Native American Studies Research Paper

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While no clear date for the beginning of Native American Studies exists, it might be argued that such studies began with the Charter of 1650, which established Harvard University to educate both Indian and English youth (Morison 1936:355). The scholarly study of Native Americans begins much later, however, and departments of American Indian Studies first began to emerge during the early 1970s as Native American Studies programs began to separate from other departments. While Thornton (1998) addresses the nature and development of Native American Studies, Champagne and Stauss (2002) discuss the development of such programs in colleges and universities, and Wax (1971) highlights the sociological study of Native Americans as a part of ethnic studies.

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At the beginning of the twenty-first century there are 41 institutions that offer a four-year degree in Native American Studies. In 1969, the University of Minnesota became the first program to offer a Bachelor of Arts degree, and as noted by Thornton (1998:88), graduate programs in the area include a master’s degree program at UCLA, First Nation’s Studies at the University of Northern British Columbia, a Ph.D. program at the University of Arizona, an area of emphasis at the University of California, Davis, a Ph.D. in ethnic studies with a concentration of American Indian Studies, and a Ph.D. in American Studies at the University of Minnesota with a possible focus on Native American Studies (Thornton 1998:90).

While sociologists have studied the Red Power Movement, treaty violations, and a variety of environmental issues and archaeologists have examined many long-forgotten indigenous tribal societies, the focus of contemporary Native American Studies/American Indian Studies/First Nations Studies is now to offer an indigenous people’s perspective on what has become of contemporary American Indian life. Unlike more traditional minority studies programs in sociology or archaeology, Native American Studies/American Indian Studies/First Nations studies, both in the United States and Canada, are multidisciplinary. Rather than offering a traditional academic approach, Kidwell and Velie (2005) suggest these aforementioned programs intentionally focus on literature, history, arts, language, land and identity, and tribal sovereignty (Kidwell and Velie 2005:7–15). The University of California, Berkeley, the University of Minnesota, the University of California at Davis, and the University of British Columbia are among the increasing number of institutions that offer excellent graduate programs in Native American Studies (Thornton 1998:90).

The relevance of traditional academic approaches to the Native American experience has led to the development of a different academy. Native American studies purposively combine a unique analysis of the Native American people that reflects their arts, values, and cultural traditions. Duane Champagne (1998) suggests that the small number of these programs may be limited only by the relatively small number of faculty available to teach in these programs. One obvious strength of such programs is that they offer both Indian and non-Indian students an alternative interpretation of history, law, policy, and culture that would not otherwise be available (Champagne 1998:185). While the number of these programs is limited, the learning opportunities that are provided by them are vast.

Discovery of Native American Societies

The history of the Native Americans in North America is about 500 years old, but this knowledge dates from the “discovery” of America by Europeans. For most who study the history of the “New World,” it begins in 1492. Had history been written from the point of view of Native Americans, the year 1492 would be a point in history that forever changed their way of life. The native tribes, of course, were here long before their discovery. In fact, the Anasazi or “Ancient Pueblo” people of the Colorado River region of the American Southwest are now well documented to have preceded the Navaho and Apache tribes of this same region. These ancient Pueblo, or Anasazi, are now known to have migrated from Mexico into the Southern Arizona region about 3,000 years ago and to have introduced maize (corn) cultivation to this region. Settlements are known to exist at Cahokia, Moundville, Alabama, and Natchez, Mississippi existed long before 1492. The Siouan, the Algonquian, and the Iroquoian, in addition to many others, developed great societies. The Hidatsa, the Mandan, and the Arikara, among others, occupied huge expanses of the Midwest. Within these tribal cultures, no laws, courts, judges, prisons, or police existed, nor was there a need for such formal mechanisms of social control. Nonetheless, these tribal cultures prospered with a multitude of informal social control mechanisms that included exclusive hunting privileges reserved to the more powerful tribes in designated geographical boundaries. Of course, the conquest of the native tribes by the U.S. government would later impose a whole new body of land ownership regulations.

Columbus erred in his identification of the indigenous people because he was unaware of the large land mass located between Europe and Asia. Columbus called the Caribbean people Indians because of the mistaken belief he had discovered a shorter route to India. Yet his greater misjudgment was to interpret the indigenous people and cultures that he encountered based on a European point of view (Josephy 1963:4). For a Native American view of the early history of the Americas, see Richter (2001).

