E-Portfolio #9: Native American Anthropology

An anthropology with a focus on Native America should focus on detailing every aspect of a group’s cultural identity, with an emphasis on how it applies to modern day life. Based off of our readings, our discussions, and guest lecturer the evidence stands out that some of our greatest information on past peoples and cultures are from the salvage anthropologists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. As a result some modern anthropologists still refer back to these instances to guide their research. Thus they fail to recognize that Native Americans are functioning in modern society and that their traditions must have adapted to the changing world around them. This is a major flaw in North American anthropology because when anthropologists romanticize the Native American as a peaceful and noble soul they miss out on how they should see the contemporary world and that viewpoint matters!

The solution to the romanticism is to ethnographically record modern groups and how they see modern issues that may or may not directly affect them. I agree that a group’s ability to culturally connect to their traditional roots is key to their cultural identity, but I would like to see how they see modern issues such as economic instability, environmentalism, or even world matters with their specific paradigm.

As time goes on the traditional customs and past histories of many groups are being depicted more and more accurately. This is a result of storytelling and corrections to the fallacies previously recorded that were made by salvage anthropologists. As the traditions become more and more accurately portrayed I believe that solely studying a group’s traditional customs becomes more like history than actual anthropology. Now if traditional customs were used as major factor in a group’s cultural identity, and this is frequently the case, then traditional customs still need to be studied. But they should not be studied just to be studied. There needs to be an emphasis on why it matters to modern people today.

I came to this conclusion when I was writing my paper on the influence homelands had on Native Americans to serve in the military.  Now while I was doing my research I learned that there was a need to protect the land because it was central to a group’s identity. However, I was unsure if any group’s identity had any regard for other factors in the war such as the holocaust, the Japanese Empire, of Fascism. I don’t think I would be wrong in stating that anthropologists were not concerned with how these issues were viewed by native groups anyway. If we fail to gather information on modern Native American groups and how their cultural identity influences their actions in the modern world then that is just more valuable research that will never be discovered.

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E-Portfolio #8: Francisco Seminar on Tohono O’odham Culture

A few classes ago we spoke to a member of the Tohono O’odam tribe in Southwestern Arizona. His name is Damascus Francisco and he happily described his tribe’s history as well as answer the questions the class had on modern issues and culture. Towards the beginning of Francisco’s opening statement he elaborated on the point that historically his tribe is established on both sides of the US-Mexico border. This statement opened up discussion on modern issues circulating around the geopolitics on immigration and immigration reform. Ultimately the point was on how US-Mexican affairs could affect Tohono O’odham life. We have seen how international borders can affect tribal affairs in the Kootenai (Canadian-US border), however with more politically charged issues surrounding the US-Mexican border I believe that the Tohono O’oodham have more hurdles to face. 

Francisco lightly touched on Border Patrol relations towards the Tohono O’odham and whether or not there is any friction in communication. He mentioned that the Border Patrol relationship with the Tohono O’odham is not especially strained, however there is some mis-communication between officers and elders. This is based on the language barrier, because while the Border Patrol officers are required to be familiar with both Spanish and English there is not a special emphasis on Tohono O’odham language. Francisco also mentioned the fact that some Tohono O’odham members have resorted to harboring undocumented immigrates in order to raise their limited income. Often times these people get caught and are arrested for the crime.

These two instances that are a result of US-Mexican relations bring up two important points on the limited income inside the reservation as well as the lack of cultural relativity among the Border Patrol agents. I am familiar with this part of the country and have crossed the US-Mexican border more times than I can count. I can attest to Francisco’s statement that Border Patrol officers do take crossings seriously. I can also attest to the fact that the declaration of citizenship is required upon each crossing situation. I think that a way to resolve these issues is to implement a handful of Border Patrol officers who are linguistically capable to accommodate Tohono O’odham speakers. Also, from what Francisco stated in regards to their upcoming elections, I believe that this reliance on harboring undocumented immigrants for income should be discussed further in order to come to a resolution.

