Anthropology of North America

In his article, Starn mentions how in the last decade the anthropology of North America has experienced a sort of “rebirth”. Women are gradually replacing men on the forefront of anthropological research, as well as more people of color and individuals who hail from Third World countries. An “activist” or more politicized approach has also been used by anthropologists more frequently in recent years. I think this indicates that the study of North America is heading in the right direction.

North America’s history is a controversial one as we’ve learned throughout this semester. There are things that Americans today are proud of, like their liberation from Great Britain and emphasis on things like freedom and innovation. But the past (and also present) is filled with events people would prefer to remain in the shadows away from the public eye, like the treatment of Native Americans. Who better to study the past of North America than women, people of color, and individuals from third world countries – all people who have experienced some sort of oppression or hardship. Up until this point the development of North America has largely been viewed as something to be celebrated and revered by other national powers. But the time has come to pay attention to the things that we did wrong, as well as those we’ve wronged. Of course there are those who would prefer to just ignore such injustices that are so “unAmerican” and go against the values like equality and justice that America was founded on. But the activist like nature of more modern anthropologists ensures that these wrongdoings don’t slip through the cracks.

Because the right people and values are now being applied to the anthropology of North America, I think the real focus needs to be on education. From readings we’ve done for class, I know that great work is being done on the study of North American peoples and cultures, but it’s a shame that almost no one I talk to outside of the course knows that there are prominent Native American tribes within the state of North Carolina. And even if they did, I’m doubtful that they’d be able to tell me about the tribes’ cultures or histories. These are historic cultures that we share an environment with. We should therefore be made aware of their pasts, as well as present situations.

I think that if younger generations are taught the full history of North America, including all the ugly details, a greater respect for native cultures and awareness of social issues would develop. Therefore no student should ever enter a college course about Native Americans and not be aware of the Bloody Island Massacre, or the boarding schools imposed on Native American children. It’s important to build a better anthropology of North America by constructing a more accurate depiction of the continent’c development.

It kind of sucks that the general public had to find out about the insensitivity and offensive stereotypes felt toward Native Americans through someone as irrelevant and stupid as Adam Sandler. I may have been a fan of Happy Gilmore and Billy Madison before, but his upcoming movie’s depiction of native cultures has definitely made me reconsider this. This article we discussed in class gained national attention because Sandler was rightfully being condemned for his offensive depictions of Native Americans as homogenous and uncivilized people. I just wish it didn’t take a celebrity scandal to make people realize the way Native Americans are wrongfully viewed in society today. This can however be avoided through application of more modern North America anthropology as Stern described in his article,  to younger generations.


Class Conversation with Mr. Francisco

After our class discussion with Mr. Francisco, I thought a bit about how he described the interactions between residents of the O’odham reservation and the border police agents assigned to monitor their land. As Mr. Francisco described, their relationship is a complex one. On one hand there is the benefit of having law enforcement personnel supervise the land to enforce laws and ensure no immigrants wander onto the reservation, but on the other hand these officials tend to be ignorant toward the O’odham’s cultural practices.

Mr. Francisco described one incident where a group of O’odham tribal members were holding a ceremonial gathering on the reservation. This ceremony involved many individuals and created quite a stir in the community. Fearing some sort of a riot or threatening demonstration, the celebration was broken up by police agents who did not understand that this was a sacred O’odham tradition. Mr. Francisco added that the agents also often drive throughout the reservation without thinking to close gates or consider their actions. As a result cattle sometimes end up roaming from their pens onto roads, causing traffic blocks and hazardous situations. This ignorance toward O’oham ways of life did not sit easy with me.

My predisposition to our readings from Native American Testimony motivated me to almost automatically dislike these law enforcement agents who thought so little of O’odham life. Our readings often discussed how reservation agents working with the U.S government basically made it their goal to cheat Native Americans out of their money and resources. The disrespectful and indifferent way with which these government agents treated tribes on their own reservation vaguely reminded me of how the O’odham were being treated by police officers.

