Monday, July 16, 2012

Native Americana

via weheartit

In Australia, like some other countries, there have many efforts to reconcile all indigenous issues. There is still a void here, even now. If one was to look upon the past actions of migrating Europeans, the conclusion that all white people are arseholes could perhaps be reached. (See histories of slavery in America and treatment of Aboriginal people in Australia) Yet, any sensible person will gather that this assumption is unfair as such a generalisation could not be made for such a significant number of people and that this statement would then cause individuals to assume that anyone of any other racial groups have never practised any abhorrent behaviour. Ever. That is not to lessen the scale of horrendous treatment of others on the behalf of certain people; that, my dear is something that should never be forgotten. However, all of this will have to discussed on another day as right now, I would like to digress upon another topic.

In school, strong emphasis has been placed on the bastardly actions of white Australians towards Aboriginals and Torre Strait Islanders which is all very shocking yet fascinating. (Isn't history great?) Taking all of this in mind, I decided to learn about the indigenous people of another land out of pure interest, as I only had a vague knowledge that I wanted to expand. Embarrassingly, I only really know smidgens about any other county's native people but for some unknown reason, I decided to learn all about Native Americans. Perhaps I had some strange fixation on their headgear or had wanted to be able to recite more about them than a reminiscence of the wind flying through Disney's rendition of Pocahontas' hair. So I turned to my only true friend, the internet, and the following is what I discovered.

Please note: while it was noted in a survey in 1995 that most Native Americans refer to themselves as 'American Indians' or 'Indians', I am not actually sure of the political enigma that lies behind this term. When using 'American Indians', I am merely referring to Native Americans in another manner and I apologise sincerely if any offence is caused. I AM AN IGNORANT FOREIGNER.

20 000 years ago, they first walked across the Bering land bridge (what is now the Bering Strait) and settled across America. It is estimated that eventually that there were millions within villages. Many lived as hunter-gatherer societies, spreading traditions through an oral culture. All was basically fine and dandy until the late 15th century when Europeans migrated there. With their arrival, there was a severe culture clash and health issues were on the rise as the obnoxious newcomers came with foreign illnesses against which the natives had no immunity. The majority of the Europeans were Christians and held entirely different perspectives on varying concepts, including individual property rights. As stated by Wikipedia, "Many Native cultures were matrilineal; the people occupied lands for use of the entire community, for hunting or agriculture [while] Europeans at that time had patriarchal cultures and had developed concepts ... with respect to land that were extremely different." The Europeans wished to seize land whereas the Indians perceived it as their communal space. So began the conflict.

At least 80% of the native population perished due to illnesses such as measles and smallpox. This sounds almost lame if you are like me and know nothing of the medical trade (House could be aggressively rambling about some warped fantasy for all I know), but then you must consider that the Native Americans had never encountered these diseases and were completely vulnerable. And that's at least 80% that died. 
There was also the introduction of foreign animals to consider as some of the foreign horseys ran away and eventually befriended some American Indians. Then they did awesome shiz like this: 
With literal horse power, the Native Americans were now able to further widen their horizons and to carry all sorts of cumbersome loads which benefitted them in several aspects, like in their hunting. Didn't I tell you that horses are sick?

They were also involved in numerous wars, including King Phillip's War and the American Revolution, which I won't go into but you can read about here and here.

Native Americans were sent to the Old World (sometimes unwillingly) where they were gazed upon as exotic entities. Super cute souvenirs they were, especially when being exploited for commercial gain.
A lot of European colonies also saw it as their honest duty to Christianise the surely damned American Indians. George Washington perceived the natives as equals, yet with an inferior society so a plan was formulated to ensure that they became more like their white civilised counterparts. Once they built homes, farmed and educated their children, it was thought that they could be accepted in this new country. Eventually, the natives' ancestral territorial claims were ignored and many would be sent to reservations as the expansion of the continent continued.

Yet through the 19th century, the natives continued to resist the settlers' forces through what was called the "Indian Wars". According to Wikipedia, in which according to the U.S. Bureau of the Census (1894), "The Indian wars under the government of the United States have been more than 40 in number. They have cost the lives of about 19,000 white men, women and children, including those killed in individual combats, and the lives of about 30,000 Indians."

In the Civil War, many American Indians served the Union, in hope that they would gain favour from the prevailing government and that this would serve to end the discrimination and relocation from ancestral lands. While African Americans were finally free, Native Americans were still confined by the U.S. government's policies. Because of the Indian Removal policy, approximately 100, 000 were relocated to the west. It was not until 2 June, 1924 that President Coolidge signed the Indian Citizenship Act which made all Indians recognisable as American citizens.

There were also Native American boarding schools that were established which were primarily run by Christian missionaries. The need to abandon all sense of American Indian identity was enforced upon the students, as they were forbidden to speak in their native languages and taught Christianity. Many forms of abuse were also recorded these institutions from as early as the 1920s, but some continued to exist into the 60s. 

In the late 80s, tribes were granted the right to operate casinos. Many still own casinos but some Indians  perceive the gambling industry as a destructive force against their culture. Nonetheless, in 2004, more than $18 billion had been generated in revenue through this business. 

After several decades of American Indian activism, it could be asserted that certain movements have been made. In 2007, the UN adopted the Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples with was passed with an overwhelming majority in votes. Only four countries voted against it, in which both the US and Australia were both included. Thankfully, Australia's vote since then has changed.

Currently, it has been estimated that only 1.5% of North America's population is indigenous. There are 563 tribes that recognised with their own governments in the United States. While they have come a long way, like the Indigenous people of Australia, these people still have a lot to achieve.

Recommended reading - just some good ol' wiki

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