Centrality of Relationship in Native American Thought Essay

Pages: 3 (1103 words)  ·  Style: MLA  ·  Bibliography Sources: 3  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Native Americans

¶ … Centrality of Relationship in Native American Thought

Human and non-human relationships in Native American Studies

According to Calvin Martin's text The American Indian and the Problem of History, Native American thought has always conceptualized human life in an integrated, biological and environmental fashion. This is a sentiment also echoed by Native author Donald Lee Fixico. For Martin and Fixico this means that rather than creating a fissure or fundamental intellectual divide between the individual and the environment, like much of Western philosophy, or the non-human and the human, Native Americans see the two as fundamentally coexisting. In Theda Purdue's text on Mixed Blood Indians, the tendency of the West to seek to define some entity as 'other' is not seen merely in terms of the human animal's relationship to the environment, but in terms of the categorization of the races that existed in the South.Download full Download Microsoft Word File
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According to Purdue, in the South, whites were seen as the more evolved 'species' of human. Blacks were deemed inferior and more animalistic, as 'others,' as were Native Americans. The mixed blood Native Americans of Purdue's thus had a strange, liminal status -- neither as low as blacks, or even so-called mulatto blacks, but not fully integrated by any means into white society. Mixed breeds were often conceptualized as 'closer' to whites than 'full-blooded' natives, particularly if they were the children of men who had 'gone native,' men who had children with native women because of kinship ceremonies they had established with the tribe. On the perceived Western continuum of humanness, thus natives or 'natural men' were seen as closer to whites than some other groups, but European acculturization and blood ties were seen to make half-breeds more civilized. In contrast, native tribes did not view race primarily in terms of blood, even though they had occasionally, haphazardly internalized some racial norms of white society.

Despite this distinction, Purdue's study offers an important function for Native American studies, namely the de-romanticizing of many of the myths unintentionally spun by Martin and others, who see Native Americans as pure, and beyond white divisions of self and other, or individual and environment, human and non-human. Purdue's overview is not simply an expose of the unwarranted prejudice experienced by many Native Americans during the era but sadly, she exposes how, contrary to Martin's rather uniform view of native-white relations, natives often adopted the views of black slaves as inferior 'others.' "Changing racial views lead Native Americans to increasingly distance themselves from African-Americans and to regard foreigners with blacks skins more suitable as slaves than blood relations" (Purdue 5). While Martin's essay suggests a kind of 'who can buy or sell the sky' attitude amongst the Native tribes, in fact Indians were accustomed to buying and selling captives during wartime, and often used black slaves as leverage when negotiating with whites for the tribe's survival (Purdue 6).

In fact, rather than finding a paradise of freedom, many free blacks were faced with the uncomfortable prospect of enslavement when they were captured by tribes unfamiliar with white laws. Southern Indians saw people as relatives or enemies, with nothing in between. However, because their racial categories were less fully solidified than those of whites, occasionally white captives would be allowed to become part of a native tribe, particularly young children… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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