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Diversity in Human Interactions$

John D. Robinson and Larry C. James

Print publication date: 2003

Print ISBN-13: 9780195143904

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: March 2012

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195143904.001.0001

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On Native Soil

The Forgotten Race: American Indians

(p.77) 5 On Native Soil
Diversity in Human Interactions

Diane J. Willis

Dolores Subia Bigfoot

Oxford University Press

Abstract and Keywords

They call themselves Ojibway, but in the written history books they are called Chippewa. The Dine' people are called Navajo; the Tis-Tsis-Tsas are called Cheyenne; recently the Winnebago returned to their name of Ho-Chunk Nation; and the Papago are recognized by their original name of Tohono O'Odham. Many changes have been thrust on the American Indian and only in recent years have they begun returning to their roots. This chapter on American Indians presents a brief overview of the history of the first Americans and discusses the diversity of American Indians. Sections on family roles and relationships, language, education, health, and values are presented to help the reader understand American Indians. However, in order to understand the American Indian today, one must recognize the trauma and oppression.

Keywords:   American Indians, diversity, relationships, family, education, health, values, trauma, oppression, language

They call themselves Ojibway, but in the written history books they are called Chippewa. The Dine’ people are called Navajo; the Tis-Tsis-Tsas are called Cheyenne; recently the Winnebago returned to their name of Ho-Chunk Nation; and the Papago are recognized by their original name of Tohono O’Odham. Many changes have been thrust on the American Indian and only in recent years have they begun returning to their roots. This chapter on American Indians presents a brief overview of the history of the first Americans and discusses the diversity of American Indians. Sections on family roles and relationships, language, education, health, and values are presented to help the reader understand American Indians. However, in order to understand the American Indian today, one must recognize the trauma and oppression (Duran & Duran, 1995). The reader who wants to know more about the history of the American Indian might read James Wilson’s (1998) well-written and well-documented book The Earth Shall Weep: A History of Native America.

Understanding Early Historical Oppression

When the first French, Spanish, and English explorers arrived on the soil of what is now known as the United States, Indians were here. The colonists left England and other countries to seek religious freedom, to look for gold and other wealth, and to lay claim to land (Wilson, 1998). Many Indians resided in (p.78) northeastern United States (Boston, Baltimore, Providence), where early settlers landed, but the transformation of these coastal Indians into “shadows and delusions” after the Europeans arrived is little known history today (Wilson, 1998). The early colonists who settled farther down the coast of North Carolina and Virginia spent time looking for gold and other goods, and history records their near starvation. Indeed, half of them died of diseases and starvation during their first summer in the New World. It was American Indians who fed these early settlers Indian corn, bread, fish, and meat. Upon arrival in the New World, the settlers found field after field of crops that Indians had been growing and cultivating for years. For two decades the settlers traded or bought corn from American Indians, but recorded journals made by the settlers suggested that they felt dishonored and humiliated at their dependence on “savages” (Debo, 1989; Wilson, 1998). As the settlers began to realize their dependence on the Indians’ agricultural expertise, they began to treat them poorly. For example, Captain John Smith developed a system of compulsory purchase, so that if American Indians would not sell their corn, the English would take it by force. This resulted in occasional Indian raids on settlers to teach them a lesson, but this made conditions worse. From the English perspective, the raids gave them reason to confiscate the land from the “savages.” The colonists and their leaders came to this New World to settle, and while the First Congress tried to work out treaties to protect the Indians from encroachment by settlers, a large number of settlers were intent on removing the Indians, and in some instances, killing them. Wilson (1998) reports the following:

In one incident alone, 200 Indians died when the English concluded a treaty with the rebellious Chiskiacks and then gave them poisoned sack to toast the two peoples’ “eternal friendship.” (p. 71)

