Politics of Identity


The Native American population of the United States are the descendants of the original inhabitants of the American continent. They came to North America through the Bering Straits of Alaska form north-eastern Asia. The migration is mainly considered to take place between 10 and 26 thousand years ago. It is believed that there was no mass migration. Instead, there was a constant series of movements by small groups over a long period of time. A census carried out in 1980 revealed that there was 1,418, 195 Indian people within the American populace who included Eskimos and Aleuts. It is perceived that over a half of this population resides in towns or cities, but a government projection of 1987 provided the reports, according to which almost 861 000 of Native Americans reside in or close to Indian reservations. This implies that the rural reservation is a significant focus for the Indian identity.  There are social, political, cultural and racial implications on the Native Americans which affect their various ambitions and activities as residents of the United States and Canada. 

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Cultural Implications

Non-Indians, especially Europeans and White Americans have constantly failed to appreciate Native American’s specific identity and culture. This has resulted in an entire history of myths, misunderstanding, confusion and stereotypes that have been hurting the Native Americans as from the past times, it was the white population who created the definition of the reds. An illustration of this confusion among the whites is the lack of ability of the public and the specialists to ignore their own comprehension of what a political and administrative unit or structure is constituted of. This is enough for realizing that Native American structure did not arise from liberal representative democracy and commercial individualism. The Native Americans consider the notion of crushing competition and opposing opinions by simple majority votes as strange. 

To understand the culture and organizational structure that describes the Native American Communities in the US and Canada, it is important to recognize diversity. Presently, there are over 170 American Indian political and social establishments that describe themselves as ethnic groups, nations, peoples, tribes and bands. This diversity is inclusive of large groups such as the New Mexico’s and Arizona’s Navajos who are over 160,000, and less populated groups such as California’s Chumas and Oklahoma’s Modocs. The adaptation of the American culture by the Native Americans has been illustrated by the eight hundred Mohawks who resided in Brooklyn’s North Gowanus section in 1970. 

In contrast to the Europeans, the Native Americans have believed in the idea of continuity and the constant renewal by all generations of particular values that cannot be dismissed by mythologies of technological changes and material upgrading. They cling to this ideology and cultural identity regardless of constant attacks on the Native American population from the government policies. For example, there have been efforts of turning the nomadic hunters of the Plains’ culture, which is characterized by its extended family organization, into a nuclear family establishment and into small farmers. There have also been arrangements to integrate the Native Americans by use of urbanization. This conservatism of the culture of the Native Americans has been strengthened by the constant return to past where they had to survive and defend themselves through successive leaders to correct the historical injustices that the Natives have experienced. The aim of the Native Americans to uphold their cultural identity and beliefs have been challenged by e technological advancements and government policies that try to change those cultures and ideologies.

Social Implications

Labeling and the real politics surrounding the identity of native populations of America and Canada have actual consequences for the people involved. The most common identity offered for these natives was the term “Indian”. As time went by, some of the native population representatives and groups of people sought to liberate themselves from the identities that had been imposed upon them by different systems such as the government. For instance, the Aboriginal population of Canada sought to emancipate themselves from the labels and names that had been imposed upon them by the state. All these efforts were expended with the aim of the Aboriginal persons to free themselves from the external domination. 

The way individuals or groups of persons refer to themselves, or are talked about or called by other people, does not only shapes their own perceptions. Rather, it also shapes the perceptions of other persons regarding who they are in the real sense. As a result of this, most negative labeling and identification of a particular people can lead to the disempowerment of these particular groups. This is achieved through the establishment of effective negative stereotypes. Through such disempowerment, these groups face a great risk of losing their freedom and independence in running their own business. This is accounted for the fact that negative stereotypes bear a great potential in acting as a strong device for social control implementation. It is also can be used as a device for the manipulations of identities. 

In light of the fact that the original inhabitants of the Americas were named by the term “Indians”, they had become considered as the “other” people. This was a means, by which the Europeans sought and implemented their selfish and upright positions against the Native Americans. The Native Americans, now called Indians, were considered as not being worthy of any reverence or respect, which a normal human being would have been entitled to. They were regarded as a representation of an entity that existed outside a group, culture, class or civilization. Their social identity and structures were downgraded and eroded as they lacked a particular identity that would have been capable of creating a specific distinction amongst them. There were many different indigenous groups in the Americas by the time Christopher Columbus and the colonists arrived in the Americas. Labeling of all these groups under one name corroded the essential components of their identity. As such, there were many losses in terms of their culture and esteem. They were all equally treated in a derogatory manner. 

