Native Americans according to Western thought: a brief history

Not coincidentally, Franz Boas was good friends with Edward Sapir, a comparative linguist who studied Native American languages. Sapir is known also for the Sapir-Whorff hypothesis.


The best Western thinking on Native Americans (Indians) from 1500 to 2000:

1500s, 1600s

Indians seen in terms of the Bible. They are the sons and daughters of Adam and Eve. They have the same human nature, they have souls, they can be brought to Christ. The idea that they got to the Americas by a land bridge goes back to the Spanish in 1590.

The Golden Age model of history: the West had degenerated since Greek and Roman times. Indians had degenerated too, even more so, having sunk into savagery. Maybe because of differences in climate and environment. Maybe because they were the Devil’s own.

This deficiency model of Indians lasts till the 1900s. They are clearly human yet lacking something.


Indians seen as part of the human species. God created the species, each with certain fixed characteristics. So Indians could be different from whites but not…

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