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American Indian Identity


The phrase “American Indian” is often used interchangeably with Native American. However, some individuals who are of Native American decent frown on this, primarily because they do not believe it is definitive of who they are; it is a name that was given to them. On the other hand, some embrace the title as they understand it is the legal reference of Native Americans in United States law. In terms of their identity, however, many would argue that regardless of their name, they are often overlooked and quite possibly, with time, may not possess a true identity at all. This is a topic suggestion on American Indian Identity from Paper Masters. Use this topic or order a custom research paper, written exactly how you need it to be.

The Loss of Identity and the American Indian

American Indian Identity


This loss of identity, as some Native Americans believe, comes as a result of assimilation. They believe they have been forced to conform to the standards set forth by modern day society, losing themselves in the process. Over the years, many traditions, languages, and sacred places have been lost, all of which are important as they consider each of them to define what it means to be Indian; they provide Native Americans with a sense of togetherness. They are essential for overall survival. The deculturalization that took place for American Indians is part of their tragic history. Because of this, many American Indians recognize the importance of establishing boundaries by taking a stance in order to retain some authenticity; their future identity is dependent on them. In other words, Native Americans understand their actions now may very well prevent loss of their identity later.

American Indian Identity

Through the Centuries


Following the resignation by most Indian tribes to the United States government, assimilation for these Native Americans was attempted. The Dawes Act or General Allotment Act of 1887 was intended to break up communal reservation land to reduce native landholdings. In hindsight, this policy is now thought to have been ill advised by a civil rights minded contemporary society. This act was to also provide a more expedient nature to assimilation of the Indian people by way of the following:

  • Government runs schools for education
  • Non-Indian churches
  • Economic improvements deemed worthy by the government

Educating Indian women was of particular interest to the Bureau of Indian Affairs.  In the latter part of the eighteenth century, a push to educate native women in the benefits of housecleaning for the purpose of making good housewives was made by the federal government.  This was to deter the American stereotyping that Indian women were nothing more than slaves to their ignorant husbands.

By the twentieth century, the future of the American Indian was bleak.  Many believed that Indians would be completely assimilated into American society so monuments and statues were erected to remember this native race. The Indian culture however, would not die.  Despite the efforts of the federal government, criticisms against federal policies were beginning to be made and the Indians began to use their own resources to develop programs that would protect their identity. 

In the early 1900s sympathizers for the American Indians began to emerge.  This started an investigation into the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which would lead to the so-called Indian New Deal.  This movement was led by John Collier who pushed for the moving away of assimilation of the Indian people. 

The Indian New Deal brought an emphasis on arts and culture of the Native American and also protected their religion and tribal ceremonies. The change to bilingual education was another plus for the American Indian. Collier also encouraged more land ownership for the Indians.  By the 1930s, the Native Americans were given more respect by the American public then were previously noted ever. Land allotment ceased and consideration for Indian culture was added to public awareness.

Even with all of the positive changes for the Indian people made with the help of John Collier, many critics of his initiatives came forward. They believed Collier held back advancement for the Indian people by assuming all Indians would prefer to stay in a tribal environment instead of reaching for the new possibilities brought on by technological advancements. The Indian community however, gives credit to Collier for giving them the ability to assert their identity and allow survival of their heritage. Collier believed that any society holds powers and values important to their individual members and this alone gives fulfillment to any social community.

Moving into the mid 1900s brought an end to the impact of the Indian New Deal.  With the onset of international turmoil and the World Wars, the nation’s attention had shifted.  Indians themselves became involved ion the war effort and served alongside their American brothers and sisters in the armed forces. Their individual culture gave them a few of their own battle techniques that gave the Indian community its own sense of pride concerning the war effort. One such example was the code-talkers of the Navajo tribe.  This code could relay messages at great speed and accuracy and was unable to be broken by the Japanese.  This also gave more respect to the Indian community that they were Americans just like anyone else. 

After the war came the Indian Claims Commission Act that appeared to grant the Indians the most freedoms yet. Compensation was allowed to be made for lost lands but unfortunately legal fees and time delivered only small amounts of restitution. There was a mixed message coming from federal offices to abolish reservation protection yet promote economic development of reservation communities. Once again the Indians were angry with a government that was supposed to protect and hold the reservation lands in trust for the Native Americans. This termination of federal involvement promoted a new era of Indian political activism.

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