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Native American Culture: Social Injustices

Essay by   •  September 30, 2012  •  Research Paper  •  2,081 Words (9 Pages)  •  2,542 Views

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The topic of discussion for this paper involves the presence and impact of a hydroelectric dam on a Native American tribe and the impact on their cultural beliefs and sacred burial grounds. The role of treaties and the effects they have had on the economic and social resources as well as the political power exerted over the Native Americans will be reviewed. We will also look at several resolutions pertaining to the conflict that has occurred with the yearly runoff of the hydroelectric dam and desecration to their sacred burial grounds.

Native Americans have been faced with many life-altering changes throughout history due to the colonization of their people. Their homelands were invaded and many of their cultural habits and beliefs were destroyed. Johnson (1999) noted that the native people have been relentless in developing means for surviving and resisting the destruction that has befallen them for centuries. These acts of degradation have been perceived and compared to heinous acts of crime and genocide (Watkins, 2006).

Diller (2007) noted "Rankism is the persistent abuse and discrimination based on power differences in rank or hierarchy" (p38). The establishments of treaties by the U.S. government were developed years ago to protect the rights of the Native Americans. With the changing culture of the government and private industry's drive for increased economic growth and development, it becomes apparent who has felt the brunt of this growth. This truly depicts the sentiments of institutional racism and discrimination.

Cultural Beliefs

Native Americans consider themselves the native people of America. Lawson (as cited by Diller, 2007) remarked that all other people in America came from various other countries and that the Indian people were the first people of this land. There are hundreds of different native tribes throughout the country with varying levels of acculturation relating to the differences in religions, spiritual values, cultures and languages. This is due in part to the many years of forced colonization to Indian reservations. It should be noted that even though there are varying degrees of assimilation amongst the tribe members, there are still many similarities in their core values and beliefs (Diller, 2007).

Culture defines the way of life for the Indian people. Their customs, beliefs and values, distinguish who they truly are. For Native Americans, their culture has many dimensions and is interconnected with respect to nature and all living things. They believe that all aspects of their culture are related and define their existence. Diller (2007) noted that "this spiritual holism affirms the value and interdependence of all life forms" (p. 220).

The families of Native Americans extend to include aunts, uncles, cousins grandparents and often times includes members within their tribe. Decisions within the communities are consensus, creating a balance of power within the community. All tribe members are considered part of a community, with individuals having their own roles and obligations to each other in this community.

A perspective view of the Native American culture can be likened to a concentric circle. It consists of the inner circle as the spirit, next the family, then the natural environment and finally the spirit world (Tsai, & Alanis, 2004). This interconnectedness creates harmony and balance in their lives.


Dating as far back as the pilgrims and the founding of the English colonies, Indian people have fought to preserve their cultural beliefs and rights, retaining their land and maintain political sovereignty (Fixico, 2008). Their world was altered dramatically, leading to oppression, isolation and loss of freedom for many Native Americans after the settlement of the colonies. They were continually driven from their lands and forced to conform to the white man's world, leading to destruction of their traditional homelands and creating many cultural differences (Johnson, 1999).

Treaties became the established way for the U. S. government to develop relationships with Indian tribes in the early 1800s. In the beginning peace was the main purpose for treaties, but as American settlers began moving westward, there was an increased need for more land, leading to conflict between the Indian people and settlers. The main objective of treaties developed with the federal government changed for the following reasons: "acquisition of as much Indian land as possible while minimizing the cost in American lives and dollars" (Fixico, 2008, p. 13).

Watkins (2006) noted that "during the remainder of the 1800s, Indian tribes continued to be pushed to the limits of American civilization" (p.87). With this westward movement, the Indian tribes continued to lose control of their ancestral homelands and access to sacred sites and burial grounds. Their livelihoods as well their ability to reach sacred sites were impacted by the limited amount of access afforded to them through this loss.

Over time, the majority of the treaties dealt with land acquisitions from the Native Americans. In exchange for their land, the U.S. government made promises to compensate, protect and provide additional lands in the west to the Native Americans (Watkins, 2006). Numerous other types of treaties were developed relating to the development of reservations and agricultural rights. Perhaps one of the most crucial treaty negotiations dealt with their sovereignty rights. Because of these rights, these treaties are still legally binding and play a key role in economic opportunities and challenges today.

Bubar and Vernon (2006) noted that by understanding the importance of sovereign status by the Indian tribes, they have been able to manage and protect their cultural resources. Maintaining territorial control over these lands acquired by the treaties has been a crucial element, because it has allowed for control over the natural resources and sacred burial grounds (Fixico, 2008). Their water rights have been protected as well under the Indian reservation treaty agreements, providing the communities with enough water to meet their needs (Alder, 2007).

To fully understand the impact of treaties on the Native Americans social and cultural lives, one must look at the Native ways of worship. "The right to worship is a critical component of social unity but another social issue faced by tribal communities is the desecration of sacred lands and objects" (Bubar, & Vernon, 2006, p. 72). For Native Americans their culture is reflected in the spiritual and sacred traditions and for many, there are places that hold special meaning to them, handed down over many generations (Watkins, 2006). The protection of sacred sites



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