Final Reflections

The semester is coming to a close and for our final assignment we were asked to reflect on what we have learned and gained throughout this class. Before entering this class, I had always been interested in Native American cultures. Maybe it was because I was exposed to a little bit of the culture while living in New Mexico, or maybe it was because their lifestyle seemed so vastly different from anything I had ever experienced. Either way, although I had not had much of an opportunity to explore their cultures, I wanted to. I remember one of my first experiences talking about Native Americans outside of childhood movies like Pocahontas was when I was on a high school trip to Fairbanks, Alaska. My professor, classmates, and I took a seven hour car ride up to the Arctic Circle, a trek that seemed daunting when we first began, but I was soon enthralled by the stories that our tour guide told during the journey there. He was extremely knowledgeable about everything: the climate, the animals, the history, and especially the Inuit population. He said he was close friends with several Inuits and described his encounters with them. I found his stories very entertaining and enjoyed hearing about him eating blubber because he had attended one of their dinners as a guest and therefore received what they considered to be the best part of the animal or about them riding on the Yukon River when it was frozen solid on snow mobiles. He said they would even bet each year on the day that the ice would finally crack and begin to melt. I think this trip was when my interest in Native Americans began to develop beyond what I had experienced as a kid.

Our Tour Guide

Our Tour Guide

On the way to the Arctic Circle

On the way to the Arctic Circle

Upon entering this class, I thought that I would be learning a lot about the cultures and lifestyles of Native Americans, which on some level was true. I did learn about several major tribes from different regions of North America, including their historical ways of life up until the modern day. We looked at gender roles, religion, warfare, and compared these cultural aspects between different tribes. However, I also learned about the many struggles that these groups of people faced that most other classes had merely touched on. I read about the numerous methods that Europeans and later Americans used to force Native Americans to change depending on how they were viewed. As bloodthirsty savages, they were a race of people who needed to be eliminated through violence; as ignorant natives, they were a group of people who needed to be shown the correct way of living; and as a supposed dying race, their culture needed to be preserved for future generations. As such, how Native Americans were treated depended largely on the moods and viewpoints of the era in which they were living. Different administration employed different policies and methods of “dealing” with the “Indian problem.” As a result, the United States government often went back on what they had previously promised, depending on what benefited them most at the time. Overall, this class was able to take the historical Native Americans that I often imagined and place them in a more modern context while also showing the hardships and injustices that they faced to get here.

In doing to, this class also explored another dimension of Native American life that I had not anticipated. By looking at the past, I was able to see many of the causes for problems that Native Americans face today. Most of these issues are ones that I had not previously considered, such as federal recognition, poverty, citizenship, and cultural identity. It showed the struggle for civil rights that Native Americans continue to face in this modern time. I think this aspect of the class is what shocked me the most. After learning about the African American struggle to gain civil rights, I suppose I had assumed that the fight had allowed all other groups to gain these same rights even though I know the result is still not perfect. I never would have expected that just a few decades ago children were being forced from their homes and shipped across the country to receive a “proper” education or that the government could force people off of their lands, make them walk hundreds of miles, and dump them in the desert with few provisions or ways of making a living. I had always assumed that these were issues that would have already been resolved given our “modern and civilized” country, but I guess I was just naive in believing that we had actually come that far in terms of civil and human rights. To add insult to injury, this history and modern issues are not even taught to the majority of the United States. For me, this class was really eye-opening regarding what our government has done in the past and continues to do as well as how culture impacts the ways in which people view the world. I also feel like I have a new appreciation for the strength and resilience that Native Americans have exhibited even against such horrible odds.

In terms of the future, I hope that I will use what I have learned in this class to educate others about these important issues. Additionally, I want to become more aware of the news regarding Native American tribes and the problems that they are facing. Finally, I think I will try harder to be more culturally sensitive in the future and to recognize the diversity of culture that exists between Native American tribes. I hope this is a topic that I can pursue further during my education and that will always hold an important place in my life.

Snow Angels on the Yukon River

Snow Angels on the Yukon River

I’m not quite sure how to react…

A few weeks ago, my friend showed me this video because she knew I was taking a class about Native Americans. The video was sent to her for her Religion in Popular Culture class, looking at how people “play Native American.” In watching the video, I had mixed feelings and figured I would share it to see what other people thought. Here is the video:

These satirical videos have become increasingly popular on Youtube recently, and my thoughts are divided on whether they are bringing important issues to the public’s attention or helping to perpetuate stereotypes. On the one hand, the video does hit on some important issues regarding stereotypes that are circulating throughout mainstream America, such as headdresses, teepees, alcoholism, and environmentalism. It also looks at misconceptions that Americans have about Native American beliefs and lifestyle. Finally, it points out the ignorance that most Americans have about the diversity that exists between different tribes (and minorities for that matter) and the historical struggles that many Native American tribes went through that shaped how they live today. Not only does it hit an enormous number of issues that we talked about in class, but it also addresses them in a way that is interesting and funny, which may be more appealing to the American public.

However, I also feel that this video may be offensive because it makes fun of serious issues that have real life consequences for many Native Americans. Additionally, by playing off of common stereotypes, this video may simply be perpetuating these inaccurate views of Native American cultures and lifestyles. Finally, in the comments it says that the video is “made by 110% Native Americans.” Ignoring the improbable nature of that percentage, the comment raised a concern for me. Does being in the ethnic group make it alright to bring up these stereotypes? This is a phenomenon that I encounter a lot during my life, and it always makes me wonder: why is it offensive for an outsider to stereotype a group, while it is acceptable for someone of that race to endorse these stereotypes? Should this really be okay?

Overall, I feel that the video is funny while still addressing important issues that the public need to be made aware of. Yet, I still worry about whether this video is degrading for Native Americans who are struggling with these issues and would not appreciate them being addressed in such a flippant manner. These were my thoughts. What are yours?

