Saturday, August 13, 2011

Native Americans of the 19th Century

    The cultural experiences of Native American women and children and their societal views were heavily influenced by their perception of white society and the foreigners that had come to invade their homeland. The fear that each culture experienced toward the other was often based on rumor and suppositions, as well as negative experiences, on both sides. Whites were afraid that native people would kill and eat them, while the Native American women also feared the exact same wild behavior from the whites. In the second half of the19th century Native women had already survived several atrocities perpetrated by the white man and had been forced to make numerous adjustments to their lifestyle. (DuBois & Dumenil, 2005, p 257-8)
     The values of the Native American woman were in many respects, not any different from the values expressed within the heart and soul of all women. A woman’s survival instinct and her fierce desire to protect her child were no different whether the woman was white, Native American, or African American. The survival instinct is inherent in every human being.
     According to the definition by the Ridhwan School, founded in 1976 by A. Hameed Ali, the “instinct for survival, which translates into fear of annihilation and death, is the energy behind adaptation and hence, conditioning…So we can say that it is due to the instinct for self-preservation that acquiescence to the coercive forces in the environment occurs.”
     These new white strangers had invaded their home land and killed off many of their young braves. Some women chose to remain near the military forts and survived by performing the duties of a prostitute and handmaiden for the male soldiers. These female Natives were referred to as “black dirty squaws” and were hated by the white women as well as by their own tribal people. (DuBois & Dumenil, 2005, p 257).
     At other times, Native American women were forced to live at the edge of the Army camps. As the white man traveled west and took more land, pleasant looking young Native maidens were often kidnapped and raped by the white men who terrorized and burned their land. They were forced into servitude and not permitted to leave until the white man had no further need of their services. By then there was really no place else for them to go and they would remain as a “squaw” at the edges of the camps(DuBois & Dumenil, 2005, p 258).
     At other times when looking back at the values of the white woman verses the Native American female, values were obviously influenced by the legacy of the Colonial women to these later frontier white women. White women were more submissive to their husbands and their central focus was to serve at home and at church. They were involved in the political aspects of the country but more in an influential yet indirect way.
    Native American women on the other hand were more respected within their own clan. The heritage and decisions of the tribe involved their women and there was no need for politics. The Native tribe was formatted and run quite differently than the American culture(DuBois & Dumenil, 2005, chapter 4-5).
     The lives of the Natives were also profoundly disrupted by illness, warfare, death, and disease brought to their land by the white man (DuBois & Dumenil, 2005, p 287.) Sexually transmitted diseases caused a great deal of infertility among Native women and thus the genocide of a race and a culture was direct and indirect at the same time (DuBois & Dumenil, 2005, p 259).
     Boarding schools came into existence for several reasons in the 19th century. It was a meager attempt of the whites to control and civilize the Native Americans that they viewed as uncivilized heathens. It was also a way of passively destroying the Native way of life by forcing all “Native” ways to be eliminated (DuBois & Dumenil, 2005, p 393). Later Natives would be taken into captivity and forbidden to speak their Native tongue, to dress in their own clothing, or to worship in their own ways.   
    The boarding schools the Native children were forced to attend were a horror story. Very few of the Natives were receptive to the idea of attending the white man's schools. They would view the experience as an opportunity to learn how to fit in and belong more to the white mans way of life. Most of the children were literally taken away from the parents.  History and research into the boarding schools and interviews conducted with Native Americans who attended proved the schools were cruel places. The smallest of children were not allowed to speak their Native tongue or ever allowed to see their parents.
      According to an article by Amnesty magazine, the purpose of the schools many times were to “beat the Indian out of them.” (Smith, 2009) Boarding schools in Canada and the United States “virtually imprisoned” the Native children that were viciously taken from their parents and held as if imprisoned at them. The children were separated from their only home, their birth parents, their tribe, their faith and beliefs, and forbidden to even dress in their own clothing. Infractions of the rules met with severe punishment (Smith, 2009).
      The abuse of the Native children included beatings, starvation, physical abuse, sexual abuse at the hands of some, and always emotional neglect and spiritual annihilation. These abuses have only recently come into public knowledge and the churches and government response has been hard fraught in the legal system.
      The newspaper in Toronto wrote that “Canada settles abuse case that spanned generations First Nations Indians mistreated while at church run schools.” (Krause, San Francisco Chronicle, 2006)  Many of the things that went on in the schools were good and in our text it explains how the purpose initially was to help Native Americans, and later other immigrants, learn more about American culture and values, but America was still developing its belief system. America is slowly learning to respect the diversity within its borders and to me, that is how it should be.
DuBois, E.C., Dumenil, L. (2005). Through Women’s Eyes: An American History with Documents. Massachusetts/New York: Bedford/St. Martin's.

A.H. Almaas. (2009) Ridhwan Foundation, Survival Instinct-Psychological  Instinct for Survival, Retrieved on April 4, 2009, from

Smith, A. (2009) Amnesty International USA. Amnesty Magazine. Soul Wound:
The Legacy of Native American Schools.
Retrieved on April 4, 2009, from
Krauss, C.,   (April 27, 2006). San Francisco Chronicle. Canada settles abuse case that spanned generations First Nations Indians mistreated while at church-run schools. Retrieved Thursday, April 27, 2006 from

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