Similarities and Differences of Native AmericansThis is a featured page

Similarities and Differences of Native Americans
Sheila Connor
Although Native Americans were the first to live in America, dating back to 20,000 to 30,000 yearsago (Native Americans, 2005), they are a minority here in the U.S. Native Americans, separate and together as a whole, have many similarities and differences with other tribes and other minorities. Although many people see Native Americans as a whole, they forget that each Native American comes from a different tribe and each tribe has different religions, environments, cultures, and rituals and ceremonies. Like other minorities, Native Americans have been through prejudice and discrimination from the first Europeans, have suffered being part of a lower social status throughout the times, and have fought for equal rights; however, they have gone through all of these things in different ways.
Native Americans are similar in many ways with each other. According to Banks (2003), Native Americans either came to America 14,000 years ago by crossing the Bering Strait or they have possibly lived here for as long as 30,000 years coming by boat, a new theory which contradicts the Bering Strait theory (p.128). Native Americans all live in a spiritual world believing that everything has a sacred life. According to Native American Culture (2006) from the Great Spirits they had only four commandments which were to respect Mother Earth, respect the Great Spirit, respect our fellow man and woman, and respect individual freedom. Most tribes have a leader who is chosen by how good of a warrior and communicator he is with others and the spirits. Their communities are usually democratic with a few exceptions. Also, they all had their land taken away from them and have suffered much discrimination. Even though they were similar in many ways with each other, they still had intertribal conflicts which made it impossible for Native Americans to make a “unified defense” against the Europeans who did these things to them (Farley, 2005, p. 121). Although Native Americans share many of these similarities, within the separate tribes they differ in other aspects including religions, environments, cultures, and rituals and ceremonies. David Ruvolo (2006) tells us of three very different tribes and the areas they have lived in. These tribes are the Dakota tribes of the central plains, the Apache tribes of the southwestern desert, and the Iroquois Nation of the eastern woodlands.
The Dakota or Sioux tribes believed in "Wakan Tanka," which was a common denominator of the universe. The environment they lived in was the Great Plains near what we know today as North Dakota, South Dakota, and Minnesota. They lived here until the mid-1800s when they were forced out because of a European mining interest. They based the majority of their culture on the hunting of buffalo. They roamed wherever the buffalo did, so they had no permanent homes. Their lives surrounded the buffalo which helped them in all of their survival needs. As for their rituals, the Dakota tribes centered everything on Wakan Tanka, and every person felt it was important to have a personal experience with Wakan Tanka (Ruvolo, 2006).
The Apache tribes called on spirits only when an individual needed help, otherwise the spirits were only a small part of the daily activities because most of their time was spent just surviving. The “Shaman” was considered the religious leader and his main talent was to heal and connect the people to the supernatural world. The environment of the Apache tribes was isolated and harsh. They lived near what we call Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and parts of Mexico. Their lifestyle included gathering what they found in the desert, and most of these items were limited resources. Their lifestyle left little room for rituals (Ruvolo, 2006).
The Iroquois tribes believed in only one God and called him “Ha-wen-ne-yu” or Great Spirit. How the Great Spirit came to be was believed to be beyond their understanding.
Similarities and Differences 4
However, the lower spirits they were able to describe and these spirits became known as “Ho-no-che-no-keh” or Invisible Agents. These spirits received their power from the Great Spirit. The Iroquois also believed in the existence of evil which they called “Ha-ne-go-ate-geh” whowas the brother to the Great Spirit. The Iroquois believed that they would be judged by the Great Spirit at the end of their life and feared punishment; this helped the Iroquois Nation do well. The Iroquois lived in present day New York and they relied on agriculture, hunting and gathering for survival. Surrounding them were plenty of streams, rich soil, and enough game to feed all. These goods were a great part of the success of the Iroquois as well. Their culture consisted of well organized tribes. They were surpassed only by the Mayans, Incas, and Aztecs, which were great advanced civilizations. Their rituals consisted of ceremonies passed down from generation to generation and each ceremony went with a certain season (Ruvolo, 2006).
Although Ruvolo (2006) gives us well in-depth information about these three tribes we have to consider that there were many other unique tribes as well and that each of these tribes differed in many ways. Some of these differences were population, style of homes, dress, and tools. According to the Native American Index (2006), the smallest in population were the Iroquois tribes with a total of 5,000. They lived in long houses, which were built before the Europeans came (Native American Culture, 2006). They wore deer skin or “buckskin”, carved canoes, and made snow shoes. The largest in population were the Inuit Native Americans who had 89,000 people within their tribe. They lived mainly in igloos, but also in skin, mud, sod, or
wood homes. In the summer they dressed in sealskin and in the winter caribou skin. As for their tools they made many kayaks, harpoons, and dogsleds.
Even though Native Americans have many differences, over the years they have come to share many similarities. Around the 1960s Native Americans began to come together as a whole and protest for their rights, reasserting their land claims and their status as independent nations. In the 1980s they made it a point to teach their young their native tribal history, language, and craft skills. They began to create “Indian Centers,” which are where recreational and cultural activities are offered. Also, in almost every native community in North America more and more Native Americans are joining the American Indian Movement (AIM).
