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It is a sad commentary to viewing all these museum pieces of the once-proud native Americans. These items are all put on display for visitors to see but the fact these items are there speak a lot about what happened to their culture, way of life, language and customs. The question a museum visitor need to ask is what happened? …
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Native Americans 04 November 2009 Introduction It is a sad commentary to viewing all these museum pieces of the once-proud native Americans. These items are all put on display for visitors to see but the fact these items are there speak a lot about what happened to their culture, way of life, language and customs. The question a museum visitor need to ask is what happened? How could a once vibrant culture so disappear almost completely? What lead to their demise and extinction? How come the once original peoples have been marginalized in modern society? All these artifacts are testaments to the diminution of a culture that once was mighty. It is like living in history, that is, the very people honored by these museums seem to be a part of the past and not of the present.
It is the equivalent of celebrating something that belonged to a bygone era when these tribes ruled vast areas of America, from the beginning of time to eternity but it was destined to be that way. The museums seem to be an effort by white men to expiate themselves of their sins in dispossessing these people of their ancient lands that had belonged to their ancestors. Once mighty and proud warriors have been reduced to living in reservations as if they have to be segregated on their own land and sometimes eking out a living on marginal land.
Discussion
A case in point would be the native American Indians in California. They had 300,000 people of different tribes when the first Spanish settlers, soldiers and priests first arrived in the area around 1769. In fact, California had the densest pre-Columbian population anywhere that is north of Mexico yet this almost disappeared by the turn of the twentieth century, less than 20,000 were left, an almost unspeakable tragedy caused by disease, wars and exploitation.
The rapid population decrease led to the disappearance of around 500 distinct tribes (Margolin, 1993) and along with them their way of life, their songs and dances, customs about courtship, marriage, adolescence and growing old. Also lost were their prescribed burning practices that honors their environment, preventing degradation through siltation, floods and landslides. The museum pieces are nothing but pathetic collections of the few remaining items of a lost local culture. Wherever they want, the native Americans fit in with the environment and not the other way around by making natural resources sustainable, whether wildlife game, forests, water resources and the land (Morris, 2006).
Conclusion
There is still hope though. Were it not for a few concerned individuals who deemed it fit to preserve these local cultures, they would have been lost forever. Some institutions like the Smithsonians National Museum of the American Indian had spent money and efforts on preserving and protecting indigenous cultures by reaffirming local beliefs and traditions. It is also a partner of these local communities and help them express their voices and its efforts had been extended to the natives of Hawaii. The Alutiiq Museum is doing the same thing in preserving their 7,500 years old heritage with a modern building in Kodiak, Alaska. There are still a few native American descendants in the US and Canada that managed to preserve their culture, traditions, arts and crafts today.
Cultural anthropology still has a place in modern society because preserving culture is also preserving the values that we hold very dear. Along this line, that was what worried the recently-departed Claude Lévi-Strauss that we might soon have mass civilization instead of the cultural diversity that makes life wonderful. This powerful-thinking French intellectual had worried about a “modern monoculture” which he found disgusting (Rothstein, 2009). We should preserve culture because it is dangerous to ignore, reject, forget or destroy heritage.

Reference List
Margolin, Malcolm. The Way We Lived: California Indian Stories, Songs and Reminiscences. Berkeley, CA: Heyday Books, 1993. Print.
Morris, Ting. Native Americans. Mankato, MN: Black Rabbit Books. 2006. Print.
Rothstein, Edward. “Claude Lévi-Strauss Dies at 100.” The New York Times [online]. Accessed 04 November 2009 from http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/04/world/europe/04levistrauss.html?_r=1&ref=global-home Read More
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