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European Colonization, 1492-1752 • Spanish Encomienda System
Classroom Activities

Objective: Create an illustration that depicts the effects of Spanish colonization on the lives of the indigenous peoples of the Americas and the Caribbean.

Key Questions:

  • Explain what was the Spanishencomiendasystem and how the system affected that native population.
  • How did native populations resist and protest theencomiendasystem? To what extent were their efforts successful?

Notes on Implementation:

  • If students struggle with how to annotate, do a class example together.
  • Students could also work together in groups to discuss their findings and create larger illustrations.

Student Activity: Students can access the below activity in the European Colonization Topic Center within the American History database.

Student Activity:

Spanish colonization of the Americas and the Caribbean established legal systems for controlling native and indigenous populations. The repartimiento and encomienda systems created a labor force of native people bound to colonial leaders. Religious leadership also had great political power in ruling colonies abroad, particularly for the Spanish. Through missions and the encomienda system, local leaders were able to extract local resources and control indigenous populations. These practices became heavily criticized for the brutality they inflicted on the native populations. One vocal critique, Spanish priest Bartolomé De Las Casas, chronicled the hardships natives faced and worked to protect the rights of the indigenous population.

In this activity, you will use the primary source, Bartolomé de las Casas: condemnation of Spain's Indian policy, to gain an understanding of native life before and after Spanish colonization. You will use this information to create an illustration depicting Spanish colonization.



  • Read the condemnation of Spain's Indian policy by Bartolomé de las Casas.
  • Annotate the text for descriptions of the native populations and criticism of Spanish actions.
  • Create an illustration depicting the effects of Spanish colonization.
  • Create a caption that summarizes the main idea of Bartolomé de las Casas's condemnation of Spain's Indian policy.


Key Understandings:

  • Powerful nations' ability to control wealth and resources increases their ability to influence other nations
  • Cultural exchanges can occur intentionally and unintentionally

Possible Answers for Activity:

Description of the natives according to Bartolomé de las Casas, Condemnation of Spain's Indian Policy

  • There are numberless other islands...full of people, like a hive of bees…
  • ...people to be quite simplest, without malice or duplicity, most obedient…
  • ...they serve [Christ] the most humble, most patient, most peaceful, and calm, without strife...
  • ...as free from uproar, hate and desire of revenge…
  • ...weak and feeble constitution, and less than any other can they bear fatigue…
  • ...poor people, who of worldly goods possess little, nor wish to possess...
  • ...they are therefore neither proud, nor ambitious...

Criticism of the Spanish actions according to Bartolomé de las Casas, Condemnation of Spain's Indian Policy

  • ...the Spaniards entered as soon as they knew them, like wolves, tigers, and lions which had been starving for many days…
  • ...outrage, slay, afflict, torment, and destroy them with strange and new, and divers kinds of cruelty, never before seen, nor heard of, nor read of…
  • ...whereas there were more than three million souls, whom we saw in Hispaniola, there are to-day, not two hundred of the native population left.
  • Two ordinary and principal methods have the self-styled Christians, who have gone there, employed in extirpating these miserable nations and removing them from the face of the earth. The one, by unjust, cruel and tyrannous wars. The other, by slaying all those, who might aspire to, or sigh for, or think of liberty, or to escape from the torments that they suffer...
  • The reason why the Christians have killed and destroyed such infinite numbers of souls, is solely because they have made gold their ultimate aim…
  • And it is a publicly known truth, admitted, and confessed by all, even by the tyrants and homicides themselves, that the Indians throughout the Indies never did any harm to the Christians: they even esteemed them as coming from heaven, until they and their neighbours had suffered the same many evils, thefts, deaths, violence and visitations at their hands.

MLA Citation

"Spanish Encomienda System." History Hub, ABC-CLIO, 2019, historyhub.abc-clio.com/Support/Content/2042902?cid=257. Accessed 20 Sept. 2019.

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