The fierce white colonization for centuries has not succeeded in ending the culture of the North American Indians.
For the Romans, the Germanic peoples were nothing more than barbarians. The Saxons regarded the Vikings who ravaged their shores as demons, and Christians and Muslims accused themselves of being little more than animals as they waged their holy wars.
History shows that human beings have an irrational fear for those they consider different, and different beliefs or ways of life often become obstacles to seeking a common understanding and coexistence. Although this trend has appeared (and appears) all over the world, the case of Native Americans is one of the most striking.
These misnamed Indians occupied practically all of the territories that are currently the United States and Canada in more than a hundred different tribes that lived together in peace or faced each other according to the moment and the circumstances.
These tribes structured their economy around hunting and agriculture, with a deep relationship with the natural environment in which they saw their survival and their gods. The image that is had of the different tribes varies from the peaceful and respectful people that they were in peacetime to the feared warriors who cut hair in times of war (which they also did). The recurrent use of Indians as primitive savages and enemies in the Classic western films have made that distorted image last.
The reality, as it usually happens, is more complex. The Native American peoples, as with the rest of the indigenous peoples of America, had a changing relationship with the settlers and Europeans that ranged from trade and collaboration to wars over land and resources.
The government of the United States, seeking to seize the gold and natural resources of the Indian territory, passed the Indian Appropriation Act in 1851 and tried to subdue and control their way of life for years, turning them into second-class citizens: the Civil Rights Act Indigenous was not approved until 1968 and it did not recognize all the rights and freedoms established in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Currently, most of the Native American population is concentrated in indigenous reservations, they have difficulties accessing the education and health system and live mainly from the tourism sector. Numerous associations seek to preserve the past of these peoples and protect their cultural legacy.
Preserve Indian culture
A native Kutenai holds a wicker pot for salmon fishing in Montana’s Flathead Lake. Today there are numerous organizations that seek to protect and preserve the traditions and way of life of ancient Native American peoples.
Masks to represent the gods
Edward S. Curtis was one of the first photographers to be interested in Indian culture and ritual. In this 1904 image, he portrays a Native American dressed as Haschogan, the Navajo home god.
Dressed for war
The clothing of the North American Indians is very characteristic and has influenced and inspired Western designers and artists . Their costumes were usually made of leather and decorated with patterns and symbols related to their gods and beliefs. In the image you can see a Sioux coat.
The importance of the Sun
Hopi mask that represents the creative spirit of light and life, the Sun.
Fringes, leather, and colored beads are some of the most characteristic elements of Indian women’s clothing. Their traditional and careful styling was exactly reproduced on the dolls that Cheyenne girls played with , as can be seen in the left part of the image.
Hopi mask used for ceremonial dance in honor of the kachinas or animistic spirits of the elements that direct the existence of all things.
The pipe of peace
This Navajo-medicine man is smoking the traditional pipe, which could be used as a symbol of peace, war, healing or friendship.
Ready to fight
The arrows of the North American Indians, one of their most characteristic weapons , were made with different types of feathers, wood, and metal or bone tips. His other most common weapon was the tomahawk, a hand ax that was also used as a throwing weapon.
Indians by mistake
There are two main beliefs that explain why the native peoples of the American continent are known as ‘Indians’. The most widespread and probable is that they were baptized that way because the trip on which Christopher Columbus arrived in America had India as its original destination.
The other theory affirms that Columbus, upon seeing the inhabitants of these new lands, used the Latin expression ” in deo ” to refer to them. Over time, the use of this term became general and in many places it acquired a pejorative tinge.
Indian territory before 1492
Although there are discrepancies between the number of people who lived in the current United States before the European conquest, the number usually varies between 10 million and almost 20 million people. The different Indian tribes were distributed throughout the territory, occupying from the green forests of the east coast to the plains of the Midwest and the cold north.
North American tribes
It is estimated that in the 15th century, before the arrival of the first Europeans in America, there were between 140 and 160 different native tribes among which the Cherokee, Apache, Cheyenne, Sioux and Navajo can be highlighted. These tribes had different languages and customs between them and in many cases they were enemies who disputed wealth or land in tribal wars.
Gods and mysticism
Although each tribe has different names and personalities to their gods, the beliefs and customs of the Native Americans were characterized by a close bond with nature. These peoples were hunters and farmers who used the environment as a tool and refuge in a kind of relationship of respect and symbiosis. Animals such as the eagle or the wolf had a prominent place in their beliefs and the feathers of large birds were symbols of recognition.
The Indian Wars and Little Big Horn
Until the 19th century, Native Americans and settlers had had a complicated relationship that frequently jumped from war to peace. But in 1848 the so-called ‘gold rush’ began and the US government accelerated its plan to deprive the natives of their lands. The Indian wars would extend mainly through the west of the country until 1876, when General Custer was massacred in Little Big Horn and the federal government reinforced its efforts to subdue the native peoples.
Emerged in the mid-nineteenth century as a way to expel native peoples from the lands that were of interest to the federal government, the Indian reservations were lands in which the Americans concentrated the different tribes that hindered them. For years, these reserves were used as open-air prisons , but the situation was softening as the natives gained rights and freedoms. Currently, reserves are sovereign territories not subject to federal laws but linked to the US government, which acts as financial support.
National Congress of American Indians
Founded in 1944, the National Congress of American Indians is the largest and most representative non-profit organization in North America. It brings together more than a hundred different tribes from the United States and Alaska that seek to defend and equalize the rights established in the Constitution for these communities, as well as improve the living conditions and educational and employment opportunities of Native Americans throughout the country.