Between 1630 and 1633, at least 3,000 more settlers arrived at Massachusetts Bay. Prior to those dates, large areas of land had been cleared by the Indians for farming, but the diseases and epidemics brought over by the settlers had decimated the Indian population. By 1630, the cleared land was reverting to forest. Indeed, the 5 million or so American Indians residing in what is now known as the United States declined rapidly with the arrival of the Europeans. The Spanish, French, and English brought Old World diseases that decimated large numbers of Indians as well as settlers. Small pox, cholera, and other diseases took their toll, but the battles against the Indian and genocide also contributed to the decline of the American Indian population. Indeed, the devastation of the Native people within this New World has been described as a holocaust that has lasted 500 years (Thornton, 1987). Today, only about 2 million Indians survive in the United States. Many American Indians today still live on their allotted land and still reside on reservations. (p.79)

While Europeans came to this country to seek freedom and to make their wealth, they did not recognize that freedom extended to all. The well-advanced civilizations of tribes such as the Cherokee (with their sophisticated system of government and their economic prosperity) made non-Indians covetous of their land. The Europeans reasoned that the Cherokees were savages and biologically inferior, and this provided a rationale for removing them from their own lands (Debo, 1989; Wilson, 1998).

The southeastern Indians, including some of the Five Civilized Tribes, were quite progressive and self-sufficient during these early years, yet were being forced out of their homeland by the settlers and the government. Even when tribes such as the Creeks voted to remain in Alabama and adhere to state law, they were rejected as a people and were forced to leave. White settlers stole their land and their crops, took their homes and livestock, and when Indians tried to retaliate or defend themselves they were killed. President Andrew Jackson rejected all attempts by tribal leaders, such as Chief John Ross or Elia Boudinant of the Cherokees, to assert their right of jurisdiction over lands. History records that President Jackson, a noted Indian fighter, wanted the Indians removed and he did not discourage harassment of the Indians. During this time, treaties were ignored or invalidated by the government and the Indians were forced to leave their lands. Perhaps as many as 8,000 Cherokees died on the “Trail of Tears,” as the tribe was removed from their homes and lands to settle in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, now capital of the Cherokee Nation.

Boarding Schools

As the American Indians were removed from their homelands, many were placed on reservations because the government reasoned that the Indians could be watched and monitored better there. It was the agreement that in exchange for land and confinement, the government would provide American Indians rations of food, clothing, and shelter. Some treaties included health care and education. However, confinement to reservations, isolation, and limited resources created a forced dependency on the government that still exists today. Economic viability is limited and the reservation land is all that is left for many tribes, and for many tribes, the land they were given was not conducive to subsistence (e.g., the deserts). Once the American Indians were placed on reservations, their children were forced to leave home to receive education through boarding schools, and this caused considerable damage to the structure and function of tribal societies (BigFoot & Braden, 1998, p. 38). At the boarding schools, sometimes located hundreds of miles from the child’s family, the children were forbidden to speak their Native language, their hair was shaved, and (p.80) they were taught non-Indian ways. Little respect was shown for the children’s Native culture because the goal was to make them “nonsavages.” In many respects, there was a tremendous loss of culture, language, and spiritual beliefs, in that children, when they returned home, were unable to speak to their parents in their Native tongue. Moreover, the negative messages the children received about Indians and Indian beliefs served to confuse them and create conflict among them and their families and the greater society. Since the 1970s, progress has been made by many tribes to have their own reservation schools so that children are able to be educated “at home.” Within many of the schools, tribal languages and traditions are now being taught. Indian boarding schools still exist, but they are more culturally sensitive, offer a better education, and are now voluntary. Even at that, there are about 11,000 American Indian children and youth living in boarding schools.

To understand the modern American Indian and their families, one must understand this early history and the impact it has had on being “Indian.” James Wilson (1998) said it best when he wrote the following:

As well as losing most of the land on which their aboriginal way of life depended, generations of Native Americans have been traumatized by a sustained assault on their social, psychological and spiritual world and a breathtakingly ambitious experiment in social engineering. In the period following the end of the “Indian Wars,” native cultural and spiritual practices were outlawed and Indian children were sent in the thousands to boarding schools, where they were kept from their homes sometimes for years at a time and punished—often brutally—for speaking their own languages. The aim was nothing less than to turn them from “Indians” into “Americans”: to supplant, almost overnight, a whole people’s history and sense of identity with someone else’s. At the same time, the United States used its immense power over the defeated tribes to reshape the reservations themselves, punishing “traditionals” who tried to cling to their culture and trying, for much of this century, to destroy tribal status altogether and force Indians to assimilate individually into the American “melting pot.”