Warfare Between the U.S. Government and Indian Nations

The world of the Plains tribes changed after 1492 primarily because of disease, economic changes, and the devastating impact on the environment caused by white settlers, sometimes referred to as “hairy men.” But surprisingly, there was not a great deal of warfare between the native tribes and the frequently insatiable settlers. In fact, during the period of heaviest fighting from 1865 to 1898, the Plains Indians killed only a total of 919 U.S. soldiers, and the large majority of these involved defensive battles in response to assaults by the U.S. Cavalry. More than a third of the aforementioned 919 fatalities occurred at the Fetterman Massacre in 1866 and the Little Big Horn in 1876 (Deverell 2004). By the time of the U.S. Census of 1920, the American Indian population count had fallen below 100,000 people. Of course, while it was true that on some rare occasion American Indians would kill white settlers, this event was extremely rare. In fact, recent calculations of the total number of white settlers killed by Plains Indians from 1800 to 1870 measure such fatalities to be fewer than 400 (see Deverell 2004). This fact by itself goes a long way toward rebutting the savagery stereotype of the Plains Indians. While it is clear that some Europeans genuinely admired American Indians, the popular mainstream culture throughout the period of the Westward Movement portrayed Native Americans as savages. This prejudice ultimately led to genocide and an indifference to the suffering endured by Native Americans (see Altman 1995; Churchill 1999; Thornton 1987). The tale that every time a white man set foot on land after traversing the Atlantic Ocean a Native American fell dead was not far from the reality of the time. While the precise size of the North American Indian populations in 1492 is not known, the best estimate is that it approached 10 million people. Within this context, the study of European and American Indian relations does not focus exclusively on English colonists. Rather, these relations also included the Spanish, French, and Dutch as noted by the insightful analyses offered by the comparative studies of Peckham and Gibson (1969), Delanglez (1935), Kennedy (1950), or Jaenen (1976).

Diversity and Cultural Assimilation

In the contemporary view, diversity is defined by many as a source of strength, while historically such diversity was identified as a weakness that obstructed assimilation into American society. While the first major assault on tribal societies probably occurred in 1622, it escalated after the American Revolution concluded. In the early 1800s, there were more than a quarter of a million Native Americans in what is now California. By 1900, there were possibly as few as 20,000 full-blooded Indians. The demand for land, for minerals such as gold, and for settlements led to the demise of a vital and healthy body of American Indian civilizations. By 1850, more than half the miners were Indians, and resentful white miners killed them (McMaster and Trafzer 2004:132). Those who did survive disease and genocide were not accorded U.S. rights of citizenship until after 1924, at which time the Dual Citizenship Act was passed.

Thornton (1987) discusses the genocide of Native Americans over the 500 years of contact. While the “Indian Wars” ceased more than 100 years ago, the mistreatment of Native Americans has not ceased. The finding of gold in South Dakota and California and oil in Oklahoma resulted in more hardships for the tribal people.

The American Indian tribes were overwhelmed with many deadly contagious diseases contracted from the settlers.

Tribal Realities and Mainstream Mythology

While the indigenous peoples of this continent may have disappeared from the contemporary public awareness, their reality remains alive. For example, the Inde or Apache are dynamically evolving today among the 41 U.S. groups that identify as Apache. For the most part, they continue to live on a few reservations in New Mexico and Arizona. The myth of the vanishing Indian also has given rise to the belief that they have assimilated into white society. For the most part then, Native Americans are studied as if they are a part of the past. Social sciences such as sociology and anthropology as well as philosophy, psychology, history, literature, social work, law, population studies/demography, health, and theology have all contributed in some way to American Indian studies and the mythology that has become ingrained in the American mind.

Despite the existence of a vast body of literature concerning Native Americans (see, e.g., Alvord and Van Pelt 1999; Catlin 1913, 1841; Collier 1947; Coolidge and Coolidge 1930; Cremony 1868; Driver 1964; Embree 1939; Hibben 1946; Kluckhohn and Leighton 1962; Leighton and Kluckhohn 1969; Lindquist 1973; Mails 1973, 1993, 1995; McKenney and Hall 1933; Parsons 1922; Radin 1944; Terrell 1962, 1971, 1972; Thomas 1973; Underhill 1938, 1945, 1946, 1948, 1953, 1956), misrepresentation of the culture of the indigenous people of America emerged. One notable early chronicler of the lives and culture of Native American people was George Catlin (1796–1872), who created portraits and descriptive records of the daily lives and artifacts of North American tribes. Other than children’s books, Life amongst the Indians: A Book for Youth (Catlin 1861) and Last Rambles amongst the Indians of the Rocky Mountains and of the Andes (Catlin 1866), however, Catlin did not publish any additional books on American Indians.

