American Indians in US-American society - then and now -

Seminar Paper, 2003

29 Pages, Grade: 1,5 (A)



1. Introduction

2. History - from the beginning to the 20th century
2.1. Indians in General
2.2. The Navajos in particular

3. Indians in the 20th century

4. The Navajos as an example of today’s Indians

5. Conclusion

6. Appendix

7. Bibliography
7.1. Books
7.2. Websites
7.3. Pictures

All statistical numbers I have used are taken from the web-site of the US-American Census. Unless otherwise stated they are from the year 1990.


Considering the US-American society there are two entirely different definitions on how people live together in the States.

In the beginning of the settlement people had the vision of forming a new "ethnical group". They saw the American continent as a place where they could live together, not next to each other, a place where it did not matter where they came from and what they were in their "old" life. They thought it to be a place of a new beginning and a very important part of the American dream is expressed in the theory of the melting pot. It says that America is "a place where people from different races, countries, or social classes come to live together to form a new race." (...) Culture and traditions as well as the specification of a people were supposed to melt together to form something new and something better.

Nowadays scientist more often use the term salad bowl for the American society. Peter Lösche talks in detail about that second theory in his book "Amerika in Perspektive":

Die Vereinigten Staaten bestehen aus Tausenden und Abertausenden Nachbarschaftsinseln, die klar voneinander abgegrenzt und verschieden sind. [...] Auf diesen Nachbarschaftsinseln wohnen Menschen, die die gleiche ethnische oder rassische Herkunft haben; die ungefähr das gleiche wöchentliche oder monatliche Einkommen verdienen; die über etwa das gleiche Sozialprestige verfügen. [...] Dies sind Inseln der Gleichheit und Glückseligkeit, auf denen der amerikanische Traum geträumt werden kann und tatsächlich geträumt wird, deren Bewohner zum Verwechseln ähnliche Werte, Einstellungen und Überzeugungen haben. Wer mehr Geld verdient, sozial aufsteigt und dadurch seine politischen Ansichten verändert, der zieht in eine andere Wohngegend. [...] Innerhalb der Inseln besteht großer Konformitätsdruck, zwischen den Nachbarschaften hingegen ist die größte, farbigste Vielfalt zu beobachten. [...] (Lösche, Amerika in Perspektive, S. 46ff)

There is of course a mixing of the different ethnical groups, for example through intermarriages, but only to a certain degree. In most cases it is very simple to tell a Hispanic from a White, a Black from an Asian and an Indian from all the others. In big cities like New York the segmentation can clearly be seen by everybody: there is for instance a Chinatown, a Little Italy, Ghettos full of Black people and outside the cities are reservations full of Indians.

The Native population of the USA does, by the way, probably form the best example for the segmentation of the US society. That is why this essay is devoted to the Indians and their try to manage to live in a world that once fully belonged to them and which they now have to share with millions and millions of "foreigners", people that do not really belong there.

Before I started to write my essay I asked ten people in my surroundings the following question: “What comes to your mind when you hear USA?” Most of them first thought of the present role the US plays in foreign policy, some mentioned the outstanding nature and landscape and only to one person the Indians occurred first. It is probably very normal that in today's situation people in Germany do not spend too many thoughts about the American Natives, but to my opinion this chapter in the history of American domestic affairs is just as inglorious as the one they took up considering their foreign policy at the moment.

Anyway, after I had inquired my test persons specifically about the Indians most of them knew quite a lot about the history of the Natives, none of them though knew how and where they live today, what they do to earn money and what they think of the American society with its politics, religion and its very different members.

After a summary of the Indian history in general and the Navajo history in particular

I want to explain with the example of the tribe of the Navajos how the Native Americans live today, what they do to keep their religion and traditions alive and how they try to maintain in both worlds that now exist on the American continent.



“Ich bin das Land. Meine Augen sind der Himmel. Meine Glieder sind die Bäume. Ich bin der Fels, die Wassertiefe. Ich bin nicht hier, um die Natur zu beherrschen oder sie zu nutzen. Ich bin selbst Natur. “ (Hopi Indian; taken from: indisite/weishe.htm)

Nobody can say with certainty when exactly the first human foot entered the ground that nowadays belongs to the United States of America. Scientists claim that it might be more than 40,000 years ago, but it is more probable that the first people came around 14,000 years ago at a time when the last Ice Age still dominated life on earth. The humans had already reached the stadium of the “homo sapiens sapiens” (the same species we belong to) and probably came from Siberia to Alaska via the Bering Strait which at that time was continental ground and connected both areas. The people living then were hunters and collectors and most likely followed big animals like the mammoth and the mastodon. Assumingly, for them this “new” continent was nothing more than another hunting-area.