In-Between Tourist and Native

In the past few classes for my Native Peoples of North America course, we have been looking at how tourism has affected several different Native American tribes, such as the Cherokee and the Hopi. This topic is important because for some Native American groups, tourism is one of their major sources of income. However, this economic opportunity often has an impact on the tribe’s culture and its people. For example, most tourists are hoping to see a specific image of Native Americans, namely how they lived in historic times, and are often disappointed when members of the tribe are dressed in modern clothes or using new technology. So in order to attract more visitors, some Native Americans have to revert back to more traditional forms of dress, ceremonies, or customs, at least in front of foreigners, which may not reflect the culture and practices of the modern day tribe. Case in point, here is a promotional video which is meant to highlight attractions that visitors might enjoy on the Seminole Reservation. Rather than emphasizing their modern culture, the video encourages tourists to watch their historical reenactments and purchase traditional crafts (activities shown in the last minute of the video).

As a result, there is much debate within the Native American community about whether tourism has a positive or negative impact on tribal lifestyles. During our investigation, one of my classmates raised a question about whether our actions of visiting Native American tribes and inviting guest speakers for our class were any better than the tourists who visit Indian tribe for the dances, headdresses, and dream catchers. This question is what I am hoping to address in this post.

Native American Culture Tours in Montana

Native American Culture Tours in Montana

After considering this question, I found that I greatly related to this subject because it is an issue that I faced last year when I was studying abroad in Venice, Italy. During the spring semester of my sophomore year, I lived on the island of Venice along the Grand Canal and studied several different aspects of Venetian life, including art history, language, food, and culture. I lived in the city for four months, shopped at the grocery store, explored its narrow streets, and talked to native residents about their experience living in the unique, yet beautiful city. However, despite the lengthy time that I spent living on the island and the efforts that I took to learn about the Venetian culture, I was still seen by most residents as merely one more annoying, loud tourist. It did not matter that I was genuinely interested in learning about the many problems that the city was facing due to the rising cost of living, drastic impact of tourism, and shrinking job opportunities; because I could not speak the language fluently and did not know the customs, I was labeled an outsider and often looked down upon by many of the Venetians. Although I can understand the Venetians love/hate relationship with tourism (bridges are for walking not blocking traffic and taking pictures), I still felt that I should not be considered the same as a person who spent two days in Venice, bought a mask, saw San Marco, and rode on a gondola. I believe that my feelings last spring apply to this question posed about Native American tourism.

Venice

Venice

Carnivale: A Major Tourist Attraction in Venice

Carnivale: A Major Tourist Attraction in Venice

Although I can see the reasoning behind this question, I do not believe that our efforts in this class should be equated to the type of tourism seen on many Native American reservations today. Mainly, my response is based on the difference in our focus and intentions while learning about Native American cultures compared to most tourists. First, when my class looks at a particular Native American culture, we attempt to get a complete picture of their way of life by learning about both the past and present culture. For most of the tribes that our textbook covers, there is a division of focus between historical accounts of tribal culture and more recent events and cultural shifts that have occurred within the group. Thus, rather than seeing a shallow snapshot of Native American culture by visiting a reservation for a day, our class aims to learn about many aspects of their past and present culture, such as sociopolitical systems, gender roles, life cycles, and problems affecting the community.

Dancer at the Red Earth Festival, one of the largest performing arts events, which won a cultural tourism award

Dancer at the Red Earth Festival, one of the largest performing arts events, which won a cultural tourism award in 2009

Additionally, in our lesson, we try to look beyond the material culture to learn about the tribe’s values and beliefs that shape the way its members view and interact with the world. In learning about Native American cultures, values and beliefs help to shed light on actions which may seem peculiar or barbaric to an outsider and to provide insight into the importance of many reoccurring symbols and themes within the culture. While a tourist may want to buy a craft because it is pretty, I would rather know the symbolism that the craft has to its creator. Finally, compared to the tourists who visit the reservation because they think it is trendy or cool, our class is genuinely interested in gaining more knowledge about Native American cultures. I took this class because I found Native Americans interesting and because I wanted to know more about their way of life. In this way, I want to use my knowledge in order to form my own opinions about important issues that affect both Natives and Non-Native Americans and to contribute to the discussion and search for possible solutions to these problems. Overall, I want to be better informed and more prepared to help this group of people fight for what they deserve.

To some, this may not be reason enough, but I can only hope that Native Americans are able to tell the difference. I enjoy learning about other cultures, but it is often discouraging to be lumped into a group that is stereotyped as being ignorant, offensive, and careless. I would rather be classified as something in-between, neither insider nor outsider, but merely someone who is hoping to gain a deeper understanding of the people and world around her.

Me with my family on a trip to Utah

My family and me on a trip to Utah (farthest to the left)

Me with my family in the Southwest

My family and me in the Southwest (yellow shirt)

If you were born in the 1990s…

If you were born in the 1990s like me, your childhood may have included the release of the animated movie Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron. MV5BMTgyOTUzNDA1N15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTYwNjgwMDM3._V1_SY317_CR0,0,214,317_

This movie came out in 2002 on VHS (I still have my copy at my parents’ house) and followed a spirited stallion on his journey throughout the American West. A few weeks ago, my roommates and I decided to have a movie night and reminisced while watching this film. Spirit is a movie that I grew up watching and loving, especially after I lived in the Southwest for four years. Within my Native Peoples of North America class, we have often discussed how Native Americans are portrayed in the mainstream media, ranging from the bloodthirsty Indian to the “Noble Savage.” Therefore, I thought it would be interesting to write a post about the movie’s representation of Native Americans as well as its presentation of their lives and struggles during this historic time period. spirit-stallion-of-the-cimarron

First off, I have to say that the soundtrack to this movie is phenomenal. These songs get stuck in my head for days and make me want to ride a horse (which I have no idea how to do) just so I can feel the wind in my hair! So, I am going to be linking videos with songs from the movies throughout this post in the hopes that you will understand how wonderful they truly are. Here is the first song, called “Here I Am,” so enjoy!

