Tossing and Turning

tossing and turning

Usually when you write your introduction paragraph you’re supposed to start with something clever. I have nothing clever this time, I’m sorry, you can stop reading now if you wish. I wouldn’t blame you. In a perfect world for this ePortfolio entry I would have loved to start with an inspirational anecdote about how I chose my research paper topic. Unfortunately, nothing inspirational happened. I was just rollin’ around in bed one night, unable to sleep, and thought if I can’t fall asleep, I might as well do something useful. The useful thing I decided to do was think of my research paper topic. Great story, right? I guess it shows how lame I am, maybe that’s entertaining.

Anyway, as I was tossing-and-turning in bed I began to really think hard about some research topics. Do I want to write about Native Americans and descent patterns? Or maybe Native Americans and their issues with ensuring that their languages don’t end up like Latin, the dead language that some high schoolers learn because they think it’ll help them on the SAT. Maybe it was all my rolling, but these topics didn’t inspire me. They just seemed like dry academic topics. What made me finally focus and help me get settled in my comfy, dorm bed was not treating Native Americans like research subjects, but like people. I feel like learning to understand Native Americans as a people and not as some historical relic is one of the purposes of the class. I think this is why Sioui’s autohistory is important. It helped me understand that Native Americans have their own stories, their own perspective, and their own issues. Thus, for my research project I wanted to hear the Native American story as told by Native Americans. In order to achieve this goal, I plan on visiting the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina and listening to what they want to talk about. Optimally, I would be allowed to interview them and record what they have to say on camera so that I don’t misinterpret anything they say. However, I would completely understand if they didn’t want to be recorded because I know I hate being on camera. Specific topics I might address with the Lumbee Tribe include their issues with federal recognition, problems with the Cherokee, and as an accounting major I would also be interested in any concerns they have with their businesses and economy.

This research topic is important to me because I really want to learn about the Lumbee Tribe and attempt to understand their present day life. What problems do they face on a day to day basis? What issues really makes them ticked? What makes them happy? What do they take pride in? How different is their life than my life? Maybe, a privileged white American who can’t fall asleep at night has more similarities with the Lumbee tribe than we would all initially think. One of my favorite psychology quotes (not sure if that’s a thing) is from Dan Gilbert, who states “if you’re like most people, then like most people, you don’t know you’re like most people”. Perhaps then, the Lumbee tribe isn’t that much different at all. Given their situation of being relinquished to a reservation without federal recognition, how much different would I act, how much different would anyone act? Perhaps, that is the real research question, and it’s the type of inquiry that piques my interest every day. We may all be unique, but how are we all similar? I realize the Lumbee tribe may not want to tell me everything and completely open up their culture up to me. However, that would make sense to me because I don’t completely open up myself to every stranger that I stumble upon, and in that way we might be similar. Who knows what are similarities are? Who knows what are differences are? I don’t and that’s why I’ve picked this topic and hope to learn what I can from the Lumbee Tribe. (In case you were wondering this is about when I fell asleep and it was like 6am, and then I overslept my 8am tax class. Stupid accounting.)

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No More Middle Road

6-TWO-PATHS

Usually when answering anthropology questions the best answer lies somewhere in the middle between the two extremes. Should I take a random sample? Or should I take a stratified sample? Neither, you’re supposed to use the one in the middle: the stratified random sample. However, we were just assigned to answer this question: Has Euroamerican culture been more influenced by Amerindian culture than Amerindian culture has been influenced by European/Euroamerican culture? To me, the answer to this inquiry does not lie somewhere in the middle. There is not equality between Amerindian and Euroamerican cultural influence. When looking at modern society it seems clear to me that Amerindians have influenced Euroamericans to a greater extent than Euroamericans have influenced Amerindians.

First, bear with me and let me begin with an evolutionary psychological approach. Europeans (myself included) come from a mindset that the world is theirs to control. Humans are the chosen race of the Earth and they may manipulate their surroundings however they see fit. For example, the Romans with their roads and aqueducts certainly fit this model. Why does the European culture think like this? Does every culture think like this?

Sioui argues that Amerindians do not. Sioui states that Amerindians believe in the interconnectedness of life and that humans are not meant to control the world, they are meant to be a part of the world. Sioui’s argument makes sense to me. To me Native Americans do seem to care much more about being connected to the Earth than us Euroamericans do. However, I wonder how did these different psychological mindsets occur? Why does one culture seek to dominate the world, while the other seeks to simply exist with the world? I don’t think two completely different psychological mindsets can spring up for no reason.

