Saturday, February 19, 2011

Term Paper on Acculturation

Term Paper on Acculturation

Acculturation is the driving force behind Native culture, despite centuries of historical effort to assimilate this culture. Assimilation policy has tried to force Native Americans to be part of dominant Western culture, yet the cultural group has coped with changes thrust upon them, and emerge in the twentieth century as a culture that Western society has come to respect.

Examination of the cultural tradition of the powwow and the dances and rituals associated with it reveals Native American culture is alive and strong. The presence of the powwow in modern-day society effectively illustrates that the goal of total assimilation of the Native American by white society has failed. Acculturation, rather than assimilation is the active force behind the life of the Native American.


The Dawes Act of 1887 can be viewed as white America’s first formal effort to assimilate the Native American. The Dawes Act was aimed at opening the doors for Natives to enter mainstream society, with the premise that this was easier to achieve if he was an independent landowner (Kelly 71). The Act promised ideals of self-support to the Native American but the reality of the Act proved to discourage Native tribal organization and customs, and encourage acceptance of white society standards (McDonnell 3). This land allotment system has had far-reaching effects on the stability of cultural practices within the Native community. The survival of the Native American culture depends on allowing Native Americans to live “out of the mainstream in rural pockets. If community life disintegrates further because of economic or political necessity, then music and dance may also perish (Heth 2).”

People in dominant Western culture tend to think that other cultures want to be molded into the same image, and in some ways are “destined to fade away by some natural law as if they can’t cope with the change (Parsell 3).” In her interview with Wade Davis, Parsell makes it clear that Native cultures have withstood change: “The Sioux Indian did not stop being a Sioux when he gave up a bow and arrow, any more than an American farmer stopped being a farmer when he gave up the horse and buggy (Parsell 3).” This statement supports the idea that efforts to assimilate the Native culture to conform to Western culture have largely been superficial. Implements can be an element of culture, but are not definitive of culture. Similarly, in the early days of history, white Christian education of the Indian also came with the understanding of “detaching Indian students from their Native ways and culture (Kelly 79).” Native students in white schools were taught to dress and look white, replacing native clothing and beads with western clothing, and cutting the Native’s hair to shorter lengths, as symbols of efforts to “civilize Indian students (Kelly 78).” Efforts to assimilate the Native culture can best be described as primitive. Appearing white on the outside does not erase the Native spirit, nor the inherent cultural values that are a part of one’s spirit.

In the twentieth century, government relocation programs have forced Indians to move to the cities. To minimize the effects of urbanization on Native community, Native Americans started powwow clubs (Heth 2). Plains Indians’ powwow celebrations support the idea that Native American culture is very much alive and well, “despite the efforts of early government agents to snuff out Indian culture (Parfit 97).” Powwows have grown in popularity, due to a “resurgence of Indian identity (Parfit 94).” It is a celebration of victories throughout history of Native forefathers: “We sing to victory. We are still here! (Parfit 95).”

Until 1936, religious practices of the Native American were illegal and practiced only in secret (Erdoes 106). In just over 60 years, a culture once subjected to Christian reform, receives recognition in that “today many non-Indians are fascinated by the Indian way of life. Some want a new religion, and some believe Indians have a better relationship with our beleaguered earth (Parfit 109).” As in many other cultures, Native American culture offers a unique view of life, has become part of the “overall repertoire of humanity for coping with challenges confronting us in the future (Parsell 2).” Native American history has in a lot of ways come full circle, with the wisdom of the cultural practices now gaining the respect that it deserves.

In his discussion of spiritual ceremonies of the Native American, Parfit notes that he was not allowed to photograph them, because “these ideas are private. Indians are willing to explain things like Fancy Dancing, but often consider it improper to discuss more spiritual ceremonies (108).” The code of silence surrounding the spiritual celebrations of Natives at powwows illustrates the Native American’s desire to preserve the sacred nature of their spirituality, and also serves to protect an integral part of their culture.

Preservation of Native religious practices is further revealed when Parfit visits the home of one of the dancers he travels with, and meets his daughter, Jennifer:
Signs and pictures on the wall make this look like a Christian household. But that night when I start to whistle a tune, Jennifer stops me. “Shhh,” she says, and looks at me crossly as if I ought to know. “Don’t whistle at night. Ghosts (111).”

Jennifer has learned the spiritual teachings of her culture, while living in what appears upon first glance to be a Christian home. Jennifer has the benefits of Christian teachings, as well as the spiritual teachings of her Native heritage. There is a blending of cultures, each one kept in an appropriate perspective and balance.

The influences of acculturation in Native American life are again revealed in Parfit’s description of traveling with two Native men to the next powwow:

Two eagle feathers and a braid of sweet grass lie on the dash. A radar detector and a digital clock are clipped to a visor; no matter where we are the clock shows Montana time. Eagle plumes, a small glass-and-metal headdress, and a circular web called a dream catcher hang from the mirror. As the little van sways down the miles, the eagle plumes seem to Grass Dance in the sun (109).

The passage clearly shows how Natives have adapted to Western culture. Different ethnic cultures can and often do co-exist, because of the innate adaptability of human beings to change. The van has replaced the horse, but cultural identity is maintained through ornate symbols of Native heritage and culture in the vehicle.

A final excerpt from Parfit’s experiences appropriately demonstrates the repeated efforts of assimilation policy, while humorously presenting a twist of irony to the historical trend of white Americans trying to westernize Native culture. In an interview with Marilyn Pourier, a Native American Rights Fund Development Officer, Parfit discusses the history of United States policy to remake Indians in the image of the ideal man. In the late 19th century, the ideal man was a farmer, so we gave Indians pieces of land to plow. In the 1970s he was a corporate executive, so in settling Alaska land claims we gave natives a maze of corporations. And who is seen as the perfect man today, when so many people are looking for old spiritual roots or environmental ethics? Marilyn laughs. “Now,” she says, “the ideal man is an Indian (112).”

The celebration of the powwow is how Natives “maintain continuity in the face of incredible change (Parfit 113).” After all the assimilation policies of American history are said and done, “Indians still will not be molded, even into our image of perfection. They take what comes to hand and use it to hang on. White society may have tried to make them into farmers or executives, but they’re still doing just what they choose (Parfit 113).” Native Americans have repeatedly demonstrated their strength of spirit and resiliency in the face of cultural oppression.

Natives have blended aspects of white culture into their own. Native Americans strongly maintain their own cultural identity through Native dance, art, symbolism and traditional celebrations. Native Americans are a cultural group that have definite reason to celebrate their victories.

Warning!!! All free sample term papers and college term paper examples on Acculturation topics are plagiarized and cannot be fully used in your high school, college or university education.

Order Custom Term Paper on Acculturation
If you need a custom written term paper, research paper, essay, dissertation, thesis paper or any other homework on your topic, will write your academic term papers from scratch. Starting at $12/page you can get 100% custom written papers online. We work with experienced PhD. and Master's freelance writers to help you with writing any papers in any discipline! High quality and 100% non-plagiarized term papers guaranteed!