Was Disease the Key Factor in the Depopulation of Native Americans in the Americas?
Did Europeans purposefully infect the Native Americans? That question will never be answered. Whether intentional or accidental, the truth remains that disease was indeed brought to the early Native American culture due to European expansion. The true question is in Taking Sides, issue 2, Was Disease the Key Factor in the Depopulation of Native Americans in the Americas? In this particular issue two sides are represented; yes by Collin G. Calloway, and no by David S. Jones. Let’s take a look at Calloway’s perspective towards the issue. The most important cause of Native American depopulation, during European contact, was epidemic disease. The
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Jones also discusses the role of genetics and malnutrition towards their rapid depopulation. American Indians societies lacked an adaptive immunity due to non-exposure: their bodies had no defensive mechanism for the virus given to them; therefore, no way to fight. Their bodies were also simply not strong enough to defend and malnourishment is an obvious explanation. It increases risk for infection. “Malnutrition provides the most obvious, and prevalent, demonstration of the links between social conditions, environmental conditions, and disease” (35), for it impairs the bodies strength. For example, “some vitamin deficiencies cause skin breakdown, eroding the first barrier of defense against infection [,and] protein deficiencies impair both cellular and hormonal responses (35). Ones’ body needs nutrition to survive period, let alone when it is being attacked. Another point is that Indians faced different environmental factors through dislocation. Europeans never respected the Indian culture; so once they set foot on the American soil, they deemed it to be theirs’. The American Indian culture fought against this, but they were ultimately forced to different climates of the nation; for if a tribe were to contest or battle for war, they were ruthlessly massacred. Native Americans were forced to find, and rebuild communities, food, shelter, and ways of life. Not only did they have to move, but because of European needs for wood, the weather changed for their