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Native American enslavement was the practice of using indigenous peoples of the Americas as slaves.

Native American enslavement of Native Americans

In Pre-Columbian Mesoamerica the most common forms of slavery were those of prisoners of war and debtors. People unable to pay back a debt could be sentenced to work as a slave to the person owed until the debt was worked off. Slavery was not usually hereditary; children of slaves were born free.

Most victims of human sacrifice were prisoners of war or slaves.

The Haida and Tlingit tribes who lived along the Southeast Alaskamarker's coast were traditionally known as fierce warriors and slave-traders, raiding as far as Californiamarker. Slavery was hereditary, the slaves being prisoners of war. Among some Pacific Northwest tribes about a quarter of the population were slaves.

Other slave-owning tribes and societies of the New World were, for example, Comanche of Texas, Creek of Georgia, the fishing societies, such as the Yurok, that lived along the coast from what is now Alaska to California, the Pawnee and Klamath, the Caribs of Dominica, the Tupinambá of Brazil, and the Tehuelche of Patagonia.

European enslavement of Native Americans

European enslavement of Native Americans existed with the Spanish from the earliest days on the Caribbeanmarker islands they first settled. One of the first localities for intensive use of slaves was the gold mines of Hispaniolamarker. This resulted in the extermination of Native Americans on most of the islands. A very few mixed-blood survivors remain, especially on Jamaicamarker, and are called Maroon as do some mixed-blood survivors of the Arawak on Cuba. Some Carib survive on Dominicamarker. In Brazil slavery was already part of the native population traditions. Native Americans would enslave other Native Americans, captured from rival tribes, and would often eat their slaves after some time. After the arrival of the Portuguese, the Native Americans started to trade their prisoners, instead of using them as slaves or food, in exchange for goods. But the enslavement of Europeans could also occur as happened with Hans Staden who, after being set free, wrote a book about the habits of the Native Americans.

Native American slavery was also practised by the English in the Carolinas who sold Native American captives into slavery on the English plantations in the Caribbean. One of the first tribes that specialized in slave raids and trade with Carolina was the Westo, followed by many others including the Yamasee, Chickasaw, and Creek. Historian Alan Gallay estimates the number of Native Americans in southeast America sold in the British slave trade from 1670-1715 as between 24,000 and 51,000. He also notes that during this period more slaves (Native American, African, or otherwise) were exported from Charles Townmarker than imported.

Many Native American tribes did enslave small numbers of captives and in the southwestern United Statesmarker a few of them were sold to local Hispanic residents. In at least one instance in the San Luis Valley of Coloradomarker a female household slave continued in her status long after the Emancipation Proclamation.

Slavery of Native Americans was organized in colonial and Mexican California through Franciscan missions, theoretical entitled to ten years of Native labor, but in practice maintaining them in perpetual servitude, until their charge was revoked in the mid-1830s. Following the 1848 American invasion, Native Californians were enslaved in the new state from statehood in 1850 to 1867. Slavery required the posting of a bond by the slave holder and enslavement occurred through raids and a four-month servitude imposed as a punishment for Indian "vagrancy".

First Nations of Canadamarker routinely captured slaves from neighboring tribes. The conditions under which such slaves lived, however, were much more humane than the conditions endured by African peoples forcibly brought as chattel by Europeans to the Americas. Slave-owning tribes of what became Canada were, for example, the fishing societies, such as the Yurok, that lived along the coast from what is now Alaskamarker to Californiamarker. Many of the indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest Coast, such as the Haida and Tlingit, were traditionally known as fierce warriors and slave-traders, raiding as far as California. Slavery was hereditary, the slaves being prisoners of war and their descendants. Among some Pacific Northwest tribes about a quarter of the population were slaves.

The citizens of New France received slaves as gifts from their allies among First Nations peoples. Many of these slaves were prisoners taken in raids against the villages of the Fox nation, a tribe that was an ancient rival of the Miami people and their Algonquian allies.Brett Rushforth, "Slavery, the Fox Wars, and the Limits of Alliance," William and Mary Quarterly 63 (January 2005), No.1, para. 32. Rushforth confuses the two Vincennes explorers. François-Marie was 12 years old during the First Fox War. Native or ("panis", likely a corruption of Pawnee) slaves were much easier to obtain and thus more numerous than African slaves in New France, but were less valued. The average native slave died at 18, and the average African slave died at 25. 1790, the abolition movement was gaining credence in Canada and the ill intent of slavery was evidenced by an incident involving a slave woman being violently abused by her slave owner on her way to being sold in the United States. The Act Against Slavery of 1793 legislated the gradual abolition of slavery: no slaves could be imported; slaves already in the province would remain enslaved until death, no new slaves could be brought into Upper Canada, and children born to female slaves would be slaves but must be freed at age 25. The Act remained in force until 1833 when the British Parliamentmarker's Slavery Abolition Act finally abolished slavery in all parts of the British Empire. Historian Marcel Trudel has undercover 4,092 recorded slaves throughout Canadian history, of which 2,692 were aboriginal people, owned mostly by the Frenchmarker, and 1,400 blacks owned mostly by the British, together owned by approximately 1,400 masters. Trudel also noted 31 marriages took place between French colonists and aboriginal slaves.



  1. "Human sacrifice", Britannica Concise Encyclopedia
  2. Digital History African American Voices
  3. Haida Warfare
  4. Welcome to Encyclopædia Britannica's Guide to Black History
  5. Castillo, Edward D. (1998). Short Overview of California Indian History", California Native American Heritage Commission.
  6. Beasley, Delilah L. (1918). "Slavery in California," The Journal of Negro History, Vol. 3, No. 1. (Jan.), pp. 33-44.
  7. Slavery in the New World
  8. AfuaCooper, The Untold Story of Canadian Slavery and the Burning of Old Montreal,(Toronto:HarperPerennial, 2006)

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