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Racism Against Native Americans Essay, Research Paper

Native Americans

The issue is whether different ethnic groups can preserve their culture in a pluralistic society, and the answer depends on what amount of culture is taken into effect and which ethnic group is being considered. The Native American population remains one of the most invisible of all American minority groups for the country, for much of the population has been relegated to reservations on land far from the majority of urban society. On these reservations, the native people have been able to maintain certain traditions, but long before the prevalent reservation system came into effect, the intrudance of white society devastatingly reduced the Native American population, removed the natives from their former lands, cut them off from many of the things which constituted their culture, as well as morally and spiritually damage them.

The modern Native Americans tend to be either reservation Indians or urban Indians, and since World War II the urban Indian population has increased greatly, in turn reducing the size of the reservation population. This has been one of the reasons for the destruction of the Indians’ own culture:

For better or worse, urban Indians are more intimately involved in the dominant culture than their reservation brethren, though even the latter have become “urbanized”–more sophisticated–through travel, school, movies, television, and their own production of news and entertainment (Jennings 399).

The reservation of the Chippewa is used as an example as part of a long-term fraud committed on this tribe, as well as others by the government.

The White Earth Reservation has become a dubious measure of rapacious federal policies that dominated the land and dislocated communal cultures at the same time (Vizenor 31).

Another of the major forces that has been destructive to Native American culture is government interference, and even when they intrude with meaningful intentions, this has often resulted in destructive outcomes causing great harm to the Native American community. Since the nineteenth century, the Indians moving to reservations have been faced with the reality of lies told to the Native Americans over the years by the government, and Native Americans today think of the government in a certain way based on how pervasive the government is in their lives :

The bureau [of Indian Affairs] grows and grows, poking tendrils into every aspect of Indian life. . . “Nothing, or next to nothing, happens on an Indian reservation without it being a result of, a reaction to, an attempt to get around, or a violation of an action or policy of the federal government” (White 274).

Shkilnyk points to the case of the Ojibwa tribe from Grassy Narrows in northwestern Ontario, Canada, who had been moved from a different reservation in 1963 by what the author says was a well-intentioned bureaucracy . The result was a complete destruction of the social bonds and unity of the tribe. The effect was a community in which suicide, alcoholism, and violent deaths were widespread. This was obviously due to recent phenomenon related to the move from one location to another, because prior to relocation, all of the deaths in the community were due to natural causes. Social problems caused by alcoholism are normal to many Indian communities, but Grassy Narrows is known as the place where sudden death from violence is most likely:

In this community, people have turned their anger inward, lashing out against those closest to them or against themselves. Their self-destructive response to intolerable conditions is clearly evident in the statistics on suicide (Shkilnyk 16).

The same types of forces have been let loose in Native American communities in the United States because of the social problems brought about by government control and bureaucratic actions intended to help but are rather more likely to harm:

Finding an American Indian community anywhere in the United States today where a perceptive visitor will not be confronted by overwhelming evidence of excessive drunkenness and other forms of social pathology is almost impossible (Graves 275).

Consider the size of the Native population today and the way it has been effectively relocated to various areas. The Native American land base today is approximately 54 million acres, and these lands take many forms, including reservations; rancherias; colonies; native villages; historic Indian areas; Indian trust land and joint use areas of reservations. According to the 1990 census, about 685,000 Indians or 35 percent of Native Americans in the United States live on Indian land, while in 1980 37 percent lived on this type of land (Hirschfelder and de Monta o 40).

The Indians even on the reservations have difficulty preserving tribal ways, and what has happened to their government shows this. Tribal governments at one time exercised full self-governing powers as independent nations, though much of what was known about tribal governments before European contact has been lost. Decisions for the tribe focused on the well-being of the group, and daily rituals for the tribe included childrens education, care for the elderly, food supply, and safety. Internal disputes and controversies were usually centered on issues of personal pride or greed, and tribal governments developed mechanisms to deal with internal tribal disputes. Most knew the laws and religious rules were known and followed by the majority of the population, and there were both political and religious tribal heads to settle disputes and controversies. The division between religions breaches and crimes was not clear, and often a ritual cleansing for the whole tribe was used when a crime was committed. Different tribes had different crimes that were considered more onerous and more shameful (Hirschfelder and de Monta o 71).

The federal Indian policy for the U.S. government had a profound effect on tribal governments and has changed considerably over the last two hundred years, creating disorder for tribal governments. In the late 1700s, the U.S. treated the indian tribes as independent sovereign nations. in the mid-1800s, the federal government persisted to attack tribal governments, and the federal policy of forced relocation to Indian reservations caused severe disruptions in the traditional tribal governing organizations. From the late nineteenth century to about 1930, the U.S. followed a policy of breaking apart Indian reservations and assimilating Native Americans into mainstream non-Indian society, and the allotment of Indian lands and the forced assimilation of the people buried the power of tribal governments deeper. In 1934, the U.S. passed the Indian Reorganization Act, a dramatic shift in Indian policy which decreased even more the allotment of Indian lands and proposed that Indian tribes organize their governments under written tribal constitutions. The intent was to stop further loss of Indian lands, support and recognize the legitimacy of tribal governments, and encourage economic development and self-determination amongst the Native American population (Hirschfelder and de Monta o 72). The effect was the polar opposite, for the federal government s protective attitude has only contributed to the erosion of tribal government authority and an increase in social problems on reservations.