These experiences, not surprisingly, have left Native Americans one of the most troubled minorities in America. Their communities are plagued with social and health problems: poor housing, diabetes, alcoholism, social breakdown, violence, fatal accidents (the second commonest cause of death), homicide and suicide. (pp. xxv–xxvi)

Yet, after all of these massive upheavals, we find a resurgence of pride and tradition among tribal members today. A new sense of identity is emerging and oral history is being passed down from elders to the young. Also, schools, colleges, and reservations are immersing themselves in tribal languages, and powwows and other Indian social events are well attended. (p.81)

Indian Child Welfare

During the nineteenth century and well into the twentieth century, American Indian children were often taken from their families and adopted into non-Indian homes. It was not until 1978 that the government passed the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). The intent of the act was to curtail the number of Indian children placed in non-Indian homes and to recognize the rights of tribes to have jurisdiction over their tribal members. Primarily, it was to provide minimum federal standards for placement of Indian children, when they were removed from their home due to maltreatment. If Indian children were removed from their homes, the act provided for their placement in homes that reflected their Indian culture. A brief historical overview of other federal policies and events affecting Indian country can be found in BigFoot and Braden (1998).

Stereotypical Images of the American Indians

Stereotypical images of American Indians still exist today and many of these images can be attributed to early reports from colonial leaders, to textbooks, and to films (Trimble, 1998). Early colonial leaders and settlers viewed the Indians as savages, ranging from “noble savages” to “treacherous savages” and “filthy savages” (Beaman, 1969). Trimble (1998) reports that the American Indian Historical Society (AIHS) in San Francisco examined over 300 books dealing with American Indian history and culture. The 32 Indian scholars concluded that “not one (book) could be approved as a dependable source of knowledge about the history and culture of the Indian people in America. Most of the books were…derogatory to the Native American. Most contained misinformation, distortions, or omissions of important history” (Costo, 1970, p. 11). In a number of texts, Indians are grouped with fugitives from justice and riffraff, and in others they are referred to as savages and hostile to settlers.

In early films, the Indian is portrayed as bad—raiding and scalping the settlers—while the “good” Indian is generally portrayed as a scout helping the white man. Indians are portrayed as though all Indians are alike rather than being portrayed as Kiowa or Apache or Navajo. This diversity of tribes could not be appreciated through early films (Trimble, 1988). More recently, Hollywood movies portray a more realistic view of the Indian through such films as A Man Called Horse or Little Big Man.

As a result of the inaccurate information presented about the American Indian, tribal governments even now are hesitant to disclose traditions to outsiders or to permit researchers to study their customs or their people for fear they will be misinterpreted, inaccurately portrayed, negatively portrayed, or (p.82) even federally abolished or outlawed again (e.g., the sun dance). This is one of the reasons that much less research is reported out of Indian country today. All these negative portrayals of American Indians have, to some extent, impacted their self-confidence and self-esteem.

American Indians Today

Who are the Native people of today? They exist as tribal members, as citizens of the United States, and as citizens of their tribe; they exist as individuals who are as varied and as diverse as the tribes to which they lay claim. The very name “Indian” came from Christopher Columbus when he landed in the Bahamas in 1492. He thought the island was India so he called the inhabitants Indians and this name became forever attached to the American Indian (Berkhofer, 1978; Joe & Malch, 1998).

The term “American Indian” is used throughout this section, however there are many other names by which Indians are known. Other commonly used terms include Native American, First Americans, First Nations, and Native Peoples. The groups encompassed by these terms have not always been consistent. American Indians, Native Hawaiians, Puerto Ricans, Native Alaskans, Eskimos, and Aleut are now included in the “Native American” umbrella term, although Native Hawaiians are not American Indians (Trimble, 1987; Trimble, 2000). Inclusion of individual groups within the larger category of Native American gains different meanings when this determines which communities can receive federal and state funding.