I wanted to focus on the issues surrounding the effects of US-Mexican relations on the Tohono O’odham because I have experience with border crossings and how politically charged the issue is in the area. While the Kootenai do have to face challenges in regards to maintaining their unity with a border between their lands, the US-Canadian border is not a major source of concern for either national government. I would have liked to hear more about any issues that occurs from being a third party in the US-Mexican relations from Francisco but I believe that the ones he raised were the most important in regards to current issues among the community.

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E-Portfolio #7: Washington Football and Native American Image

The sports culture in the United States is remarkably significant in everyday life to American citizens. The intensity of its prevalence in everyday life is varied from basic knowledge of team status all the way to obsessive statistics memorization. I am one of the many Americans that are avid fans of multiple teams in various sports, but my true passion to follow is professional football. Last year an on-going battle to change the name of one NFL team came into light and it sparked a large debate on whether the Washington Redskins’ logo and name should be replaced due to its defaming nature. Multiple opinions and sides of the story were brought into question but I think this clip from the Daily Show with John Stewart concisely (although questionably satirical) outlines the issue. While the show does flaunt its satire I would like to focus primarily on the misrepresentation of the Redskin name and what it actually means to Native Americans today.

When it comes to name representation the producers included interviews with three main parties: 1) Washington fans, 2) Native American activists, and 3) Washington Redskins’ Owner Daniel Snyder. By implementing the name Redskin, the organization embraces a literally defined racial slur that impairs the identity of the Native American population. Daniel Snyder stresses in the interview that the name represents an honorable, proud, courageous, and brave idea that the team strives to embody but why does the Native American heritage embody these noble traits? Snyder uses this played out defense without realizing that he buys into another culturally insensitive mindset that is no better than a negative view when he assumes that all Native Americans were a noble people. However, just assuming that his umbrella generalization was correct what does the name really honor? The activists correctly state that the term redskin was used when referring to a Native American trophy scalp. So by saying that this name honors Native Americans when it really conjures past injustices is wrong. One of the activists brings up a critical point when she states that being a Native American walking down the street of Washington D.C. is heartbreaking because being offended by the constant reminder that her ancestors were decimated and then told to get over it is extremely hard to handle.

The reason why I wanted to focus on this misrepresentation of Native Americans in popular media is because of the staunch stance the organization makes against changing the name. Money is a strong determining factor when making a name change but it’s been done multiple times and often for reasons much less critical than this. The owner and the fans believe in preserving their sports culture and handing it down to future Washington enthusiasts. What does this tell us when an organization is more concerned with a game and its minuscule history of 80 years than an entire pan-Native American movement to end a misrepresented logo? I am glad that this movement received a considerable amount of recognition in the past year and I hope that the Washington organization will look past its memorabilia sales so as to be culturally sensitive to the current concern.

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E-Portfolio #6: Culture Area Concept

The culture area concept is, at first glance, a two-sided sword that would scare any hopeful researcher. On one side it is a useful concept to put geographical characteristics such as common language, subsistence, and resources into an organized table like Oswalt did in his first chapter of This Land Was Their’s. When making cross-cultural comparisons between multiple groups this can come in handy, because it offers a general list of descriptions that can draw distinctions between groups. However, this  approach also runs the risk of over generalizing key concepts that make a difference when digging deeper on what truly defines a specific group. For instance the Netsilik are more than just an Arctic group or the Navajo a group from the warm Southwest.

The commonalities that are associated with culture areas are geographic location, resources, subsistence strategies, language, religion, and types of settlement. As stated above the culture area concept does offer a helpful hand in comprehension but it shouldn’t be the basis for a cross-cultural comparison. This lack of effort to dive deeper into a culture’s key differences could lead to the generalization that all Native Americans living in a geographic developed the same cultural traits given that they have the same material available to them. With this being said the only defining factor between two groups living in the same geographic location would be their names. In my opinion this culture area approach is too easy and should only be utilized when surveying Native American cultures on a very large scale. Even then I don’t believe that religion, subsistence strategies, or settlement patterns should be included in this approach. While resources, location, and language have some dependency and are the most common between certain groups, how they utilize what they have at their disposal is key. We have seen plenty of cases where given the same resources, and furthermore general environment, two cultures do not carry on in the same matter. For example, both the Tolowa and Tlingit are Pacific Coast groups that have seasonal overlap with a lot of their resources. However, instead of restraining themselves to the family level, like the the Tolowa, the Tlingit operates more within a clan. They also boast their abundance with potlatches in order to gain influence from multiple clans. The Tolowa don’t do this, rather it has been theorized that they aggrandized and stored their resources in a surplus.

