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ISSUE 118 VOL 8 PUBLISHED 11/12/2004

Native American Weeks promote respect

By Lorna Wilson
Contributing Writer


Friday, November 12, 2004

As some of you know (or most of you dont know), Native American Weeks have just concluded.

Native American Weeks were established, to recognize Native American traditions and viewpoints. Native American weeks are a diverse and meaningful contribution to St. Olaf College as a global society.

The interaction between Native Americans, New World land and colonizers have changed based on cultural understandings over time.

Native Americans interaction with the land have, at least in the past, determined their spirituality, understanding of the world and the way in which they should interact with the world. These elements are still affecting their identity today.

Early relations between Europeans and Native Americans was through reciprocity based trade. Native Americans traded beaver pelts for textiles as well as various metals and firearms. The cultural consequences were great.

As they incorporated European goods, they became dependent on European trading, and as the beaver population decreased, they lost bargaining power and trade leverage. European diseases decreased and weakened the Native American population considerably even before the English started to colonize the New World.

When English colonies became established, the misunderstanding of land ownership created tension between the natives and the colonists. Land became the only resource Europeans were willing to accept in payment for European goods or to pay off debts accumulated through the English credit system.

Native peoples may not have initially understood the European interpretation and consequently much mistrust, anger and resentment grew between the two. Native Americans throughout New England experienced removal and restriction from their land and mandated compliance to English laws and culture.

Native Americans were subjected to countless treaties (which were made and broken), wars, massacres and ultimately they were forced onto reservations of low value.

They were cheated out of most treaties they signed, receiving, if anything at all, only a small portion of what they were promised for their land.

Europeans created many stereotypes about Native Americans because of their misunderstandings. Stereotypes include the savage, the spirit guide and Indians as protesters.

Early environmentalists found inspiration in Native American actions and attitudes. Native peoples became symbols for the counterculture and conservation movements.

But, the Native Americans were never the ecologist; they were striving for maximum sustainable yield, not maximum production. They possessed an elaborate land ethic based on use, reciprocity and balance.

Native Americans knew who they were and had self-respect and dignity. But, Native Americans experienced a loss of an identity, because a new false identity was ascribed to them.

There are consequences of misrepresenting the Native American people, including desensitizing an entire generation of children, preventing Native American children from developing self-esteem, and suicide among young Native people.

In the Native American/Alaskan Native community, suicides were second only to motor vehicle accidents in injury-related deaths from 1989 to 1998.

In the Tucson, Aberdeen and Alaska areas, suicide rates were five to seven times higher than overall U.S. rates, higher than the 95th percentile of all state rates, according to a Centers for Disease Control report on Injury Mortality among Indian and Alaska Native Children and Youth, published on Aug. 1, 2003.

Native American Weeks are in place to restore honor to Native American people and their cultures. Native cultures were based on respect for the environment and for each other.

We are bound to the earth because it is our environment and to each other because we are a social species. We need to examine the past and recognize the consequences of our actions so that we can understand our present.

We need to work towards a environmentally and socially sustainable future based on mutual respect and responsibility for our actions.


Contributing writer Lorna Wilson is a senior from Wasilla, Alaska. She majors in biology with a concentration in environmental studies


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