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Native American Religions: Initial Reconsiderations - Essay Example

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The myth of the Native American and prominent stereotypes of Native American religion have often led to misrepresentations and misunderstandings of Native American people and their religious history. …
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Native American Religions: Initial Reconsiderations
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Download file to see previous pages Books and films about cowboys and Indians cemented stereotypes of oppression, since they presented a view of Indians as primitive and savage, while the settlers were fine, upstanding Christian people. Any American child of the classical age of American cinema would see images of Indians in films dancing around a campfire, smoking a peace pipe and conducting ceremonies in elaborate robes and feathers, to unspecified gods. This exotic and superficial view of Indian religion is contrasted with the “civilized” little white wooden churches of the monotheistic European settlers. The other side of this story, namely the oppression and exploitation of Indian nations and their lands, was at first suppressed, since in this case as in so many historical encounters, the history books are written by the victors, while the victims are left without a voice. Very few scholars took a serious interest in Indian culture and religion, and those who did remained largely confined to academic circles. An exception to this was the work of John Neihard, who realised the historic importance of recollections that were held by Indian peoples. He noted down the life and times of an Indian called Black Elk who was directly involved in some of the most important battles in American history, including the killing of Crazy Horse and the Battle of Wounded Knee. The book was published in English in 1930 but only reached a wider audience in the 1960s and it immediately changed the perspective that ordinary Americans had on their recent history. One of the most striking aspects of the book is the way that the names of natural objects and beings denote an entirely different world view. On the one hand there are quite graphic and cruel descriptions of violence, committed by both white men and Indians in their bitter struggles. On the other hand there are loving descriptions of the animals, and most especially the birds which inhabit the homelands of the Indians. Black Elk refers to humans and birds as “us two-leggeds” as if they belong to the same fundamental category. This reflects an Indian sensibility, and the distinction between beings that can be eaten, which have four legs, and those which are on a higher plane, which have two. The Indian appreciation of nature is thus shown to be not some superstitious idolatry, but a much deeper worship of all that creation gives. Even people are given names that symbolize their individual and distinctive nature such as “Hard to Hit” which signifies the skill of the warrior in evading attacks or “Sitting Bull” which signifies power and determination. The importance of the Black Elk narrative is that it records, however imperfectly and at second or third hand through translation, the actual religious practices of the Lakota tribe from the area around modern day North and South Dakota. It shows the ceremonies such as the sweat baths as social conventions which aid group cohesion and meditation. Many of the practices that the hunter gatherer peoples took for granted, such as respect for the earth and sustainable living, are nowadays being hailed as more flexible and ecologically sound principles of good ...Download file to see next pagesRead More
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