During the 15th century, in the search of India and spice. Christopher Columbus stumbled upon North America and falsely called the Native inhabitants “Indians.”
Indigenous Indian Tribes in the United States are a combination of numerous indigenous tribes and are sovereign nations. Today, the indigenous people make up only 1.5 percent of the United States’ population, but pre-Columbian indigenous tribes flourished in the millions. Many tribes continue to take pride in their ancestral traditions. Many still hold onto their cultural identities through music, art, language and religion.
President Andrew Jackson introduced the Indian Removal Act of 1830. When the law passed, it gave the United States confirmation to legally and forcefully remove tribal communities under “western law” so the land can be use by foreign settlers for homestead and farming and hunting.
Before this, Indigenous Tribes roamed free, hunted and gather food, fished and governed themselves. The Federal Government, compromised the tribes with treaties which by that time was the only available solution, but were often broken by the government. Losing Indian lands resulted in a loss of cultural identity, as tribes had to leave their homelands, losing a sense of spiritual well-being. Without their lands, Indian Nations began to lose their purpose as indigenous people.
At boarding Schools their hair was cut or shaved, and they were forced to dress in western clothes and go to church. Indigenous children were told not to speak their language; instead “English” was the first language spoken. Slowly Native languages began to die. Not only did they lose the right to speak their language, but also to practice or perform any culture ceremonies or traditions.
Every Native has a unique aspect on what their tribe is like and how they partake in the world with special cultural beliefs.
I took some time to interview one of my friends, Sarah Chatter. I asked about what her thoughts were as a Native American part of the Navajo Tribe.
“My culture is one that I hold near to my heart,” she said. “Nowadays, it’s a matter of balancing both worlds; the traditions that have been long forgotten, and the modern customs of today’s world. Often times for Native American Club, we dress up in our traditional attire and students at my school, who are predominantly white, usually complement our outfits. Little do they know, at one time this is how our elders dressed on a daily basis, nor are they acquainted with the symbolic meaning of each and every part of our attire.
“Forcing myself to be excluded from certain field trips and science labs due to my traditions is one that students find odd as well, but to me, it’s how I was raised. When some of my own peers, who are native, laugh or make fun of myself or other custom-based students, I don’t say much because that’s how I was taught. Which is to be humble. Don’t think negatively. The traditional up-bringing I was given is one I am truly grateful for, because without it, I believe I would be scattered and unfocused, far from being where I am today.
“The teachings that have been bestowed upon me, give myself, and other Diné people, their identity, and I think that is something that people have forgotten, that should be retaught. On the Navajo Reservation we have 27,000 square miles of land — bigger than some of the eastern states, with a population of 300,000. We have a three-branch government, we have our own laws. The Navajo language itself was used to win the war with the Japanese Imperialism. As Native Americans, we are always ready to defend this continent from foreign adversaries. Several people have a lot of relatives that are veterans of foreign wars. The Navajo Nation leaders fight to have our Diné language to be taught in the Public Schools, we have a Radio Station KTNN 660 where the information is spoken in the Navajo language every day. On the Navajo Reservation, the culture is kept closely to many hearts. It is a way of life, and this lifestyle brings peace and happiness.”