North American Studies

Sep 14, 2017 in Research

The indigenous population of the United States is a unique combination of people that differ in their historical and cultural traditions, ways of life, job involvement, religious identity, degrees of acculturation, and other socioeconomic indicators. Despite their distinctions in subsistence strategies, material cultures, and spiritual beliefs, all Native Americans are striving to preserve their national identity. They live and act as representatives of the universal brotherhood of nations and aim to build relations with other nations based on mutual interests, collaboration, and equal rights.

The Material Culture of the Natchez, Tlingit, and Navajo

The social-cultural heterogeneity of the US indigenous populations is an inevitable consequence of their fragmentation, uneven progress in their development, and historical circumstances. Therefore, Native Americans differ in their material cultures. The material culture is a phenomenon encompassing the development of technology and production, level of welfare, multiple economic factors, consumption of goods and services, and so forth. The material principles impart the spiritual concepts but the material culture is also influenced by spirituality. Despite their interrelations, the development of material culture generally surpasses transformations of spiritual culture.

The Tlingit people, Natchez, and Navajo possessed different types of housing, transportation, clothing, household items, tools, and weaponry. Distinctions in the material culture specific to the Tlingit people, Natchez, and Navajo were stipulated by differences in their locations, available natural resources, environmental conditions, interactions with neighboring tribes and nations, and historical events (Wendell, 2009).

The main goal of Indians' houses was to protect dwellers from destructive impacts of weather conditions. Constructive characteristics and materials of shelters had to correspond to the way of life of dwellers, subsistence strategies, location, and climate. The Tlingit people originally inhabited the Northwest areas, specifically South-East Alaska. Settlements of the Tlingit people consisted of several homes, which were usually built on the river banks or along the coastline; their facades faced the water. The Tlingit's homes were mainly made of wood. Although the Tlingit people were limited in constructional materials, their homes were designed to prevent the penetration of the wintriness. Thoroughly insulated homes varied in their number, depending on the population. In addition, the Tlingit built temporary shelters while fishing and hunting in summer.

Traditional dwellings of the Navajo, stick-framed hogans, were made of logs and bark and covered with clay. Hogans were cone- or dome-shaped, traditionally facing the East. Despite their simple construction, these dwellings are still in use. Furthermore, gradually developing their constructional skills, the Navajo Indians built structures similar to pueblo. The Natchez Indians are representatives of the ancient Mississippian culture. Their settlements significantly differed from those of other Indian groups, resembling thoroughly planned and fortified small towns. Those settlements were typically surrounded with a high fence. The Natchez dwelt in big rectangular houses made of wood with thatched roofs. Walls of high convenient houses were covered with mats made of grass and buffalo hides. The design and constructional characteristics of their housing were far more advanced than those of the Tlingit and Navajo. The complete evaluation of the Natchez architectural achievements should consider mounds to be archaeological evidence of their highly developed material culture in general and constructional skills in particular.

Types of Indians' outfit were predetermined by climate and available materials. The Tlingit people, Natchez, and Navajo wore different types of clothing, though all of them used animal skin, cultivated cotton, quills, and beads. In addition, despite differences in patterns, their clothing was extremely decorated and ornamented. Clothing of the Tlingit people was subdivided into male and female types. Furthermore, it was seasonally oriented to correspond to weather conditions. Furs, skins, and intestines of clothing reflected hierarchal positions of Indians in their group. In the summer men wore fur capes, deerskin or sealskin shirts while women were generally dressed in tunics made of leather. Both males and females went barefoot. Moccasins connected with fur pants were worn in winter. The distinctive characteristic of clothing worn by the Navajo Indians is using the sheep wool and cultivated cotton in tailoring. They adopted methods of weaving from the Pueblo people. Today, the Navajo fabrics are known nationwide for their high quality. The Natchez Indians paid special attention to their appearance. Therefore, their clothing was perfectly tailored to emphasize the harmonious development of their bodies.

The Natchez, Tlingit, and Navajo Indians had different types of weaponry due to distinctions of their available natural resources, hunting, the development of crafts, and interactions with other Indian groups and neighboring nations. The Tlingit people were rather combative; during their military operations they wore suits of armour made of wooden plates and elk leather and wooden helmets. They used a wide range of weaponry such as copper and iron daggers, bows, arrows, and maces. The Tlingit warriors were the most heavily armed among Native Americans. Although the Natchez coexisted with other Indians mainly peacefully, they had such types of weaponry as bows, arrows, and spears. The Navajo Indians were involved in military activities, as well as the Tlingit people. They gradually spread their influence and proved their powers among other groups. Alternating raids were a constituent of their traditional culture. Therefore, their arsenal included shields, knives, spears, bows, and arrows.

Utilization of diverse means of transportation reflected trends in the development of these groups and their adaptation to environmental conditions. While the Tlingit people had flotillas of canoes and sleds to hunt, move, and attack enemies, the Natchez used packhorses to transport goods and people and hunt for small game. The Navajo Indians borrowed horses from the Spaniards, increasing their military potential and the efficiency of raids.

The Subsistence Strategies of the Natchez, Tlingit, and Navajo

The subsistence strategies of the Natchez, Tlingit, and Navajo differed due to distinctions in their historical background, external impacts of neighbors, geographical location, and availability of natural resources, including specific flora and fauna.

