Pluralism and Assimilation in the American Indian Culture
Northwestern State University
“Assimilation is a process in which formerly distinct and separate groups come to share a common culture and merge together socially. As a society undergoes assimilation, differences among groups decrease. Pluralism on the other hand, exists when groups maintain their individual identities (Healey & Stepnick, 2017, 48). Being a part of the American Indian culture, we have learned the importance over the years to keep all traditions alive in our culture. These days, we are often distinguished as “whites” to others. A big misconception about descendants from the Indian bloodline is that we all have dark hair, dark skin, and dark eyes which is not true.
In the Bloomsbury Encyclopedia of the American Enlightenment, Thomas Jefferson referred to the American Indians as the “Red Race” in his Notes on the State of Virginia. He said that environmental factors distinguish the Indians from other groups (Bloomsbury, 2014). In many ways the American Indians can relate to some races and cultures and they can differ. Many American Indian tribes were formed around equal and fair values that stressed the dignity for every man, woman, and child. Meaning all tribes had a division of labor based on gender, but women’s work was valued, and women often occupied far more important positions in tribal society than was typical for women in Anglo American society (Healey ; Stepnick, 2017, 244). As a native country, we have learned the languages and cultures of others. Other groups could not accept and take on values from another nation by not lessening one’s own language and culture (Healey & Stepnick 2017). In the Indian Wars and battles, they fought for their tribes, cultures, and ways of life. Although others had their own cultures and opinions outside of the American Indian community, they continued to strive to improve their name. They were responsible for gaming establishments and casinos during the end of the 20th century. Like other groups during this time in history, the Indians relied on hunting and farm land to survive. During the 1890’s after the Indian wars, times became tough economically for the Indians. It was hard to maintain a stable life for their basic needs because their reservation lands were scattered throughout the western part of the United States. This was difficult for them because they couldn’t practice the skills they had become accustomed to. They had to compete with the others who lived in urbanized areas (Healey & Stepnick, 2017 240-245). “American Indian nations, or more generally indigenous nations, form distinct political and cultural groups that are informed by creation and cultural teachings that encourage preservation of self-government, community, and stewardship of land within the context of surrounding nation-states that prefer assimilation and political inclusion to recognition of indigenous goals and values” (Champagne, 2007, 353).
Although it was hard for the Indians to have an education, it has always been an important factor and played a huge role in culture with all tribes. Because of Indian Law and the importance of education we have special programs that help the students of the Native American culture with their college expenses. “Most American Indian studies departments and programs are multidisciplinary. Faculty are trained in a variety of disciplines, and they provide courses that have American Indian content. They present theory and the accumulation of knowledge produced in a variety of academic fields. Native voices increasingly are included in contemporary academic approaches to the study of American Indians. Most universities and colleges present a curriculum to their students that include classes on American Indians” (Champagne, 2007, 354). There are several theories and research about the Indian education and discipline background and contemporary theorist still conduct studies presently. These theorists are working towards making improvements for the Native culture (Champagne, 2007, 354). Duane Champagne says, “Although academic approaches are often controversial within Indian communities, I do not have any quarrel with academic approaches to the study of American Indian nations and people” (Champagne, 2007, 354).
“Like African Americans, native Americans can be found at every status and income level in the United States, but Indians living on reservations continue as one of the most impoverished, marginalized groups in society. American Indians as a group face ongoing discrimination and exclusion and continue the search for a meaningful course between assimilation and pluralism” (Healey & Stepnick, 2017, 267). Over the years many tribes still exist today like the Apache and Navajo along with practicing their native languages and other traditions. “American Indians have been more successful than African Americans in preserving their traditional cultures, a pattern that is partly explained by the differences in the relationship between each minority group and the dominant group” (Heakey & Stepnick, 2017, 269). Major difference between the two groups was land. The Indians had their reservation land whereas the African American had to work for landowners. When comparing the two groups they faced the head tribal group as one. A census study that was conducted in 2000 confirmed that Indians were less segregated than African Americans although this is a comparing African Americans to a smaller group (Healey & Stepnick, 2017, 269).
“Comparing the experiences of American Indians with those of other groups will further our understanding of the complexities of dominant-minority relationships and permit us to test the explanatory power of the concepts and theories…” (Healey & Stepnick, 2017, 276). What distinguished American Indians from African Americans and others were their goals, problems, and surviving with limited resources. They were always focused on keeping their traditions and cultures alive as their lives changed around them (Healey & Stepnick, 2017, 277).
There are several areas in the United States where you can go explore the Indian Reservations and attend reenactments of history like powwows. In conclusion, we as American Indians would like to continue to keep as many customs, traditions, and beliefs alive to pass on from generation to generation so there will always be information about our culture as the years go on.
Healey, Joseph F., and Andi Stepnick. Diversity and Society: Race, Ethnicity, and Gender. SAGE, 2017.
“Race.” Search-Credoreference-Com.nsula.idm.oclc.org, search-credoreference-com.nsula.idm.oclc.org/content/entry/bloome/trace/0.
Champagne, D. (2007). In Search of Theory and Method in American Indian Studies. The American Indian Quarterly, 31(3), 353-372. doi:10.1353/aiq.2007.0028