The framework of the culture area concept only works when introducing the setting that the group in question is a part of. For instance: geographical location and resources available. This is scratching the surface, so in order to fully differentiate between two groups in the same area or even outside the area one should research how the group utilize their environment differently. I came to this conclusion when we discussed the Western Shoshone and the way they utilized exogamy to establish food sharing when resources were low. However, I was intrigued by the idea that their food scarcity was similar to what we see in the Netsilik. The Netsilik didn’t use this strategy to insure food security, rather they established food sharing partners. So while the environment or cultural area does have a strong hand in shaping cultures it does not mean that all cultures will adapt the same strategy to survive. 

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E-Portfolio #5: Reflections

Due to a lack of attention on my part I posted my fifth E-portfolio on another site in my name that is not a part of this class’s assignment. I apologize for this lack of oversight and the late post in result of. The original post can be found at https://hermanseminar.wordpress.com

In my first E-portfolio post of this semester I remember stating my interest and attention towards  New World Archaeology and how my knowledge of past peoples and cultures is the only knowledge I had on Native Americans. I am still fascinated with the Archaeological Sciences, however the problem with archaeology is that reconstructing past cultures through material remains always leaves room for misinterpretation. My major concern throughout this course so far was switching from an analytical mindset that was focused on the archaeological record to an interpretative one that could conceive contemporary issues with Native Americans. In fact, I believe that contemporary issues with Native Americans in terms of their reflection on their identity and what it means to be Native American was my biggest hurdle to face in this course.

The ethnographic record and testimonial narratives that we have read in class were major eye openers in the beginning of class this semester. I was raised in Tennessee so I always heard about Trail of Tears and Andrew Jackson’s position on Native American presence, but this was only mentioned for have a second in my high school curriculum it seemed. Learning about the Indian Removal Act and the land allotment initiative the US government established was essential and it was embarrassing to think that I was ignorant to these harsh realities for most of my life. While Native American and US Government relations was a huge topic to grasp I believe that my growth in understanding came by contemporary issues Native Americans face today.

The contemporary issues I am referring to include federal recognition, land and resource compensations, and most importantly identity. I believe that Native American identity and learning what it means to be a part of certain group in modern times will be at the heart of what I take away from this course this semester. I believe that my focus on past cultural remains was too narrow and I forgot that the difference between my area of study and another scientific study was that mine is dominated by human life and events. When I read the articles on Netsilik and Chipewyan identities I began to learn that people and their cultures are not frozen in the past. Methods, beliefs, and identities are fluid and can adapt to the environment they are presented with. In the case for the Netsilik, they have an interesting way of constructing ethnic self-images out of emblems that are from a pool of cultural traits. They will add to this pool and it will continue to proliferate as Western culture contributes to daily life in their society. In a way this culture has developed a way of using their own perception, not anyone else’s, to influence their interactions and proceedings. They manipulate Western influence to fit their traditional view on life.

Cultural identity and understanding how native groups see themselves in light of their past really resonated with me because of my materialistic mindset when it comes to cultures. It was nice to be able to put my population and resource management arguments aside and realize that I am studying living breathing people. They are no different than me in that they have beliefs; although archaeology is a science I should not poke at evidence as if it is not connected to human life. In a way this course has been able to humanize a study that I should have already realized was centered on humanity

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E-Portfolio 4: Original Conservationists

Assertions like the one that Sioui makes about Amerindian superiority in environmental matters are too broad, because they assume that all traditional Amerindian societies had a superior connection with the environment. Furthermore, the Noble Savage stereotype is promoted by making assertions like Sioui’s because this casts an umbrella set of values for every Native American society. Evidence from the archaeological record also suggests that even those societies that practiced a sustainable livelihood in their region were not active conservationists. Rather they were unintentional in their conservation efforts. I believe that native peoples did unintentionally practice conservation but at the end of the day it doesn’t really matter what their motive was.