The failure of Native Americans to maintain their culture is in part an economic issue, for the social problems of the reservation have been intensified by the fact that Native Americans have not been able to achieve an economic level to assist the community. This has added to problems such as alcoholism and the breakup of the families, with the family being an essential element in maintaining the culture of the Indian tribes. The lack of economic power in the Native American community is closely tied to a long-standing unemployment problem. It was established in 1960 that the economic position of the Indian was less favorable than for any other American minority group, and Indian income was low; employment was insufficient, unstable, and temporary; and the Indian land base was smaller than in the previous decade. Indian health was also poor when compared with whites , as well as Indian housing, education, and local government. Little had changed since 1934 (Jorgensen 72-73).

These economic problems continue to this day, though some tribes have been forging their own way of raising themselves out of the economic morass into what the majority of mainstream society plunged them into. Their effort alone has involved a shift in tribal culture and has created splits in the community, with some seeing new efforts such as gambling casinos as a good way to improve economic conditions, while others see this as destructive to Native American culture. In Connecticut, one Indian tribe created casino gambling in the state. The casino has brought considerable revenue to the rest of the Mashantucket Pequot Indian tribe. The economic conditions of the tribe before the casino opened were extremely poor. The tribe has benefited greatly from the increase in revenue, as has the state of Connecticut. This has produced quite a rise in gambling fever and has caused increased gambling throughout the state. Indian tribes in Canada are also following the lead of the Pequots and seeking gambling permits. Several other Indian-owned gambling casinos are already in operation in the United States, stimulating both support and opposition (McDonald 32-33).

This effort is only one part of a larger trend as various Indian tribes are discovering opportunities by making money in the private economy, and the tribes have hence been moving away from relying on federal handouts and toward private enterprise as the best way to rise from the shackles of poverty. The most vibrant Indian-owned businesses today are gambling operations generating nearly $3 billion in annual revenues, although there are still other types of businesses growing and showing that the tribes may succeed by taking control of their economic destiny (Serwer 136). The reason for these changes on the reservation is due to the fact that the tribes have not been given much help in remedying their problems, and indeed federal policies have contributed to them. The Federal Indian policy has long been marked by two conflicting responses:

One response demanded that Indians abandoned their traditional culture, while the other refused to admit them to full participation in Anglo society (McCool 114).

It is clear that the Indians today are capable of taking control of their economic life in a way often considered impossible by non-Indian society:

The miserable lowest common denominators of contemporary American Indian life, and the garish stories that accompany them in the mass media, have led many non-Indian Americans to ascribe to Natives an innate incapacity (White 273).

The ability of the tribes today to use gambling as a way of improving their economic condition is related to the development of law as applied to Indian tribes, and while that law has often been cited as a way of supporting Indian culture, it is also a way of destroying it:

The field of Indian law rests mainly on the old treaties and treaty substitutes. To understand them, one must reach back to aboriginal sovereignty and forward to the epochal changes that have occurred since in law and civilization (Wilkinson 120).

Indeed, to understand the plight of the Indian, it is necessary to consider both the beginnings of the tribes and the history since their virtual destruction in the last century.

Indian youths today may not even understand the forces that have shaped them or the degree to which their place in society has been effected by government actions and various other forces. It is apparent that they wish to be a part of mainstream society, although they may also wish to strengthen their own culture as well. The two cultures clash in a many ways over many issues, and the dominant Anglo culture is usually too strong and too pervasive to be resisted. Native Americans today have to want to reawaken their culture, have the knowledge and power to do so, and have the financial resources to make it a reality. History, government policies, social problems, and economic realities make each of these requirements difficult to achieve.

Graves, Theodore G. “Drinking and Drunkenness Among Urban Indians.” The American Indian in Urban Society, Jack O. Waddell and O. Michael Watson (eds.), 274-311. Boston: Little, Brown and Company: 1971.

Hirschfelder, Arlene and martha Kreipe de Monta o. The Native American Almanac. New York: Prentice Hall, 1993.

Jennings, Francis. The Founders of America. New York: W.W. Norton, 1993.

Jorgensen, Joseph G. “Indians and the Metropolis.” The American Indian in Urban Society, Jack O. Waddell and O. Michael Watson (eds.). Boston: Little, Brown and Company: 1971. 66-113.

McCool, Daniel. “Indian Voting.” American Indian Policy in the Twentieth Century, Vine DeLoria Jr. (ed.), 105-134. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1985.

McDonald, Marci. “Tribal Gamblers.” McLean’s (May 30, 1994), 32-33.

Serwer, Andrew E. “American Indians Discover Money Is Power.” Fortune (April 19, 1993), 136-141.

Shkilnyk, Anastasia M. A Poison Stronger Than Love. New Haven: Yale, 1985.

Vizenor, Gerald. “Minnesota Chippewa: Woodland Treaties to Tribal Bingo.” American Indian Quarterly (Winter 1989), 31-55.

White, Robert H. Tribal Assets. New York: Henry Holt, 1990.

Wilkinson, Charles F. American Indians, Time, and the Law. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1987.

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