American Indians Essay Research Paper The turn

American Indians Essay, Research Paper

The turn of the twentieth century marked a major change in American

history. Cities were expanding, industry was developing, and society as a

whole was changing. Through a combination of urbanization, education, and

media influences, the views and stereotypes of American society towards the

American Indian changed forever. No longer was the Indian a creature of the

land and of the environment. Instead, with the turn of the century emerged a

new society, and a new stereotypical Indian – the drunken reservation Indian.

In the time preceding 1900, America was still a country of open

space. Land was plentiful, and the majority of America still lived in the

countryside. Either on farms or plantations, or in isolated towns and villages

the average American lived in a rural community. While living in these

isolated communities certain stereotypes began to form regarding


Indian tribes. To the white settler, the Indians were a savage people,

uncultured and uncivilized. An example of this belief is evident in the

character of Madame Debans in the novel ?The Loon Feather?. Madame

Debans believed that Indians were below whites in social standing, and that

they were incapable of civilized thought and behavior. In fact, when Oneta,

an Indian child, welcomes her in French, Madame is astounded, saying -

?Mercy us! Does this little naivet? speak like the civilized people??

Because settlers were unable to communicate with the majority of local

Indians they began to believe that they were simply incapable of any

intelligible language.

The Indians were regarded as uncivilized also by the fact that they

simply did not appear to act in the ways of the white man. Out in the

countryside the educated white man used the fertile land for farming large

crops, which they would then sell for a high profit. However the Indian

appeared to neglect the land, either growing only self-sustaining crops,

or to not trying to farm at all. The practice of hunting and gathering merely

to sustain their family merely baffled the white settlers. Even the Indian

religion differed from that of the white man. The white population believed

that a society could not be civilized if it did not belong to the Christian faith.

Indian religious rituals appeared both primitive and uncultured to them.

Besides the stereotype of the Indian as being uncivilized, another large

stereotype of the Indian during the nineteenth century was the belief that the

Indians were a savage people. This view became especially prevalent during

the time of relocation. As American society grew, cities began expanding,

and more and more land was needed to support the needs of an increasing

population. As a result of this expansion many Indian tribes were being

driven from there native land. Forced from their home, and their way of life,

many Indian tribes consequently attempted to retain their land through force.

This retaliation, however, only fed further into the white man?s perception of

the Indian as a bloodthirsty savage.

Even abolitionists of the time, who considered themselves


to mistreatment of the Indians, still held stereotypical views of the Native

American people. Officials, such as Joshua R. Giddings, of the house of

representatives, supported attempts to end slavery and mistreatment of

Indians, and yet held the perception of the Indians as lower than slaves. In

the eyes of American populous, the Indians were at the bottom of the social

ladder. Even the government, in a land of supposed equality, felt that the

Native American population held a standing in society below that of other

cultures. On July 8, 1868 the United States Congress passed the Fourteenth

Amendment guaranteeing equal rights to all the citizens of the United States

of America, except for Indians.

Preceding the relocation of Indian tribes to reservations, the public

view of the American Indian was one of an uncultured, uncivilized savage.

However moving into the latter parts of the twentieth century there has

definitely been a substantial change in societies view of the stereotypical

Indian. As the Indian tribes were forced to situate on the reservations

they were no longer able to sustain their previous way of life. They were

forced to change their lifestyle to adapt to their new situation, and as a result

their stereotypical image changed with them. Instead of the wandering

savage of the nineteenth century, the modern stereotype of the American

Indian evolved as one of a lazy drunk.

On many reservations Indians did in fact turn to alcohol as a way

to cope with their problems. Presently, alcoholism is three times as prevalent

among Native Americans as among other groups, ( ?Prevention Primer?

on American Indians from the Internet). In a poll conducted by Joy Leland

of the Rudgers Center of Alcoholic Studies, eleven authors out of thirty

three on the subject of alcoholism believed that alcoholism is a prominent

problem on Native American reservations. The U.S. Office for Minority

Health reports that this high incidence of alcohol abuse may be attributed to

the fact that the Native Americans have had their traditional way of life

disrupted, and have been left with feelings of powerlessness and

hopelessness. Besides the

alarmingly high alcoholism rate, the unemployment rate is also extremely

high among Native Americans. Presently the Native American rate is ten


that of the rest of the nation.(Bahr,45).

Upon hearing statistics such as these, either by watching the

news or reading the paper, many Americans today form a certain stereotype

about the modern Indian. Because alcoholism and unemployment are high

among the Native American culture as a whole, many Americans take the

stereotypical view that every Indian is a lazy alcoholic. The general view

today is that the modern Indian has no job, nothing of importance to do, and

due to an inherence towards alcoholism simply drinks their time away.

Over the period of more than a hundred years societies view of the

American Indian has changed greatly. Before the turn of the century the

Indian was viewed as nothing more than a primal savage, uncivilized and

uncultured. However along with the changes which accompanied the turn of

the century came a change in the way society viewed the Indian. No longer

viewed as the roaming savage of the past, the new stereotypical Indian was

viewed as lazy, unproductive, and an alcoholic.


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