For those who have not seen the movie, here is a brief summary. In the movie, a stallion named Spirit gets captured by cowboys and taken from his herd to an American fort out West. While there, he meets a fellow captive, a young Lakota boy named Little Creek, and faces off against the Colonel, the leader of the fort, who makes it his goal to break the horse’s spirit. However, both Spirit and Little Creek manage to escape the fort after which Spirit is once again taken against his will by Little Creek and his friends to their village. During his time in this village, Spirit meets a female horse named Rain who, along with Little Creek, try to show him the positive aspects of living in the village. Without warning, the village is attacked by soldiers who capture Spirit and shoot Rain while they are trying to protect Little Creek. After he is taken, Spirit becomes a draft-horse and is used by the Americans to help build a railroad that travels to the West. Realizing that the train is headed for his homeland, Spirit breaks free with some help from Little Creek and wreaks havoc on the railroad. Afterwards, the duo travel back to the Lakota village where Rain is alive and waiting for their return. The movie ends with Little Creek setting Spirit and Rain free and the two horses traveling back to Spirit’s herd where they can live and run free.

I chose to write about this movie for two reasons. First, the movie demonstrates the sharp contrast between the Native American and the European American way of life through its portrayal of the American military fort and the Lakota village. Looking at the military fort where Spirit is first taken, the audience is given insight into the American values at the time, such as conformity, discipline, and obedience. When Spirit is taken to the fort, the officers immediately try to change his appearance to look like the other horses in the camp by cutting his hair, fitting him with horseshoes and a harness, and branding him. Although they are not entirely successful, this routine shows the American emphasis on uniformity in appearance, a value that is also represented by the similar clothing that all of the officers wear in the fort. When Spirit rebels against the officers’ attempts to domesticate him, the leader of the fort punishes him by restricting his access to food and water for several days. These harsh actions demonstrate the value placed on obedience and the measures taken to prevent rebellion. Finally, Spirit is corralled into a pen where several soldiers ride him in the hopes of forcing him to conform and act the way that they want. The leader of the fort is the only one who succeeds although his victory is short lived. Yet, through their actions, the officers show the American emphasis on discipline and control. Overall, Spirit’s time in the military fort shows the rigid and oppressive way that Americans live and the strict values that they live by.

Trying to break Spirit

Trying to break Spirit in the fort

By contrast, Spirit’s captivity in the Lakota village is a very different experience. When he arrives at the village, Little Creek places Spirit in a smaller pen and removes the harness that he was forced to wear in the fort, allowing Spirit to return to how he originally looked. Instead of restricting his food and forcibly riding him, the Lakota give Spirit apples to eat. When Little Creek does attempt to ride Spirit, he is gentle and cautious as he approaches the horse. He tries to show Spirit that he does not want to hurt him and doesn’t force him when Spirit resists. Even when Spirit is rebellious and disobedient, Little Creek only laughs and tries again rather than punishing him like the officers in the fort did. When his efforts are not successful, Little Creek changes his methods and ties Spirit to Rain so that she can show him their lifestyle. Together, Rain and Little Creek show Spirit around the village where he interacts with the Lakota people and the other horses. Compared to the fort, the Lakota village is much more relaxed and flexible. Instead of discipline and punishment, Little Creek tries to earn Spirit’s trust through kindness and friendship. This contrast can also be seen by the way other horses act in both the fort and the Lakota Village. In the fort, the horses are subdued and sullen; whereas, the horses in the village are friendly and happy when interacting with Spirit and the Lakota villagers. These two depictions show the stark difference between the American and the Lakota values and lifestyle, with the first emphasizing discipline and control and the second focusing on friendship and trust. Additionally, it is interesting to note that the American way of life ends up in a more negative light when compared to the Lakota lifestyle.

The second reason that I chose to write about this movie is because Spirit’s journey throughout the film can be seen as a metaphor for the Native Americans’ removal and forced assimilation into American society during historic times. In the movie, Spirit is forcibly removed from his homeland and thrust into a completely different environment, the military fort. Once there, the officers attempt to force him to look and act the way that the other horses do. This story sounds very similar to the Native American boarding schools, where children were removed from their homes, forced to abandon their cultural ways, and made to adopt American clothing and lifestyle. However, just as the Colonel was not entirely successful in breaking Spirit of his rebellious ways, the boarding schools were not able to fully eradicate the traditional values and beliefs that were instilled in Native American children by their parents. Even Spirit’s friendship with Rain could be seen as a representation of the friendships that developed between children of different tribes during their time in the boarding schools as well as the Pan-Indian movement that later arose. However, this parallel ends when Spirit is set free, and he and the mare return to his herd and are accepted back into society. With many of the Native American children who attended boarding school, they were not able to fully re-assimilate into their Native American tribes when they returned as adults because they had not learned the culture, customs, and traditions that they needed in order to be considered a member of the tribe. Although Spirit’s ending was a happy one, many Native Americans were not as lucky.

In terms of accuracy and authenticity, there is not much I can say because we did not cover the Lakota tribe specifically in my class. However, I feel that the movie has a fair, even possibly leaning a little towards the “Noble Savage,” representation of Native Americans. Furthermore, the movie definitely highlights the drastic changes that were happening in the West at that time in history, including the railroad and population expansion, and some of the negative consequences that resulted from these shifts. Finally, although I was not able to find any information on whether or not Native Americans were consulted during the making of the film, which was disappointing, I do know that the filmmakers used real horses for the sounds and animation. Overall, I think one of the key things to realize is that this movie only presents one image of Native Americans of which there are many more available. For kids, this movie is probably a good introduction into an important issue (and probably a more accurate representation than most). However, in order to get a more well-rounded understanding of Native American history and lifestyle, it is important to continue from this starting point and learn about different Native American tribes and cultures through other sources. This knowledge was not something that I had as a kid but that I think is very important to instill in the younger generation so that they will have a better understanding of Native Americans in both the past and the present. Regardless, I enjoyed watching this movie and will always have a soft spot for Spirit. tumblr_lzlmdt9d7R1r9848mo2_500

My Anthropology Research Topic

As the final assignment for my Native Peoples of North America class, I am going to be writing a research paper on a topic that in some way concerns Native Americans. Since I was able to choose the topic for the paper, I decided to focus on alcoholism on reservations. This decision was sparked by a journal article that we read earlier in the semester that looked at the incidence of alcoholism and depression on the Flathead reservation. In “Feeling Worthless”: An Ethnographic Investigation of Depression and Problem Drinking at the Flathead Reservation, the author called into question how these disorders should be diagnosed and treated given the cultural differences between Native Americans and Non-natives. I found this discussion very interesting, especially because alcoholism and depression were two disorders that I learned about in my Abnormal Psychology class. Thinking about the contrast between my Psychology and Anthropology classes, I was curious to see what research had been done on the topic of alcoholism and how cultural differences were taken into account in these studies. I also wanted to look into some of the causes of alcoholism among Native Americans, such as cultural, economic, and psychological, as well as any effective treatments that have been implemented on reservations.

