Anthropology as a field traditionally dominated by white European males, has done its damage in the past broadly affecting bascially all native peoples and cultures (not limited to those in North America). At least from what I’ve learned so far in my limited experince with anthropology the field is slowly but surely diversifying. In order to truly gain insight into a culture its important to have people from the” in-group” contributing to that body of knowledge both in front of and behind the camera so to speak.
Sioui’s American Indian Autohistory is a great example of Native Americans working to reclaim parts of their own identity, that haven been taken away by generations of mistreatment and misrepresentation, partially at the fault of anthropologists. Not so much to the extent that Starn claimed. The concept of refusal while it sounds great theorhetically is riddled with problems, nevertheless its a step in the right direction.
Ultimately though an education overhaul I think should be the main goal of Native American Anthropology moving forward. A change in the cirriculums of American public schools to include comprehensive information about Native American cultures beyond the bare minimum seen History classes that only contribute to the myths of the “vanishing Indian” and “noble savage.” But also a change in the cirrriculums to include Native American perspectives in teaching methods in order to relate to Native American students allowing them to have fair learning opportunities in mainstream education. Simultaneously increasing funding to tribal programs and schools, letting Native Americans have the option of acess to equivalent education as an autonomous group.
The only way to see any of these changes go into effect is through advocacy. Anthropologists can bring positive cultural reinforncement by partnering with Native American reservation community outreach programs in order to really make a difference moving forward.
As I was re-reading one of my sources while writing the outline for my final paper last tonight (last minute per usual) I couldn’t help but draw a connection to my childhood, with that of a secret society at a Michigan college I found in my reasearch that mocked the noble savage image of American Indians giving themselves Indian Sounding Names, and engaged in ritual ceremonies mocking American culture– thankfully it was disbanded about 10 years ago after some protest from Native American students.
This connection that I made was to that of the YMCA’s program called “Indian Princesses,” something similar to Girl Scouts for lack of a better comparison. I was never a member myself even though all my friends were in elementary school and I so desperately wanted to be! I was jealous of them all receiving special Indian Princess names, that I tried to create one for myself: “Dancing Wolf”, even though it didn’t actually count according to them because it wasn’t given to me officially by the Chief (a father of one of the girls). Not to mention the cool feather headdresses and fringed leather garb that they wore at the meetings, which made the perfect addition to our outfits whenever we put fashion shows at their house.Looking back it seems silly to have been jealous, of such scathing cultural appropriation. Upon further investigation it looks like the YMCA officially changed the name of the program to “Adventure Guides” around 2003, at least in some states. Since I’ve lost touch with most of these elementary school friends, I decided to ask my fellow sorority sisters if any of them were Indian Princesses to get the insider perspective. Gotta love social media.
In less than 24 hours there was an outstanding response. Apparently the program was popular all around the country. Then I sent out a few questions to each of the girls that responded. I told them to take however long they needed because it was a long time ago and they might not remember everything.
Stay tuned to get the full report, while I wait for the responses to trickle in.
The reading that prepared us for the talk with Mr. Francisco was by Chana, a native O’odham artist. Something I picked up on was how he talked about being envious of the way that other artists can depict depth in space. However things like “linear perspective” and things that he wished he could incorporate into his artworks are very European traditions. In a way I feel like being formally trained as an artist it limits creativity by making them fit into this mold of how art is supposed to look. Especially because most formal visual art training follows Western historical tradition. One of my classmates beat me to the punch on asking Mr. Francisco specifically what he thought of Chana’s work.
He said he liked it okay, and thought it was good. But beyond that something I seemed to cling to was when Mr. Francisco said Chana’s work really did embody the O’odham perspective. That it was the creative expression of how their people see and interpret the world around them. I think that’s extremely important to preserve these traditional art forms because they are directly linked to a group’s identity. By incorporating numerous cultural practices such as agricultural methods and basket weaving, even important spiritual symbols his artwork can help teach the younger generations about their heritage. Chana’s illustrations are not merely a stylized depiction of his native peoples in the landscape they inhabit. The way that he portrays people might not be considered realistic under classical reference, however he is able to capture the character of each person and how they are a part of the greater group: the O’odham people.