The Complexity of Native American Studies

The complexity of Native American Indian culture is demonstrated through the work of Hyde (1937), Dennis (1940), Silko (1981), Geertz and Lomatuway’ma (1987), Flood (1995), McGaa (1990), Voget (1995), Peters (1995), LaDuke ([1999] 2004), Kehoe (2001), Grobsmith (1981), Hoebel (1960), and Sarita (1995). The “myth” of the vanishing Indian reinforced the misplaced belief that Indians have become fully assimilated into the U.S. society. But Indian tribal cultures are as different from each other as these are from the general society. Sociological analyses of the culture of the Apache illustrate the complexity of Native American studies.

Apache Tribal Cultures

The Apache were the last of the hostile tribes to submit to the whites and were, like the Navajo, thought to be descendents of the Athapascan-speaking peoples. While there is some debate as to when and where the Apache arrived, as with the Navajo, they quickly left their mark as a fierce tribe. Like the Navajo, the Apache engaged in banditry; unlike the Navajo, for the Apache, war was a way of life (Terrell 1972:70).

The word Apache is derived from the Spanish Apachu meaning enemy (Terrell 1971:47). However, the seven Apache clans call themselves Lacotah, Dakotah, or Innuit, all meaning “the people.” While the spelling varies, many use Inde as the name for the Apache. N’de is used by the Lipan, and the Jicarilla use Tinde (Terrell 1971:309–310). The Apache did not develop a culture of arts and crafts, but the Jicarilla and Mescalero Apache borrowed extensively from the Plains Indians, living in tipis, using braids, and wearing buckskin as did the Plains Indians. The Chiricahua and other Apache groups lived in wickiups made of grass and bush covering the branches of young trees. The Apache burial and mortuary practices also are similar to those of the Plains Indians.

The Apache are matrilineal and matrilocal societies that trace their heritage through the family of the female (Sherman 1996:104). Grandmothers instruct their grandchildren on the proper ways of the people, and girl children are considered more valuable than boy children, but both females and males receive the same foot and horseback training (Sherman 1996:124). The Apache developed into several divisions or tribal groups. The ways of the seven Apache clans are not similar. The western Apache, for example, are noted for their lack of words. But as with other tribes, the Apache believe that words are powerful enough to make something happen. Prayers, poems, songs, and spells are not differentiated in that each of these possesses spiritual powers. One rarely sings or speaks a poem for entertainment. Rather, such activities are relegated to tribal ceremony and times of crises.

Cultural History

From Jamestown in 1607 to the end of treaty-making in 1871 (Kidwell and Velie 2005:66), land was in contention. In 1871, the U.S. government officially terminated the sovereignty of American Indian tribes and relegated them to holding limited rights of citizenship. Unlike other minorities, however, Native Americans held little property of value apart from their land. It was in accordance with the Doctrine of Discovery policy adopted by the founding fathers that the legal title to indigenous lands was transferred to the federal government. This legal usurpation occurred between 1778 and 1871 and involved no fewer than 374 treaties. However, because the Doctrine of Discovery policy required both consent and fair payment to authenticate the transfer of indigenous land rights, it is the latter of these treaty requirements, still enforceable, that accounts for a wide variety of tribal hunting rights that range from “whales” (Makah tribe, 1855 treaty) to “walleye fish” (Chippewa tribe, 1837, 1842, and 1854 treaties).

While it is true that Indian schools did teach American Indian children some vocational skills such as pencil making, mainstream society generally took only slight interest in providing employment opportunities. Rather than promoting employment opportunities on the reservations, the federal government encouraged the more highly motivated to move away from the reservations (Schaefer 2006:161). By the twentieth century, most tribal Indians were living on isolated, rural reservations. Unlike other minorities, American Indians were dominated by rigid, paternalistic government rules and regulations. And while Native Americans did not experience the Jim Crow laws, the health care system, the reservation schools, the agency system, and the control of the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) rendered them marginal, powerless, and isolated. As an agency of the Department of Interior, the BIA controlled everything, including the distribution of food, shelter, police, legal justice, schools, reservation budget, and even tribal membership, philosophy, and structure. From building roads to the level of fire protection, reservation life was controlled by the federal government (Schaefer 2006:158). As the civil rights movement emerged in the twentieth century, the focus of this movement was primarily integrationist. By contrast, Native Americans did not want to seek integration, but they did desire to preserve their heritage and culture.