At one time the term American Indians seemed sufficient to capture the population of Indian tribes, but with increased understanding of the diversity within and among tribal groups, this broad term became increasingly inadequate. It became apparent that Alaskan Natives and Eskimos viewed themselves very differently from the American Indians, but the new terminology of Native Americans became the encompassing label that now includes American Indians, Alaska Natives, Eskimos, Native Hawaiians, and Puerto Ricans (for more on definitions of American Indians and Alaskan Natives, see Thurman, 1999).

Currently, there are about 400 federally recognized tribes, about 200 more tribes (some recognized by states) who are now seeking federal recognition, and residents of about 220 Alaska Native Villages (Snipp, 1996; Trimble, 1987; Trimble, 2000). With this extensive tribal and linguistic diversity, it would be difficult to lump American Indians into a specific personality or category (Trimble, 2000). Federal recognition of a tribe is the status given by the federal government that allows tribes to have a government-to-government relationship and recognizes their sovereign status. Sovereign status allows tribes to enact laws, govern their people, and maintain jurisdiction for their tribal members. (p.83)

A tribe was defined by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1901 as “a body of Indians of the same or similar race, united in community under one leadership or government, and inhabiting a particular though sometimes ill-defined territory.” Before the federal government developed official definitions for an Indian tribe, the term was purely ethnologic. A tribe was a group of indigenous people, bound together by blood ties, who were socially, politically, and religiously organized according to the tenets of their own culture, who lived together, occupying a definite territory, and who spoke a common language or dialect.


Currently, there are approximately 250 Native languages still spoken out of hundreds that originally existed. Only 250 Native languages are viable due to the limited number of Native speakers, many of whom are elders. The majority of Native languages disappeared when entire tribes were annihilated by disease or war and by the systematic elimination when boarding schools staff restricted Native languages and punished Native speakers. In some situations, parents wanted their children to be “educated” and wanted to lessen the possibility of the children being punished for their Native language; therefore, parents did not teach children their Native language, resulting in the transition from Native to the English language within one generation. Today, in an attempt to prevent the loss of tribal languages, some tribes have developed language emergence programs in their education systems (Head Start, elementary schools, and tribally controlled colleges), and American Indian programs at selected universities teach one or two tribal languages. Tribes are recognizing that their language is a unique element of their history that serves as a standard for tribal identity and culture. In reality, however, few American Indians can speak their Native tongue.

Tribal Enrollment

Tribal enrollment began in the late 1800s and early 1900s. This was done, in part, because the U.S. government was in the process of selling Indian land and wished to allot the remainder of the Indian land to American Indian families and individuals. Therefore, they needed a procedure for counting Indians. Before this time, tribal identity was an individual and tribal matter. When the census began, families and individuals had to register with the government if they were to be counted as American Indian. With the beginning of tribal enrollment came the designation of blood degree. This somewhat arbitrary (p.84) designation has continued to the present time, with some tribes requiring a minimum percentage of “Indian blood” as a criterion for tribal membership.

Each tribe has formally established their own enrollment criteria, with no single set of criteria existing for all tribes. Most criteria require one-quarter or more degree tribal blood (blood quantum), with some requiring that a parent be enrolled with the tribe, in addition to the offspring having one-quarter degree blood quantum, whereas other tribes require individuals to provide proof of descent from historic census rolls to be eligible.

It is unfortunate that the degree of Indian blood is a legal determinant for enrollment because the degree of Indian blood is an arbitrary standard that is not measurable. The federal government used the guide from English Horse Breeding of Quarter, Half, Three Quarters, and so on to arbitrarily set a measure on the census rolls. At the time of the census, the agent or census taker made the determination of measure for the degree of Indian blood by physical attributes, either the person was Indian or had parents who were Indian or non-Indian. They did not take into account the family’s historical lineage that may have included adoptions or captives or marriages with nontribal individuals. At the time the census was taken, the government agent arbitrarily determined if the person were Indian, half-Indian, or quarter-Indian based on the immediate family lines. In some tribes, all the Indian people were declared full-blooded Indians. For other tribes that had African slaves, all the slaves were declared full-blooded Indians.

