Intro to American Indian Studies


I. What does it mean to call someone a Native American or American Indian?

A.  Indian people certainly thought themselves to have tribal/national and familial identity before European contact.

1.  Divisions are thought to include moieties, sibs, and lineages.

a. Some traced inheritance through their mother's side of the family (matrilineal).

b. Some traced inheritance through their father's side of the family (patrilineal).

i.  lineage - a family group consisting of children, parents, grandparents, great grandparents, great-great grandparents, aunts and uncles, and so forth.

ii.  moiety - a marriage group - never marry anyone of your own moiety.

iii. sib - a group made of lineages that function together.

2. Indian people thought of themselves as united on a macro level for sure and felt their tribes distinct from one another.

3. Indian people did not think of themselves as a "race" of people separate from others.  This means no ideation of racial separation.

4. One theory says that Native Americans are called American Indians because Christopher Columbus thought he had landed in India, and so he mistakenly thought the people were Indians from the Subcontinent nation of India.  India is near Tibet, Pakistan, Nepal, Mayanmar, Bangladesh, and Bhutan.  Some scholars point out that there was no country called India at the time of Columbus.  Some remind us that the Indus River rolled to the sea, even in the time of Columbus while others point out that the people of the Indus River basin would have been called Indusians.  Another theory points to the fact that in his logs Columbus called the Native peoples he met "en Dios" or the "ones dedicated to God" because the people prayed as they went about their lives.  Which is the real story?  We will probably never know.  The one thing we will always know is that Native Americans did not give themselves this name.  That is the critical fact.

B.  The idea of "Indianness" is a construction of colonialism. 

1. Creating the concept of "Indian" results in feelings of separation between Indians and Others.

a. This is a mechanism of colonialism.

i.  It serves as a justification for feelings of superiority and paternalism.

ii. Then land can be seized and people enslaved.

b. This implies "insider" and "outsider" roles.

i.  Allows nonIndians to lump all Indian peoples into a single group.  Cahuilla and Pomo are not the same. 

2.  Colonialism extends to changing peoples' names for themselves.

a.  Ancient peoples all over the globe named themselves "The People" in whatever language they spoke.  Some added a modifier like "of the sun" or "of the lake" to distinguish themselves from their neighbors, who they also knew were "people."

i.  Some Native groups have kept their own names for themselves: Huichol, Anishnabe, Yokuts, Maidu, Atsugewi, Chemehuevi, Yurok, Hupa, Maya.

b. Interestingly, the name people gave to themselves was usually the name they gave to their language.  The French speak French.  The Germans speak German.  The Chinese speak Chinese.  The Greeks speak Greek.  The Hebrew speak Hebrew.

i. This changes when people are colonized.  Only an "outsider" or an ignorant "insider" would say that the Mexican people speak Mexican - we all know the language of Mexico is the language of the colonizers, Spanish.  Only a outsider would say we speak American, we  call our language English, even though we are not English by birth - English is the language (and the nationality) of the colonizers with the most power.  We know Brazilians speak Portugese and that Indians (from the subcontinent) speak English.  Nigerians also speak English.

ii.  Many groups are referred to by names given them by outsiders like the Diegueño, Luiseño, and Cupeño. Sometimes the outsiders who named the tribes were members of other tribes.  The Cahuilla, Eskimo, Apache, and Anasazi were all named, it is believed,  by members of other tribes.  Anthropologists, also, have given many archaic cultures their names - like they named the Mississippian, Mogollon, Hopewell, and Adena peoples.

iii.  Many are struggling to regain their own names: Gabrieleno>Tongva; Diegueño> Kumeyaay; Yuma>Quechan.

