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5.2: Intergroup Relations

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    Intergroup consequences applied to Native Americans range from genocide to pluralism. The first few centuries of European colonialism contributed to experiences of genocide, expulsion, and internal colonialism. By the end of the 19th century, with the advent of reservations and the boarding school system, segregation and assimilation guided intergroup relations between Indigenous peoples and Euro Americans. Though, Native resistance against oppression through this troublesome history, through more recent history, can be characterized as separatism. As most Native Americans are mixed with other races, fusion is a relevant intergroup contemporary consequence. The sharing of Indigenous cultures with Native and non-Native groups through pow wows provides an example of pluralism.

    Patterns of Intergroup Relations: Native Americans
    • Extermination/Genocide: The deliberate, systematic killing of an entire people or nation (e.g. Trail of Tears, Indian Removal Act).
    • Expulsion/ Population Transfer: The dominant group expels the marginalized group (e.g. Native Americans reservations).
    • Internal Colonialism: The dominant group exploits the marginalized group (e.g. California missions).
    • Segregation: The dominant group structures physical, unequal separation of two groups in residence, workplace & social functions (e.g. reservations).
    • Separatism: The marginalized group desires physical separation of two groups in residence, workplace & social functions (e.g. American Indian Movement).
    • Fusion/ Amalgamation: Race-ethnic groups combine to form a new group (e.g. intermarriage, biracial. pan-Indian).
    • Assimilation: The process by which a marginalized individual or group takes on the characteristics of the dominant group (e.g. boarding schools).
    • Pluralism/ Multiculturalism: Various race-ethnic groups in a society have mutual respect for one another, without prejudice or discrimination (e.g. pow wows).

    History of Intergroup Relations

    Native American culture prior to European settlement is referred to as pre-Columbian: that is, prior to the coming of Christopher Columbus in 1492. Mistakenly believing that he had landed in the East Indies, Columbus named the Indigenous people “Indians,” a name that has persisted for centuries despite being a geographical misnomer and one used to blanket 500 distinct groups who each have their own languages and traditions. Towards the end of the 19th century, with the advent of boarding schools and reservations, assimilation and segregation became the guiding forces of relations between Indigenous and Euro Americans, though some efforts of separatism have characterized Indigenous resistance to oppression. As most Native Americans are mixed with other races today, fusion

    Genocide, Expulsion, Segregation, and Internal Colonialism

    The history of intergroup relations between European colonists and Native Americans is a brutal one. Given that colonization uses force, the result for Indigenous populations was genocide, which is the deliberate systematic killing of an entire people or nation. Although Native Americans’ lack of immunity to European diseases caused the most deaths, overt mistreatment of Native Americans by Europeans was devastating as well.

    From the first Spanish colonists to the French, English, and Dutch who followed, European settlers took what land they wanted and expanded across the continent at will. If Indigenous people tried to retain their stewardship of the land, Europeans fought them off with superior weapons. A key element of this issue is the Indigenous view of land and land ownership. Most tribes considered the earth a living entity whose resources they were stewards of; the concepts of land ownership and conquest didn’t exist in Native American society. Europeans’ domination of the Americas was indeed a conquest; one scholar points out that Native Americans are the only minoritized group in the United States whose subordination occurred purely through conquest by the dominant group (Marger, 1993).

    After the establishment of the United States government, discrimination against Native Americans was codified and formalized in a series of laws intended to subjugate them and keep them from gaining any power. Some of the most impactful laws are as follows:

    • The Indian Removal Act of 1830 forced the relocation of Creek, Chickasaw, Cherokee, Choctaw, Seminole, and other eastern American Indian tribes to lands west of Mississippi River. These lands were cleared of Native Americans so that white Americans and their African slaves can settle upon them. This act was signed into law by President Andrew Jackson and it is an example of legal and institutionalized discrimination: discrimination as unequal treatment that has been established and enforced within an institution like the government. Perhaps the most ruthless example of this removal policy enforcement is the Trail of Tears.
    • In 1838, about 17,000 Cherokee were forced to traverse approximately 1200 miles to their new location in what is now Oklahoma. During this move, the Cherokee were exposed to brutal weather and trail conditions which resulted in at least 4,000 deaths, but some estimates suggest it is as high as 8,000 Cherokee deaths (Healey & O'Brien, 2015; Schaefer, 2015). In addition to this act being discriminatory and genocidal, it is also an example of direct expulsion (forced migration and/or removal) as exhibited by the Trail of Tears.
    • The 1851 and 1871 Indian Appropriation Acts funded further removals and declared that no Indian tribe could be recognized as an independent nation, tribe, or power with which the U.S. government would have to make treaties. The 1851 Act created the reservation system. As an example of forced segregation, physical separation enforced by the dominant group, Native Americans were not allowed to leave the reservations without permission. The 1851 and 1871 Acts made it even easier for the U.S. government to take land it wanted. This provided the foundation and continued development of internal colonialism, where the dominant group exploits the people of color. The establishment of the California mission system set the tone for internal colonialism given that these missions specifically exploited Indigenous labor under the guise of conversion (Acuña, 2015).
    • The Relocation Act of 1956 led to the creation of job training centers and job training programs in urban centers. The result was that there were more American Indians moving out of reservations and moving to the cities, which is an example of indirect expulsion. Some of these programs required Native Americans to sign an agreement not to return to the reservations (Aguirre & Turner, 2004).

