American Indian Culture and American Society

Published on September 21, 2010 by Alice

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Courtesy of The Lone Ranger
Courtesy of The Lone Ranger

Attitudes in the Past

The attitudes of American society at large have changed drastically toward American Indians during my lifetime, but I have a feeling that most of us who are not American Indians still haven’t gotten it right.

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When I was a boy, Indians were the one-dimensional bad guys in cowboy vs. Indian movies. The plot was as predictable as it was lame: Indians would commit some atrocity on the nice white folks helpfully trying to bring civilization to an untamed land; romantically-portrayed cowboys would go settle the score, making the world safe for cattle-ranching and winning the undying love and admiration of the local schoolmarm in the process. The few deviations from this story line (such as the Lone Ranger’s Indian sidekick) were notable for straying from the script.

Still, we all wanted to be Indians. They were cool, knew how to survive in the woods, knew how to tread silently through a forest, dressed in loincloths, lived in tepees and carried tomahawks. And they played tom-toms.

In the 1960′s and 1970′s attitudes changed. Indians were the ones who’d gotten short-changed by the Establishment, lied to, used, etc. Who couldn’t identify with that? Of course, all these good feelings never really translated, as far as I know, into much in the way of actual benefits to American Indians, but whoever wrote that book about burying his heart at Wounded Knee sure made a bundle. Actually, whoever made those two silly movies about Billy Jack must have made a bundle, too.

Then, suddenly, American Indian culture became very “New Age.” They, it turned out, had been right all along, honoring the earth and the buffalo when we’d been ignoramuses about the whole thing. Well, actually, they had been right all along in this regard.

Attitudes Today

There are things we can all do today to explore and honor American Indian culture. The internet actually helps in this regard, opening up whole worlds of resources that were once previously inaccessible. I think it’s great to read books about American Indian culture, go to museums, buy products that teach us about American Indian values.

But I think the most important thing we can do as individuals in our society is to ensure that American Indians themselves are welcomed within our society – not subsumed, not incorporated, not amalgamated, but welcomed. Poverty, hunger, joblessness and higher-than-average suicide rates are still problems that American Indians cope with regularly. So are those offensive mascots for teams with names like “Redskins.” If you’re truly interested in American Indian culture and values, don’t let your interest stop with a few books and posters – make it your business to understand American Indian issues and rights, and make your voice heard on these issues.

Written by: D. J. McAdam Unabridged
Based on the collective work of, © 2015 Native American Encyclopedia.
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