Six Common Perspectives on Native Americans

Caricatures, Perspectives, and Reflections

I have met a lot of people with various perspectives on Native Americans. After a life-time of living among non-Indian Americans, and being one myself, I feel somewhat confident in my knowledge of what non-Indian Americans believe. Although not exhaustive, the list below provides a good cross-section of perspectives I have encountered during this past year in particular. I would like to say that they all are exaggerated caricatures, but I would have to cross my fingers behind my back. The reality is that many of us hold to a combination of these perspectives. The challenge for all of us is to read through the list and see where we find our reflection, and ask the Lord to give us His perspective through the lens of the gospel.

Six Common Perspectives on Native Americans

1. Relatively Oblivious – This person has little to no knowledge of Native Americans today. This person has never met a Native or at least has no knowledge of meeting one. This person doesn’t not know that reservations still exist, yet when they learn of that fact wonder if Indians still live in teepees. I have even met people who thought the Indians were all gone.

2. History buff/antagonist perspective – This person read a lot of American history and is very eager to point out the sins of Native Americans by educating you on Indian attacks on white settlers. Recent court cases ruling in favor of a particular tribe that resulted in restitution are often cited.

3. Hollywood-informed, sympathetic perspective – You generally cheer for the underdog. You saw some movies like Indian in the Cupboard and Dances with Wolves. You have actually memorized the epic scene with Wind in His Hair’s emotional farewell to Dances with Wolves. Just thinking about, you really want to watch it again. Go ahead and watch it here.

4. Hollywood-informed, unsympathetic perspective – This person saw a lot of John Wayne-type westerns and believes the narrative that the Indians were irrational, blood-thirsty savages who were getting in the way of the progress of American civilization. “The only good Injuns are dead.”

5. Politically-driven perspectives* – This person sees life mostly through political goggles, which usually have either red or blue lenses.

  • Blue lenses seem to create an overwhelming sense of the proverbial “white guilt,” which can only be relieved by creating new tenants of political correctness enforced by yet more big government solutions. Oddly, the blue-lens perspective is just as paternalistic as our forefathers on both sides of the aisle in Washington, which has caused most of our problems today.
  • Red lenses have a tendency to reject anything that smacks of political correctness. Typical mantras in this camp include: “Disband the reservations, tribes are socialistic anyway. Tax the casinos. Build that oil pipeline through their land, and frack, baby, frack! It’s all about jobs. Make them assimilate! Go Redskins!” The red-lens view often sees reservations as welfare states attributing all the social ills such as high addiction, crime, and suicide rates to the dependence on government subsidies. Although it recognizes the tragedies of the past, it believes that the best thing to do for Native Americans is to disband the reservations and take them off government “hand-outs.” Problem solved.

6. Pro-Western, seemingly biblically Reformed perspective **– This perspective is related to the politically driven perspective, but now mixed with just enough theology to sound biblical. Foundational tenets include: 1. God ordains whatsoever comes to pass, 2. This is a nation based on Judeo-Christian principles, and 3. Providence has shown that God judged the Indians using a Christian/Western nation. Therefore, the U.S. was justified in its conquering the land and Natives. There are multiple variations of this view.

More can be added to the list, but these common perspectives are the most frequent I encounter when talking with people about our mission to Cherokee.

Excerpt from HOW: Where you informed about Native Americans?

2 thoughts on “Six Common Perspectives on Native Americans

  1. I have to admit, while I have some of all of these perspectives mixed together in my understanding, I mostly fall into the #1 category.

    • While we cannot be faulted for not knowing about every people group in the world, it seems to me that we should at least have basic knowledge of the people we providentially live among. It just seems like the neighborly thing to do. Especially since our country is under the federal headship of a government that is “of the people, for the people, and by the people,” we need to know how our government treats our neighbors. I will share a future post that talks more about that. Thanks, Colin.
      P.S. I am by no means an expert in Native American studies or relations. Although I personally know a lot of Cherokee people, and I have studied more than the average people I meet, ultimately I am just a guy trying to love my Native neighbors and give them the gospel and get others to help us.

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