seems collectivist to me. The Indian nations were as different from each other as the European ones were.

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I have to admit this is something I have never understood well...WHY did they not have a right to particular pieces of land? Do you really have to make property rights completely explicit for them to be respected, or can de facto property rights on the basis of a longstanding society living in the area be legitimate?
No, but a "right to land" does not suddenly materialize just because you touch the land. And in addition, rights are individual, not racial. Especially in the middle chunk of the US where these land rights claims are most contentious and dubious, the fact of going on an extended camping trip in North Dakota does not confer right of ownership. To own something, you actually have to claim it, and take ownership of it, not simply use it for a while because you happen to be passing through. And ownership is very specific -- a particular individual owns a particular thing. Thus claims that "the Indians" owned "the land" are meaningless.

There simply is no evidence at all that the land was owned -- it may have been occasionally and temporarily occupied, but that's no proof of anything. I've gone camping all sorts of places, and that doesn't make me the owner of the land that I happened to be on, even if it's a place that I liked to go camping on a lot.

I think once the discussion goes beyond the standard hyper-generalizing level about "Indians", and down to the nit-picky specifics of particular tribes, then we can talk more reasonably about indigenous theories of property. The forced eviction of the Cherokee would be one example where the government was clearly in the wrong.

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No, but a "right to land" does not suddenly materialize just because you touch the land. And in addition, rights are individual, not racial. Especially in the middle chunk of the US where these land rights claims are most contentious and dubious, the fact of going on an extended camping trip in North Dakota does not confer right of ownership. To own something, you actually have to claim it, and take ownership of it, not simply use it for a while because you happen to be passing through. And ownership is very specific -- a particular individual owns a particular thing. Thus claims that "the Indians" owned "the land" are meaningless.

There simply is no evidence at all that the land was owned -- it may have been occasionally and temporarily occupied, but that's no proof of anything. I've gone camping all sorts of places, and that doesn't make me the owner of the land that I happened to be on, even if it's a place that I liked to go camping on a lot.

I think once the discussion goes beyond the standard hyper-generalizing level about "Indians", and down to the nit-picky specifics of particular tribes, then we can talk more reasonably about indigenous theories of property. The forced eviction of the Cherokee would be one example where the government was clearly in the wrong.

Right, that all makes sense so far. Rights are individual, but individuals can also associate voluntarily and own things jointly (note I mean jointly, not "communally"). Obviously when a corporation or some similar entity buys something, there is not just one owner, but it is certainly private property. If a family, or a corporation, can own something, why not a tribe?

I think the Plains Indians are probably the worst example to use for this discussion, but of course that's usually what everyone thinks of. I'm talking about the Northeastern, some Southeastern, West Coast, and Mexican tribes that were pretty sedentary and in fact had established complex societies at the time of first contact. The funny thing about the Plains Indians riding on horseback and taking down bison as a lifestyle is that it was actually a relatively "new" (few hundred years) lifestyle for them and not what they had been doing for their whole existence.

Here's an interesting thought to consider...because the European explorers were essentially a biohazard to Native Americans by their very presence on the continent, did they have the right to kill them on the basis of protecting themselves from the diseases that did end up wiping out 90+ percent of the indigenous population even before European settlement was widespread? Although they did not have modern germ theory, a few of the tribes did make the connection between "oh look white people" and "oh look we're all dying of horrible diseases we never had before". Could it be considered self-defense? I have the suspicion it shouldn't but then what recourse, rationally, would the natives had to protect themselves from the diseases that ended up killing far more of them than wars with settlers ever did?

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Ok I've been debating with my coworkers about the native Americans. Specifically were the white men justified in running them off their land. I've argued that to run someone off of their land those being run off would have to have a concept of property rights. Does anyone disagree? I'd like to hear rational arguments not emotional appeals which is all I get at work

I would argue that the second sentence would tend to bait someone into an emotional appeal. Fist, it uses colorful language: "run them off". Second, it acknowledges that they do, in fact, own it. When we talk about something we own, we call it ours. When we talk about something someone else owns, we say that it is theirs. The question specifically asks if it is OK for one group to run another group off a piece of land they own. So thirdly, it focuses us on groups instead of indivduals. White verses Native American. It is creating an "us against them" scenario that tends to bait folks into emotional pleas. My conclusion is that your argument is weak. If you truly desire rational arguments, you need to ask rational questions.