Native Americans represent the most impoverished group in the United States. Their traditional lifestyles have been difficult to maintain because the land on which reservations are established is generally of poor quality, and whatever good land was possessed was systematically taken from them via treaty-making. Traditional hunting and farming ways were lost, and other food sources were destroyed. Because of a lack of means to satisfy even subsistence needs, over time most Native Americans became totally dependent on federal government aid.

In the past, Native Americans held few marketable skills, experienced low rates of literacy, did not advocate good work habits, and could only secure employment by leaving the reservation (Tinker 2004:15, 19). At the same time, the government attempted to dismantle kinship patterns by taking children from families while encouraging the enculturation of Western ways as taught at reservation schools (Chadwick 1972:532). Parents were jailed or refused government rations if they did not send their children to boarding schools (Reyhner and Eder 2004:157).

Boarding schools encouraged acculturation; at the same time, learning of tribal languages and support for the native style of dress, religion, and the learning of other aspects of Indian culture was forbidden (Altman 1995:28). The Rapid City Indian School was converted to a tuberculosis sanitarium in 1932, perhaps prophetically, since it had been a breeding ground for trachoma, measles, tuberculosis, injury, and other diseases (Reyhner and Eder 2004:154). When school was in session, the children of different tribes were often boarded together. When school was not in session, the children were often boarded with white families. The “Outing System” was intended to place Indian children in white homes as a son or daughter, but the program quickly became a way for white families of obtaining cheap servants (Reyhner and Eder 2004:139). Teachers did not visit home, parents did not come to schools, and teachers seldom understood the learning styles of Native American students (Schaefer 2006:172).

As tribal control of education has increased in recent years, colleges began to teach tribal history, language, and culture. Entering the twenty-first century, perhaps the greatest danger for Indian education is the push for outcomes assessment, the use of state and national standards, and the emphasis on high stakes testing in all facets of education but especially for promotion to the next grade (Reyhner and Eder 2004:11). Nonetheless, the enforced acculturation of Native American Indian tribes has led to a loss of much tribal cultural tradition, and the consequences, as noted by Deloria (1969), Sheehan (1973), Steiner (1968), and Frazier (2000), are great. Many Indians, obsessed with their cultural survival in the face of cultural attacks from all of the forces of the majority culture, fear that schools are a place for “becoming white” and that even Indian-controlled schools threaten cultural survival (Reyhner and Eder 2004:167).

Despite their minority status and a beleaguered history, Native Americans currently receive a great deal of attention. Part of this interest is reflected in a renewed ethnic awareness. Perhaps more attention is given to the social and economic plight of many of the tribes as casinos, movies, and television make them more visible. On the other hand, American Indians remain invisible to the majority of the American population. While significant improvement to the quality of life on reservations has been made in recent years, many who reside on these reservations continue to face severe hardships and share less in the affluence of modern society than any other minority group.

Perhaps most damaging is the historically grounded mythology depicting Native Americans, especially the males, as drunk, uneducated savages. This stereotype includes the view of Native Americans as recipients of government largess who reside on government-sponsored reservation land while engaged with gambling casinos. Although the American film industry has attempted to counter such stereotypes, it is little known that Native Americans constructed more than 100,000 pre-Columbian cities, and the Incas successful conducted brain surgery with at least 1,000 known cases of trephining or removal of parts of the cranial vault during life (Stewart 1950:45). Many other tribes are noted for their study of astronomy, mathematics, geology, and art (Archuleta and Strickland 1991; Aveni 1977; Closs 1986; Peat 1994; Romain 2000; Scott 1999; Young 2000).

Contributions of Native Americans

Tribal groups gave much to Europeans, including the sharing of food. The Aztecs gave pineapples, barbecue, chili, peppers, chocolate, popcorn, and sweet potatoes. The Mayan potato, later known as the Irish potato, was an important food staple shared with Europeans. The Apache offered walnuts, strawberries, onions, grapes, and stews (Melody 1989:24), and corn was cultivated in the Americas 6,000 to 8,000 years ago (Doherty and Doherty 1991:40). Knowledge pertaining to medicine, housing, and the making of clothing and many other skills were shared with the white settlers.