However, they began to spread slowly over the whole continent and developed hundreds of new cultures and languages. Over the centuries and millenniums their lives changed slowly. In the beginning they were all nomads hunting for big animals, catching fish and collecting wild herbs. They used tools and arms made of stone and religion played a huge role in their lives.

At the end of the last Ice Age many of the big animals died out and so they had to put up with smaller animals, nuts, berries, grass, seeds, vegetables and fruits they found on their ways. With the growing population it became more difficult to find enough food for everybody so they soon started to cultivate plants like corn, tobacco and potatoes, nuts, cocaine and cocoa in several areas. This process is now known as the Agricultural Revolution and in Mesoamerica for example it started already 6000 BC. During that time some tribes established little settlements or even whole cities while others still lived a nomadic or half-nomadic life. As well as their way of life also the climatic conditions differed a lot. That is why they developed different types of houses, depending on how and where they lived. Some of them lived in shelters made of ice and snow, others preferred wood or soil for their houses and still others lived in tents out of leather which they called tipi.

With the turns of the centuries highly developed cultures came into being as for example the Mayas in the area of today’s Mexico, the Aztecs (also in the Mesoamerican area) or the Mississippi-Culture (also known as Mound-Builders). Some tribes like the Iroquois (around the Great Lakes and the Ohio River) even developed democracy before any White person set foot on the continent.

It is supposed that there were about 40,000,000 to 50,000,000 Indians in the 15th century. So the whole continent was occupied by Native Americans when Christopher Columbus arrived at the shores of America. The Aboriginals considered nature and ground as something holy and approximately 600 different languages were spoken. They had trade routes through the whole continent. Most of them lived along rivers,

at the coast and around lakes. Between them were prophets, doctors (medicine men), architects, poets, mathematicians and so on. They were spiritual connected with the world and lived in harmony with and in respect of nature and thought that the land they lived on was to be shared with everybody and could not be owned.

When the ships of Christopher Columbus reached the American coast the Indians treated the newcomers friendly and obliging. That was no surprise as they thought them to be Gods looking so different to themselves and coming so far from over the ocean. They therefore did nearly everything the White wanted and Columbus himself said:

“er könne nicht glauben, daß es jemanden gebe, der schon derart gutherzige Menschen gesehen habe, freigebig und so ängstlich, daß sie alles taten, um den Christen zu geben, was sie hatten, und wenn die Christen dann ankamen, liefen sie, um alles herbeizutragen.” (log-book of Columbus. Die Indianer. Ein Lesebuch. page 49)

Even though the Natives were so very welcoming the Whites only took advantage of them. They came primarily for wealth and prey. They did not mind a lot about the Indians and only 60 years after the first landing in Hispaniola (the island were Columbus first set foot on the American continent) none of the islanders had survived. The Whites had brought a lot of diseases with them to which the Natives had no resistance. Also many of the residents of so-called Hispaniola were slaughtered in fights or just for fun or became victims of alcohol which the White brought to the then Red Continent.

During the 16th century several Native Cultures perished because of the cruel Whites. So also the Aztecs vanished because of smallpox and long battles.

From the 17th century more and more European settlers came to America and after a while they started to drive the Indians, which they considered as being wild, primitive and uncivilized further West. Lots of wars took place and many people of both parties lost their lives. In the end the White outnumbered the Indians and forced them to live in reservations. In 1830 the Indian Removal Act (IRA) was passed and all Indians living East of the Mississippi were resettled into an area which today belongs to the state of Oklahoma. This resettlement, where the Natives had to cover a distance of approximately 2000 km, is also known as the "trail of tears" because only about half of the Indians arrived at the reservation. The others died on the way or were killed in fights.


16 years after the passing of the IRA, in 1846, the tribe of the Navajos got in contact with US-American soldiers for the first time. Therefore they were one of the last tribes who fell under the US-American sway. They are quite an unsual tribe anyway, as they only came to Dinetha (that is how they call the area they live in) between the 13th and 16th century after Christ. Before that time they lived much further in the North, in today’s Canada. That is why their language is related to the language of Natives still living there.


Excerpt out of 29 pages


American Indians in US-American society - then and now -
Technical University of Chemnitz
Understanding the USA
1,5 (A)
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
File size
1063 KB
American, Indians, US-American, Understanding
Quote paper
Saskia Paasch (Author), 2003, American Indians in US-American society - then and now -, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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