Another reason why I chose to investigate how this disorder affects Native Americans is because alcoholism is something that I believe has become associated with this ethnic group during the past few decades. When discussing Native Americans in any context, there is often mention of the problem of alcoholism on reservations and the negative effects it has on Native American society. Media outlets continue to focus their attention on this topic, and alcoholism has even become a part of the stereotype for Native Americans. Here are just a couple of news articles that I found that discussed this issue: http://www.netnebraska.org/article/news/fighting-alcoholism-pine-ridge-indian-reservation-about-more-money, http://minnesota.publicradio.org/display/web/2007/10/17/indianfasd. Although I do not doubt that the problems of Native American alcoholism are real and serious, I also wonder how much of what has been reported is ethnocentric or misconstrued. In researching this paper, I want to discover the truth about this issue and clear up any misinformation that may be circulating within mainstream society. For example, do Native Americans really drink more than the average American? If so, to what degree and under what circumstance does this occur? Do Native Americans have a lower tolerance level biologically compared to other ethnic groups? These are just a few of the questions that are driving my research on this topic and to which I hope to find answers. Additionally, the severity of this issue is often downplayed through jokes and comments in the media. Recently, the TV show “Mike and Molly” was criticized for a joke featured on one of their episodes about “drunk Indians” in Arizona. Several prominent Native Americans spoke out about the joke saying they were offended that the show would make fun of such a serious disorder that affects the lives of so many people (Here is a link to the joke: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hiRDzW-liF0). By investigating alcoholism on reservations, I hope to emphasize the severity of this issue and raise awareness of the negative effects that this disorder has on family members as well as the society as a whole. I think that it is very important that the public be accurately informed and cognizant of the incidence of alcoholism on Native American reservations.

As I began researching, one of the main problems I have found is making my question more specific. There are numerous reservations within the United States and several different angles from which I could approach the topic of alcoholism. However, there is one journal article that I have found that has greatly interested me and influenced how I want to address this issue. In the article Early-Onset Alcohol Use Among Native American Youth: Examining Female Caretaker Influence, the author investigates whether caretaker alcohol use has an effect on adolescent behavior and alcohol consumption. The study’s findings suggest that caretaker substance use does impact adolescent drinking for two reasons: the effect that alcohol has on the caretaker’s parenting and the adolescent modeling his/her caretaker’s behavior. This article interested me because I have learned about parent-child relations in several of my Psychology classes, and I find the dynamics between parents and children very fascinating. As I continue to collect sources for my paper, I may decide to focus my search on how parenting is affected by alcoholism and how this could in turn affect children’s alcohol consumption. For me, this approach to alcoholism is very important because this disorder can sometimes create a vicious cycle, with generations of people suffering from alcoholism before the cycle is eventually broken. However, my decision will ultimately be limited by how much research is available on this particular topic.

A Message to the Pope

This week for our class, we were supposed to look up a recent news article that featured Native Americans in some capacity. One of the articles that I found while searching through Google was focused on an issue that the Onondaga Nation wished to discuss with the new Pope. Of course, I had heard about the shocking retirement of Pope Benedict XVI and the process that was taking place in order to appoint a new leader for the Catholic Church. However, this article placed these events in a new context by focusing on the “Discovery Doctrine” which was written by Pope Nicholas V in 1455 and used as a justification for taking lands from the indigenous people of the Americas. Despite the outdated nature of the decree, it has never been recanted and is actually still cited during legal cases about Native American land claims. This article narrates the message that the Onondaga Nation wished to send to the newly elected Pope, mainly that the Doctrine of Discovery should be rescinded because it infringes upon Native Americans’ right of title to their land. The article also looks at the past Popes’ reaction to the Onondaga Nation’s requests which began in 1992, the responses ranging from being open to discussing the issue to believing that it was “old history” (Brown). Now, Native Americans must wait and see how the new Pope will respond to their repeated call for this vital correction to a major historic oversight.

The Recently Appointed Pope Francis

The Recently Appointed Pope Francis

I chose this article because it discussed an issue that I had very little previous knowledge of but in which I was greatly interested. Although the article was rather short, I feel that it presents a legitimate concern that I believed had been settled long ago. In school, I grew up learning about the different methods that the European nations used to justify their domination of other peoples, including paternalism and religion. Many of these strategies I have even seen in readings and Native American accounts that we looked at for this class. For example, tt was oftentimes the case that the United States government used claims of protection and betterment in order to justify forced changes on the Native Americans that usually resulted in economic gains for the US. Yet I believed that since we recognized these tactics for what they truly were, we would be able to use our history as a lesson and prevent these mistakes from happening in the future. Obviously, I was wrong. Even though we recognize all the ways in which we tricked, mistreated, and persecuted the indigenous peoples of North America, we are still not willing to do what needs to be done in order to make a mends and change our mistaken way of thinking, as evidence by this article. The Doctrine of Discovery was based on the ethnocentric idea that Native Americans were less human than Europeans because of their difference in religious faith, and therefore it was acceptable to take away their land as they were enemies of the religion. Clearly, these beliefs are biased and the doctrine unjust in its flippant dismissal of an entire race of people based on religious difference. As such, it is disheartening and downright criminal that this outdated decree is still in effect, and I am baffled that no one has been brave enough to change it.