The clans and tribes of the Pacific Northwest are noted for their ability to weave and fashion clothing from plant and wood fibers. Blankets, rain hats, mats, and baskets were also woven. By contrast, the Plains tribes used buffalo and deer skins to make clothing such as moccasins. Some Plains groups excelled in beadwork to adorn their clothing, while others used porcupine quills, feathers, elk teeth, bear claws, or shells to adorn clothing. Those living in arctic or colder climates made parkas from hides, with pants to cover their legs, along with sunglasses to cover their eyes. Mittens and fur boots were also worn. Tribes living in the desert wore very little in the heat of summer, but woven grass and reeds were used to make clothing, as were sagebrush and bark to make shirts and skirts. Clothing was made of cotton, and with the introduction of sheep, wool was used for a similar purpose. Tribes living in the southeastern area used furs, bark, feathers, hair, and plants to make clothing. The clothing of all clans and tribes was functional, colorful, attractive, and durable (Mason 1946; Solomon 1928).

The housing of Native Americans was unique and varied. Among the approximately 40 Plains tribes, housing varied from dome-shaped lodges made of bark among the Sauk and Fox, the domed-shaped houses thatched with grass of the Wichita, and the log loges covered with dirt of the Mandan and Pawnee to the tipis of the Lakota. The Pueblo tribes of the Southwest lived in adobe dwellings, some of which has lasted for thousands of years. Some have multiple stories that required wooden ladders to enter the higher levels. The Apache lived in an oval-shaped wickiup covered with grass, brush, and matted materials. The Navajo of the Southwest lived in hogans made of logs and covered with dirt. The Anasazi lived in cliffs carved into the sides of mountains. Some have cedar beams that were 12 to 15 inches in diameter, but no trees are found near the cliffs, signifying that they were transported from elsewhere (Hollister 1903:34). The Aztecs left behind ruins in New Mexico that were three stories high and had more than 500 rooms. While little is known of the original inhabitants, later groups developed kivas and other structures on the site. The northeastern tribes lived in longhouses with frames of poles covered with strips of bark. Walls and doors typically were made from skins or blankets. The Seminole tribe in the Southeast made their homes on platforms with grass roofs and floors to keep them dry in the warm, wet climate. The northwestern tribes of Kwakiutl, Haida, and Tlingit used totem plank lodges for their dwellings, with an ornate totem near the entrance (Nabokov and Easton 1989).

Native Americans maintain their cultural traditions through a strong kinship system, especially with immediate family members. One universal feature of Native American culture is that it is people centered. One’s way of life and thinking are centered on people rather than things. The focus on people has lead to practices that distinguish Native American culture. The kinship system places relatives at the center of social activity, and children spend a great deal of time with grandparents and other relatives. By tradition, Native Americans serve to educate and work together; they also care for the dying and the dead. Included in this system is the practice of families providing home care for the elderly. People die among their clan or family and are attended to within in keeping with tribal customs.

One’s clan is also important, and each clan member is delegated duties to perform. In this way a storyteller, dancer, or singer assists in transmitting the important aspects of an unwritten culture. American Indians have patterns of sharing along kinship lines as well: This may include money, child care, housing, rides, help with work, or whatever is needed. Generosity and sharing are strong cultural values. The amassing of money and possessions is not a traditional practice. Goods are to be shared, and savings are to be used. Northwestern tribes refer to this practice as the potlatch ceremony (Coe, Snow, and Benson 1986:82). The giveaway ceremonies are still practiced, and public ceremonies such as the celebration of death are organized along kinship lines.

Today, it is not realistically possible to live only a traditional lifestyle. The traditional world of the Native American has been invaded by the dominant white culture. Today, satellite dishes and pickup trucks are found located adjacent to hogans. Such cultural artifacts are reflective of the new reality of life; most Native Americans earn their living in occupations outside the reservation, and they are moving toward participation at almost every social and economic level.

Intermarriage and intramarriage have again become an important issue. Indeed, few contemporary Indian Americans are “full-bloods.” As far back as the 1980 census, 53 percent of Native Americans were married to nonNative Americans (Kivisto and Ng 2005:232). More than one half the people living on some reservations are not American Indians. Even much of the land is not owned by the tribe or by individual Indians as much of it has either been sold or the owners have lost the title to these lands through less than honest dealings (Kidwell and Velie 2005:50). Reservation schools are now mixed with as many white children as tribal children; children of BIA and other government agency employees, clergy, teachers, traders, business owners, ranchers, farmers, landowners, casino employees, and many others live on reservations and attend schools.

