Hey, Ricky boy, want to know WHY there “isn’t much Native American culture in American Culture”? Let me shed some light on this.
SPOILER ALERT: It’s all due to racist white people. Shocking. I know.
First, let’s take a look at Native American culture and society that flourished for thousands of years before white Europeans stepped onto North American soil.
Native Americans were animistic, meaning they believed that everything had a soul. As such, they treated everything and everyone with reverence, respect, and dignity. Ceremonies were held to mark important life events, such as births, deaths, coming of age, marriage, etc.
Every known Native American tribe was egalitarian, and therefore men and women were equal. Work and responsibilities were divided up based upon skill and capabilities but not on European gender roles. For the most part, the exception was that women typically were not hunters because they could give birth to continue the culture and heritage. If a bunch of the tribe’s women got trampled by a herd of buffalo, well, there wouldn’t be very many women around to have new babies to keep the tribe flourishing.
Native Americans did not embrace the European concepts of property ownership or profit. They did not domesticate animals, they even shared their resources with others of their tribe, and some tribes engaged in bartered trade with each other.
The Native American tribes had their own complex governing methods based upon confederations, tribal councils, and chiefdoms. Typically speaking, tribes in the west followed a chiefdom model, plains tribes (my specific ancestors) used a tribal council, and tribes in the east were confederations. Native American confederations were a council of elders which were organized into a central government with separate state governments. Each state had a council that reported to the General/Grand or Higher Council, who then reported to an even Higher Chief/Governor.
Sound familiar? That’s because the Founding Fathers, after learning about confederations from members of the Iroquois nation, based the government of baby America on Native American confederations.
From here, Americans basically did everything possible to eradicate Native Americans and they justified this genocide of culture and humanity largely out of religion-based xenophobia. Europeans found it hard to understand that societies existed where Christianity was not universally followed. Since they were not about to accept that perhaps their religion was not the true religion, they viewed new cultures as inferior.
The Europeans believed that any foreign society or indigenous peoples they encountered who were not included in their religion or mentioned in the bible, as not having been created by God and therefore were not equal to white, Christian Europeans. The only explanation they let for themselves was that those new people were the creation of the devil and, as such, were not as human as Europeans.
Native Americans were viewed as savages because they were accused of performing human sacrifices. This belief became one of the ways that the English could justify their repeated theft of the land, labor, women, resources, freedom, religion, and culture from the Native Americans who showed up and helped them survive the first winters in the new world. Ironically, Christians were the ones who carried out human sacrifices during earlier European history, as well as in America when they thought women were witches. But I digress.
Let’s take a look at the first Thanksgiving. Remember how we were taught that Native Americans and the pilgrims shared a joyous, generous feast together and lived happily ever after? Didn’t happen. I mean, the feast happened, but the rest was left out of most history books. Thanksgiving was a time-honored tradition among most Native American tribes who had been celebrating a Thanksgiving ceremony at the end of their harvest season, before winter arrived, for thousands of years.
The Pilgrims invited the Pequot and Wampanoag nations to join them at their first Thanksgiving feast. The pilgrims asked about 100 Pequots to remain behind after the festivities. The next morning, the Pequots were asked to come to the center of the community where they were promptly attacked, killed, and/or disfigured by the Pilgrims.
The survivors were then sent back to their villages to tell their people that the land belonged to the Pilgrims and they would do and take what they wanted because God had provided it to them.
Afterward, Thanksgiving was not standard practice among the settlers until President Lincoln declared it a national holiday to try and heal the nation’s wounds.
The pilgrims discovered the Native Americans’ food stores in “empty fields” and took it for themselves while claiming it was providence and provided by God.
Fast forward many decades and we see that American settlers’ treatment of Native American “savages” only became worse.
The Office of Indian Affairs was established in 1774 and immediately set to the task of removing no less than 12 Native tribes from their sacred ancestral lands because Americans just felt that they deserved it more. So, the American government went to work forcing the Wyandot, Delaware, Shawnee, Ottawa, Chippewa, Potawatomi, Miami, Eel-River, Weea, Kickapoo, Piankashaw, and Kaskaskia tribes to relocate so that white people could expand westward without those pesky “savages” getting in the way.
Then along came the Intercourse Act (originally of 1790, then renewed in 1793, 1796, and again in 1799), which stated that the Federal government was the only US institution that had the right to remove Native Americans from their lands. Stay with me; we’ll come back to this.
Also passed around the same time was the Naturalization Act of 1790, which limited access to U.S. citizenship to white immigrants (read: people from Western Europe). It also granted citizenship to children born abroad to U.S. citizens. Know who wasn’t granted citizenship in a country forced upon them on their own sacred land? Native Americans. Because they weren’t white. Or Christian.