But before making any decisive opinions based mostly on emotion, I decided to dig a little deeper. It turns out the O’odham need more reservation protection than I realized. I remember Mr. Francisco mentioning how sometimes illegal immigrants wander onto the reservation, which poses safety issues. But I didn’t think these immigration issues were worth getting too worked up about – that’s probably due to my living in the Northeast and not really having any exposure to the border issues taking place in states like Arizona. Anyways, I came across this article that showed just how close to home the border insecurity issue is to the O’odham:

In this article, a shootout between border patrol officials and illegal immigrants on the northern edge of the O’odham reservation resulted in the death of one individual this past October. Such occurrences are not infrequent. This article states that, “The O’odham Reservation is regularly used as a smuggling corridor for marijuana.” Though the police agents can cause issues and disturbances on the reservation, U.S/Mexico border issues warrant their presence. Although sometimes insensitive to O’odham culture, the agents are there to do their jobs by protecting the people. If these officers spent more time getting to know the tribe’s practices and understanding their way of life, I think a much needed sense of respect could come from it.

I recently watched the documentary Virunga, a film that covers the struggle between Virunga park rangers to protect this African national park from British oil company SOCO, which is interested in exploring the park’s oil reserves. Part of the documentary describes the complex relationship between park rangers and the people of Congo. Though some Congolese citizens are interested in park conservation, there are others who are willing to exploit Virunga for it’s lucrative resources. My knee-jerk reaction was that I really disliked these individuals who wanted to destroy the beautiful and incomparable Virunga park (home to some of the last remaining mountain gorillas on earth) for something as temporary and dirty as oil.

But I was then presented with the reality that Congolese people face every day – lack of food, water, and proper housing. I don’t really have to think twice about these things. Oil could give the Congo an extraordinary economic boost, bringing the country money that the tourism of Virunga park never could. While the park rangers are focusing on Virunga park’s future, the Congolese people are focusing on their own. It’s much easier for me to advocate for wildlife preservation over economic gain when I’m not directly influenced by this struggle. (However, I do maintain that Virunga park preservation is in the best interest of the Congo. I can almost guarantee that SOCO will come in, extract the park’s oil supply – leaving a mess in it’s wake – and take virtually all the profits for itself. African countries have had/still have European industries exploit them time and time again, and this will be no different.)

Mr. Francisco’s comments regarding the relationship between O’odham reservation residents and the law enforcement assigned to them made me think deeper about the ‘why’ behind cultural struggles/disagreements. At times it is difficult for me to see the other side to situations I think are so obvious. However thinking deeper about why an opposing opinion exists allows greater understanding and even possible solution development to occur.

Great American Spirit Cigarettes

Through my experiences with social media and advertising, I’ve come to realize that marketing is just a strategy that capitalizes on stereotypes, fads, and Photoshop to get ahead. But I’ve become much less understanding of these manipulative techniques since encountering an advertisement for Natural American Spirit cigarettes a few weeks ago.

I’ll start with the obvious issue – using a Native American (who must be wearing a feather headdress, since that’s what all the authentic Native Americans are doing) smoking a ceremonial pipe as the brand’s logo. Pipes were often used in tribes when discussing important matters like treaties or when performing ceremonial activities in the presence of other Native Americans. So what the heck do they have to do with a pack of dirty cigarettes? I may be a bit bias since deliberately poisoning your body by inhaling toxic smoke is not high on my list of things to do, but there is a big difference between the use of smoking for Native Americans and how cigarettes are used today. Contrary to the unifying and sometimes spiritual role of the Native American pipe, there are people today who go through over a pack of cigarettes a day as a means to placate their stress and craving for nicotine. Smoking culture is very different between these two societies, but it is easy to see why the marketers of Natural American Spirit want to label their brand this way. The whole premise of their product is that is it “natural” – the bottom of the carton reads “100% additive free natural tobacco.” Clearly this brand wants to be viewed as being close to the earth, almost healthy in contrast to other cigarette brands that are packed with chemicals and other additives. A perfect way to spin the product this way is by latching it onto Native American culture. Tribes are stereotyped as living off the land and leading very nature based lifestyles. So by sticking a Native American figure on the front of a Natural American Spirit carton (don’t forget the feather headdress), the cigarettes suddenly seem more organic and less like the processed poison that they are. Therefore smoking suddenly seems to be this event that keeps you tied with the earth – as if you’re breathing in that “American Spirit”. The very title of the brand lends itself to the Native American practice of smoking during spiritual ceremonies. Natural American Spirit almost gives smoking cigarettes more meaning – you’re not just smoking a pack to nurse that addiction, it’s suddenly a spiritual act.

