The Native American Culture

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The cultures of Native Americans

The cultures of Native Americans across the United States are distinguished for their diversity and variety of customs, lifestyles, beliefs and art forms. The indigenous North American culture is normally associated by the concept of the Pre-Columbian culture area; this means a geographical location within which shared cultural characteristics are exemplified for example the northwestern region had common tenets such as woodworking, salmon fishing, a hierarchy in the social structure and large towns and villages.


The Early Scholars characterized the Native Americans as a group that was predominantly controlled by clans which were known as gentes, and this was even before tribes had been formed. Certain characteristics were identifiable in these clans, for instance, they had the right to elect sachems who were the paramount chief and also chiefs who were under the sachem, they also had the right to depose their sachem and chiefs if they did not have confidence in them. They also had common religious rights and a common burial location and a council of gens.

The tribal structure of the Native Americans

The tribal structure of the Native Americans was very organized and complex; there were subdivision and differentiation that was undertaken when classifying the tribes (Pieter, 2003). These tribes were distinguished in different ways, but most notably it was where they were from, what they did regarding economic and social activities. These tribes also had various attributes and functions such as the possession of gentes, the right to depose the sachems and chiefs, the possession of religious faith and worship (Pieter. 2003). These were attributes that were similar to that of the gentes.


The colonization of the Native Americans by the Europeans had a significant impact on the culture of the Native Americans, and this took place in what was known as the Columbian Exchange. It was also known as the Columbian interchange; it was the widespread transfer of animals, plants, technology, human populations, and ideas between the Americas and the then Old World during the 15th and 16th Centuries following Columbus's 1492 voyage (Howard, 2005). This exchange did not have a positive impact, it was destructive on the natives since it brought the clash of cultures and disease due to the values Europeans had toward private property, the family and labor led to conflict, acquiring of traditional lands and slavery.


The American Indians practiced various forms of farming which means they undertook Agriculture. They grew crops such as tobacco, sump weed, knotgrass, pumpkins, goosefoot, cotton, sunflower and most commonly squash (Qian, 2010). Agriculture had been introduced to them approximately 4000 years ago when traders brought cultigens from Mexico. The Native Americans also engaged in sporting activities, music, art, and economic activities.


Up to today, the bands and tribes still practice the Traditional Native American ceremonies. The belief systems are still highly regarded by many of the traditional people. The spirituality of the American Indians may be accompanied by the adherence to another faith or can represent the original religious identity of an individual. Most of the Native American spiritualism exists in a continuum known as the tribal cultural continuum, and this continuum is usually associated by the identity of the tribe. American Indians carry out certain traditional practices through the use of sacred herbs such as tobacco, sweet grass or sage. Many of the Plains tribes conduct sweat lodge ceremonies, but the specifics of these ceremonies vary among tribes.

Difference between American Indians Living on Reservations and Urban Environment

There are over 4 million Native Americans who live in the United States, the majority of this number live in urban areas. The American Indians who live in the urban areas often experience notable health economic and social problems while having access to fewer resources than their counterparts who are based on reservations (Shephard, 1999). These Native Americans also face challenges focused on tribal political processes and tribal services, as well as identity-sustaining cultural resources (Krech III, 1999). Contrary to popular belief majority of American Indians have lived in cities for an extended period spanning to hundreds of years. Archaeology had established that Native people of the area now known as the United States often lived in concentrated cities, populations, and urban centers long before the Europeans arrived in the United States.

In light of this and American Indians had their urban communities and centers, Indians often lived in the cities that were built by the European settlers. During this period some American Indians saw an opportunity and took advantage of the urban amenities and trading opportunities, and took their children to the mission schools. However, expansionists made a federal policy that that restricted Native populations to isolated reservations to distance themselves from a rapidly growing white population. By the end of the 19th Century, the American Indians became very concentrated in rural areas due to this legislature.

The Indians in the reservations do not have access to the social amenities that the Urban Natives have, they instead have to travel far into the city when they want to access health care and other important services. The level of education is also one area that is important it is different when it comes to the reservation; there are no private schools, and also personnel is an issue. But as established before the majority of the Natives are located in the city, and therefore the population that is present in the reservations possibly does not consist of young people due to the lack of opportunities and jobs. The young people naturally will want to move to greener pastures to support their families and send money back home.

During the 1880s, legislators urged the Native Indians to discard their old ways and blend into the mainstream society. The Natives living in urban areas are more dispersed geographically and are characterized by cultural, linguistic, political and religious differences. Typically they have settled in less affluent, transitional and blue-collar neighborhoods areas near employment places where it is more convenient due to the various costs that encapsulate their lives (Nunn, 2010). The loss of culture has also been a growing issue among urban natives. Their children go to school, and they end up learning new values instead such as religion, language, and cultural practices.

The children who grow up in reservations also have to get exposed to the new way of life to be of more value to themselves and their people in the future because it is important in the current generation. These Natives raised in the reservations are also taught the ways of the tribe because it is important for authenticity and origin, they are urged not to forget where they came from because that is their identity. It is more difficult for the Urban Natives to be taught since they are more involved in the city life and they are trying to make ends meets mostly for their parents. They end up not being identified with their people since they have distanced themselves from the people on the reservations.

These two sets of American Indians undergo different challenges there may be more challenges for the Urban Natives due to issues such as discrimination by other races and also being mocked by them too due to their strong beliefs (Nathan, 2010). The Urban Natives also have to go for menial jobs that are minimum wage hence leaving in the blue-collar neighborhoods as earlier described. They also experience healthcare issues since it may be too expensive for them since they earn the minimum wage, but this is not for all of them that live in the urban area. Some are well off and can afford the basic amenities that some are striving for in life.


Re-establishing connections to culture and the homeland there had to be vital connections that had been dulled through the years, and this sparked a resurgence of cultural pride and s return to the cultural values that the Natives had before. They created their unique position in the mainstream society rather than being identified with the occupation of space. They have done this by being fully able to function in the modern world through a blend of belief and also an ounce of traditional, tribal values.

By taking back modern urban political methodologies back to the reservations to alter historic practices and values, urban natives have been able to enhance social visibility and awareness both on and off the reservations. This has assisted in the improvement of the collective socio-political and legal position of the Native Americans and tribes across the nation.


Emmer, Pieter. "The Myth of Early Globalization: The Atlantic Economy, 1500–1800." European Review 11, no. 1. Feb. p. 45–46. (2003)

Hoxie, F. E., Sattler, R. A., Shoemaker, N., & American Indian Family History Project. (1992). Reports of the American Indian Family History Project. Chicago, Ill: Newberry Library.

Krech III, Shepard. The ecological Indian: myth and history. New York, New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. p. 107. (1999)

Miller, J. (1996). American Indian families. New York: Children's Press.

Nunn, Nathan; Qian, Nancy "The Columbian Exchange: A History of Disease, Food, and Ideas". 24 (2): 163–188. (2010).

Zinn, Howard. A People's History of the United States: 1492–present, Harper Perennial Modern Classics. (2005).

November 13, 2023

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Race and Ethnicity

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