Nowadays, Native Americans constitute an ethnic minority group, which for a long time was marginalized and struggled to integrate into the dominant American culture. Throughout the history of the USA, the members of sovereign indigenous tribes were exposed to continual oppression. Nevertheless, they managed to preserve their unique cultural heritage and identities, which stretch back in millennia despite multiple great challenges.
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The first indigenous tribes appeared in North American nearly twenty-six thousand years ago and were “descendants of the original inhabitants of the American continent who crossed into North America via the Bering Straits of Alaska from north-eastern Asia” (“The Native American Peoples of the United States”). Since there likely was no mass migration, and Natives continually migrated in small numbers, several independent tribes with their own customs, languages, ways of dressing, and housing developed.
For instance, the Nanticoke tribe used to wear animal furs and leather moccasins which they started to exchange for Europeans’ cotton fabrics afterward (Toman). They harvested crops including beans, corn, sunflowers, and so on, while many other indigenous communities, such as the Spokane tribe, were primarily hunters and gatherers (Toman). Additionally, semi-nomadic Plains Natives were mainly warriors, and some of them (i.e., the Sioux, Commanche, and Blackfeet tribes) “evolved a complex system of honors, rewards, and rituals which were visually expressed by pipes, feathered bonnets, horse-hair war-shirts, and medicine hoops, all decorated with signs and emblems” (“The Native American Peoples of the United States”).
In general, before the colonial era, Native Americans governed their communities in accordance with their unique values and views, which were substantially rooted in the ideas of living in harmony with nature. Additionally, the traditional Native American philosophy emphasized the “continuity and the continuous renewal” (“The Native American Peoples of the United States”).
On the one hand, indigenous people were very pragmatic in a way that they tried to consume resources in reasonable amounts, avoided overexploitation of natural resources, and understood the importance of keeping the environment pure and clean. At the same time, their perspectives had spiritual elements − they regarded some geographical objects as sacred; composed myths about natural forces, animals, and seasons. The given idea drastically differs indigenous cultural worldview from the western one that stresses the causality of events.
After sovereign tribes were resettled by the US government and the reservations’ boundaries became ultimately fixed, Native Americans were exposed to the influence of the western culture. Nowadays, “there are 566 federally recognized American Indian and Alaska Native tribes and villages in the United States” (“Traditions & Culture”). Although in the face of all tremendous challenges, some of the cultural and spiritual ties were weakened, new Native generations aim to revive their original cultural identity by practicing traditional ceremonies and rituals, gathering at pow-wows, promoting Native Americans’ mass media, speaking tribal dialects, and teaching their children to live with dignity and respect to nature like their ancestors did (“Traditions & Culture”).
For instance, since the 1960s, Native American environmentalism started to gain importance in the US society, and the attention to ecological ethics and traditional spiritual beliefs and values of indigenous tribes drew attention as Natives continued to be exposed to environmental disparities. It is possible to say that the activities of the modern Native environmentalists are primarily oriented towards the restoration of nature within the reservations and the promotion of tribal well-being and cultural integrity.
Over thousands of years, different indigenous tribes formed their own unique cultural systems. The distinctions among them were largely defined by the place of their living (e.g., by the rivers or in plains, etc.), types of available natural resources, etc. Although they were forced to change their lifestyles under the European settlers’ influence, American Indians remained loyal to their traditions and managed to preserve their authenticity and in-group cultural and linguistic diversity even after becoming a unified nation.
“The Native American Peoples of the United States.” American Studies Today. Web.
Toman, Valerie. “Cultural Differences Between the East and West Coast Tribes.” 2013. Web.
“Traditions & Culture.” Running Strong for American Indian Youth. Web.