The marketing strategy of Natural American Spirit utilizes stereotypical Native American practices and appearance to depict their product as more earthy and more meaningful than other cigarette brands. But my analysis of the cigarette carton could be misinformed – maybe Natural American Spirit is actually run by Native American tribes? Or a portion of the proceeds are given to tribes? So I decided to look into the background of the Santa Fe Natural tobacco Company, owners of Natural American Spirit. I learned that the company is run out of Santa Fe, New Mexico, and bought Natural American Spirit from R.J Reynolds Tobacco Company in 2001. But that’s about it. Nothing about partnering with Native Americans or having any proceeds go toward any environmental causes, which I was kind of expecting since the brand is marketed as being so natural and “green.” Natural American Spirit is just one of many examples of Native American culture being stereotyped and utilized for profit/publicity by other entities. The fact that no Native American tribes are involved in the manufacturing of this product is especially concerning since their identity is being marketed but they have no say in how, to who, or in what context.

Culture-Area Concept

It’s kind of difficult to determine whether the Culture Area Concept is a fair approach to studying Native American cultures when you’re not being subjected to it’s assumptions. I’m not Native American. None of my friends are part Native American (1/64th doesn’t cut it in my book). It’s one thing to compare the similarities and differences between cultures on paper, and another to recognize, on a more personal level, how accurate those conclusions are. While trying to better understand the role of the Culture Area Concept in Anthropological research, I considered it’s influence on the use of ethnography. Wouldn’t this concept encourage researchers to stay buried in books or behind their computers rather than out in the field? Using the geographic location of Native American tribes as indicators of their cultural features and traditions seems to invite inconsistencies, as well as a disinterest in experiencing and understanding a culture. You’re also eliminating focus on the individual who could tell you all the things that make their society different than surrounding ones. This is why I first considered the Culture Area Concept to be a bit of a cop-out.

As I mentioned, it was difficult to form a definitive opinion on the concept since I didn’t know what it was like to be examined under it. But then I thought about how I was looked at when I first arrived at Wake Forest. Orientation week is like some weird anthropological experiment. It consists of a bunch of excited yet clueless teenagers from various geographic locations thrown into one place, and you observe how they respond to one another. The first stage of this experiment involves everyone discussing where they went to high school. I attended a private school in Connecticut. People immediately had me figured out. It was clear that I came from money, owned at least 3 pairs of Uggs, could point you in the direction of the nearest J Crew, and already had my sorority preferences lined up. All this was surmised from my geographic location since these were common cultural practices of people from that area. I was never given the chance to go further into my upbringing which would have refuted all those assumptions. People immediately began treating me differently after they learned about where I attended high school – most discussion topics revolved around Vineyard Vines and how great Nantucket is in the summer, topics I knew nothing about. These assumptions about my cultural were entirely based on geographic location. And they were all crap.

My personal experience with the Culture Area Concept is not exactly the same as when it is applied to Native American tribes. Environment plays a large role in shaping the cultural practices of a tribe. As a result, it’s not difficult to see how Native communities that are close in proximity would have similar subsistence practices, religious beliefs, economic structures, and maybe even origin stories. From our readings I know that the Inuit and Cherokee tribes are not exactly identical. The arctic tundra inhabited by Inuit tribes definitely called for a very different lifestyle than that of the Cherokee, who lived in the warmer and more lush North American woodlands. The Culture Area Concept is very ethnological since it takes a holistic approach to cultures. Judgments on everything from a society’s religion to their political systems are made through this concept.  As I mentioned, the environment does influence a majority of these cultural constructs. However I’m not convinced that observing a culture’s landscape is all it takes to surmise beliefs and traditions that have been shaped for hundreds of years.

A recent story in the news brought up another point. The terrorist attack on a museum in Tunisia killed at least nineteen individuals this past Wednesday. Although it isn’t clear who is responsible for the attack, many are considering ISIS to be behind it. This incident got me thinking about all the violence, corruption, and conflict that has taken place in Africa since being cut up into separate territories by other national powers. Despite being in close proximity to one another, neighboring areas of this continent encounter conflict with one another because the cultures of their people are so different. Politically, economically, and socially, Africa has become home to a wide range of belief systems pushed into adjoining geographic locations. If you were to try to surmise the cultural beliefs and practices from one African country with those of a neighboring one, the Culture Area Concept would seem to fall a little flat. This is probably true in some cases more than others, but ultimately I’d say differences outweigh similarities. Comparing Africa’s domestic relationships to relations between Native Americans may call for some criticism. This is especially true when you consider that Africa’s current divisive state is largely the fault of settlers who forced their own cultural practices and constructs on native Africans. But as we’ve discussed often in class, Native Americans weren’t exactly free from the influence of international settlers either. Although Native American tribes are not as divided as African territories, this example illustrates how the Culture Area Concept is not a reliable theory for all anthropological studies.

