The struggle of Native Americans for their rights
Already by the time the first Europeans arrived in the "New World", related and unrelated Native American families had joined in groups in order to survive in often harsh environmental conditions. (Fixico 1998: 58). One of the best known examples of this form of cooperation is the Iroquois League. At the end of World War II, when "people were too preoccupied with the war" (Olsen 1984: 157), the first national organization of Native Americans, the National Congress of American Indians, was founded to "prevent any shift back towards assimilation" (Olsen 1984: 157). This was the first of many organizations devoted to the struggle for Native American rights, such as the Native American Youth Council, the American Indian Civil Rights Council, and, most importantly, the American Indian Movement. These groups have slowly adapted the measures and practices of mainstream America (Fixico 1998: 190), i.e.
they use courts as a platform, they employ attorneys, and so on. Moreover, they have the media attract public attention for them. Therefore, the struggle for Native American rights is an old struggle in new shape, which provides a strong connection with the past. In the following essay, I will summarize some of the most important rights American Indians struggle for today.
First of all, the struggle for self-determination ought to be mentioned. In fact, self-determination is among the main goals of the American Indian Movement. So is the securing of civil rights, on a larger scale human rights. Native Americans want to take part in the determination of policies affecting their lives, and they want to free themselves of Anglo-American paternalism and ethnocentrism. The Trail of Broken Treaties was one of the most explicit manifestations of this attempt. Human rights also include the freedom of religion or belief, an extremely important part of Native
American culture. Religion is one of the tenants of the American Indian way of life with its principles of proximity to nature and an ever-continuing circle of life. Their religious ceremonies have never, or only slightly, changed as time went on, which is why exactly these ceremonies, an integral part of Native American life, constitute a close connection to the past and the ancestors. This spiritual nearness provides an explanation for recent discussion about repatriation of human remains and cultural objects to tribes, which was ended with the 1990 Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA). Museums and research institutions are now required to repatriate, upon demand, the remains and objects they obtained by plundering gravesites and other illegal excavations. Also inherent in their religion is the belief of holy places and the spirituality of the earth, their mother. So it is easily comprehensible that Native Americans, today more than ever, struggle to get back the land which has been taken away from them since the first Europeans set foot on their land. Land, for Native Americans, "support[s] a universe of things they [know]" (Olsen 1984: 159). As a well documented action related to the struggle for title to the land they formerly owned, the occupation of Alcatraz Island shall be mentioned. Due to the importance of the land the environment and its protection means a lot to Native American peoples. Unlike Anglo-Americans, American Indians see the environment as "something greater than the mere capability of humans" and think it "should be used wisely" (Fixico 1998: 205). They have understood that resources are not infinitely available and that it is high time the waste of energy and natural resources was stopped. Already in their creation myths, Native Americans are dependent on and related with nature. It influenced the development of agriculture or hunting and gathering, as well as social patterns of cooperation. This interrelation can also be seen by contrasting the American Indian style of using the cardinal directions as reference points in traveling to the European way of describing everything with oneself as the point of reference (Fixico 1998: 207). Only this special view of nature has made it possible for Native American peoples to survive until today. However, it is not only a matter of reasonable exploitation of the American environment that American Indians stress. This issue is of global importance and includes the preservation of water, forests, animals, and so on. For instance, Native American peoples only kill as many animals as they need for survival. When they kill they don´t do it for entertainment and they do it quickly, without inflicting more pain on the animal than necessary. But even hunting rights, as well as fishing rights and access to water, are kept from them today.
One of the reasons for what Native American peoples have had to endure so far is American capitalism. Always have Anglo-Americans striven for the possession of land and power. This has its origins in early Europe, where the availability of land was limited and possessing land meant power. The Europeans who went to the “New World” took with them this mentality, and have passed it on from generation to generation. Even today, the Anglo-American capitalistic system has not quit depriving American Indians of what is legally theirs. To quote one example, I would like to shortly talk about ethnic fraud at institutions of higher education in the United States. There are many non-Indian students self-identifying as Native American in order to benefit from what was granted the American Indians as a kind of compensation for earlier losses. Mostly, these students come from families which are rather well-off. They either want to more easily gain admission to a university as Native Americans, or they want, out of greed, to be eligible to certain grants. Not only does this restrict Native American students directly, but it also leads to misinterpretations on the part of those who are responsible for such programs and of society. On the one hand, having enough allegedly Native Americans at hand, they put not as much effort in recruitment as they really should. Furthermore, special programs for American Indians may not prove to be as successful as expected - because Anglo-Americans have sneaked in - and may, as a consequence, be closed down in times of a tight budget.
