In the 1840s, traces of gold were found in the USA, in California. This led to the ‘Gold Rush’. Thousands Europeans rushed to America in the hope of making a quick fortune. This led to the building of the railways across the continent. Thousands of Chinese workers were recruited for this. The USA’s railway was completed by 1870, that of Canada by 1885. Thus, industrialization in North America happened to manufacture railway equipment, and to produce machinery which would make large-scale farming easier. The USA had been an undeveloped economy in 1860. It became the leading industrial power in 1890. The USA’s continental expansion was complete in 1892.
The ‘democratic spirit’ had been the rallying cry of the settlers in their fight for independence in the 1770s. This ‘spirit’ came to define the identity of the USA against the monarchies and aristocracies of the Old World. Their constitution included the individual’s ‘right to property’ which the state could not override. But both democratic rights (the right to vote for representatives to Congress and for the President and the right to property) were only for white men.
The natives of the USA and Canada continued to face problems till the 1920s. Lewis Meriam, a social scientist, directed a survey (The Problem of Indian Administration) which was published in 1928. The survey painted a grim picture of condition of natives in reservations. This led to a landmark law in the USA, the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934. This Act gave the natives in reservations the right to buy land and take loans. The US and Canadian governments thought of ending all special provisions for the natives in the 1950s and 1960s, in the hope that they would ‘join the mainstream’. But the natives did not want this. The natives prepared the ‘Declaration of Indian Rights’ in 1954. As per this declaration, a number of native peoples accepted citizenship of the USA, on condition that their reservations would not be taken away and their traditions would not be interfered with.
A similar development occurred in Canada. In 1969 the government announced that they would ‘not recognize aboriginal rights’. The natives opposed this idea and held a series of demonstrations and debates. In 1982, the Constitution Act accepted the existing aboriginal and treaty rights of the natives. Many details remain to be worked out but the natives have been able to assert their rights to their own cultures.
Aborigines: Many original inhabitants of Australia are collectively called aborigines. The aborigines began to arrive on the Australian continent over 40,000 years ago. They came from New Guinea, which was connected to Australia by a land-bridge. In the late eighteenth century, there were between 350 and 750 native communities in Australia. There is another large group of indigenous people living in the north, called the Torres Strait Islanders. They are not called ‘aborigine’ as they are believed to have migrated from elsewhere and belong to a different race.
The Settlers: Most of the early settlers in Australia were convicts who had been deported from England. Once their jail term ended, they were allowed to live as free people in Australia on the condition that they did not return to Britain. The settlers established sheep farms and mining stations, followed by vineyards and wheat farming. The natives were employed in farms but the tough working condition was similar to slavery. Chinese immigrants also came to provide cheap labor. But the unease about ‘non-white’ people led to a ban on Chinese immigrants. Till 1974, there was a government policy to keep the ‘no-white’ people out.
The history of Australia had been written from European perspective. It projected as the history of Australia began with Captain Cook’s ‘discovery’. Australia had no treaties with the natives formalizing the takeover of land by Europeans. The government had always termed the land of Australia terra nullius, i.e. belonging to nobody. There was a long and agonizing history of children of mixed blood (native European) being forcibly captured and separated from their native relatives.
In 1968, an anthropologist W. E. H. Stanner gave the famous lecture ‘The Great Australian Silence’. The lecture was about the silence of historians about the aborigines. From the 1970s, things began to change. People began to ask questions about the native peoples of Australia. Various measures were taken to increase an understanding about the culture of the aborigines. ‘Multiculturalism’ became the official policy of Australia. It gives equal respect to native cultures and to the different cultures of the immigrants from Europe and Asia.
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