Spirituality and Native American Values

The values of Native Americans are reflected through their spirituality. Although all individuals do not think alike (McMaster and Trafzer 2004:14), the sacred is an important part of culture. Since the other world is unknowable, humans cannot find adequate words to describe it. Words only refer to the known human condition, but the sacred is greater. Thus, the sacred is reflected through symbols employed in tribal music, dance, silence, meditation, rituals, and ceremony. Encounters with the sacred evoke deep emotions and behavioral transformations. Music, dance, drama, art, and sculpture inspire spiritual engagement and explanations for things such as birth, existence, and death. Each of the hundreds of indigenous nations has a diverse, rich, heritage of forms of spirituality, expressions, and traditional narratives (Tinker 2004:4).

Evil is also embellished with meaning, with the ultimate evil often portrayed as death. The world is a violent, dangerous place, and yet spiritual worlds evoke images of peace and harmony. The sacred gives meaning and purpose to human existence.

Spiritual empowerment originates from ritual, sharing with family and community, and living according to the model of spirituality of the group. All cultures have rites of passage: marriage, adulthood, aging, and death. Stories are told of children dying, engaging mythic monsters in combat, and challenging spirits in battle. In funeral rites, the newly dead are often thought to be in an in-between state. The dead are respected as ancestors; such ancestors are also feared as a potential source of death for those who live. Rituals that manage dead spirits are developed to cope with grief and loss. Artistic expression is also used to aid with loss. Animals that are to become food for the group are drawn to aid in the hunt before their death. These same animals are thanked for giving their lives to aid the living. A single American Indian religion cannot be identified. Nonetheless, all the religions and spiritual orientations have similarities. Native Americans believe they dwell in a world filled with spirits: Birds carry messages, animals tell tales, rocks speak, and spirits roam the earth. Communication with mysterious beings is available to all. Dreams and visions provide messages or instructions that all may receive as a gift from the spirits. All life has a purpose; each person exists for a reason, and they spend their lives trying to identify what that reason may be. Visions, dreams, rivers, rocks, animals, birds, and spirits can give messages to be listened to. Cultures with oral traditions can travel back as far as the chain of memory will allow. In a world filled with spirits, the past provides a guide to the present. Storytellers’ tales of animals that talk, of spirits that roam the earth, of rocks that have messages both instruct and entertain those who listen. Storytellers play drums, sing, and dance as they weave their tales, while masks, costumes, regalia, and performance mark their stories.

Generally, such stories suggest all things have a soul. Rocks, plants, animals, and living things are tied together; each has its place in the world. By living in harmony, the world is orderly and good. If disharmony occurs, bad things happen to living things such as sickness, accidents, disasters, and death. Each is responsible for the other; each must protect the other. This includes following customary rituals, forgiveness, patience, sharing, and living a spiritual life. In the tribal cultures, harmony does not include viewing oneself as better, being wealthier, having higher status, using one’s power for personal gain, or other forms of selfaggrandizement. Neither is success measured by occupation, money, or power. One is a success if one lives in harmony, acquires sacred knowledge, and carries out one’s responsibilities as well as possible. A storyteller, rug maker, grandparent, or whoever does one’s role in harmony with spirituality will have good fortune and be admired by others.

One does not need to be a chief or a community leader to be admired. Wealth is not a major determinant of tribal status. Children are raised in an environment devoid of coercion or threat. They learn by observing older children, adults, and tribal elders role modeling that which is appropriate behavior. Living in a world of spirituality makes it easier for children to develop a sense of the spiritual. The spiritual nature of everything in life becomes second nature. One also has ceremonies that reinforce the spiritual nature of the world. Fear is not the basis of life, but being in harmony with the world is.

One engages in rituals, ceremonies, and community as one proceeds through childhood, adulthood, and becoming elderly as the sun follows its cycle. Death is not feared; it is natural and is to be accepted as stories indicate. These sacred stories and myths teach how to live. Myths represent “the Truth.” Myths and stories provide the ultimate meaning of life. The myths, sacred stories, songs, and epics are models for living, oral traditions from ancestors and other sacred beings. There are stories, for example, pertaining to marriage, hunting, work, play, art, and war. Such stories define the Indian culture, assist in creating the worldview, and develop basic values. This gives the living a place and role in the world connecting the past to the present in a meaningful manner. Questions pertaining to why we are here, why there is suffering, and the purpose of life were addressed by the ancients; we must accept life as it is. The ancients provide us with a model for how to live.