Native Americans also have many similarities and differences with other minorities in America. Like many minorities, namely African Americans, Native Americans were taken away from their homes, kept as slaves, and treated unfairly. However, one of the main differences Native Americans face is that they are a colonized minority (Farley, 2005, p. 133). They differ in many other aspects as well.
Although Native Americans were not taken away from a different country and brought to North America like many African Americans were, they were taken away from their home. When the Europeans first came to America, relations with Native Americans were fairly good. The French, Spanish, and British all relied on the Native Americans for one reason or another. The French and British depended on them for survival; a perfect example of this is the well known story of the Pilgrims at Plymouth Rock. The French also depended on them for the trade of fur and the Spanish for the trade of horses. However, this dependency on the Native Americans began to fade and so did the relations between Native Americans and the Europeans (Farley, 2005, p. 119-120). Not only did the views of the Europeans change but how the Native Americans viewed them changed as well.
Eventually the Europeans desire for more land began to grow more and more and their ethnocentric views began to grow. Because the British wanted land so badly they either forced or tricked Native Americans onto reservations. They tricked the Native Americans by having them sign contracts, which Native Americans knew little about since all they needed in their lifestyle was a man’s promise. It was for this reason and the way that the Europeans treated their land that the Native Americans found such behavior “repellent” (Native Americans, 2005). These factors and many other conflicts led to many problems between the Native Americans and Europeans.
Native Americans were at a disadvantage in fighting the Europeans for their land. According to the website “Native Americans” (2005), their greatest disadvantages were their low numbers, their nomadic lifestyle, a lack of advanced weapons, an unwillingness to cooperate, and the diseases the Europeans brought with them. However, Native Americans did have many advantages that other minorities did not have that made it possible for them to resist slavery. According to Farley (2005), Native Americans were able to run away and return to their tribal groups. After they returned they were able to go to the plantations with others and attack and free the rest of their people. Also, many Europeans still depended on Native Americans for trade, so the idea to enslave them was quickly abandoned.
In 1849, when the Gold Rush hit, 70,000 Native Americans lost their lives. In 1862 they were considered “wards” of the government and they were forced to adopt the white mans ways. In the late1800s when Native Americans were forced onto Reservations here they couldn’t practice their religion or culture, they needed a pass to leave, they were guarded by U.S. Army troops and their children had to go to boarding school where they could only speak English. Then in 1871, Congress abolished the treaties that were made many years ago, which was a horrible thing for the Native Americans because these “agreements” were even less binding than before.
Like many other minorities, Native Americans had to fight for their rights. It wasn’t until the 1900s when Native Americans really began to protest for their rights. Many joined AIM (The American Indian Movement) in 1968. In 1970 at Fort Lawton Native Americans were granted part of the land because it was “surplus”. In 1972, the Trail of Broken Tears was held in Washington and led to the take over of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. In 1973, the protest of Wounded Knee took place. In 1976, during the Nixon Administration, it was found out that there were efforts against AIM leaders, efforts to discredit Indian protest leaders, many cover-ups
of violence, an 70 unsolved possible murders found. Native Americans also suffered from another type of racism, environmental racism which was coined by Benjamin Chavis. Environmental racism is the tendency for people of color to be placed at a particular risk of suffering the harmful effects of environmental contaminants. The Native Americans faced the disposal of hazardous wastes onto Reservations and mining and oil companies destroying the economic base of Native American tribes.
Along with many other minorities Native Americans also faced lack of urbanization, unemployment, poverty, health issues, stereotypes, and a lack of education. Although they share these things, the way in which they have suffered varies greatly. According to Farley (2005), like many others, Native Americans have been introduced to urbanization. Although sixty percent of Native Americans are Urban (2000 census) they are still lower than any other minority group. Also, they still live near reservations to be close to where they grew up and are active in their culture. In the 2000 census it was found that the unemployment rate of Native Americans was 2.85 times as high as that of non Hispanic whites. Their poverty level is even higher than that of African Americans or Latinos. In 2001 seventeen percent of native Americans said their health was either fair or poor compared with fewer than eight percent of non Hispanic whites. Many Native Americans are stereotyped as murderers, dumb, stupid, filthy, lecherous, and barely human. Also, Native Americans suffer a high educational disadvantage. Only seventy-one percent of Native Americans are a high school graduate, which is higher than Hispanics but lower than any other minority group. As for college students only one in nine is a college graduate.
So, Native Americans, separate and together as a whole, have many similarities and differences with other tribes and other minorities. These include their way of life and they way they have been treated throughout history. It is important to remember that even though we come from different places, most of us still believe in a lot of the same things. It is important to remember to “Extend your family. Join with others in giving. We are all related. People of the earth take back your heritage…Our heritage is this earth...” (American Indian Culture, 2006)

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