American Indians, also known as Native Americans, are one of the most diverse ethnic minority groups in the US in terms of their culture. They have a long history in the country, as they inhabited the land before the arrival of the Europeans and the subsequent colonization starting from the 15th century. The purpose of this paper is to discuss the American Indian culture using information gathered from scholarly materials and data gathered from Internet sources with a focus on attitudes, beliefs, and values, self-perceptions, and issues related to stereotyping, customs, practices, behaviors, and spirituality together with opportunities and barriers in the US and around the world. Key historical events and figures impacting the culture will also be discussed as explained in the following section.
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Key Things Learned
Attitudes, Beliefs, and Values
The Native Americans’ attitudes toward life are governed by the notion that happiness should be the guiding principle. Their attitudes and beliefs hinge on values, such as cooperation, group harmony, modesty, autonomy, placidity, patience, and generosity. Thus, they speak in moderation, are careful in listening and observation, and view time as relative. Additionally, they are oriented towards living in the present coupled with valuing age. They are also pragmatic and respect nature. However, these characteristics vary at the personal level, hence intra-group differences exist.
Group Self-perceptions and Issues Related to Stereotyping
According to Hirschfelder and Molin (2018), “American Indians are richly diverse, yet all too often their public portrayals – in books, advertisements, shop signs, terminology, and even children’s toys and games-are greatly at odds with actual Native peoples and cultures” (para. 6). They are seen as barbarous and violent, as they are mostly represented as violent: with a scalping knife and tomahawk in their hands. However, Native Americans perceive themselves as peace seekers who promote and share goodness with all people.
Customs, Practices, Behaviours
American Indians value their customs highly with their societies being dominated by clans or gentes. The tribal structure is made up of different subdivisions of various groups. The family unit plays an important role in the existence of this group of individuals. Learning is mostly through legends, and elders should be honoured. Furthermore, children are a gift from God and their upbringing is a shared responsibility among the different clan members.
Their spirituality is based on holistic belief systems (Jumper-Reeves et al., 2014) and spiritualism occurs within the tribal-cultural continuum. The universe is sacred, which explains the deep-rooted respect for the environment. The majority ascribed to religious teachings advanced by the Native American Church whereby different Native beliefs are incorporated into Christianity. However, these beliefs are widely varied among individuals within this group at a personal level.
Societal Perceptions, Opportunities, and Barriers in the U.S. and Internationally
The American society views Native Americans as the “other” and is characterized by marginalization. Poverty is a major barrier standing in the way of the advancement of American Indians in the US and internationally. According to Austin (2013), in 2011, almost 30 percent of Native Americans lived in poverty. However, the opportunities for these individuals to become part of the mainstream American culture are increasing as they seek to expand their wealth and income through innovative economic development activities and by taking control of their natural resources.
Key Historical Events and Figures Impacting the Culture
The Native American culture was significantly influenced by colonization after the entry of Europeans into the US. Specifically, the arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1492 led to what is popularly known as the Columbian exchange (Nunn & Qian, 2010). This exchange adversely affected the Native Americans’ culture with the introduction of European values of family, labour markets, and private property ownership.
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Key Things Learned Through Internet/Media
I learned interesting issues about Native Americans. Especially engaging can be considered their stereotyped portrayal in mass media and popular culture (Meek, 2006). For instance, in the action-comedy film The Ridiculous 6, Native Americans are depicted as animalistic and dirty, and this aspect entrenches a stereotypical understanding of this ethnic group (Coraci, 2015). The film’s producer Netflix attempted to downplay these damaging depictions as a broad satire of “Western movies and the stereotypes they popularized…In actuality, however, these jokes aren’t anything novel or creative. They’re uninspired facsimiles of old stereotypes that stem from late 19th-century Wild West Shows” (Young, 2015, para. 6). The majority of movies about American Indians are biased and focus on celebrating the European conquest, which almost decimated the entire Native American population. Young (2015) does not fault the American Indians who have continually sought to participate in these movies because they are acting out of necessity to provide for their families.
Qureshi (2016) agrees with the argument that Native Americans are negatively depicted in the mass media. For instance, the continued use of Native American mascots for sports, whether professionally or in school games, is stereotypical, with adverse outcomes on the minority group. In 2014, the Center for American Progress conducted research whose results showed that using “Native American mascots and team names result in poorer self-esteem and mental health for Native youth and also contributes to the development of cultural biases and prejudices” (Qureshi, 2016, para. 1). Therefore, from the Internet resources used for this paper, I learned that American Indians continue to suffer disproportionately due to the negative and stereotypical representation of their culture in mass media.
One of the surprises regarding what I found out about this culture is the element of collectivism. The American culture leans towards individuality, and I thought this was the general societal set-up for everyone in this country. I was also surprised to know that Native Americans respect the environment and the universe at large. Regarding stereotyping, I was not aware that the continued usage of mascots in sports has negative health and self-esteem effects on the involved youths. This realization is saddening and I support the banning of such usage for the sake of the young individuals who participate as mascots.
Impact on Expectations
My understanding and view of Native Americans have changed significantly. First, I have learned that they have suffered from historical injustices influenced by colonization and the Columbian Exchange that robbed them of their culture and land. In addition, this minority group has been suffering from negative mass media portrayal. However, despite these adversities, they continue to hold onto their values, beliefs, and attitudes. They respect other people, especially the elderly. Therefore, as I prepare for my immersion activities, I intend to approach Native Americans with a lot of respect. They stand out as resilient people because, despite the many challenges they have encountered in their historical and modern American contexts, they continue to thrive and hold on to what they believe to be true. I am inspired by these attributes, and I am eager to start my immersion exercises. I cannot wait to interact with these individuals to learn more from them concerning their culture and beliefs. I will also seek to gather firsthand data concerning the effects of negative mass media portrayal and their involvement in sports as mascots.
Austin, A. (2013). Native Americans and jobs: The challenge and the promise. Economic Policy Institute.
Coraci, F. (2015). The ridiculous 6 [Film]. Eaves Movie Ranch.
Hirschfelder, A., &Molin, P. F. (2018). I is for ignoble: Stereotyping Native Americans. Ferris State University.
Jumper-Reeves, L., Dustman, P. A., Harthun, M. L., Kulis, S., & Brown, E. F. (2014). American Indian cultures: How CBPR illuminated intertribal cultural elements fundamental to an adaptation effort. Prevention Science, 15(4), 547-556.
Meek, B. A. (2006). And the Injun goes “How!”: Representations of American Indian English in white public space. Language in Society, 35(1), 93-128.
Nunn, N., & Qian, N. (2010). The Columbian exchange: A history of disease, food, and ideas”. Journal of Economic Perspectives, 24(2), 163-188.
Qureshi, F. (2016). Native Americans: Negative impacts of media portrayals, stereotypes. Journalist’s Resource.
Young, B. (2015). Why I won’t wear war paint and feathers in a movie again. Time.