Since time immemorial different communities inhabiting their ancestral lands have practiced various cultures and correlated with the environment. These groups have not only maintained their way of life, but also, have retained the political, cultural, economic, and social traits that differentiate them from the surrounding distinct societies. As such, despite the geographical distance among them across the globe, these communities share common characteristics of being in harmony with nature in the respective places they live or relocated due to displacement (Basaninyenzi). Further, the indigenous people are found in more than ninety countries and are estimated to number over 476 million people, making up 6% of the total global population, and speak more than five thousand languages (Basaninyenzi). On the other hand, they have consistently preserved their identity through culture, thus identifying themselves as nations. The maintenance of their way of life has led to the recognition and respect of indigenous languages and customs as they take part in decision-making aimed at the enhancement of their traditions (Szpak). The paper evaluates the indigenous people as a nation through religion, art, traditions, and their origin.
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Many things can be considered when defining indigenous identity among people. Jacobs (149) highlights that there are more than half a billion natives in the world. Besides, these are socio-cultural minority groups living in different parts of the world. They include among others, the First Nations, Sami, Inuit, and Aboriginals from the US, the Arctic, Greenland, and Canada respectively. While writing on the indigenous people’s identity, Belanger argues that natives are recognized through the components of their culture (51). Different forms of art have played a crucial role in the reproduction and anchoring of the ancestral practices as they offer the audience a way to decipher the effects of colonial interference on their nations. For instance, T.V comedy programs aired by CBC between 1997 and 2000 portrayed contemporary political critique while at the same time showing that electronic media had an effective and compelling storytelling tradition (Belanger 51). As such, different indigenous groups keep their identity as a nation through comedies and other cultural expressions on media.
Across the world, religion has not only remained an integral part of human co-existence in the contemporary but also, in modern society. Although the people live on different continents with various religious practices, they all believe in superpower beings which comprise of animals, mountains, and insects. While highlighting the indigenous people’s way of life, Champagne asserts that they view their lives and existence as one which has been shaped by personal experiences and is reflected in daily coexistence (685). Further, human failure in society leads to social, military, personal, and military disasters witnessed in the world. As a result, this requires responsibility, religious intolerance, and interdependence among people. Therefore, this strengthens their religious natures as they see themselves as a close-knit group. Besides, they believe in folktales where they learn the goodness of other beings as well as the challenges they face as a nation. Furthermore, even in the 21st century, many Native Americans continue to practice their ancestors’ religion, which is so woven in every aspect of their lives that it becomes hard to differentiate their secular and religious nature.
Through their oral traditions, the American Indians learned the Navajo mythology in the form of gods, symbols, art, and water. The native creation story borrowed some elements from other religions like Christianity, Mormons, Lakota, and Peyotists. For instance, it resembles the story of Genesis, where God creates heaven and earth. In the Native American creation story, the sky’s touching led to the first world. Also, these people continue to practice their traditional ceremonies that balance harmony, beauty, knowledge, and their well-being. They understand that the world is a threatening place, and therefore, rituals are part of their responsibilities to maintain the balance of lives on earth (Champagne 685). Therefore, the native’s religious nature springs from their understanding and belief that all human beings are related, thus making them perceive each other as one or a nation.
In the Native American mythology, the concept of hozho in Navajo balances speeches, thoughts, understanding, and actions of people, thereby becoming part of their daily lives. Further, the Wabanaki people of Canada refer to their cultural hero Gluskap and other stories through word of mouth told from generation to generation. Also, the Indians have transferred their cultural practices across their generation by retelling myths and origin stories in reenacting ceremonies and rituals. (Champagne 686). Through this, they believe that their religion is rife from people’s speeches. On the contrary, the Lakota and Plains Indians’ traditional beliefs do not agree with the Christian doctrine of life after death, personal salvation, or commandments. On the contrary, they evoke spirits in relationships by referring to grandparents and relatives.
Through myths and origin stories, both the natives in Canada and the U.S have a common culture where they believe in extraordinary individuals. The mighty beings came to people’s aid, transforming certain aspects of society into a desirable and hospitable environment. For example, many folktales across indigenous nations have cultural heroes who changed societies through law, wisdom, and actions, showing them how to be responsible and act powerfully (Champagne 686). In line with this, it is believed that Wabanaki Gluskap created the streams and rivers in the Northeast, where he eliminated a frog that hoarded world waters. Further, he reduced the size of the beaver for humans’ coexistence and led to the creation of seasons. In retrospect, the Coyote figure in the Western Indians created and transformed the earth in California. In addition, in the Southeast, a bird changed the landscape by lifting valleys and mountains with wings while inspecting the transformed earth among the Cherokee (Champagne 688). Overall, the culture stories are an integral part of the history of the people throughout North America. They are similar in other regions with a slight change of heroes’ names.
The same practice of mighty superhuman creatures who transformed the earth during the origin stories goes further. In the Arctic and Northwest Coast, they are shaped by the Raven, while in the Southeast and the Plains, the hero figures are Rabbit and the Old Man, respectively. The stories about each culture hero’s deeds are geared towards the shaping and transformation of the human character in society (Champagne 687). However, there are negative actions from the same transformers that lead to calamities. Through such actions, nations are taught lessons and shunned from pride, selfishness, and irresponsibility lest they suffer from misfortunes, illness, and death.