The time dimension of tribal life is so fundamental in American Indian cultures that it is often not noticed by white observers. John Collier writes about the Tewan Pueblo, Tesuque, suffering a famine that whites wanted to help end. The Tesuques saw this as a diversion from the real issue, which was the white man’s plan to kill their past by shattering the bridge of tribal land and tribal religion that united the past and present on the deathless two-way journey from the living past to the living future (Collier 1949:7). Collier further suggests that Native Americans live in a time dimension that is different from our own, one that is not linear but rather places the Native American experience beyond the stars (Moskowitz and Collier 1949:2–3).

Religious Issues

Clearly, there are those who hold respect if not admiration for the traditional religious practices of Native Americans. Yet the dominant, mainstream culture seems generally inclined to either ignore or suppress the indigenous cultures that it has tried to destroy since Europeans first arrived. Many Catholic priests, known as “Blackrobes,” and other clergy do go to great lengths to respect and preserve traditional ways. Many funeral directors also make great efforts to respect and preserve traditional ways. Even among the clergy and those who call themselves religious, there are many who exploit, abuse, and ultimately denigrate cultures, beliefs, and peoples who are different (for further information on American Indian religions, see Anderson 1997; Archuleta and Strickland 1991; Burland 1965; Curtis 1972; Fergusson 1931; Marquis 1974; Moskowitz and Collier 1949; Powers 1982; Ross 1989; Stolzman 1986; Taylor 1994; Tinker 2004; Underhill 1946, 1953; Wall and Arden 1990). Tinker (2004:104) suggests that missionaries of all denominations failed because they did not recognize the personhood of Indian people and that the indigenous communities are being swallowed up in a cultural genocide.


Native American arts and crafts include pottery, beadwork, woodwork, stonework, applied decoration, skin work, textiles, basket-making, shellwork, feather work, bone work, and cave art. Each of these crafts embraces the spiritual dimension. Few recognize the degree of sophistication and development of the arts and crafts of Native Americans. While it is recognized that unique pottery was produced by the Hopi, Navajo, Pueblo, and other southwestern tribes, few are aware of the glasswork, figurine-making, engraving, incising, and decorated pots created by Great Lakes area tribes, who first developed metallic tools. The silverwork of the Southwest is well known, but not much is known of the Kiowa or the Iroquois. Navajo rugs and blankets are well known, but few know of the Northwest coast or the Great Lakes tribes’ weaving skills (Whiteford 1970:4).

As early as 1850, Navajo blankets sold for $50 in gold, which was an excellent price at the time (Rodee 1981:2). Navajo blankets have been found among the Shoshones of Idaho and Utah, demonstrating that Navajo blankets were sought through trade by other tribes who did not make such blankets (Hollister 1903:49). Each blanket is unique. As the blanket is woven, it assumes its nature and purpose. Symbolically, the weaver tells the story of her life as she weaves. The colors, designs, symbols, and patterns are all part of the story. Each fabric has its own individuality (Hollister 1903:113).

Today, Navajo blankets are quite expensive but not very profitable, given the extensive number of hours required to clean, dye, and prepare the wool for weaving. More than 1,000 hours are needed to craft a blanket that may sell for $1,200; two to three sheep provide the wool to make a 3 by 5 feet rug; 15 hours are required to shear the sheep and to clean the wool; to make the yarn from raw wool requires 368 hours; dying the yarn takes 19 hours; to weave the rug requires 158 hours. The total blanket labor production time is 560 hours.

Basket-making appears to have been practiced by many tribes who developed an almost endless variety of forms, styles, and patterns of baskets (Hollister 1903:10). And the Hopi are noted for their pottery and katcinas; they also produce excellent drawings, paintings, masks, and garments. The katcinas and masks are personations or symbols depicted in the form of pictures, dolls, and masks of ancient gods (Fewkes 1903:15). Fewkes (1903) illustrates 260 individual katcina figures, including many reproductions of Hopi artists, as do Mason (1946), D’Amato and D’Amato (1968), and Salomon (1928).