Barely a decade after winning its independence, the American government passed the Sedition Act of 1790, which was allegedly passed to keep people from rebelling against the state. The Sedition Act contained a convenient little clause stating that it was forbidden for another government to exist within the territory of the United States government. This brings us back to America’s bullying of Native peoples because that one clause gave the U.S. the “right” to force Native tribes to stop operating their own forms of government. Even the one upon which America itself was based on. With a scribble of ink, Native Americans had their entire basis for governing themselves ruled illegal.
Five years later in 1795, the Treaty of Greenville was signed which was hailed as a peace treaty between Native Americans and the United States government. What it really did, however, was prohibit Native American nations from forming alliances. The U.S. government stated that Native Americans were considered to be carrying out seditious acts by way of rebellion if they formed alliances with other tribes. In which case, Native American nations would be prosecuted under the Sedition Act.
These removal Acts created a two-fold problem for Native Americans:
1) On one hand, tribes now had to fight with other tribes over the now-limited resources, after the white settlers took what they wanted. Tribes were no longer allowed to trade amongst themselves for resources as they had been doing for thousands of years because doing so was considered to be forming an alliance.
2) Tribes went to war with each other because as tribes were forced off their lands and to the west, they were forced to encroached upon another tribe’s lands. Rinse; repeat.
Several years later, the Bureau of Indian Affairs was established in 1824. This Bureau became the representative middle-man government between the Native Americans and the United States government. Directors of the Bureau were military generals and leaders and no Native Americans were appointed to leadership roles within the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
But the Bureau made sure to hire lawyers, accountants, geologists, and so forth, whose sole jobs were to determine where and how often to relocate tribes based upon what valuable resources were discovered on the lands they were currently occupying.
Then along came President Andrew Jackson, you know, the dude on the $20 bill? On May 28, 1830, Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act. Normally this would go through the then-established channels for checks-and-balances and the such. Except that Jackson passed the Indian Removal Act independently and on his own without consulting Congress or his own cabinet.
This meant that President Jackson 100% violated the Intercourse Act by removing power from the Federal government to remove Native Americans from their lands and gave that freedom to everyone. Like, literally anyone: local governments, individual citizens, etc.
As a result, five Native American nations (the Choctaw, Chickasaw, Cherokee, Creek, and Seminole) were forced to relocate to the west. To accomplish this, the government hired independent contractors to forcibly move the tribes because they didn’t want to allocate Federal resources to do the job. These contractors deprived Native Americans of essential needs (food, water, winter clothing, etc.) during the Trail of Tears because they realized that they could save money that was paid to them by the government.
For example: If Dave was forcing a tribe to relocate and was paid $300 by the United States government to provide provisions for the Natives during the journey, well hell, Dave could pocket most of that by refusing to provide the Native Americans with the essentials to safely arrive at their destination!
What impact did this have? Historical estimates reveal that roughly 100 Native American men, women, and children were buried every week during their removal. These independent contractors even knowingly put warring tribes together on the same reservation for obvious reasons. Around this time is where the phrase “the only good Indian is a dead Indian” became popular.
Once these poor Native Americans were finally on their new land, the only thing the federal government provided in abundance to the Native Americans on reservations was alcohol. Food rations were picked over by white people first, the remaining desirable items were sold to nearby white towns, and whatever was left over was given to the Native Americans for their survival. Oh, and Native Americans who were forced onto reservations were not allowed to hunt, fish, or provide for themselves because to do so would mean they would be “armed.”
Then along came a man named Richart Henry Pratt. Pratt was a humanist who opened the first boarding school for Native American children in Carlisle, Pennsylvania in 1879. On paper, the goal was to provide an education for these children to help them find their place in the new world that was being built around them. In reality and true to their abhorrent track record, this gave the U.S. government the “right” to round up (aka: abduct) Native American children ages 5-17, remove them from the reservation and their families, and intentionally send them to far-away boarding schools.
These boarding schools were actually institutions where these children were literally stripped of their traditional clothing, they were forced to have their hair cut, and their cultural jewelry was taken from them. These children were forced to dress in military-style uniforms, taught to march, forced to choose their new Christian name, taught Christianity, and most were denied visits with their families until they had sufficiently proven to the school administrators that they were no longer a threat to America and were considered to be broken of their heathen ways.
For more on Pratt’s boarding schools, I highly recommend you watch the documentary “In The White Man’s Image.” If you can’t find a copy of it, you can watch it on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RUCIMqlztd0
So yeah. Those are just a few of the reasons of why there “isn’t much Native American culture in American Culture.” Because. ‘Murica!