Having just written a research paper on the state of the education of American youths on the topic of Native American history and current state, the idea of how anthropology of Native America should look is already on my mind. The history of the Native American and Amerindian has for too long emphasized pre- and early-European contact. They are continually referred to as the people they used to be; essentially ignoring their presence as modern day peoples. School curricula all too often only focus on these early stages of Native American cultures and tend to leave out the most relevant and pressing issues that plague the contemporary Native.
To me, the anthropology of Native America is not as simple as one anthropology. It is a collection. Much like the study of different cultures in Europe, Africa, Asia, and so on, Native American cultures should be looked at independent of one another. Though many hold a number of similarities and similar mindsets and worldviews, they are independent cultures and sovereign nations. This means, just as independent cultures in different countries and on different continents, Native America should be a blanketed term to describe only peoples that coexisted in early North America and their histories up to the present day. It should not be used to refer to more than their physical existence.
With that said, it is also a collection of aspects of the cultures. To be Native American, as we have discussed over the past few months, is not as simple as to have a direct and proven blood tie to Native American ancestry. Especially with so much pressure to assimilate to and work within the boundaries of Western culture, it has become increasingly more important to hold true to one’s heritage in different ways. These include simply living within a community of similar peoples as well as going so far as to assert one’s culture through meaning, worldview, and the way in which one lives one’s life. The anthropology of Native America includes all aspect of culture, from the material, to the tradition, to the spiritual mindset. It is much more than what happened in their past and extends to what is happening now.
Similarly, when teaching the topic of Native Americans, one needs to break up the course into multi-grade curricula. They are not a single peoples with one general culture but rather an assortment of tribes, nations, and overall populations that interacted with but are independent of one another. This includes both their early histories as well as their current states. Each culture deserves its own time and attention in order to provide the most accurate and respectful representation.