Based on the archaeological and ethnographic record we know that past peoples and cultures manipulated their environments to suit their needs. In multiple groups there is evidence of seasonal subsistence, swidden agriculture and traditional knowledge that has been passed down for generations. One example that Hunn et al. (2003) offers is the Huna Tlingit. These people have occupied their traditional territory for a millennia. They seasonally harvested gull eggs and from the oral tradition we know that this was done in a calculated and organized matter in order to conserve the resource. With this information I acknowledge that the Huna Tlingit practiced an organized subsistence strategy that prioritized the conservation of the resource. This statement can be extended to assert that the Huna Tlingit practiced a system of conservation that is a precursor to contemporary models. However, the Huna Tlingit and their environmental practices don’t reflect all Amerindian environmental ethics. We see multiple groups like the Chipewyan who utilized their resources to its fullest extent without conservation even though they claim their identity via their connection to the environment.

Many argue that Amerindian conservation efforts were not done for conservation but instead for their survival. This may be the case but I don’t think it really matters, because in regions where food is relatively scarce people were able to subside on enough to complete a seasonal rotation without seriously impacting the community. This is by definition conservation, and the point of the matter is that species that could have easily been decimated by hungry people were allowed to thrive to this day for modern scientists to grow in their understanding. Sometimes I think we, being contemporary citizens of the environment, get too caught up with past actions and how they apply to motives in today’s environmental battle. Is it such a bad thing that past peoples prioritized their food consumption in the past? I don’t believe so. Did they conserve biological ecosystems? To the best of our knowledge: yes they did. So I don’t think it matters whether or not the conservation was done for conservation sake.

Works cited

Hunn, E. S., Johnson, D., Russell, P., and Thornton, T. F.

(2003). Huna Tlingit Traditional Environmental Knowledge, Conservation, and the Management of a “Wilderness” Park. Current Anthropology 44: S79– S103.

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E-Portfolio #3: Paper Topic

During WWII the United States military developed a system of codes that could never be cracked by the Japanese enemy. It was a well establish code utilized for communication between intelligence groups and ground control. In fact this code and its ability to remain unbroken is often regarded as a key contribution to the victory seen in the South Pacific. This code was not binary or even a system of scrambled letters with a signifier. In fact this code wasn’t even a code at all. It was a system of words developed from the Navajo language and native speakers were the ones in charge of relaying information from the command to their groups in the field. The active Native American participation in the United States military is not limited to this particular instance. In fact you would be hard pressed to find any post-World War II conflict that didn’t have any significant Native American participation.  A major question between this active participation though is: after all the hardships the Native Americans had to experience at the hand of the United States, why would they want to lay their lives on the line for it?

This is the question I want to research for my paper due at the end of the semester. I myself intend on joining the United States Navy after graduating from Wake Forest, so I have always been interested in what would motivate a person to lay his or life on the line for a country. I would argue though that the situations behind Native American involvement are not your typical reasons. After talking to Dr. Jones about the paper topic he helped me to realize that there could be several situations that would influence a person in this situation. It could be the economics involved with each reservation, a sense of duty, or even just a desire to see the world.

Just the thought of this topic provokes everything we have learned in class thus far. We have discussed the initial response at contact, the struggle for resistance, and the depressing removal that would occur later on. Every man or woman has a reason to serve their country through the military whatever it may be, however a majority of these volunteers lack the sour history Native Americans have with the US Government. In order to remain culturally relative we must allow ourselves to believe that the motivation is not entirely similar to others without this history.

Through this research I expect to find an assortment of testimonies from various groups from various points of time. It’s not possible to give one complete answer but I believe that I will be able to touch on at least one main subject as well as a few smaller subjects on the motivation behind the willingness to serve. I came to this topic because I want to serve my country in this matter and I believe others who have chosen the same path deserve to be heard on their motivation.

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