Maintaining the Identities of First Nations

Origins of the Stereotypes


The history of the relations between the United States and Native Americans reveals a checkered past of conquest and misguided and destructive assimilationist policies still employed today. For the first couple of centuries the relationship between Europeans and Native Americans was marked on the whole by conflict and bloodshed. From King Philip's War to Jackson’s Trail of Tears, this early period was marked by brutality and conflict. After the Civil War, President Ulysses S. Grant proposed a “Peace Policy” which did nothing, but demanded the expulsion of Native Americans from border regions where settlers wished to expand. Shortly thereafter, in the late 1800’s, efforts were made to place Native Americans on reservations to keep them contained and pacified. In 1877, the United States legislature passed the Dawes Act which aimed at assimilating Native Americans to white American practices of individual subsistence farming, as compared to the traditional communal organization of many Native American tribes, by allotting pieces of the reservation to individual members of the tribes.This crucial status of membership was determined in large part by “blood quantums,”or the practice of tracing lineage in blood proportions, with 25%, or 3 Native American grandparents and one non-Indian grandparent, being by-and-large the most commonly employed metric. This practice is a crude method, and dehumanizes the identity of Native Americans to one of cold proportions. Around the turn of the century, scientific racism gained great hold in the non-Indian American intellectual community, and various “Friends of Indians” groups popped up; the ancestor to the modern misguided legislative efforts to “help” Native Americans. One such group, headed by a Lieutenant Pratt, special schools for Native Americans were constructed to removed Native American children from their homes and “educate” them in white ways. Years after the establishment of boarding schools, the formation of the Indian Reorganization Act in 1934 was the first real push for reforming the relationship between the United States government and Native Americans. This legislation gave Native American tribes the sovereignty to create their own constitutions modeled on the United States Constitution, guaranteed Native Americans the right to practice their own religious traditions and ended the process of allotment, and employed Native Americans in the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). Later, after the progressive attitude of the FDR administration had petered out in the paranoia of communism in the 1950’s, the US government sought to cut off responsibilities for Native Americans by enacting the process of Termination, one that closely resembled the allotment of the Dawes’ Act. This process reversed much of the progress that had been made in preserving Native American communal cohesion and the preservation of Native American culture. Following this failure and many high publicity protests against it, including the occupation of Alcatraz and the Pine Ridge Reservation, Native Americans were given more sway over their own destinies. However, this did not guarantee Native Americans protection from pressure from mainstream American pressures, specifically in the form of tropes and stereotypes.