Preservation of these cultures can help to combat the growing homogeneity of the world to Westernize. Specifically in the case of the O’odham since they straddle the Mexican-American border they have to fight a culture war on two fronts. Through an American lense it might be easy to lump Mexican and O’odham culture together since the are geographically similar. Unfortunately there are some people out there that will ignorantly term any person with darker skin (that also isn’t black) or that speaks Spanish, as “Mexican” because they from south of the border and have similar genetic features. Honestly this can be applied to just about any region of the world because the average person doesn’t have knowledge of the cultural diversity of world. Hopefully programs such as the cultural diversity class requirement in place here at Wake Forest can work against these common misconceptions.
As an “April Fools Day” joke the University of Virginia’s student paper The Daily Caviler posted this article:
Within 15 minutes there was so much backlash online that this article along with a piece about a campus fraternity having a “Rosa Parks” themed party were immediately taken down. Luckily several people on Twitter took screenshots. While meant as a joke, the offensive nature of these articles was not so funny after all. This article in particular was in reference to the violent arrest of a black UVA student earlier that month.
By replacing the black student with a Native American in this situation plays into the stereotype of all Native Americans being alcoholics. In this fake scenario the arresting officer assumed that the brown bag contained alcohol solely based on the student’s ethnicity, when in fact it actually contained a harmless bagel. The officer is said to have “felt it his duty” to confiscate what he thought was alcohol from the Native American student. The officer has the attitude that he needs to save the student from his own abusive actions (of drinking), implying that Native Americans are incapable of controlling themselves with outside help from whites.
Furthermore the article makes fun of spiritual Native American cultural practices such a a powwow as well as their traditional names. Using “Sitting Bull” the name of a war hero from the Lakota Tribe that suffered many wrongs by the US government in his own time, in a pun of “This is Sitting Bull-shit.” Also by imposing a name that fits the Native American stereotype “Insect Humming” on to a student that had repeatedly been asked to be called a more mainstream name of “Ben Johnson.” It is within anyone’s own right to go by whatever name they please, and by imposing such standards on a Native American student takes away their agency by making them fit into a preconstructed identity that doesn’t allow for assimilation or progress in modern American society, especially on a college campus.
It ridicules Native American efforts to protest their history of mistreatment. It references the fight to reclaim tribal land that was wrongfully taken from them by having the student protestors set up a small “reservation”on the college campus. It even brings attention to the lack of representation in government due to their “small numbers,” which was ultimately caused by the hundreds of years of displacement, war, and cultural genocide committed by American colonists on Native Americans.
And last but not least it equates the safety of campus bagels to that of Native Americans completely and utterly dehumanizing them as a group of people. In one sense I’m happy that this wasn’t published by The Old Gold and Black, however with the daily insensitivity I see around campus I’m not 100% sure that it couldn’t have easily have happened here at Wake Forest.
Despite grouping by geographic area, there is large a variance in the environment within these subjective boundaries. For example the “Southeast” culture area includes the Atlantic and Gulf Coastal regions, swamplands, the bottom half of the Appalachian Mountain Range, and Mississippi River Basin. There is no possible way to lump the diverse language, material culture, and settlement patterns of the people in all of those different environments into one distinct “culture area.” The particular way that the culture area boundaries in America were drawn used the limited knowledge the European explorers had about the occupying tribes. This knowledge was inherently biased, often inaccurate due to poor English translations and also depending which tribe was consulted.
From an educational standpoint I can see how its much easier to use the cultural area concept in order to cover the variation encompassed within the entire North American continent. However in doing so it often favors the identity of certain tribes over others, which contributes to the overarching stereotypes of Native Americans by limiting the amount that are focused on in the curriculum. This same concept can be applied today in that not everyone from a particular geographic region fits the stereotype of the people that live there.
Coming to college this year as a freshman it seemed like everyone I met was from New Jersey. Even though I didn’t realize it I wanted so badly for them to fit into the fake tan, overdramatic, loud, Jersey Shore persona that I had been exposed to in the media and mass culture. I automatically assumed that everyone from the labeled culture area of New Jersey fit into this pre-constructed category I had filed away in my head which was majorly far from the truth. A lot of the people I now call my friends that are from NewJersey are pale and rather quiet types.
This situation however is much different than that of the often marginalized Native Americans whose cultural practices are now lost, partly at the hand of the Culture Area Concept as applied to Anthropological research. Rather I feel that a survey methods combined with oral history accounts would be overall more effective. This was what is filtered down into the textbooks of the classrooms would be more accurate at depicting the diversity found between different tribes occupying singular geographic regions.