Today tribes face a dilemma of maintaining the arbitrary standard for degree of Indian blood. The acceptance of this as the standard has many opponents, since this disallows many children who have hereditary claim as descendants of Native people. Some tribes are reviewing their criteria for enrollment, especially if the criteria were based on prior Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) policies. Some tribes who accepted the initial policies established by the BIA have since changed their criteria and are reclassifying their enrollment. Other tribes may have to change their tribal constitution in order to change their criteria for enrollment. The author’s own tribe (Willis/Kiowa) just rejected, by vote of tribal members, the reduction of the quantum blood level from one-fourth to one-eighth. The only Indians who qualify as tribal members must have a blood quantum level of one-fourth or more to be voting members of the Kiowa tribe. The Oglala Lakota on Pine Ridge have all but done away with any blood quantum criteria and now place enrollment matters in the hands of a committee who verify ancestral claims. This is a growing practice in many communities; however, the Mountain Ute in southern Utah cling to a three-fourths blood quantum criterion.

Although American Indians are dual citizens of both the United States and a federally recognized tribe, most tribes will not allow dual tribal enrollment. Thus, individuals cannot be enrolled in more than one tribe should they meet (p.85) the eligibility requirements for more than one tribe. In the nineteenth century, the prevalent opinion was that an Indian could not be both a tribal member and a U.S. citizen; however, this changed in 1924 with the passage of the one-sentence law entitled the “Indian Citizenship Act,” whereby U.S. citizenship was granted to the Indian population. For all the reasons mentioned, it is not unusual to interview a person who appears to be white but who identifies as an Indian. Skin color is not necessarily an indication of how “Indian” a person might be. Tribal enrollment and attendance at Indian dances or ceremonies are better indicators of how strongly one identifies as being Indian.


The American Indian population has grown at a faster rate than the U.S. population as a whole in the past decade. Between 1990 and 2000, the American Indian population grew by 17.9%, while the total population grew by 10.7% (BigFoot & Braden, 1998).

The average age for U.S. American Indian population is 27.8, which places this population eight years younger than the mean age of the entire U.S. population. Of the 2.4 million people who identified themselves as American Indian/Alaska Native, only 167,000 people were 65 years old or older, and only 22,000 people were 85 years old or older (from U.S. Census Bureau 1992 statistics). Information from the census also indicated that 11.7% of American Indians were younger than 5 years old and 39 percent were younger than 20 years old. In 1990, the American Indian birth rate was 26.6 per 1,000 live births, compared to 15.9 for the general U.S. population. The large number of American Indian minors means that there are numerous children in need of adult supervision. Because American Indian communities traditionally turn to elders for direction and advice, the current age of this segment of the population leaves many young American Indians with relatively few elders who can provide needed guidance and knowledge.

American Indian people live all across the country, however, approximately half of all American Indians live in the western portion of the United States. Several states have substantially larger concentrations of this population: California, Oklahoma, Arizona, New Mexico, and Washington. American Indian people are also distributed across urban and rural areas. Relocation and the general migration from rural to urban areas have placed the majority of the Indian population in urban settings. Roughly half of all American Indians live in urban areas. Numerous families and individuals relocated to urban areas from rural areas in search of work, to flee from poverty, and/or to have access to more educational opportunities. Relocation often separates individual families from larger extended families, leaving many urban families to make frequent (p.86) trips to homes of origins. In the urban workforce, it is not unusual for the American Indian to request leave to attend special yearly ceremonies back in their home communities.


In general, American Indian individuals have less formal education than the average U.S. population. In 1990, 65.3% of American Indians over age 25 were high school graduates or higher, and this was an increase from 56% ten years earlier. For the general population, 75.2% of people over 25 years of age were high school graduates. Approximately, 9% of American Indians completed a bachelor’s degree or higher compared with 20% for the total population. According to the Census Bureau (2000), in the fall of 1996, there were approximately 134,000 American Indians enrolled in the nation’s colleges and universities.

