When settlers came to the New World, Indians, or Native Americans, already had languages that were used, communities built, belief systems that were practiced, and so much more that was the foundation of their lives. Unfortunately, non-Indians have consistently failed to appreciate specific identities and cultures of Native Americans, which has led to a history of misunderstanding, myths, confusion, and stereotypes that have been particularly destructive on the Indian side (Townsend 33). Many changes happened to this population, but they survived these huge shifts in their cultures and even managed to recover or maintain their heritage. Drawing upon research, this paper discusses the culture of Native Americans and how this population managed to preserve and develop its cultural identity despite it being on the brink of extinction.
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Before proceeding with the discussion of how Native Americans managed to maintain and develop their culture in the conditions of oppression and discrimination, one should briefly mention what constitutes this phenomenon. Indian culture is defined by the concept of the Pre-Columbian culture area and is notable for its broad diversity and variety of lifestyles, beliefs, traditions, customs, and art forms (Townsend 59). This extraordinary diversity was mainly due to the many different environments to which Native Americans had adapted and the expanse of their land (Townsend 34). However, despite their varying cultures, there were certain elements shared by many Indian tribes, such as spiritual connectedness to the land and identification with nature and its elements being an integral element to all their religious beliefs and practices.
Native Americans had faced hundreds of years of dislocation, genocide, and variations of emotional, mental, spiritual, and physical violence. Even though the Western civilization threatened and, in many cases, extinguished languages, the traditional values, and ways of life of Indians, this population managed to maintain a strong sense of their cultural heritage. One of the reasons for that is that Indian culture was primarily oral with a high value placed on the recounting of dreams and tales. Another possible reason is that Indian life was essentially communal and clan-oriented (Townsend 144). As suggested, a language and a cultural system are the most important means of sustaining ethnic identity (Townsend 256). Hence, one may argue that the traditional Native American worldview integrating and synthesizing the separate realms of religion, utility, and art allowed this population to create a holistic interrelationship. It is this interrelationship that, in times of oppression and discrimination, has become Indians’ individualistic, specialist skills that allowed the tribal identity of this population to coexist with Western philosophy.
To conclude, the culture, traditions, and customs of Native Americans have been at risk since the beginning of the colonization of North America. However, despite discriminatory and cruel activities aimed at erasing the Native American way of life, the diverse traditional beliefs and practices of this population have recovered or been maintained and even continued to develop. Among the reasons for the survival of Indian culture, a language and a cultural system of Native Americans have been recognized. One may only add that the fact that Indians have clung to their culture and distinctive philosophy despite being continuously attacked suggests that Indian identity is a concept that cannot be assimilated. Therefore, Native American culture is an organic worldview, necessary for the survival of this population that has no equivalent and a history rich in struggle and triumph.
Townsend, Kenneth W. First Americans: A History of Native Peoples. 2nd ed., Routledge, 2019.