Additionally, one of the things that shocked me the most while reading this article was that the “Discovery Doctrine” was still being used against Native Americans today. The article cited a legal case as recent as 2005 which had used this decree in its defense against the Oneida Indian Nation’s land claim. The mention of this doctrine reinforced the notion of the “government’s sovereignty over lands, even if they are sold to an Indian Tribe” (Brown). If the “Discovery Doctrine” really is “old history” as Pope Benedict claimed, how can it still be cited as a reliable source in legal cases? After reading this article, I believe that the only solution is for Pope Francis to recant to Doctrine of Discovery and to apologize for all the harm the decree caused. For me, there really is not other options to consider; the correct solution is obvious.

Overall, this article reminded me that governments are reluctant to admit that they have made a mistake and slow to correct one once it has been recognized. The plight of the Native Americans over the past several hundred years is exemplary proof of these statements. Yet it is crucial that these mistakes are rectified and the wronged liberated. These changes require action, of which the first step should be recanting the Doctrine of Discovery.

For more information, here is a website I found which goes into detail about the history of this doctrine and its effects: http://ili.nativeweb.org/sdrm_art.html

Also, here is the article that I used in this post: http://www.nydailynews.com/news/world/natives-pope-treat-humans-article-1.1287151

A Closer Look at the Lumbee Tribe

A couple of weeks ago, I found myself waking up at the ungodly hour of 6:30 am, shuffling out of bed and across campus, and climbing into the very back of Wake Forest University’s Anthropology van. On this particular Wednesday, my professor, several of my classmates, and I traveled two and a half hours to Pembroke, North Carolina in order to meet with several members of the Lumbee tribe. The previous week in class, we had been learning about the history of the tribe as well as their struggle in trying to gain federal recognition from the United State government, and we hoped this trip would allow us to explore another perspective on this issue.

My class at UNC Pembroke

My class at UNC Pembroke

For those who are unfamiliar with this subject, the Lumbee Tribe has been attempting to obtain federal recognition since the late-1800s. Federal recognition means that the government acknowledges the tribe as “Indian” and generally entails many benefits, including tax free status, financial funding for educational and medical programs, and greater political independence. There are two main ways to receive federal recognition from the government: applying to the BIA or petitioning congress. For the BIA process, there are several criteria that the tribe needs to meet pertaining to their historical ties to the land, their unified cultural identity, and their adherence to characteristics which make them “true Indians.” On the other hand, a Native American tribe may petition congress for federal recognition every two years during which the document must get passed both the House of Representatives and the Senate before reaching the President of the United States.

Here is the BIA website if you want to take a closer look: http://www.bia.gov/WhoWeAre/AS-IA/OFA/index.htm

Meeting with Lumbee members helped to illuminate many problems that the tribe has faced while trying to navigate this lengthy process. To begin with, the Lumbee tribe has always been viewed by outsiders as not being “true Indians.” At the time of first contact with Europeans, the Lumbee exhibited many characteristics which were not typical of the “traditional” Native Americans. They farmed, lived in log cabins, and spoke English rather than their own language. This cultural identity was further impacted by the encroachment of whites and length of the exposure that the tribe had with the white culture. As a result of their assimilation, the Lumbee tribe does not fit into the image of the “Noble Savage” which is used to distinguish those who are “true Indians.”

Another problem that the members of the tribe highlighted was the lack of historical documentation. The Lumbee have thus far been unable to find written documentation which definitively proves what where the tribe originate and where they resided during historical times. This requirement is related to the application process for recognition through the BIA which the Lumbee are unable to do because they lack this document. Additionally, the Lumbee are further hindered by the Lumbee Act which was passed in 1956. Within this piece of legislature, the federal government actually did recognize the Lumbee as an official tribe; however, they then proceed to terminate responsibilities, saying that the tribe would not receive any of the benefits of federal recognition. This document prevents the tribe from applying for recognition through the BIA, leaving congress as their only viable option.

Yet even within congress, the Lumbee tribe has been met with opposition and dismissal much of which is due to the large size of the tribe. Lumbee is the largest tribe east of the Mississippi River and currently includes as many as 55,000 members. As such, providing the benefits that are offered through federal recognition would require a large amount of funding and would potential affect the funding of other federally recognized tribes. One of the main opponents to this is the Cherokee tribe, the only federally recognized tribe in North Carolina. Members of the Lumbee tribe explained that the Cherokee often lobby against them in congress because Lumbee recognition would decrease the amount of funds the Cherokee receive from the federal government.

With all of these disadvantages, one might wonder whether federal recognition is worth the effort for the Lumbee. In response to this question, the members of the tribe that we spoke to elaborated on what they wanted from federal recognition. For the most part, the Lumbee said that they did not want or need a large amount of financial support. The tribe has a fairly large source of revenue which is used to provide many important resources for members of the tribe, including housing, power, and services for the elderly. They did say that they would appreciate support from the government with education and medical care programs; however, they did not want “hand outs,”and they didn’t want to live on a reservation. They said that they had seen the negative effects of both options, such as alcoholism and unemployment, and would rather work for their pay and live on tribal land. Rather, the Lumbee want to become federal recognized because they wish to be seen irrefutably as Native American by all. It is more an issue of pride and receiving what they deserve as opposed to the economic gain.

For me, being able to visit members of the Lumbee tribe in person has put a new perspective on this issue and has raised several questions that need be considered. One of my most pressing questions was how to define an Indian. The Lumbee have long struggled with gaining recognition from the public as “true Indians” because they do not subscribe to the stereotypical idea of a Native American. However, the tribe’s differences do not make their historical and cultural identification as Native American any less real. What gets to decide what traits are authentic Indian and which are not? Is it the government officials who are basing their judgments off of oversimplified stereotypes as opposed to real life Native American experiences? Or should other Native American tribes be the judges when they might bring their own personal and economic interests into the discussion? I cannot claim to have a satisfactory solution, yet I do know that this issue needs to be reevaluated so that Native Americans are not denied recognition simply because they do not fit the public’s narrow definition of a “true Indian.”

