Perceptions of Native Americans

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Perceptions of Native Americans

There are preconceived notions about the native peoples of North America. The images best presented can best be summed up in the term "noble savage." This idea represents most people's views of the Native American. Here will be discussed some of the ideas of the noble savage and their differences from reality.

What is the "noble savage?" It is an idea that represents the romanticized notion of Native Americans as a race of people living in perfect harmony with their environment. They live in large groups or tribes, each containing an elder leader. They worship deities related to the forces of nature, and only take and use what they need (Sulham 2007). These people are, by nature, "good" and only become capable of evil with indoctrination into modern society. This idea has been perpetuated in the arts. Works such as "The Last of the Mohicans," "Moby Dick," and even "Frankenstein" portray noble savages. Queequeg was described as a caring and good soul, despite being a heathen; man in his purest form (Melville 126). His death even eventually saves the protagonist. Even figures in actual history, such as Pocahontas, have been romanticized in this model.

So how do we determine the facts from the fallacies? We must use a scientific process called Anthropology. Anthropology is the study of the development of man. It covers many aspects of human development, not the least of which is the study of culture. Many examples of culture, including the different ones of the native North Americans, provide examples that dispel the notion of the noble savage.

The perception of the religion is one aspect that is flawed. While it is true that some cultures worshipped the "earth spirits" as we see them, many cultures had complex and varied forms of spirituality. For example, the people of the Arctic based their religion mainly on maintaining a relationship with the game they hunted, hoping for future cooperation. They believed that...
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