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Lessons learned from Native Americans

By Joseph L. Bass

We recently traveled to Arizona, where we have family. Of course, we went to some of the usual Arizona tourist locations also.

When traveling, we visit Indian reservations to help us understand different cultures and how the people are able to relate to the American mainstream.

I grew up in Oklahoma, studied Native American anthropology as part of my undergraduate major at O.U., and was the director of a church-based recreation program for students attending Sherman Institute in Riverside, Calif. Sherman is a federal boarding school for Indian children from western states.

From the point of view of Native Americans, everyone else living here is an immigrant. Their ancestors lived here for more than 15,000 years before the Vikings and later Columbus stumbled upon this land. The arrival of Europeans and later people from all over the rest of the world has not been good for them.

Studying the histories and challenges of those cultures can be helpful in understanding today’s issues and developing ways to improve society.

Although tribal cultures are different one from another, all tribal cultures share common characteristics that are different from the American mainstream culture.

A major difference is that native people are taught cultural beliefs and preestablished behaviors that must not be changed from outside influences. This creates a somewhat rigid society that strives to stay the same.

These rigid societies were effective for the native people as long as they could exist isolated from cultural traits common among our European ancestors.

When Europeans came to America, they rejected their individual cultural heritages (German, English, Scottish, French, Russian, Italian and so on). Through change they created a unique American set of cultural characteristics that look to the future, instead of clinging to the past.

The American characteristic of looking for ways to make things better developed a powerful economy that overran the traditional native people, resulting in the death of many and leaving a few clinging to their ancestral ways of life.

On the East Coast, the few remaining native people have more easily integrated themselves into the American mainstream. Actually, they had little choice, since most of their land was taken from them.

The situation among native people west of the Mississippi is different. Those that have taken the personal initiative to enter into mainstream ways of living and not harbor anger and resentment against what happened to their ancestors have done well.

Those that continue to cling to the old ways and are angry about how their ancestors were mistreated and killed off live in poverty and are fed through federal government food handouts.

Lessons can be learned from studying Native American experiences that can be applied to other groups in our society today. Those that cling to non-productive beliefs and behaviors and are angry about how their ancestors were mistreated live in poverty and are dependent on government handouts.

Those that wish to improve their lives should follow the example of Native Americans that have adopted mainstream cultural characteristics and done well.

Joseph L. Bass is the executive director of ABetterSociety.Info Inc., a nonprofit organization in Hobson. Email him at ABetterSociety1@aol.com.