The Future of American Indian/Native American Studies

Much more research is being published because of the establishment of several journals as outlets, including American Indian Culture and Research Journal, American Indian Quarterly, Northeast Indian Quarterly, Wicazo Sa Review, Cherokee Nation, Ancient Society, American Indian Culture and Research Journal, American Antiquity, American Indian Law Review, Contemporary Indian Affairs, Indian Historian, Native Peoples Akwesasne Notes, Blue Cloud Quarterly, and Letan Wankatakiya. But the research of the past reported by anthropologists in particular blurs the mythology of American Indians with the realities and the diversity of ethnic traditions of numerous tribes. In addition, the impact of Christianity on indigenous native religions and the exploitive nature of the relationships between American Indian tribes and the white populations have drastically diluted American Indian culture in what Tinker (2004) calls cultural genocide.

Respecting Indian Afterlife Rituals

Native Americans engage in rituals and practices that reflect their religious beliefs pertaining to death and spiritual afterlife. Like other groups, American Indians view desecration of the dead to be a seriously offensive act. It is believed that disease and even death may befall those who violate the dead and their sacred resting place, but archaeologists have long dug up human remains to learn about culture and health-related matters. Following the Civil War, the Surgeon General of the United States ordered U.S. Army personnel to obtain Indian skulls for study at the Army Medical Museum in Washington, D.C. (McMaster and Trafzer 2004:16). Subsequently, the skulls of Arapahoe, Cheyenne, and Kiowa who were killed at the Sand Creek Massacre in Colorado became objects of this scientific inquiry. Because of such acts, many tribes are reluctant to discuss their practices with contemporary researchers.

Emergent Tribal Colleges

It is only in recent years that tribal colleges, traditional curricula, American Indian teachers, and Native America schools have achieved some attention. Fortunately, the importance of Native American culture is recognized, as is the need to develop the infrastructure to preserve this heritage. In this area, tribal elders and councils are working to encourage such preservation. One significant move in this direction is the opening of the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C., in 2005.

Contemporary Indian Health Profiles

While tribes have managed to survive despite enduring 400 years of mistreatment and government domination, problems continue to abound today, including increased rates of suicide, diabetes, drug and alcohol abuse, and poverty on the reservations (Reyhner and Eder 2004:5). In addition, American Indians experience high rates of cancer, heart disease, unemployment, dropping out of school, poverty, and alcoholism. These problems are especially acute among those living on reservations; thus, it is not surprising that Native Americans are the most likely to die before the age of 45 than members of any other racial or ethnic group (Schaefer 2006:174). Obviously, health studies and health care will rank high during the twenty-first century.

Erosion of Indian Tribal Languages

Other issues that will require attention during the twentyfirst century are related to the loss of tribal languages and culture. There are 154 surviving Native American languages, but only 20 tribes encourage the children to learn their traditional language (Schaefer 2006:150), and just under 50 percent of all the Indian language speakers in the United States today are Navajo. Seven hundred American Indian languages were spoken in 1500 (Schaefer 2006: 151); by the year 2000, only 15.4 percent of all persons self-identified as American Indians reported speaking an Indian language.

Indian Gaming Economics

Economically there are reasons to be optimistic. The casino industry serves as a major source of revenue, and tribal casinos represent a relatively new shift in federal policy toward Native Americans. The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1998 is intended to encourage economic development, self-sufficiency, and strong tribal government. In this area too, the research foci will include aspects of the gaming industry among other entrepreneurial activities.

Indian Land Resources

The remaining land base of many Native Americans has come under renewed assault as lands that were previously considered worthless now turn out to contain valuable energy, mineral, or water resources. But the present is unlike the past. Whereas in the past the extraction of these resources has frequently resulted in the impoverishment of Native Americans and the serious degradation of their environment, current concern among Native Americans is focused on the preservation of reservation lands by effective resistance against toxic and nuclear waste dumping, the violation of sacred sites and the ongoing conflict over treaty-based hunting, fishing and gathering rights. As the modern American Indian tribes have begun to assert their surviving sovereignty rights over their lands and resources, they are developing their own air and water quality regulations to protect their reservation resources from the effects of off-reservation pollution sources (see Gedicks 1993; Hooks and Smith 2004; LaDuke [1999] 2004).

Native American Studies and U.S. Society

Finally, Duane Champagne (1998) suggests that Native American studies are for everyone and that as a human group, Indian nations can be compared with other groups in technology, cultural worldviews, history, adaptation to global markets, and even the history of all humanity (Champagne 1998:182). This perspective offers an important opportunity for all to enlarge our grasp of the cultural richness of Native American peoples and their contribution to mainstream American society.


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