(Police responding to the terrorist attack in Tunisia last Wednesday)Gunmen attack Tunisian museum

Despite geography’s influence on a culture, I maintain that the Culture Area Concept should not be used in anthropological research. I have found autohistorical accounts from individuals to be the most effective in understanding even the most minute similarities and differences between Native American tribes. Researchers should spend time with individuals who intimately know their culture’s unique traits, and perhaps more importantly, the reasoning behind them. As anthropologists it is their duty to provide each culture with respect and interest rather than just grouping it with a neighboring society. Though my approach may be more time consuming and tedious it allows for more thorough and accurate judgments to be made.

Spring Break

For one week I was able to swap the slushy roads of Winston-Salem for the manicured lawns and tanned residents of Orlando, Florida. I’d never traveled further south than North Carolina, so my impression of Florida was determined by images of packed beaches and ads for retirement homes. Regardless, my main concern was to make my blindingly pale skin at least somewhat tan throughout the trip. Any thoughts of school I planned on leaving back at Wake Forest. But it wasn’t long before I realized this wasn’t going to happen.

As usual, I was lost. What had started as a morning run had led to an unplanned tour of downtown Orlando. My plan to find any familiar streets was complicated by the fact that I had trouble pronouncing half of them: Chuluota, Kissimmee, and Poinciana were among the names I encountered. My time in Native America Cultures gave me the sense that these names were of Native American origin, something I definitely didn’t expect to find in what I considered to be one of the most commercialized states in the US.

I thought that any trace of Native American culture would have been replaced by tanning salons or gyms. Florida was where spring-breakers like myself and older residents went to escape the cold, not home to Native American tribes. But there I was surrounded by the names of tribes on every other street corner. This was a lesson that reinforced the idea that Native Americans have a presence in current society, an idea I thought I’d already internalized. Just because I was in (what I considered to be) a more contemporary setting, didn’t mean that there couldn’t be a Native American influence. I later found at there were several parks and stores belonging to tribes in the area. This break proved to be successful because I am no longer ghostly white (I’ve adopted a more pinkish hue), and gained some direction about Native American Cultures from just a few street signs.


Are we seriously halfway through the course? It seems like yesterday I was walking into Carswell with my stomach in knots over this Native American Cultures class, a topic unfamiliar to me. Well I figure the best way to start my “halfway there” reflection is by looking back on my first post. This is mainly because I’d like to remind myself how I approached the course before attending any lectures or reading any materials for it; I need to remember what experiences shaped my ideas of Native American life up until the day I first anxiously made my way into the classroom. Also, I’m pretty terrible at answering broad topics, and our first ePortfolio topic was also considerably open ended so I could use a refresher on how to go about answering this one.

The word that comes to mind is ‘blunt’ when reading my first post. Right away I state how my ignorance toward Native Americans has “rivaled that of 15th century European settlers,” something I now look back on as a bit of an overstatement. My elementary/middle school education was by no means thorough on Native American history. It left out painful information, like the shocking Bloody Island Massacre, that settlers carried out but we don’t want to deal with in American history textbooks. However I think at the time of that entry I was underestimating the ignorant and indifferent nature of European settlers. What sort of people have such little respect for a culture that they could just wipe out hundreds of its innocent men, women, and children, then proceed to think little to nothing of it? A few months ago I didn’t realize the scale of disrespect inflicted on Native American tribes. I mentioned in my first entry that any bloody conflicts were “necessary evils” needed to achieve Manifest Destiny. None of these conflicts were as unwarranted as the Bloody Island Massacre, they were mostly over land and resource rights. But this course has shown me that there was a deep-set enmity against Native Americans. Beyond materialistic gains, many Europeans just thought they knew better than Native Americans and should do away with the disposable “savage” population by assimilation or extermination. That people could be so dismissive never really occurred to me until reading the autohistorical narratives of Native Americans. This was the first time I encountered firsthand accounts of European brutality and it was worse than anything I had thought.

