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
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.