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History of Discrimination
Discrimination and prejudiced feelings and opinions against Native Americans stems back to colonial times, when colonists and living practices as well as governance policies did not adequately value "the culture, history and knowledge of the American Indians" (Koppelman & Goodhart, 2003:86).
Colonists rarely acknowledged the indigenous peoples living in America when they first arrived. Many considered Native Americans to be savages, or people that were less than human and dangerous at best (Koppelman & Goodhart, 2003). From early colonial times a precedent has been established that Native Americans were "obstacles" meant to be overcome rather than people deserving of equal rights and respect under the law.
There is evidence to suggest that early explorers such as Columbus appreciated the peaceful nature and beauty of the indigenous people, but despite this he took many back to Spain as slaves (Koppelman & Goodhart, 2003). Though the indigenous people offered much to the colonists including well established roads upon which the colonists eventually built their own systems, they were rarely acknowledged for their contributions.
Benjamin Franklin is even cited as noticing the impressive governance structure utilized by Indian nations, and is noted for borrowing heavily from them though again he did not acknowledge the contributions or Indian influence on his work, and was publicly prejudiced against the natives (Koppleman & Goodhart, 2003:88). There is much the colonists might have learned however if they had paid attention to the natives. The Native Americans for example had much to offer in the way of food and medicine. Native Americans were well noted for understanding the value of medicinal plants for example.
In modern times Native Americans still are the victims of prejudiced attitudes. Many people still have the idea that Indians are either noble savages that lived long ago and were exterminated, or view Indians as people living in contemporary society but as a people who have lost their culture and been "degraded" by "white men's ways (Koppelman & Goodhart, 2003: 95). Native Americans in contemporary times have also been criticized for operating casinos, which may potentially provide them with significant revenue.
Many indigenous people today face issues with forced assimilation into the "dominant society" which include struggling with high unemployment rates, low school completion rates, domestic abuse and alcoholism (Koppelman & Goodhart, 2003:97). In addition may
Many suggest that Native Americans have not had the opportunity to "adequately mourn the events that happened to ancestors" and their unresolved grief lies at the hart of their current social problems (Lum, 2003: 203). Alcohol is often seen as a tool or oppression and a way to "cheat indigenous people out of their land and natural resources "(Lum, 2003).
Lum (2003) cites one of the most devastating impacts related to oppression for indigenous people was the separation of Native children from their families during the late 19th century. This practice which continued into the late 20th century required that Native children were separated and educated in boarding schools typically hundreds or even thousands of miles from their communities; the slogan of many of these school were "kill the Indian: Save the man" which reflects the common belief that cultural, linguistic and spiritual practices of native peoples should be "eradicated" again to promote a more civilian and civilized lifestyle (Lum, 2003:204).
Part II: Personal Discrimination
It is difficult at first to acknowledge that I might have prejudice opinions or believe in stereotypes about any given population. However upon close examination it is not hard to see that I do believe several stereotypical assumptions about certain populations, particularly the Native American population. Discrimination and stereotypes can sometimes be unconscious, as evidenced by the literature reviewed (Ayres, 2003; Lum, 2003). I have found that I hold unconscious personal bias against Native Americans, and that I may have fallen victim to many of the stereotypes that exist regarding Native Americans. I also feel that this unconscious personal bias is due in part to the pervasive amount of literature that exists and stereotypes that have existed for years that depict native populations as savage, uneducated and generally 'odd' or at least very different from traditional populations living within the United States.
One of the first images that I call to mind when I think of Native Americans is of people dancing around a fire singing primitive songs and worshiping animals. The next thing I think about is people living in teepees smoking pipes and drinking. The last image that comes to mind is perhaps people gambling in casinos. Though I know that this is not an accurate description of indigenous peoples, I believe that I have succumbed to many of the early stereotypes that have existed since the colonial times. As Koppelman and Goodhart point out, many of the early colonists of Columbus' time believed that the native people's inhabiting this country were savages. That image of Native American traditions has lasted for centuries and permeated modern day thinking, evidenced by my own perceptions. Many of the early colonists appreciated the beauty of the native people's but only from the standpoint that they were poor, helpless people that needed to be civilized and taught the ways of 'modern' or civilized man. I believe that I still have the unconscious belief that the Native population needs to in some way be civilized. Why after all, would anyone consider living in a small community or dwelling apart from modern cities? Even more, why would anyone still maintain religious beliefs that are so foreign from what is common practice, or consider living in a teepee?
Even today I can honestly say if confronted with native customs and religious traditions I would feel uncomfortable, and generally have a negative view of traditions other than Christian ones. This may stem from as Lum (2003) points out a tendency for people to associate more with what is familiar to them, and hold unconscious or even conscious prejudice of that which is not familiar to them. I have no comfort level with the native cultures and traditions of indigenous people, most likely in part because I have not been exposed at any length to the traditions and members of this community. What I have learned about native people's I have learned from textbooks or images portrayed in the media, including images of fiercely painted creatures on horses chasing cowboys or raiding colonial villages. Such imagery is bound to have a negative effect on one's images and views of any population.
Most of what I have formally learned about Native American customs up until this point in time was taught to me during grade school. Of what I can remember I don't recall any positive imagery. I do remember a discourse of "Indians" living in teepees, or at least that seems to be the pervasive image in my mind. The idea of someone living in a teepee rather than a traditional home is alarming and foreign to me, again perhaps merely an expression of my discomfort with that which is unknown and unfamiliar to me. Most of what has been depicted of native culture has been dramatized to some extent, and even within the literature there seems to be a bias toward the belief that Native traditions are still somehow less civil than others.
The readings have revealed to me just how much colonialists and the American culture has in fact benefited from but also taken away from indigenous cultures. From the reading it is apparent that indigenous knowledge of food, governance and medicine clearly could have and did benefit colonists. Knowing just these simple facts about native people has caused me to re-consider and re-evaluate my prejudiced attitudes and beliefs that Native Americans are somehow more primitive than ordinary citizens.
Part of my beliefs, prejudice and stereotypical associations with the Native American culture stems from modern depictions of Native Americans. The first image I can pull to mind of modern day 'cultural' Native American people's is a bunch of alcoholic individuals gathered at a casino. When I think of casinos I often think of the Native Americans, and as I have a generally negative view of casinos in general, this tends to reveal a negative attitude toward Native Americans.
What I had not considered was why I had such a negative association between the two. I had not stopped to realize that the Native Americans might consider the casino as simply a means of survival and revenue, rather than a place to take advantage of people or rob them of their money. I also did not consider that for the most part many of these casinos run by Native Americans are largely unsuccessful. There are so many negative images and associations with casinos, including gambling and general debauchery. It is easy to transfer these negative stereotypes and emotions directly to the Native populations that might embrace the casinos as their livelihood.
Perhaps the most impacting portion of the literature review was the revelation that many native peoples are still perhaps struggling with the grief…[continue]
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