I was always aware that there were hundreds of different tribes within America, however I never bothered to make any distinctions between them, assuming that they all practiced the same basic cultural traditions (mainly those I now know were stereotyped around the plains indians). Geographically I had contained all Native Americans with the borders of the continental United States. I associated the Eskimos with the arctic tundra somewhere north of Canada and considered them an entirely different group of aboriginal peoples, while native, not necessarily “American”. For this I blame my public education, and the poorly constructed curriculum it followed.
Halfway through this class and I feel silly for ever thinking before that I was politically correct or socially aware in the slightest, regarding Native Americans. Even though I’m still no expert on the subject I’ve found myself actively pointing out cultural appropriation on social media, tv, and movies. Also being more sensitive to anything that could be taken offensively, going as far as picking fights with my friends in our group chat over a picture that was edited with that stupid “face-swap” app.
I can only attribute my newly-found activism to the white-guilt I feel as an American whose ancestors didn’t even come across the pond until the early 1700’s. Learning the intimate details of the various atrocities committed by the people I have celebrated all my life as those that truly embodied patriotism and the spirit of America, first off makes me extremely upset (Nabakov’s passage about the Bloody Island Massacre literally bringing me to tears in Starbucks at 1am). Secondly it makes me want to make up for the shortcoming of my forefathers in any small way that I can i.e. angsty text messages referred to above.
Finding the occasional arrow head digging in the pasture land on my family farm in northern Alabama, is part of what helped me develop my passion for history. Yet that is a part of the problem in and of itself. The fact that many people (myself included) in all regions across America see arrow heads as ancient artifacts of a peoples that no longer exist.
Looking closer at the maps in some in the reading I was able to see the the Chickasaw once occupied the region where my family farm is located. Between the time when my Scotch-Irish ancestors immigrated here as homesteaders, and when so many natives either died, were displaced, or killed specifically by the local governments of Georgia, were only separated by a few generations. Drawing that personal connection for me placed a much greater value on the future for Native Americans and gave me a responsibility to learn– something closer to the truth than what I was taught in school– about them.
Labeling Amerindians as the very first conservationists is a bit of a stretch. Really most smaller scale societies could be labeled as such given that they utilize a smaller amount of the environmental resources available to them and don’t really have a need to conserve. I think the distinction lies within the ideological belief system that specifically promotes intentionally practicing certain methods of resource acquisition specifically for the purposes of conservation. Some Native American groups certainly do fit this criterion such as the Tlingit who collected only enough gull eggs in a sustainable manner that insured stable population sizes. However it is impossible to lump all Amerindians under the conservationist label because other groups such as the Chipewyan held no restrictions on the exploitation of their environments, attributing the natural world as a gift from the creator in their story of origin.
Despite the variation in individual group practices all together the Amerindians were able to live within the limits of their natural resources for thousands of years. Compared to the Europeans that came in and over harvested the landscape, often to the point of extinction, with in a few hundred years alone. Therefore I think it has made it easy in popular culture to label Native Americans as a people generally more connected to the earth and by extension a peoples that treat it better than everyone else does
This “Save The Earth” mentality is commonly associated with Native Americans as exhibited in the picture below that I easily found on social media app Pinterest by simply searching the term Eco-Friendly.
The alignment between Amerindians and Conservation groups I think was intentional as a part of the counter culture movement I think it helped to further distance young white liberal hippies from their dominant conservative (also white) counterpart. I think that Native Americans were already very much so culturally distinguished from Euroamericans, so by association it helped distinguish Conservation Groups. This instead affects our idea of Native Americans as strictly nature-loving, peace sign throwing symbols for a movement embodied by a generation of Euroamericans rebelling from the norm. The cultural appropriation of Native American clothing, tattoos, and accessories by white American people that also happen to promote conservationist ideals is the main problem. Amerindian cultural symbols (i.e. commonly worn dreamcatcher shaped golden stick on body tattoos) act as a stand in for promoting the ideals of conservation and sustainability perpetuating a stereotype. When white teenagers are more commonly seen sporting traditional Native Americans cultural garb than actual Native Americans themselves it makes the “vanishing Indian myth” more and more-so believable.