Indigenous people in America are terribly stereotyped by other groups. commonly referred to as “Indians” by those who neglect the importance of referring to each Indigenous group as its own entity. This is a result of the original classification of the Natives of American land by the Europeans. Berkhofer’s main point in describing the role of stereotypes in the Native people’s domination is that rather than being defined in terms of their attributes, the Indigenous peoples were described by what they lacked in relation to the more civilized, religious, and modest peoples of the conquerors‘ countries.
Effectively. European conquerors believed themselves to be superior culturally, leading to the domination and forced assimilation of Natives to fit their customs. I found it quite convincing and persuasive when Berkhofer discussed how the Europeans’ accounts of the Natives would change from negative to positive in an attempt to prove that they were uncivilized enough to need help from the Europeans, yet completely worthy and capable of assimilating.
For example. he quoted the 1613 book. Goode Newes from Virgina, which stated first, in regard to the Natives, “They esteem it a Virtue to lie, deceive and steale as their master the divell teacheth to them.” In a second account, the passage says ”They are a very understanding generation. quick of apprehension. suddaine in their dispatches. subtile in their dealings, exquisite in their inventions, and industrious in their labor.” It is evident through these statements that the writer was attempting to convince his readers of their need to be conquered and controlled.
Clearly, the Natives were labeled and misconstrued as a people from the very beginning. While I understand the extent to which Native American cultures varied. I did not find Berkhofer‘s arguments against the term ”Indian” very convincing. I thought that, regardless of the negative connotation it can have, he made it seem as though the word cannot have a definition or does not make sense in any context. It seems to me that the term can be used to broadly categorize all the people who inhabited America before the arrival of the Europeans.
He explained that the word represents White views of the Native American. but failed to convince me that the word “Indian” itself is strictly connected to the negative and offensive descriptions given to the Natives at the time of the first European settlements. Since the term was a main component of this reading, I was confused and unconvinced by Berkhofer multiple times throughout. Berkhofer’s described how the early descriptions of Natives by the Europeans scue our current viewpoints and lead to stereotyping and generalizing Native Americans. In discussing the tendency of European settlers to judge Native culture on what it lacked rather than what it had, he displays a perfect example of cultural relativism. The European settlers, not considering the differences in history and values. based the evolution of the Natives’ society on their own societal norms and came to the conclusion that civilized society was superior. This is a dangerous way to define a completely separate group, and has led to an inaccurate stereotype of modern Native Americans. Part 2: Looking back on my elementary. middle. and high school years, not much of history class was dedicated to studying Native American culture.
My understanding of Native Americans, which I believe most of my teachers referred to as “Indians”, mostly came from Western movies. Pocahontas, and the Thanksgiving day play that I did in Kindergarten. I played a Pilgrim. dressed in a black dress. and the kids who were portraying Indians each wore a large. feathered cap on his or her head. I definitely believe that my past View of Native Americans aligns with Berkhofer‘s descriptions, They were taught as almost a novelty. and I don’t think I understood their current place in society until I was older. At my elementary school, unfortunately. I don’t think that the teachers even had a grasp on who Native Americans are as a people. To go along with Berkhofer. I was only taught about them as a broad group called Indians and only on Thanksgiving. No one ever took the time to explain to us that they are still a major culture group today. Also. much emphasis was placed on Columbus and his discoveries, but it wasn’t until later in life that I found out about the cruel things he had done to Native Americans. and that the Europeans dominated and nearly wiped out an entire population.
The only other point of reference I had as a child was the Disney version of Pocahontas. In that movie especially. the relationship between the Natives and the Europeans is extremely simplified. and because John Smith was portrayed as such a good man I never had reason to believe othen/vise. This movie aligns with the peaceful descriptions of the Natives, being one with nature and taking pride in being a peaceful people. The main problem with movies like Pocahontas and stories like that of Thanksgiving is that Native Americans are always portrayed as how they were long ago. While white people and other cultures are able to advance in movies and other media. Natives are seen as a novelty or a group of interest rather than as normal members of modern society. I can see how. as Berkhofer says. the term “Indian” can encourage these thoughts. causing people to see them in the way that we will always think of ”Indians”.