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The creation of history leads to the emergence of traditions among the natives, developed in a complex manner. These are led by the Navajo, Pueblo, the Creek in the Southeast, and the Apache people in the Southwest. From the stories, human existence is through the climbing of people from beneath the earth surface, and their origin is a metaphor meant to instill moral obligations among them (Champagne 688). For example, the Navajo have hozho, which stands for harmony, order, and beauty. Besides, their emergence mythology focuses on human coexistence with the environment.
These are ways through which the people express their origin and way of life while maintaining their culture. Highlighting contemporary literature (Belanger) argues that art produced by the native people is sometimes neglected due to emphasis on popular studies on the Aboriginals, First Nations, Inuit, and Metis. This is because it fits well with political science, and it provides a more diverse background from which literature writers can draw their analysis. Belanger asserts further that this is to the disappointment of the people’s artistic traditions. Besides, issues and ideas related to the indigenous people in Canada are presented in a skewed manner leading to the assumption that all people’s dialogues are political acts (50). He laments that the large contemporary society perceives native culture as something to be left alone even though stories, dance, music and artistic talent, and individual expressions are created for entertainment purposes.
Inevitably, the indigenous people treat literature, performance and visual arts as the main component of their culture. These forms of expression have played an integral part among the Metis, Inuit, and First Nation communities in reproducing and anchoring native traditions while offering listeners the opportunity to comprehend colonial effects. Important cultural figures have been included in narratives to instill nationalism among the indigenous people. These include, creation figures like Coyote, Gluskeb, Nanabush among others. Many indigenous writers have incorporated their nations or native languages into predominantly English written works (Essen). For instance, plays have been written and acted in Cree language. Further, through imagination, new worlds are formed to address inherent identified weaknesses. This is possible through the Native arts ideas that can guide self-government debates and economic development strategies. However, written stories reveal moral and social responsibilities for both Native and general readers, allowing the writer to reach the intricacies of being an indigenous in Canada (Belanger). The writing plays an important role in revealing complex cultural ideas to the audience to understand the complexities and challenges facing Metis, First Nation, and Inuit people.
Since ancient times, culture has been preserved and passed across generations through word of mouth and performances. While emphasizing on the importance of indigenous literature, Armstrong asserts that it has the potential to influence and shape the colonial misrepresentation in literary standards. He further argues that the Aboriginal people present voices for the reconstruction of relationships and internal culture that surpasses the colonial thoughts and practices (Armstrong 184). In addition, native literature has maintained and augmented oral traditions through its written formats, including stories, songs, speeches, prayers, rituals, anecdotes, jokes, and histories. Also, various examples show the importance of oral literature to indigenous people and how it shaped and formed part of their existence. For instance, the Iroquois chose a spokesperson according to his talking abilities or oratorial skills. This was because the people believed in the importance of words. According to them, words played an essential role in healing, spirituality, and protection of their land (Belanger). Therefore, they were seen as powerful tools that can positively or negatively alter their destiny, thus, the need to respect them.
Various examples highlight the repercussions of words with the indigenous people. First, Leslie Silko’s Ceremony emphasizes the importance of respecting words. In the story, two witches try to outdo each other in a contest where they tell the most horrifying and outlandish tale. One person foreshadows a story about newcomers polluting the water and land, bringing diseases, and killing the indigenous (Belanger). This was about the invasion of Northern America by Europeans that later altered the inhabitants’ lifestyles. Also, various creation stories reflect or tell these communities’ origin, although contemporary society classifies them as fiction or myths (Belanger 54). Besides, these stories provide a sense of guidance and identity and give moral guidelines to all people. Also, there were songs and ceremonies in native communities which propelled them to share, thus enhancing their unity as a nation.
In summation, there are different ways of how indigenous people see themselves as a nation. Through native arts that bear their origin in creation, they continue to evolve while maintaining their culture. The revival of ancient rites of passage and Sun Dance religions witnessed across Canada and the United States are the ways used by indigenous people to show their identity. Also, with more than 476 million of them, the group has made tremendous efforts in maintaining its practices through religion, art, music and most importantly, the incorporation of their languages in modern English literature. Lastly, the reliving of the past through written and aired stories on televisions goes a long way to show how they are a thriving nation.
Armstrong, Jeannette C. Aboriginal Literatures: A Distinctive Genre within Canadian Literature. Hidden in Plain Sight: Aboriginal Contributions to Canada and Canadian Identity. Ed. David Newhouse, Cora Voyageur, and Dan Beavon, U of Toronto P, 2005, pp. 180–86.
Basaninyenzi, Uwi. “Indigenous Peoples.” World Bank, 2020.
Belanger, Yale D. Ways of Knowing: An Introduction to Native Studies in Canada, Nelson, 2010, pp. 50-72.
Champagne, Duane (Ed.). Religion In The Native North American Almanac: A Reference Work on Native North Americans in the United States and Canada, 2nd ed., Gale Publishing, 2001, pp. 685-744.
Essen, Angela Van. “nêhiyawaskiy (cree land) and Canada: Location, Language, and Borders in Tomson Highway’s Kiss of the Fur Queen.” Canadian Literature 215, 2013, pp. 104–18.
Jacobs, Bette. “Indigenous Identity: Summary and Future Directions.” Statistical Journal of the IAOS, vol. 35, no. 1, 2019, pp. 147-157.
Szpak, Agnieszka. “The Right of Indigenous Peoples to Self-Determination: International Law Perspective.” Athenaeum Polskie Studia Politologiczne, vol. 59, no. 12, 2018, pp. 178- 204.