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Native Americans are characterized by the diversity of their cultures, forming a variety of tribes that follow contrasting traditions and often use different languages. Many of the differences can be attributed to the vast size of the continent where they live relative to the size of the population. However, there are likely other reasons why people chose to distance themselves from each other and form highly varied cultures. It is possible that the organizational particulars of the Native American society played a role similar in influence to that of geography. The purpose of this discussion post is to propose explanations for the branching development of the people of the Southwest.
It is not unusual for societies that experience different circumstances to follow highly divergent paths of growth. Groups of people that lived in various locations could choose appropriate ways to produce the goods necessary for survival, including hunting smaller game or bison and resorting to agriculture (Anderson and Chamberlain 2008, 8). Numerous horse cultures that sprang from geographical positions can serve as an example of such divergences, such as “the classic, flamboyant equestrian culture of the western Plains nomads and the less dynamic horse culture of the eastern Plains village farmers” (Hamalainen 2003, 834). The variance would influence the entire course of a group’s later development, the formation of traditions, and the establishment of relationships with other residents of the area.
However, the Southwest is not so geographically diverse that environmental circumstances can explain the range of variance. This fact becomes particularly evident once the notion of communication between different groups is taken into account, as the process necessarily involves mutual understanding, which stems from similarities. However, the history of Native Americans is marked with prominent individuals (Jacobs 1993, 341), leaders who enjoyed respect and authority. They had the power to shape their group in small ways, and the changes accumulated with each generation. This individualistic political culture may be the critical factor in explaining the myriad of little details that distinguish various people of the Southwest.
Native Americans are a highly diverse group, a tendency that is likely due to their low population density. The environments of different areas lead to variance in foraging methods, which are the foundation of civilization. Furthermore, the size of the American continent would discourage travel and visits to distant groups. However, even in the relatively small area known as the Southwest, Native Americans display a number of inconsistent traits. It is possible that their historical reliance on leaders led each tribe to become a unique entity due to centuries of personalized changes. The influence of both factors in conjunction is a likely reason for the cultural phenomenon at work.
Acceptance and Resistance to the White Establishment
The history of the interactions between white people and Native Americans involves numerous conflicts and acts of bloodshed. The former brought new technology and products but also had a wholly different cultural and religious perspective and expressed heavy demands. Some of their approaches caused significant harm to the native people, who occasionally retaliated with force, sparking further enmity and sometimes escalating into wars. However, in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, large-scale conflicts became less and less frequent as the white people established their dominance. This post investigates the last of the opposition by Native Americans and their approaches to expressing it.
A refusal to accept reality in the face of unambiguous defeat was likely a significant contribution to lingering aggressive tendencies. Such mindsets would turn to the supernatural to help them achieve their goals, as they would have no purchase in reality. The case of Noch-ay-del-kline can serve as a noteworthy example, as well as the massacre by white soldiers that followed (Kessel 2005, 61). Most cases of aggression and attempts to remove the dominant faction were met with swift and merciless violence, possibly as an echo of previous violent confrontations. Most overtly hostile groups did not survive throughout the period, to say nothing of prospering.
Some Native Americans adopted a more pragmatic approach, acknowledging the power of the establishment but opposing the abuse of its power. They were aware that white people were not a monolithic entity and would likely overlook cases where their members were in the wrong and did not suffer disproportionate retribution. The Grandfather of Redwind, who resisted invaders that wanted to claim the settlement’s land and repelled drunken hunters, can serve as an example, as “there have been many ‘Grandfathers’ in the histories of American Indian peoples” (Jacobs 1993, 341). These communities did not enjoy rights equal to those of white groups, but they retained what was left to them by the conquerors.
Native Americans did not abandon their grudges after being forced into reservations by the victorious white people, but they had different ways of expressing them. Some remained defiant and declared open hostility to the dominant faction, a behavior that usually warranted disproportionately violent retribution. Others accepted their new situation but maintained their dignity, refusing to give further concessions to arrogant individuals and small groups. The second variety was considerably more successful and mostly survived the period of repressions while the first was mostly destroyed or pacified by the backlash from white authorities.
Anderson, Gary Clayton, and Kathleen P. Chamberlain. 2008. Power and Promise: The Changing American West. New York: Pearson Longman.
Hamalainen, Pekka. 2003. “The Rise and Fall of Plains Indian Horse Cultures.” Journal of American History 90, no. 3: 833-862.
Jacobs, Wilbur R. 1993. “Patterns of Political Leadership in Eighteenth and Nineteenth-Century Native North America.” American Indian Quarterly 17, no. 3: 341-342.
Kessel, William B. 2005. “White Mountain Apache Reflections.” Journal of the Southwest 47, no. 1: 57-69.