Were the native peoples of America “savages”

Why do we have the vision of Indians as savages? Why do we think of them as warlike people? The answer is simple. From an early age we are exposed to Cowboy and Indian Films which are often untruthful or contain unreliable information. Have you ever seen a film about Indians where they were undertaking their usual domestic lives? Films are there to entertain and sell and are not made to historically inform people. Although some films contain valuable information about things like weapons and war tactics they do not give us a great in-depth insight into the usual everyday lives of the natives. They often dramatise points of warlike aspects of their lives, like in “Dancing with Wolves” they are accurate with the use of things like war paints, scalping, war noises and coup sticks but these things just emphasise the view of them being primitive peoples and don’t provide us with a domestic insight.

Another thing that has implanted the image of barbaric people among our minds are the advertising companies use of Indian tribal names to portray images of strength and ferocity among products and teams such as Cherokee cars (also an Indian tribe) and the “Washington Redskins” with their logo as a “Red Indian”.

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Yes, in some ways they were savages as they scalped and mutilated their enemies. They also lived in the primitive home of a tipi and never settled in one place as they followed the buffalo (their main food resource). The children underwent no education as the natives thought it would be irrelevant for them in later life. The children were undisciplined. Another uncivilised “atrocity” that the Indians committed was the sacrifice of young children or elders if they slowed the tribe down.

On the other hand they were not savages as they only scalped and mutilated their enemies because it was an important part of their religion and culture as they believed that if they owned the enemies scalp they owned their soul so wouldn’t go to the happy hunting ground. The reason for mutilating enemies was that the Indians believed they would become disabled in their later lives. Many people from other cultures would be horrified to hear that we burn bodies and people actually ask for it (cremation).

Secondly, the tipi was actually an amazing invention for that period and was ideally suited to the environment it was created for. It must have taken very wise people to design this, which implies there were many civilised, intelligent people in their society. In addition to this, the Indians didn’t need an academic education to get through life as they would have no need for numeracy, science etc. Instead they were taught important life skills like how to hunt and survive, which would be relevant to their lives.

The children were undisciplined but they were still well behaved as they were deprived of enjoyable activities instead of conventional punishments such as belting, smacking and hitting children, and shouting at them which were commonplace at that time. The Indians didn’t believe in physical punishment and deprivation has since been deemed a very successful punishment, used on television by programs like “Supernanny”.

Furthermore, the Indians didn’t want to kill children and elders but sometimes it was necessary. It is like in business, if a company isn’t doing very well and it feels an individual is slowing it down it will have to make cuts and sacrifice them for the good of the company so it may progress .It was often necessary because if the tribe didn’t catch up with the buffalo they would all starve to death.

The whites also committed atrocities, massacring whole villages of unarmed men, women and children for no reason apart from wanting to completely erase all trace of the people and culture of the Native Americans which is extremely barbaric.

Another reason the Native Americans are not savages is their complete and utter respect for nature and life, never wasting a thing, especially were buffalo are concerned and never killing needlessly. In comparison with the whites attitude towards nature this is amazing as the whites pointlessly killed thousands of buffalo in an attempt to drive the Indians out of the plains. The whites also often had large wars which wasted many lives.

In my opinion, I don’t think the Indians were savages as they had a much fairer society in which everyone respected each other. Even though they were nomads they were more civilised than the settled whites were at the time. I feel that they are wrongly portrayed by films and adverts and although they did take part in war, the main of their lives were taken by domestic activities. I think modern society could learn a great amount from the Indians as we need to respect nature more and be less wasteful due to new concerns over global climate change.

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