    The continued discrimination, paternalism (dominant and subordinate group dynamics that exhibit extreme inequality with regards to wealth, power, and prestige that results in the infantilizing of the subordinate group, and ideological racism (beliefs and/or ideas that are usually held by an entire society regarding the inferiority of a certain group or groups) directed at Native Americans by the U. S. government violently culminated in the 1890 Wounded Knee Massacre.

    Video \(\PageIndex{1}\): "Ghost Dance" portrays the Indigenous spiritual resistance to Anglo encroachment on the traditional Native American way of life. (Close-captioning and other YouTube settings will appear once the video starts.) (Fair Use; John Fitz via YouTube)

    According to Dee Brown (1970), the soldier chiefs (U. S. Army) at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation were not satisfied with the amount of guns taken from American Indians (Lakotas) and ordered further searches of them by taking away their blankets among other items. Black Coyote raised his Winchester above his head and stated he bought it. Somehow, Black Coyote's rifle went off and the U. S. Army soldiers fired at the Native Americans. It is estimated that 153 were known to be dead, but that the final total was about 300 American Indians were dead. The U. S. Army had 25 soldier fatalities and 39 wounded soldiers (Brown, 1970). This massacre represents a concrete example of Native American genocide.

    Assimilation, Cultural Genocide, and Fusion

    Kill the Indian, save the man. - Richard Pratt (Army officer and developer of Carlisle Indian School)

    Video \(\PageIndex{2}\): "Unseen Tears: The Native American Boarding School Experience in Western New York Part 1." (Close-captioning and other YouTube settings will appear once the video starts.) (Fair Use; alchemicalmedia via YouTube)

    Forced assimilation of Native Americans began with the establishment of boarding schools in 1860. These schools, run by both Christian missionaries and the United States government, had the express purpose of “civilizing” Native American children and assimilating them into white society. The boarding schools were located off-reservation to ensure that children were separated from their families and culture. Schools forced children to cut their hair, speak English, and practice Christianity. Physical and sexual abuses were rampant for decades; only in 1987 did the Bureau of Indian Affairs issue a policy on sexual abuse in boarding schools. Some scholars argue that many of the problems that Native Americans face today result from almost a century of mistreatment at these boarding schools. While these boarding schools represented forced assimilation, they also resulted in cultural genocide which is the deliberate annihilation of a group's material and non-material/symbolic culture, like languages and traditions. Take into consideration the Carlisle Indian Industrial School, their overt mission was cultural genocide, as noted in the infamous quote by Richard Pratt above.

    Group photo of the students at the Carlisle Boarding School.
    Figure \(\PageIndex{3}\): Carlisle Boarding School Native American pupils pictured in uniformity. (CC PDM 1.0; Frontier Forts via Wikimedia)

    In a somewhat similar fashion, the Dawes Act of 1887 reversed the policy of isolating Native Americans on reservations, instead forcing them onto individual properties that were intermingled with white settlers, thereby reducing their capacity for power as a group. Along with boarding schools, this act represents forced assimilation, which is the process by which a people of color takes on the characteristics of the dominant group. Moreover, the Dawes Act deprived American Indians of the ownership of their ancestral land and established the reservation system that exists even now. This act set up a blood quantum for Native Americans in which those that were full-blooded qualified for land deeds and those that were "mixed-blood" received land rental agreements. As an aside, Congress has never, in its entire history, kept any treaty it has made with any American Indian tribe. The current treaties are so bent that they are about to break and there is a law suit in federal court concerning the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), which is part of the Department of the Interior, and it is responsible for the management of reservation land and the people living on reservations. The suit alleges that the BIA has misallocated, misappropriated, or simply lost, over ten million dollars that was earmarked for social services on a reservation. This suit has been languishing in the federal court system since 1995 (Aguirre & Turner, 2004).