Edited by Vincer

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Even if certain indigenous groups didn't have strong conceptions of land ownership, they definitely had an idea of joint, tribal ownership of hunting, fishing and rights in particular areas. Certain tribes even distributed these kinds of rights internally, so a certain family group would own exclusive rights to particular hunting grounds. Land itself may not have been carved up and owned privately by indigenous North American groups, but other kinds of rights to natural resources definitely were. And those rights were substantially infringed upon by the appearance of white settlers and their government backed claims of land ownership.

The apologist claim that "the count" of the indigenous population was quite low actually feeds this argument. Clearly each indigenous inhabitant of North America didn't own hundreds of thousands of acres of land The low population meant that land simpliciter wasn't a scarce resource and explains WHY indigenous groups didn't have strong conceptions of land ownership. They didn't need them. But other resources - like animal populations and fishing areas - were scarce, and frequently property rights regimes were developed and enforced. These regimes were pretty much uniformly destroyed by European settlers.

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Even if certain indigenous groups didn't have strong conceptions of land ownership, they definitely had an idea of joint, tribal ownership of hunting, fishing and rights in particular areas. Certain tribes even distributed these kinds of rights internally, so a certain family group would own exclusive rights to particular hunting grounds. Land itself may not have been carved up and owned privately by indigenous North American groups, but other kinds of rights to natural resources definitely were. And those rights were substantially infringed upon by the appearance of white settlers and their government backed claims of land ownership.

The apologist claim that "the count" of the indigenous population was quite low actually feeds this argument. Clearly each indigenous inhabitant of North America didn't own hundreds of thousands of acres of land The low population meant that land simpliciter wasn't a scarce resource and explains WHY indigenous groups didn't have strong conceptions of land ownership. They didn't need them. But other resources - like animal populations and fishing areas - were scarce, and frequently property rights regimes were developed and enforced. These regimes were pretty much uniformly destroyed by European settlers.

The population wasn't low at all until after contact. In fact many areas were quite densely populated, most especially the Southeast, the Northeast, and the Pacific Coast. Losing 90+% of your population in the space of a few hundred years (even hundreds of miles from anywhere white people showed up) would tend to disrupt anyone's society, I would think.

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Let's say I landed in the middle of this system of "natural rights". What would my rights be, in their interpretation?

Would I be able to buy my fishing and hunting rights, or build my railroad on unowned land or land I purchased from whoever owned it, or would I get tied to a pole, scalped and killed?

I submit that it's the latter, and faced with that, I would have the right to do whatever it takes to establish a society which allows me to do all that. Indians were nowhere near peaceful: not with each other and certainly not with European settlers.

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Would I be able to buy my fishing and hunting rights, or build my railroad on unowned land or land I purchased from whoever owned it, or would I get tied to a pole, scalped and killed?

I submit that it's the latter, and faced with that, I would have the right to do whatever it takes to establish a society which allows me to do all that. Indians were nowhere near peaceful: not with each other and certainly not with European settlers.

And I submit that your claim is unsubstantiated eurocentric nonsense. Want to trade more warrantless claims?

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And I submit that your claim is unsubstantiated eurocentric nonsense. Want to trade more warrantless claims?

Get a hold of yourself, I was explaining my position. If it upsets you, splash some cold water on your face and then think of a response.

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1. POPULATION- Losing 90% of a population does tend to thin out an area. North of the Rio Grande in 1491, there were in fact millions of Native Americans, with sizeable towns (although few exceeded more than a few thousand, mostly due to geography and available technology).

2. PROPERTY RIGHTS- Many Native nations, such as the Narragansett and the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) had fixed borders and governments. (interesting to note, the Iroquois have the second oldest continually running parliament in the world, after the Althing of Iceland.

3. MORALITY- To claim that Native Americans were brutal twords each other, that is true. However, the notion that Natives were moral-less people acting brutally twords themselves is akin to saying that the 100 years' War in Europe between France and England was a case of moral-less Europeans acting brutally twords themselves. Native Americans did not view themselves as one people any more than we (I live on this side of Earth, and I naively assume the rest of you do too) view ourselves as Western Hemispherians.

I would reccomend reading Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond, as well as 1491 by Charles C. Mann. Very helpful.

So the question I ask is this- scince Mongolia has a very relatively low population density, and much of the land is not specifically owned by any one person, does that mean that Mongolia is up for grabs? (my personal opinion is no, it is not up for grabs)

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So the question I ask is this- scince Mongolia has a very relatively low population density, and much of the land is not specifically owned by any one person, does that mean that Mongolia is up for grabs? (my personal opinion is no, it is not up for grabs)

No need to go that far, most of the Western USA isn't owned by any one person. Canada too for that matter and our population density is extremely low.

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