Next I discussed my trip to the Blackfeet Reservation in Montana. The trip was my big eye-opening experience that sparked my interest in Native American cultures. This claim is as true today as it was months ago. It wasn’t until that trip that I saw firsthand how the actions of Europeans have pushed Native Americans to such desperate conditions. If anything, my time in this course has furthered my interest in the past and present treatment of Native American tribes as I’ve learned more about their unique cultures and hardships. For example, yesterday we learned about how the Crow were believed to be extremely violent warriors. However, the Crow actually avoided physical combat and preferred to steal items from their enemies rather than take a life. This practice shows a respect for life and nonviolence that I have incredible admiration for and want to preserve/make known.

At the close of my first post I discuss the importance of knowing the actions of one’s ancestors, as well as how they were influenced by Native Americans and vice-versa. Because of this course I can say that I’m finally on my way to achieving this understanding. Instead of just thinking about how people should increase their awareness of Native American history, I’m actually learning the complete history of North America rather than just the parts highlighted in US History textbooks. Finally those gaps are being filled in, little by little, and I can go forth to further the cause of Native Americans. Halfway through this course I’m so appreciative for all that I’ve learned and am looking forward to the final half.

Conservation and Native American Culture

When first posed with the idea of Native Americans as the original conversationalists, my knee-jerk response was heck yes. Unlike the land and power hungry European settlers, Native Americans actually had respect for the environment. It was part of their culture to give thanks and appreciate all that nature provided them with. From food to clothing to shelter, tribes derived the majority of their necessities from the surrounding landscape. However Native Americans did not mistreat the resources around them; they harvested/hunted as required to feed their people, and utilized materials like lumber or animal skins responsibly (i.e. not killing animals just for sport or their pelts, and refraining from decimating acres of woodland).

But my problem was that, like an unprecedented amount of my classmates, I had done a less than thorough job reading Hunn et al.’s article about Tlingit environmentalism and conservationism. But immediately after squirming under my teacher’s gaze for what seemed like forever, I went home to read and re-read that article (I swear I did).

The article made me realize that the approach I’d initially taken to the idea of Native Americans as conservationists was very narrow minded. In a way I was harkening back to Columbus’ idea of the Noble Savage. I so wanted to think of Native Americans as these masters of the land who did no harm to the surroundings out of respect for “Mother Earth”. After further reflection, I realized this idea came from my impression that all Native peoples lived according to the Cycle of Life mentality – they are connected to all living things and are aware of how their actions influence other beings. As a result it seems reasonable to assume that at least the majority of Native Americans strive to limit their impact on the environment by only taking from it what was absolutely necessary and by using renewable methods. I’m sure Sioui would have been pretty thrilled about these initial opinions of mine, especially considering the positive connotation associated with conservation.

The Tlingit article brings up a lot of thought provoking points concerning Native American tendencies of “overharvesting” and the discrepancy between sustainability versus conservation. Ultimately I was left at a bit of an impasse – maybe Native Americans weren’t really going out of their way, or thinking critically, about how to maintain the environment around them. Maybe they did try to get as much out of the land as possible and considered their own survival above that of the landscape. But why should intention dictate how a culture is viewed? Native Americans were able to refrain from exploiting their environment much longer than European settlers. If Natives were just conservationists because they did not have the tools or manpower is irrelevant to  me – the point is that while Native Americans inhabited North America, the buffalo were plentiful and forests were not being uprooted as if weeds from a garden.

Our discussion the other day about how to justify the Cherokee’s use of slavery influenced my take on this entry. Just because a culture has gone through difficult times does not mean that they are exempt from taking responsibility for any moral wrongdoings. It was easier to just think yes, of course Native Americans are conservationists. They love the earth. They love each other. They are intrinsically peaceful people. They would never do anything to harm mother nature. But such coddling is not necessary. Native Americans often dealt with harsher living conditions than I can imagine and I don’t think their possibly “un-sustainable” methods should be looked down upon.

This is especially true when considering where our society is today. Factory Farming and deforestation are rampant around the globe. And while conservation efforts are occurring and gaining popularity (we wish at a faster rate), many people could not care less about how their actions will impact the environment 5 seconds, 5 minutes, 5 days, or 5 years from now. It feels almost hypocritical to look back at Native American cultures and criticize them for not being conservationists when we’re barely managing on our own. I recycle when I can, but have definitely thrown some Gatorade bottles into the wrong trash bin. My showers often last at least 15 minutes, and I can’t even tell you the amount of times I’ve left the water in the sink running. I may have good intentions, but I’m no conservationist. Maybe Native Americans weren’t completely sympathetic to their landscape, but I’m sure we could all learn a thing or two from them about how to utilize environmental resources.