Although this visit raised many concerns about Native American identity and politics, I also greatly enjoyed meeting modern Native Americans and putting the knowledge that I learned in class into a more realistic perspective. Being able to put actual faces to the articles we read in class and hearing about the Lumbee members’ lives at this moment has allowed me to substitute the imaginary picture of what Lumbee Indians are like in my head with real Native American people that I met. I had never before imagined that some of the Lumbee would speak with a Southern accent, yet given their geographic location, it makes sense that they enjoy eating chitlins and speak with  a Southern twang. This trip added depth and dimension to the tribe that I read about in scholarly articles and textbooks, and I would highly recommend visiting the Lumbee (or any Native American tribe) if at all possible to get a real life look at their way of life to compliment classroom learning.

My dream catcher that I made at Lumbee

My dream catcher that I made at Lumbee

Here is the Lumbee tribe’s website for more information! http://www.lumbeetribe.com/

Native American Boarding Schools

In class this past week, we focused on life for Native Americans who lived on the reservations as well as the rise of the boarding school system for Native American children. The topic of Native American boarding schools has become increasingly controversial in recent decades due in a large part to the detrimental effects these institutions have had on Native American culture and community. Starting as early as the 1560s, Europeans began attempting to educate and civilize Native American children by either opening local schools or sending them to live with and learn from white families. Naturally, Native American parents resisted this ethnocentric practice, asserting that the whites’ education was “absolutely good for nothing” and even going so far as offering to educate white children instead (Nabokov 214). Nonetheless, government officials and white settlers continued to insist that Native American children receive a “proper” education.

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This notion intensified during the nineteenth century as Native Americans were being relocated to appointed reservations and settled into their “new and improved” lifestyles. At this time, government agents and Indian reformers alike insisted that it was necessary to teach Native Americans to live as whites did so that “paganism and savagery, poverty and dependency would eventually die out” (Nabokov 215). As such, religious societies were encouraged to open and manage Indian schools, and thousands of Native American children were shipped across country to live under the instruction of these educators. Consequently, children were often removed from their homes against their parents’ wishes and forced to live and learn at institutions which were usually strict, brutal, and oppressive. One of the most popular methodologies adopted by educators in Native American schools was referred to as “manual” or “industrial” under which students wore uniforms, learned agricultural skills, followed a strict schedule, and were severely disciplined when necessary. A Native American who attended one such institution described some of the harsh discipline practices that he witnessed, including “a strapping with a leather belt” and one instance in which an instructor threw a student across the room so hard that “his collar-bone was broken” (Nabokov 220). Upon arriving at the school, students were forced to cut their hair and abandon their clothes and material belongings, which were sometimes burned in front of them. In addition, students were prohibited from speaking in their native language or from practicing their religion while at school. Author of the book The Sweet Smell of Home, Leonard Chana elaborated on his experience attending Sherman Indian High School during the 1960s. He said that students had to remain at the school “nine months out of the year . . . they didn’t have money to send us home” (Chana 55). He also said that if students found a job in the area, they would remain away from home for the entire year. Chana even admits that he ran away from school for a week which was a fairly common occurrence for these institutions (Chana 57-59). Ultimately, Native American schools separated children from their parents, family, and community during a crucial time in their life.

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The development of Native American boarding schools had a negative impact on both the tribes and the individuals who were forced to participate in the system. Children could be sent to boarding school as young as five or six years of age, meaning that they had very little time to learn about their history and culture from their parents and elders. Those who did learn often forgot this knowledge by the time they returned home because of the oppressive nature of the boarding schools. Since the main purpose of the schools was to “civilize” the Native American children, any expression of their native culture was seen as backsliding or savagery and was suppressed by threats of punishment. Additionally, since the children were at boarding school for the majority of the year, they oftentimes missed out on important ceremonies and rites of passage which were seen as essential for remaining a part of the community. Thus, when the children returned from school, they were not always able to fully reintegrate into tribal life. Sun Elk, a Native American resident at Carlisle Indian Industrial School for seven years, described the reaction that he received upon returning home. The morning after his arrival, his village chiefs told his father “your son . . . has lived with the white men. He has gone far away from the Pueblo . . . He is not one of us” (Nabokov 223). As a result, he left his village to seek a life elsewhere. Yet, when Sun Elk attempted to work among the white settlers, he was not accepted and once again returned home to live on the fringes of his native village. The Native American boarding schools created generations of students who did not know their native culture but were not accepted by white society. There seemed to be no place in society for these “lost people” (Nabokov 216).

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The topic of Native American boarding schools greatly interests me because I attended boarding school during my junior and senior year of high school.  The North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics (NCSSM) is located in Durham, North Carolina, about an hour and 15 minutes from my house if you speed. The purpose of this institution is to offer students the opportunity to focus and enhance their education in the areas of math and science. When school is in session, students are housed in dorm rooms on campus and travel off campus is restricted to ensure the safety of the students. Almost every month, the dorms close for a three day weekend so that the students can visit their families, and transportation is even provided to ensure that this is possible for all students. Given my personal experience at NCSSM, I found the descriptions of the Native American boarding schools particularly upsetting. I cannot imagine what the children experienced when they were forced from their homes for such an extended period of time, especially those who were younger. I know that within my school, some students suffered from home sickness and even left because of it. When you add in the fact that there were no phones, texting, skyping, or even email at the time when these boarding schools began, it becomes increasingly apparent how difficult this experience must have been for Native American children. I would consider myself very adaptable and independent but even I went home almost every other weekend during my first year at NCSSM. This lack of contact with family does not even include the fact that Native American students were not allowed to perform any of their cultural or religious practices while at the boarding schools. As such, I can only imagine a fraction of the loneliness and sadness that these children must have felt when isolated from their family, community, and culture.