In conclusion, I would like to emphasize that measures taken recently have been successful to a certain, however limited, degree. For instance, human remains were repatriated to Larsen Bay in Alaska in 1992, and so were some Zuni war gods, as well as some of the sacred weavings of Bolivia. This process is nevertheless far from being over. There is still a great number of cultural objects and many human remains to be repatriated, and for Native American peoples the repatriation of their ancestors is not the ultimate end. It will be a long way for the souls to find the place where they can rest in peace. In terms of environment and nature, restoration of land or compensation have been promised, but these promises often do, in fact, still wait for fulfillment. Moreover, in the cases where agreements have been adhered to, the government found ways to still profit from them, for example by imposing taxes on restored lands. Finally, there is still a slight hope for the environment to recover coming from the introduction of alternative energy, such as solar energy and wind power, for example in California.
Eberhard — Karls — Universitat Tubingen
"American Indian Philosophy and Global Concerns", Donald Lee Fixico, Invasion of Indian Country in the Twentieth Century. American Capitalism and Tribal Natural Resources. Colorado University Press, 1998. p. 205-218.
"Environmental Issues and Tribal Leadership", Donald Lee Fixico, Invasion of Indian Country in the Twentieth Century. American Capitalism and Tribal Natural Resources. Colorado University Press, 1998. p. 189-205.
"Introduction to Indian and White Values", in: Donald Lee Fixico, Invasion of Indian Country in the Twentieth Century. American Capitalism and Tribal Natural Resources. Colorado University Press, 1998.
"Struggle for Pueblo Water Rights in the Southwest", Donald Lee Fixico, Invasion of Indian Country in the Twentieth Century. American Capitalism and Tribal Natural Resources. Colorado University Press, 1998. p. 55-77.
"The Rise of Native American Militancy", in: James Olsen and Raymond Wilson, Native Americans in the Twentieth Century. University of Illinois Pres, 1984. p. 157-177.
Bomberry, Victoria: "Battling For Souls: Organizing the Return of the Sacred Textiles to the Community of Coroma, Bolivia", in: Susan Lobo and Steve Talbot, Native American Voices. A Reader. Prentice-Hall 2001. p. 319-329.
Boyer, Lanada: "Reflections of Alcatraz", in: Susan Lobo and Steve Talbot, Native American Voices. A Reader. Prentice-Hall 2001. p. 507-518.
Grinde, Donald A. and Bruce E. Johansen: "Perceptions of America's Native Democracies. The Societies Colonial Americans Observed", in: Susan Lobo and Steve Talbot, Native American Voices. A Reader. Prentice-Hall 2001. p. 84-94.
Inouye, Daniel: "Discrimination and Native American Religious Rights", in: Peoples and Nations: Following in the Footsteps of the Ancestors. p. 279-284.
NARF Legal Review: "All We Ever Wanted Was to Catch Fish", in: Susan Lobo and Steve Talbot, Native American Voices. A Reader. Prentice-Hall 2001. p.388-392.
Pavel, D.Michael, et al.: "Ethnic Fraud, Native Peoples, and Higher Education", in: Peoples and Nations: Following in the Footsteps of the Ancestors. p. 46-51.
Thornton, Russell: "Who Owns Our Past ?: The Repatriation of Native American Human Remains and Cultural Objects", in: Susan Lobo and Steve Talbot, Native American Voices. A Reader. Prentice-Hall 2001. p. 303-318.
(I know this is kind of incomplete — I had quite some trouble finding out where the essays you gave us are from. Sorry ! )
- Quote paper
- B.A. Stephanie Wössner (Author), 2001, The struggle of Native Americans for their rights, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/138134