Racial Implications

There were, and still are several different tribes in the United States. These tribes bear distinct and unique characteristics that made them stand out as a separate tribe amongst the many other tribes. All these features were directed to the basic concept of identity. Every tribe had its own uniqueness that established it as a tribe in its own right. 

The most common way, through which a person could belong to a particular tribe, was by establishing blood relations. Other means included the reservation of habitation and the blood quantum rule. In considering their membership, the Cherokee did not consider race as an aspect, through which an individual would earn acceptance into their society. The main reason for this is the fact that the principal method that was used by the Cherokee to express their self-identity was more political. Race was not a feature of importance. The main way, through which individuals from a distinct race would suffice in the Cherokee society, was their purchase as a replacement of their own people who had lost their lives in the hands of assailants from other tribes. 

There was an increase in intermarriages among the whites, African Americans and the Native Americans. However, there were no major problems related to the identities of the children that resulted from these marriages and relationship at the beginning. Nevertheless, at some point, as the term “Indians” began to take a more common and enforced meaning, people started to express different concerns with respect to what race or community they identified with more. This mainly happened due to the simple fact that an individual could only have one identity. The emergence of such issues and the consistent reference of the Native Americans as Indians resulted in the search for a particular identity by these people. Since the categorization into a particular culture would impose even further problems, the majority of people who were the children of racial intermarriages decided to pick the race that they could identify with almost entirely. This was also influenced by the negative treatment that the Native Americans, then known as Indians, were being exposed to. 

With the American society having been established on the grounds of hierarchy of race, the bi-racial children and adults felt a profound sense of being marginalized. They felt that they were not catered for or covered in the patterning of the society. They had no particular identity and were, in general, placeless. There was an increasing confusion regarding the concept of skin color and the genetics of such a concept. It was not possible to simply point out that a particular person would fit into a particular race by simply making reference to the color of their skin. This was the main implication that the notion of identity politics had the structure and definition of race.

Political Implications

The Federal administration has taken many positions on the governing of the Native Americans. These positions have ranged from the notion of manifest destiny that led to genocide acts and cultural obliteration to the present policy that upholds the tribes’ sovereign rights. In 1988, Congress enacted the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, which was aimed at balancing the tribal sovereignty interests and the interests of the state. This legislation required states to enter into negotiations with the Native Americans in good faith to come to an agreement on the issue of casinos operations.  During the tenure of Pete Wilson as the California governor, various disputes arose between that state and the tribes, which resulted in the closing of tribal casinos.

The disagreement between the tribes and the state led to the establishment of Proposition 5, or the Indian Self-Reliance Initiative. This initiative was put on the ballot to enable tribes to open casinos that provided Nevada-style gaming. However, the Proposition was challenged on the grounds of violating the state constitution, which led to the passing of Proposition 1A to amend the constitution to permit for agreements between states and tribes.  

Further, the economic power of some Native Americans has been achieved through the ability of these Natives to preserve their cultures and traditions. This is their identity as a proud community that has experienced suffering under their conquerors. The substance of the cultural identity of the Native Americans has enabled them to develop a political identity that helps them in surviving as a people. Numerous laws have been introduced with the aim of limiting the ability of the Native Americans politically, but their cultural identity has helped them grow strong. The great number of ethnic groups and tribes that exist within the Native American people also make them strong politically.  

The Anglo-Americans overwhelmed the political aims of the Native Americans through their monetary and military resources. The response of the Natives was not one-dimensional or defeatist. They tried different methods, such as diplomacy religion, while others deflated white antagonism through embracing the cultural values and economic ways of their enemies. Some successfully worked in the legal systems while others succeeded in war. Some even changed the good intentions of the humanitarians though the intentions were also ethnocentric arrangements for their assimilation into a ground for political organization.    

In conclusion, people have various perceptions about who the Native Americans are and how they are supposed to conduct themselves. These perceptions are mainly political, social and culturally oriented. The Native Americans aimed at maintaining their cultural identity but the Anglo- Americans took steps such as legislations and assimilations to change ways of the Native American. There was also the emergence of the consistent reference of the Native Americans as Indians which resulted in the search for a particular identity by these people. The objective of the Native Americans for a political identity has be achieved through maintaining their many tribes and their cultural identity.

Aug 28, 2019 in Informative
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