Friday, February 18, 2011

North American Indian Series


So for this next round of blog entries I’m going to focus on the North American Indians, since that was one of my main focuses throughout my undergraduate career. The main objective of this series is going to be to educate people on the real information behind these North American tribes and try to drive out the stereotypes that have been pounded into the heads of youth for decades. This entry is going to be just an overview of the North American Indians to kind of give you an idea of what to expect

Want to first lay down the different culture areas that anthropologist broke down the North American Indians. There are 10 of these culture areas: Southeast, Northeast, Great Plains, Southwest, Great Basin, California, Plateau, Northwest Coast, Subarctic and Arctic. These culture areas are obviously geographically based, so for example the Southeast is the area that encompasses parts of Virginia, North and South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, Tennessee and Louisiana (Rochete 2010).

There are a couple misconceptions of the American Indian that need to be cleared up before this series can continue, starting with the names that they identify themselves as. While most identify themselves by their tribes as a collective there are many different “names” that North American Indians go by all depending on their preference. Some go by “Indian” (which many people assume is offensive) other prefer “Native American,” “American Indian,” “Indigenous Person,” or “Aboriginal.” In Canada the preferred term is mainly “First Nation.” But you get my point; there is very little consistency between Indian groups which is why most go by their tribal names (Rochete 2010).

Another misconception that the populous has on the American Indian is that they are either the “savage” or the “pristine people.” In fact things are not always so black and white and most tribes have parts of each of the labels. In relation to the “savage” label there is this idea that the American Indians were these uncivilized people living only a step up from the animals that they slaughtered. Then according to them (them being the Europeans) the Indians were savages (and I dare you not to get the “Savages” song from Pocahontas stuck in your head after reading this section) and needed to be integrated into a more European way of living (Rochete 2010).

In relation to the “pristine people” there are people on the other side of this argument that say that the American Indians were so peaceful, never fought, regarded their land as sacred and worshipped the ground to the point where they never harmed it. This is just as false as the idea of the savage. Obviously there were wars going on between tribes and the American Indians didn’t always treat the land with respect, especially some of the subarctic tribes that slaughtered animals to the point where the wiped some species out (Hritz 2010). So what to take from this? There were many shades of grey that the American Indians lived in that will be explained to a greater extent in the later posts.

The last major misconceptions of the American Indians are the stereotypes that are facilitated by the media, movies, books, illustrations, etc. Most people think that every Indian wear a headdress, live in teepees, carry tomahawks, carve totem poles, ride horses, chase buffalo and worship “Mother Earth.” This is not true at all and is perhaps my biggest pet peeve when hearing people talk about American Indians. All the things that I listed above are specific to certain culture areas and sometimes specific tribes. For example living in teepees, wearing headdresses and hunting buffalo was mainly done on the Great Plains whereas totem poles were native to the Northwest Coast. Also not all American Indians worship this “Mother Earth” in fact most have tribes have their own deities and spirits that they pray to. This overarching description that has been perpetuated in Hollywood has been deemed the “pan-Indian culture” and is a very dangerous thing to be teaching (Rochete 2010).

There you have it, a very broken down, simplified overview of the North American Indians. From now on I will be focuses more specifically on each culture areas and specific tribes from those culture areas. Once again if there’s anything in particular you’re curious about don’t hesitate to email me at and I will try to work your thoughts/questions into this series. Hope you all enjoy!


Rochete, Eric

2010. Anth 146 Lecture for August 30, 2010.

The Pennsylvania State University.

Carrie, Hritz

2010. Anth 497C Lecture for February 17 2010.

The Pennsylvania State University.


Post a Comment