Just like biological processes, most psychological processes can be traced to evolution. For instance, why does loneliness exist? Psychologists argue that the hollowness of loneliness exists so that we feel a psychological push to find a mate and ensure the survival of our species. Thus, maybe the dominant mindset of the Europeans resulted from them needing to control their environment to survive. In contrast, the more peaceful mindset of the Native Americans may be a result of them living in a bountiful and plentiful environment where respect and interconnectedness with the environment is needed to survive. Therefore, from this evolutionary psychological approach, when Europeans came to America they needed to adapt their minds to the new land. Thus, in order to find this new mindset it would be essential for Europeans to be influenced by Native Americans, the people who already had the best adapted mind for America.

When looking at modern society, does it seem that Euroamericans have adapted the Native American mindset instead of using their own dominant one? I think so, well to a certain extent. In today’s world we have national parks, a “green” movement, and an appreciation for peace (yes, I’m a bit of an optimist). Although Amerindians may see the whole world as a national park, Euroamericans have begun to realize that the natural environment is extremely important and cannot be constantly be bulldozed in the name of profit. Today’s green movement seems like a page right out of the Amerindian’s value book. Just look at the recycling symbol below.

green-recycling-symbol

This symbol is illustrating what Amerindians have known for thousands of years: the cyclical process of returning to the environment what you take from it. Moreover, I feel that Amerindians may have helped influence Euroamericans to try to incorporate the values of peace and tranquility into their lives. Certainly the 1960’s hippie movement helped make “peace” and the peace symbol a defining part of Euroamerican culture, but the Amerindians were here long before hippies. Nowadays, saying “peace” is a relatively common way to say goodbye. This peaceful goodbye once again seems like an Amerindian influence perpetuating the Euroamerican value system. It’s very easy to imagine Amerindians saying “peace” to one another a few thousand years while it’s almost impossible to imagine Christopher Columbus saying peace to much of anyone. Although it seems to me that Amerindians have had a great influence on today’s Euroamerican values, that’s not to say Euroamericans have had no influence on Amerindians. Euroamericans brought alcohol and horses to the Amerindians, and today both of those things are very often associated with Amerindians. However, Amerindians have incorporated alcohol and horses into their culture, while it appears that Euroamericans have almost changed their culture due to Amerindian influence.

Why does any of this matter though? Who cares who influenced who? All of this is history, and we can’t change history, right? Well we can’t change history, but we can change our interpretation of history. If we all started to understand that Amerindians have positively influenced our culture, I feel like we might finally be able to start to value their lives and culture. If we can do that, perhaps then we can start treating the first people of our land the way they deserve.

The Studio Art Room

The first thing I said when I walked into our Native Peoples of North America anthropology classroom was that it looked like a studio art room. Now that comment may seem a little absurd and it doesn’t really make sense because our classroom looks pretty normal, well I guess for fifty years ago, and a studio art room may look like this:

studio art room

However our classroom is in the basement of a building and is thrown into a hall of a hodgepodge of other rooms including: digital art, teacher’s offices, and for my own sanity’s sake I’m going to say there’s a studio art room down there too. Our upper 300 level Anthropology class is relegated to being in some 50 year old classroom with a dumb layout (the projector is in front of the chalkboard, in what world does that ever make sense?) and in a hallway full of other miscellaneous classrooms. Although this whole situation angered me a little at first, but now I think I like it. It’s all incredibly fitting. Could there be a better place to study a people that have been misunderstood for centuries? My education to this point about Native Americans is pretty limited, but I do know that many of them were forced to move to places that America had no use for. It seems quite appropriate that we’re studying an unwanted people in an unwanted room.

This semester in our “studio art” room I hope to learn the issues surrounding Native Americans today. For my entire education up until this point Native Americans have been a history, not a modern day reality. It will be nice to finally be in a class that seeks to discuss and understand the modern day issues that surround Native Americans. I think these modern issues as well as the history of Native Americans is important for Americans to understand because they are the first people of this country, they are Americans. It’s important for a country to know its history, and the Native Americans are an integral part of America’s history. Thus, it should be our American duty to understand the history as well as the modern day reality of the first people of America. However, I think we also need to learn about Native American societies and history so that we might finally start treating them fairly. It’s absolutely ridiculous to me that our nation’s capital’s most famous sports team is called the Redskins, a racial slur for Native Americans. I think the day when I study Native Americans in a nice classroom where I can see the projector and chalkboard at the same time will be the day that Native Americans will finally be treated with respect, and man, I hope that day comes soon because the “studio art” room just ain’t cutting it for me, just as I’m sure a reservation just ain’t cutting it for the Native Americans, except Native Americans have one trillion times the right that I do to be angry with their situation.