The main subsistence strategies of the Tlingit Indians were hunting for marine and terrestrial animals and fishing, especially for salmon, halibut, and herring (Wendell, 2009). A variety of tools were used by the Tlingit people while hunting and fishing: spears, harpoons, wicker fish traps, nets, wood and bone fish hooks, knives, and bludgeons. Possessing well-designed hunting equipment and insulated clothing, they were able to endure severe weather conditions while hunting in winter. Seafood, including salmon, halibut, herring, crabs, clams, seaweed, and so forth, comprised the basis of their diet though they also ate venison, chevon, and seal meat. Breeding North American goats provided them with opportunities to weave blankets and manufacture diverse scrimshaw. They had well developed skills of woodcarving, weaving baskets and mats, manufacturing simple furniture, dishes, and utensils. The Tlingit Indians acquired skills of processing iron before they met the Europeans. They actively participated in intertribal trade, as well as economic relations with neighboring countries (Russia). Their basic economies resulted from the processes of adaption to harsh living conditions and interactions with others.

The history and development of the Navajo Indians includes multiple factors contributing to the transformations of their subsistence strategies (Wendell, 2009). Social and economic changes affect individuals differently and lead to both prosperity and immiserization. The Navajo civilization is relatively young in comparison with the Natchez people. The Navajo oral history, apparently, reflects their long-term relationship with the Pueblo people, as well as the Navajo inherent willingness to adopt beneficial ideas and strategies from other cultures. Commercial relations between the Pueblo and Navajo involved exchanges of such goods as maize, meat, buffalo hide, knitted woolen items of clothing, and so forth.

The latest Navajo economies and subsistence strategies were based on the two segments: agriculture and cattle breeding. They purposefully selected places of their settlements to protect people from cold winter winds and provide them with available sources of food and water. Although they were initially engaged in hunting and foraging, afterwards, the Navajo successfully adopted technologies and strategies from the culture specific to the Pueblo Indians. Demonstrating flexibility and perceptivity, they acquired Spanish methods of cattle breeding, as well as horse riding. The rates of regular raids and trade operations typical of the Navajo people significantly increased due to the acquisition of horses. The Navajo cultivated corn, beans, and pumpkins and bred sheep, goats, and horses. Furthermore, they produced everything needed for their living such as hunting and fishing implements, weaponry, carpets, fabrics, crockery, and clothing.

The hierarchical structure of the Natchez community predetermined the allocation of their responsibilities and development of economies. Traditional subsistence strategies of the Natchez were typical of those Indians, who lived on the territory of the Mississippi River. However, the Natchez Indians were engaged in highly developed slash-and-burn agriculture (Wendell, 2009). Their agricultural implements were much more complicated and better designed than primitive tools of the Tlingit and Navajo Indians. Furthermore, good weather conditions promoted the high crop yield, contributing to their welfare. They were skillful in manufacturing diverse tools and house ware. In addition, the Natchez males hunted with bow and arrows in autumn and winter while they used baskets for fishing during the spawning seasons. The acquisition of horses significantly facilitated their hunting, as well as provided them with agile movements and transportations. The Natchez Indians successfully learned to breed and ride horses. From time to time, there were confrontations between the Natchez and other Indians, but they were settled and peace relations were maintained. The tendency towards interference of their cultures was observed, each group borrowed experience, customs and traditions of others.

The Natchez females produced polished ceramics with diverse ornaments, made feather capes, sewed clothing, embroidered, and wove fabrics. Despite their rudimentary technological advances, they attained perfection in manufacturing effigy pipes, which are perceived as real masterpieces today. The Natchez were also engaged in gathering berries and fruit. Thus, economies and subsistence strategies specific to the Natchez were far more ramified and better developed than those of the Tlingit and Navajo.

Contemporary ethnographic studies undeniably proved that the highly developed culture of Native Americans and all their remarkable successes both in the material and in spiritual realm arose from the original development. Today, changes in the Natchez, Tlingit, and Navajo cultures from their ancestors' traditions to the new realities of the technological world are observed. Although these transformations are inevitable, they are not conditioned by freedom of choice, rather by the necessity to survive, both economically and culturally.

The Evolution of the Native American Stereotype in Pop Culture

Since the time, when Native Americans were portrayed by James Fenimore Cooper, they have become the embodiment of exceptional moral qualities and physical abilities. Romantic feelings associated with Indians penetrated the US and European cultures. Therefore, images of strong, courageous, endurant, and persistent Native Americans were widely exploited in pop culture. Being depicted in numerous westerns, Indians were generally perceived as seminude muscular horsemen, who darted hatchets or smoked a pipe, though today representatives of Native Americans populations speak different languages, have different levels of education, beliefs, cultures, and values, and gain different incomes. Indian women rarely appeared in movies. Moreover, they were quite passive and expressionless secondary characters.

However, stereotypes related to the Native Americans are gradually changing. Today, their names are used to nomenclate sports teams such as Kansas City Chiefs, Washington Redskins, Cleveland Indians, Chicago Blackhawks, Spokane Indians, and so forth. While the most obvious examples are specific to professional teams, the same trend occurs in schools and colleges, where Indian mascots and notions are used. Although these ethnic stereotypes are perceived by most Americans as innocuous or even reflecting the admiration of Native Americans and their culture, it is obligatory to consider Indians' attitudes to such trends. However, most of those, who benefit from applications of Indian-associated images, deny that their actions discriminate Native Americans.

In conclusion, Native Americans perceive themselves as representatives of the universal brotherhood of nations and promote relations with other nations based on mutual interests and desire to understand each other. In order to fulfil the constitutional, treaty, political, and legal obligations of the federal government to Native peoples, public policymakers, as well as all Americans, should respect Indians' ethnic identity and recognize their cultural distinction as an integral component of the democratic society (Waldman, 2009, p. 257).

Related essays