 

NCSSM

The North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics

For me, one account stuck out from our readings on this issue. In the book Native American Testimony, Lone wolf described what he saw happen when he and other Native American children reached their boarding school. He said “once there  our belongings were taken from us, even the little medicine bags our mothers had given us to protect us from harm . . . Next was the long hair, the pride of all the Indians. The boys, one by one, would break down and cry when they saw their braids thrown on the floor” (Nabokov 220). This description encapsulates the devastation and cruelty that the children experienced during their time at boarding school. It is hard to believe that such injustices were allowed to occur, especially by a government which prides itself on freedom and equality for all. After hearing a modern Native American speak to our class, it is apparent that the boarding school system has changed a lot in recent years. There are now schools on the reservations which provide an alternative to attending a boarding school for children. In addition, most Native American schools now teach classes about the native language and culture. Although these changes are vast improvements headed in the right direction, it is important to remember the Indian boarding schools of the past in order to better understand the hardships many faced growing up on the reservation as well as the impact these had on the Native American community as a whole.

Also, for further insight, here is a prominent Native American leader talking about his experiences in the boarding schools:

 

Citations:

Chana, Leonard. The Sweet Smell of Home. University of Arizona Press, 2009. 55-59. Print.

Nabokov, Peter. Native American Testimony. New York: Penguin Group, 1999. 215-225. Print.

Reflection on Native Peoples of North America

Since the semester is almost a third of the way finished, my professor thought it would be important to reflect on what we have learned in class up to this point. It seems as though the semester is flying by, and I have learned so much that it is difficult to try and combine all this information into one cohesive picture. So far in class, we have learned about four tribes from slightly different regions of the world: the Netsilik, Chipewyan (Dene), Kootenai, and Tlingit. These tribes settled starting in the Arctic with the Netsilik and ending on the Northwest Coast with the Tlingit.

Map of Native American Regions and Tribes

Map of Native American Regions and Tribes

During historic times, population sizes in these groups ranged from several hundred to several thousands, depending on the location. In looking at and comparing the subsistence patterns, religious practices, and social organization of these tribes, one of the key things that I have noticed is how much the environment has a great effect on the people that live in it.

For example, we began our investigation of Native American tribes with the Netsilik (also referred to as Eskimo/Inuit), a group of people who likely numbered around 700 at the time of first contact with Europeans. These people lived in arguably the harshest climate with very few natural resources, main ones being Caribou, soapstone, and seal. As a result, the Netsilik were very familiar with starvation, a possibility that was largely out of their control. These environmental circumstances had a great influence on how the Netsilik viewed life, their food, and each other. Due to the scarcity of game, the Netsilik had a large amount of religious taboos surrounding the animals that they hunted, specifically seals. When hunting seals, one was expected to follow a particular procedure which involved pacifying the soul of the seal. These taboos were an attempt to regain control over their food supply when in reality the Netsilik had very little control over whether they survived or starved. This environmental influence can also be seen in the social structure of the Netsilik. In general, there was very little social stratification among these people, and resources were shared freely between family members. Families often had hunting partners, and the tribe hunted as a group to increase the likelihood of having success. This egalitarian lifestyle with resource sharing was to ensure that as many people as possible survived because the Netsilik realized that it was impossible to survive on one’s own in the unforgiving climate of the Arctic. Finally, we see this environmental influence reflected in the Netsilik’s views of life and their subsequent actions. For example, it was not uncommon for one member of the tribe to be killed by another, if that member was making trouble or endangering the community. Additionally, female infanticide was a somewhat common practice among the Netsilik. Rather than showing a disregard for human life, these actions reflect the way in which the Netsilik responded to the environment that they lived in. For these people, working together was very important for survival. As such, anyone who threatened this group cohesion also threatened the lives of the members of the group, requiring a seemingly drastic action to ensure that the group survived. On the other hand, men provided more of the food supply through hunting than women, making male infants more essential to survival than female infants. Due to the limited food supply, it was difficult to support many children and it was sometimes deemed necessary to kill an infant if a family was not able to support it. All of these practices were deemed necessary for survival and were adopted as a result of the limited resources and unpredictable hardships that the Arctic provided.

Netsilik eating frozen fish

Netsilik eating frozen fish

This connection between environment and lifestyle became very obvious when comparing the Netsilik to the Tlingit, who reside in the Northwest Coast of North America. In this region, game and natural resources are plentiful and diverse, ranging from salmon to berries to sea and land mammals. As opposed to the Netsilik, the Tlingit had fairly large numbers, potentially as high as 10,000 before European contact. Even with their large population size, the Tlingit did not struggle with starvation and were able to feed their families through numerous subsistence activities which took place mainly in the spring and summer. This seasonal pattern allowed for more leisure time in the winter when they used food reserves to feed the tribe. This surplus of resources can be seen in the Tlingit religious activities which were very different from that of the Netsilik. One of the most noticeable differences was that there were very little taboos surrounding their main food source, salmon. This was likely the case because for the Tlingit, there had never been the possibility that the salmon would not be there, as there often was with the seals and caribou in the Arctic. Thus, the Tlingit did not have to worry as much about whether they would be able to find food because of the availability and diversity of resources in their environment, manifesting in a difference in religious emphasis. This environmental difference is also reflected in the Tlingit’s social structure which was much more elaborate than the Netsilik. Among the Tlingit, individuals had the capacity to gain social status within their family and community. Social status was based on age, wealth, and skill, with the hierarchy ranging from the wealthy and aristocrats on top to the commoners and slaves on the bottom. This type of social stratification was unheard of with the Netsilik community and was likely derived from the surplus of resources that the Tlingit had available to them. Through this comparison, it becomes clear that where one lives can have a great effect on one’s social life, religious beliefs, and community organization.

Two Tlingit women with children

Two Tlingit women with children

I believe that this connection between environment and lifestyle is important because it allows outsiders to understand to some degree why certain groups act and live the way that they do. Looking back on Native American history, there has been a long tradition of cultural disconnect with both sides misunderstanding one another. In particular, European settlers often saw the way that Native Americans lived as barbaric and wrong without grasping the meaning behind their actions. While their viewpoint were clouded by their own beliefs and traditions, Europeans were not able to see how the environment and context in which Native peoples lived shaped how their society functioned in order to survive. Thus, some of the practices that they deemed savage were merely practical and logical ways to ensure that the community as a whole would survive. This cultural disconnect led to many Europeans making assumptions about the thoughts and ideas behind actions without consulting Native Americans themselves. Consequently, Europeans saw Native Americans as inferior or child-like and believed that they needed to teach them to act and live the “right” way. Many problems between Europeans and Native Americans resulted from this inability to understand the circumstances, thoughts, and beliefs behind American Indians’ way of life.

