illegal immigration

Illegal migration can be a disaster for natives, often resulting in loss of language, loss of culture, even loss of lives. Nearly all current residents of North, Central and South America descend from illegal immigrants. The Europeans were not invited to settle in America; they simply forced their way in. The consequences were devastating for indigenous peoples.

BBC journalist Caroline Davies writes about the tragic effect that European settlers had on a disappearing tribe – the Maidu people – in Northern California. It is a grim story. Sadly, it is not exceptional.

Over the centuries, different governments have tried different approaches to the indigenous peoples across North America. From the beginning of the 16th Century, early colonisers, local authorities and even state governments placed a bounty on the scalps of the indigenous people. In 1852, California’s state government was reported to have paid scalp hunters more than $1m (£626,000).

From the 1860s, the Bureau of Indian Affairs set up American Indian boarding schools to try to encourage assimilation, following the example of some Christian missionaries. Thousands of children from indigenous tribes were forced to go to these schools and were told to speak English and adopt European names in an attempt to make them forget their heritage.

Some of these schools operated into the mid-20th Century. In 1956, under the Indian Relocation Act, Native Americans were shipped from their reserves to the cities. The programme promised financial security, but often delivered urban poverty and many ended up in slums. Given this history, trust in authority is low and there is little doubt that the Maidu are fearful of opening up again.

Caroline Davies, “The people who want their language to disappear“, BBC News Magazine, 2 November 2014.


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