American Indian students in the public schools comprise 16% of the total school enrollment compared to 21% for African American students. The American Indian who has attained a college degree or beyond often has had to overcome obstacles both within the community and their family to attain their degree.

Health Conditions

American Indians are plagued with the same health problems that face all Americans; however, some health problems are more prevalent in the American Indian population. American Indians are suffering from tuberculosis 7.4 times more than other groups. Diabetes is seven times more common among American Indians when compared with other U.S. ethnic groups. It has been reported that some American Indian communities are stricken with adult-onset diabetes rates of up to 90% (IHS, 1996).

In other cases, improvements have been made for certain health conditions. Only 10 years ago American Indian infant mortality rates were three times greater than the national rate. Since then, prenatal care for American Indian mothers has improved gradually, and many diseases, including measles and small pox, that were once prevalent are no longer as common. Today, infant mortality rates are 60% lower, although children over age one are now at greater risk for accidental death (IHS, 1996). Despite these advances, American Indians can be described as having the poorest general physical health of any other ethnic minority group in the United States (BigFoot & Braden, 1998). (p.87)

Alcohol-related illnesses and deaths are also affecting American Indian communities. Some communities report thirty-three times more American Indian children with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome than non-American Indian children. Children with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome are likely to have a variety of health problems, resulting in difficult temperament in infants, developmental delays, and learning problems. Deaths related to alcohol use are approximately 465% greater in the American Indian population than all other U.S. populations (IHS, 1996) and is one of the greatest problems facing American Indians (Sue & Sue, 1990).

Unfortunately, suicides have also affected many American Indian communities. Approximately, 16% of all American Indian adolescents may have attempted suicide. This statistic is substantially higher than the 4% rate of attempted suicide in the general U.S. population. American Indian males in their late teens and early twenties are at greatest risk for suicidal attempts (IHS, 1996). Indeed, American Indians commit suicide at a rate 46% greater than all other races combined in the U.S. population and die from accidents at a 184% greater rate (IHS, 1996). Thus, many American Indians in the workforce have experienced a greater loss of friends and families by death than many other races.

Adding to the health problems facing American Indians, many individuals and families are without health insurance. Approximately 27.1% of American Indians and Alaska Natives were reported to be without insurance between 1997 and 1999. Many American Indians obtain their health care through the Indian Health Service (IHS). The IHS is comprised of 11 regional administrative units called area offices with 144 service units, 76 of which are operated by tribes. The IHS operates 38 hospitals and 61 health centers, while individual tribes operate 11 hospitals, 129 health centers, 73 health clinics, and 167 Alaska village clinics (IHS, 1996). Many of these clinics provide minimal care with no x-ray capabilities. Serious illnesses must be contracted out to regional or state non-Indian hospitals. American Indians with serious illnesses are placed on a list to be reviewed by a committee, and each week referrals may be made to comprehensive centers. It is known that American Indians can die while waiting to be referred from this list.


Roughly one-quarter of the American Indian population lives in poverty. This is comparable to the estimates for African Americans (25.4%) and Hispanics (25.1%), but significantly higher than the poverty rate for Asians and Pacific Islanders (12.4%) and non-Hispanic whites (8.2%). Overall, a higher percentage of American Indians are living in poverty than any other ethnic group in America (Willis, 2000). (p.88)

American Indian reservation communities also suffer from an unfortunately high unemployment rate. Statistics from the 1990 U.S. Census indicated that approximately 45% of all adults living on reservations were unemployed, and 75% of those employed were paid less than $7,000 per year. Why are the unemployment numbers so elevated? Possible reasons include the often-isolated nature of reservation life, which limits the job opportunities available to the community members. Much of the monies available to individuals living on reservations are generated from federal funding. Tribes are gradually regaining economic independence and self-sufficiency by making their own financial decisions and establishing profitable businesses such as gaming.


