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Slavery among the indigenous peoples of the Americas took many forms throughout North and South America. Slavery was a common institution among various Pre-Columbian indigenous peoples of the Americas; however, chattel slavery was introduced only after European and African contact. Indigenous peoples owned indigenous slaves, and after contact, owned African slaves. An international indigenous American slave trade was active beginning in the late 15th century into the 19th century. Although slavery is illegal throughout the Americas, some Indigenous peoples are still enslaved today.
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.
First Nations of Canada routinely captured slaves from neighboring tribes. Slave-owning tribes were Muscogee Creek of Georgia, the Pawnee and Klamath, the Caribs of Dominica, the Tupinambá of Brazil, and some fishing societies, such as the Yurok, that lived along the coast from what is now Alaska to California. The Haida, Nuu-chah-nulth, Tlingit, Coast Tsimshian and some other tribes who lived along the Pacific Northwest Coast were traditionally known as fierce warriors and slave-traders, raiding as far as California and also among neighboring people, particularly the Coast Salish groups. Slavery was hereditary, with new slaves generally being prisoners of war or captured for the purpose of trade and status. Among some Pacific Northwest tribes about a quarter of the population were slaves.
The encomienda system was an agreement between the Council of the Indies and the Spanish crown to exchange education and protection from warring tribes for the use of the land owned by the caciques, lords, or encomienderos and the promise of seasonal labour. Intermittently, the colonists needed to purge these anaborios (native mercenaries). From the earliest days on the Caribbean islands they settled, the Spanish encomienderos precipitated many revolts and hostilities, both Native American and Spanish in origin, through their harsh treatment. One of the first localities for intensive use of encomienda was the gold mines of Hispaniola. The caciques arbitrarily set wages.
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 practiced by the English in the Carolinas who sold Native American captives into slavery locally and 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 Town than imported.
Many Native American tribes did enslave small numbers of captives and in the southwestern United States, some were sold to local Hispanic residents. In at least one instance in the San Luis Valley of Colorado 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, theoretically 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 Native American "vagrancy".
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. 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. In 1790, the abolition movement was gaining credence in Canada; there was 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 Parliament's Slavery Abolition Act finally abolished slavery in all parts of the British Empire. Historian Marcel Trudel has discovered 4,092 recorded slaves throughout Canadian history, of which 2,692 were aboriginal people, owned mostly by the French, 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.