This insight is crucial for improving modern relations between Native Americans and Non-Native Americans. Even in modern times, it has often been the case that the federal government makes decisions about the Native American lifestyle without consulting Native Americans or fully understanding their situation. This kind of legislature, although well-intentioned, is ultimately ineffective. It is important when interacting with people of different cultures to understand where they are coming from and the reasons behind their actions. It is also necessary to look beyond the superficial to the morals, beliefs, and circumstances that guide the way that people conduct themselves. This kind of understanding would allow both parties to see where the other is coming from and would make negotiations and interactions much more productive and beneficial. I believe that classes like the one that I am taking would be a good resource in teaching about Native American culture as well as learning by visiting and interacting with modern Native Americans. True learning can come only from observing and interacting with modern American Indians.

Evaluating Sioui’s Concept of Amerindian Autohistory

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Class Assignment: Write an evaluation of Sioui’s philosophies of Amerindian Autohistory from the perspective of educating non-Indians about Indian cultures. In other words, think about what Sioui is promoting and whether this is the best way to educate non-Indians about Indian societies, cultures, and history.

In his book For an Amerindian Autohistory, Georges Sioui argues that the best way to educate non-Amerindians about Native American history, culture, and society is through autohistory, which is defined in the forward of the book as “Native history written in accordance with Amerindian values” (Trigger pg. x). Using autohistory, Sioui states that his main goal is to “provide modern historical and ethnohistorical (anthropological) science access to an appropriate knowledge of Amerindian values” (Sioui pg. 98). In fact, his book is meant to be an example of the methodology of autohistory although I feel that Sioui’s noble aspirations fall short of making his point.

In reading his introduction, it is easy to identify with the need that Sioui feels for a better way of educating the public about Amerindian culture. Referring to my own education, Native Americans were usually portrayed in two contradicting ways: the barbaric savage or the noble Indian. In addition, Sioui refers to the confusion that he felt growing up when his teachers would describe his ancestors as “savages with no knowledge of God” (Sioui pg. xix). It is not difficult to argue that up until recently, the majority of Amerindian depictions were very biased and almost exclusively written from a Westerner’s point of view. As such, I can sympathize with Sioui’s desire to rectify the negative imagery that has been associated with Amerindians and to retract the exaggerated falsehoods that still linger in today’s educational spheres. However, I feel that the example that Sioui sets up only highlights some of the potential flaws that come with writing one’s own history.

First, Sioui has a tendency within his writing to overgeneralize, assigning his personal values and practices to all Native Americans. It is well-known that there was and still is great diversity between different Native American tribes. Yet, this author’s description leads readers to believe that all Amerindians hold similar customs in areas such as gender roles, religion, morals, and social conflict. By doing so, Sioui undermines the credibility of the history that he is writing because it is based off of his personal experiences. He ignores the potential variability of culture between different tribes and instead chooses to lump all Amerindians into the same category, a mistake that is common in western descriptions of Native Americans.

Second, although Sioui make reference to enlightening anthropologists and historians about Native American culture, his use of terminology and expression of ideas throughout the book show that he has very little interaction and understanding of these fields of study. For example, Sioui often uses the words “values” and “culture” interchangeably without defining what he means by these labels. Additionally, in his autohistory, Sioui expresses his belief that “Native people, instead of being stepping stones for ‘true civilization’ in America, become the guides who will take their white visitors towards Amerindian civilization, a truer and more human one” (Sioui 38). This statement represents a common theme that is repeated throughout the book where Amerindians are meant to share their way of living with the Euroamericans so that they may adopt these practices and begin living the “right” way. This manner of thinking is known as ethnocentricity within the field of Anthropology and is avoided as much as possible in scholarly writings. These oversights often distract or prevent the reader from properly absorbing much of the valuable and interesting information that is available within the text.

Obviously although Sioui’s concept of Amerindian autohistory is intriguing, his execution leaves much to be desired. Yet, this does not mean that the idea of autohistory is necessarily flawed. In fact, I believe that it is crucial that Native Americans take part in the writing and teaching of their history and culture. This involvement would allow Amerindians to feel empowered and connected to their heritage, while hopefully addressing the ignorance that has permeated the mainstream culture. Writing Amerindian autohistory would also allow the public access to information that might otherwise be difficult to obtain and provides a different perspective of American history. However, there are some criteria that must be met in order for autohistory to be an efficient and beneficial tool.

To begin, in order to account for the many differences between Native American tribes, numerous viewpoints and perspectives must be considered when attempting to describe both history and culture. Individuals must realize that they can only contribute their personal experiences and consult accordingly to fill in gaps and contradictions in their knowledge. This collaboration would safeguard against projecting one tribe’s culture onto another and may include other people, historical documents, oral histories, etc. Moreover, I feel that formal education is necessary for those who wish to write autohistory or other scholarly works. Although some may argue that this is ethnocentric, I believe that this would allow the writer to better reach and communicate effectively with their intended audience. Finally, it needs to be recognized that Amerindian autohistory be written without bias if at all possible. I believe that this is a goal which every historian and anthropologist strives to achieve, and these writings should be no exception. One should hope to impart knowledge and understanding without prejudice or ethnocentricity.

Overall, I think that Sioui’s work has potential even if it does not necessarily achieve its desired effect. Nonetheless, I can appreciate that he has such a passion for his culture and that after all that has been done to his people, he still wishes to share his values, beliefs, and customs with others. I respect that he is willing to tackle such a large exploit and that he encourages others to continue where he left off. I have always loved learning about how others viewed the world and being able to get a glimpse of the Native American perspective is both enlightening and enthralling.

In case you wanted more reading, here a few more reviews that I found of Sioui’s book. They may be helpful in order to further evaluate his work.
http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1838&context=greatplainsquarterly
http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1104&context=greatplainsresearch

Also, here is the citation for Sioui’s book: Sioui, Georges. For an Amerindian Autohistory. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1995. Print.
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