Harmony with Nature

The American Indian values harmony with nature, and many ceremonies and rituals or dances are carried out to ensure harmony with the land as well as with oneself. Table 5.1 presents an overview of value comparisons between Indian and non-Indian cultures (Joe and Malach, 1998). Joe & Malach (1998) report that cultural conflicts sometimes arise among tribal members who want to protect tribal lands while others want to develop the land. By and large though, tribal groups teach respect for the land and believe that one must remain in harmony with it.

Time and Group Orientation

American Indians have a present-time orientation, and in the past they marked the passage of time by seasons (Joe & Malach, 1998). American Indians, particularly those on reservations and those who are more traditional, are not tied to clocks, hours, and minutes like the majority culture. This sometimes makes it difficult for those in the helping professions, for instance, an appointment for Tuesday at 9:00 A.M. may be viewed by the Indian as an appointment for Tuesday at some unspecified time. American Indians residing in urban areas are more socialized to the clock (time).

American Indians also are more group oriented rather than individualistic. Decisions affecting the family or tribe may take hours and even days to make because discussion is ongoing and no movement will necessarily be made until all issues are discussed and group consensus reached. Joe and Malch (1998) report:

This emphasis on group consensus has some interesting consequences. Native American children, for example, are not likely to want to draw attention (p.89) to themselves as individuals but usually prefer to be part of a group. Educators often mistake this behavior as evidence that Indian children are passive or do not want to compete for top grades. Conversely, Indian children who display the aggressive or individualistic behaviors common to the mainstream culture are often taunted or teased by their Indian peers. (p. 140)

Table 5.1. Overview of Value Comparisons between Indian and Non-Indian Cultures (Joe & Malach, 1998)

Pueblo Indians


Harmony with nature

Mastery over nature

Present-time orientation

Future-time orientation







Work for present needs

Work to “get ahead”

Sharing wealth

Saving for the future

Time is flexible

Time is not flexible

Source: Adapted from Zintz (1963).

Family Roles and Relationships

American Indian families are broadly defined to include extended family members, special people, and one’s own family (Malach, Segal, & Thomas, 1989). It is not unusual for extended family members such as grandparents to raise their grandchildren. Parents of children often look to their own elders for guidance and assistance and elders tend to be revered. With the high rate of unemployment on reservations, it is not unusual for the adult children to move back in with their parents. In some areas of the reservation, household crowding can be very real and often stressful. In addition, poverty and unemployment contribute to the high incidence of alcoholism among Indian families.


What can be said about the American Indian population today is that they are a fast growing population. This increase cannot be attributed to birthrate increases alone and is probably also due to improvements in U.S. Census Bureau procedures and increases in the number of individuals now identifying themselves as American Indians. Thus, the tide has turned with more American Indians, Native Alaskans, Eskimos, Aluets, and Inuits viewing themselves as Americans who are proud to list their heritage as Native. While American (p.90) Indians are the first Americans, their numbers have been decimated to the point that they are the “forgotten” Americans. When one reads newspaper accounts on various topics such as health care issues, economic problems, alcoholism, suicide, or any other topic, Caucasians, African Americans, Hispanics, and Asians may be mentioned, but American Indians, as a race and a people, have again become a “shadow and a delusion” (Wilson, 1998).

And each spring, as they have done for hundreds of generations, they will come for the green corn dances; they will come for the wild onion dinners; they will come for the sacred arrow renewal; they will enter the stomp dance grounds; they will go into the forest to select the center pole for the sun dance; and they will go to carry the tree that will become the next totem of the village. Native people may be considered “forgotten,” but each year American Indians, Native Alaskans, Eskimos, Aluets, Inuits, and others renew and remember the Native traditions and teachings that have been handed down from elder to child. Modern education, technology, and economic advancements are not foreign concepts among the Native people today, but they seek a culture that captures both the traditions of old generations while helping the youth of new generations.

The authors would like to thank Megan Dunlap, a predoctoral student in the Department of Psychology at Oklahoma State University, for her contribution in preparing this chapter.


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