C.  Who and what determines Indian identity?

1.  Indian identity is a Federal legal designation given to some people based on one's "enrollment" status.

a.  Gov't agents went to locations where Indian people lived and "enrolled" them about 100 years ago (dates vary by location).

i. Agents listed Native American names in ledgers and assigned each of those listed a number.

ii.  Not everyone wanted to be enrolled - people were still very afraid of a Government that stole their children.

iii.  Some who wanted enrollment were denied because of long-standing jealousies.

b.  Those who can prove themselves to be descended from those initially enrolled by the Federal government in the 1930s are considered to be enrolled and are called Native American.

i. Some restrictions, like "blood quantum" (the % of Native American ancestry you can prove) apply but vary by tribe.

ii. Enrolled members carry cards identifying them as Native American.

c.  Tribes are now engaged in battles of disenrollment, where the economic stakes are high, factions are voting each other out of their "Indianness."

2.  Some people who have 100% Native American heritage are not legally recognized as Native American by the Federal government.  The Federal government has also removed the designation of Native American from some tribes and seized their lands, other tribes were never recognized and are fighting for recognition from the Federal government.

a.  The Klamath people of Southern Oregon were Federally "terminated" or derecognized as a tribe in 1954.  In order to regain their status as a registered Native American tribe, they had to turn the timber assets they had maintained in a healthy condition for a thousand years over to the Federal government - in all they ceded 23,000,000 acres of timberland that was sold to lumber companies that profited greatly from the losses of the Klamath people who were cast into poverty and want.

III.  Divisions of North American Indian culture.  How to get a handle on the subject.

A. The three major temporal (time) divisions of Native North American culture.

a. Archaic or Precontact Period - before 1492.  From this era what remains are: rock art, shell, teeth, silver, copper, gold, paint, bone, pottery, and stone remain.

1.  An exception to this is in the dry caves of the Great Basin and Southwestern deserts where coprolites, mummies, hides, feathers, clothing, wooden implements, cotton cloth, baskets, mats, and sandals remain after thousands of years.

2.  A few objects were taken to Europe before 1600 and they remain there in museums and royal collections.

3. Encapsulation with mud can create anaerobic preservation as in Washington State where a village lay preserved for 1,000 years.

b. Historic period- 1493 until 1890.  All of the materials already mentioned remain plus Native Americans had available a wide variety of introduced materials including, iron, German silver, brass, tin, silk and wool fabric, cotton broadcloth, glass, paper, graphite pencils, crayons, ink, crystal, umbrellas, peach trees, dominoes, telescopes, books, and horses.  The push of Native peoples onto reservations, the industrial boom in consumer goods, and the Massacre at Wounded Knee (12/30/1890) signal the end of the Historic period.

c. Contemporary period - post 1890.  Introduced and synthetic materials.  The products of industrialization and a consumer society dominate materials in Native American homes. 

B. The seven major geographic (land mass) divisions.

1.  Eastern Woodlands and Subarctic.

2.  Great Plains and Plateau.

3.  Arctic.

4.  Southwest.

5.  California.

6.  Great Basin.

7.  Northwest Coast.

C. The six major language divisions.

1.  Inuit - Canada, Alaska, Greenland

2.  Uto-Aztecan - Mexico, Plains, Southwest, California.

3.  Hokan-Sioux - California, Southwest, Plains.

4.  Athabascan - Subarctic, Southwest, California.

5.  Algonquian - Eastern Woodlands, California.

6.  Penutian - California only.

7.  Unique languages - the split was so long ago as to be untracable

Yuki  - California only.

Keresan - Southwest only.

D.  The eight ecological (climate) divisions of North Ameica.

1.  Too much cross over to define groups tightly

a. Coastal tidelands collectors.

Northwest Coast, California, Southeast, Northeast

b. Coastal sea hunters and fishers.

Arctic, Southeast, California, Northwest Coast

c.  Riverine and lake dwellers.

All Areas

d.  Semiarid gatherer/hunters

California, Great Basin, Plains

e.  Semiarid hunter/gatherers.


f.  Woodlands hunters/gatherers

Subarctic, Northeast, Southeast, Northwest Coast

g.  Desert gatherers and hunters.

California, Platueau

h.  Agriculturalists.

            Woodlands, Southwest, Plains, California.

E.  500+ tribal (ethnic) divisions from Abnaki to Zuni.

1.  Impractical on a continental scale for this class.

a.  more than 250 tribes in California alone