    Another act that contributed to cultural genocide is the 1953 Termination Act. While this act intended to help Native Americans by attempting to give them more autonomy, it actually reduced federal funding to achieve that. The result was that federal services were cut from reservations leaving some of them without the most basic services such as medical care and fire protection (Schaefer, 2015). Additionally, there are communities who consider themselves to be Native American, but through treaties and the policy of termination do not have tribal lands or federal recognition. Many of these societies, such as the Abenaki of Vermont and the Lumbee of North Carolina, have waged legal battles with state and federal governments to gain recognition (Stebbins, 2013).

    With regards to the discussion of assimilation, it is important to consider the complex situation of people with mixed Native American and Euro-American or African-American heritage, reflecting intergroup consequences of both fusion (dominant and minoritized groups combining together to form a new group) and amalgamation (intermarriage). Before European contact, most Indigenous societies, through their kin groups, easily assimilated individuals from other societies through adoption. Early in their encounters with Europeans, this practice continued, and in some instances continues today. For example, President Barack Obama was adopted by the Crow Nation and given a Crow name (One Who Helps People Throughout the Land). In Canada the Metis, the descendants of French, Irish, and Scots traders who intermarried with various Native American groups are a recognized political-ethnic minority. While there are similar groups in the United States, there is no similar recognition.

    In the United States, governmental agencies such as the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) instituted a policy of federal recognition of Indigenous peoples based on blood quantum. This is not a policy based on the DNA profiles of individuals (which were not available decades ago when this policy was established), but on the family genealogies of individuals; you were considered American Indian based on the number of your ancestors who could be determined to be Indigenous from written documents. The U.S. government collected this information as part of the Dawes Act, which functioned largely to terminate the federal government’s treaty responsibilities to Indigenous societies. The family genealogies they collected are called the Dawes Rolls. This policy is fundamentally different than another governmental policy of the same time in U.S. history that stated if a person had “one drop of Negro blood,” no matter how many generations ago or the phenotype (physical appearance) of an individual, that individual was Negro (African-American) and was subject to the Jim Crow and anti-miscegenation laws (laws that sought to prevent marriage or sexual relations between people of different races). While the one drop rule functioned to preserve the African identity of people for the enforcement of Jim Crow and anti-miscegenation laws, blood quantum and documents like the Dawes Act sought to reduce or eliminate the identity of Indigenous peoples and the government’s treaty obligations to them. As in the situation of armed representatives of another political entity on tribal land, such as that at Akwesasne, an important issue for Native peoples in twenty-first century America will be their continued attempts to have control of their lands, resources, and identities while remaining citizens of the United States and Canada.

    Separatism and Pluralism

    Resistance efforts against oppression may be understood as separatist efforts. Further discussion of resistance efforts of Tecumseh (Shawnee) in the early 1800s and The American Indian Movement (originated in 1969) are provided in Section 5.5 (Red Power Movement and Activism). This quote by Tecumseh epitomizes his stance against oppression experienced by Indigenous nations:

    My heart is a stone, heavy with sadness for my people; cold in the knowledge that no treaty will keep the whites out of our small lands that we are now left with; hard with the determination to resist for so long as I live and breathe. Now we are weak and many of our people are afraid. But hear me: a single twig breaks easily, but the bundle of twigs is strong. Someday I will embrace our brother tribes and draw them into a bundle and together we will win our country back from the whites (Eckert, 1993).

    Statue of Tecumseh
    Figure \(\PageIndex{4}\): "Tecumseh Statue" in Annapolis, Maryland. Statue commemorates Tecumseh as a warrior resisting against Anglo encroachment upon the traditional Indigenous way of life. (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0; Mr.TinDC via Flickr)

    Tecumseh's embrace of pan-Indianism, the one-ness of all Indigenous nations, may also be understood from a pluralist lens, in that his ultimate goal was to unite the diverse Indigenous nations into one powerful force against Euro American encroachment on native lands. Pluralism, the mutual respect and co-existence of many cultures, may also be used to understand the contemporary pow wow culture. While the Gathering of Nations in Albuquerque, New Mexico is the largest pow wow in the U.S., these social events, consisting of dancing, drumming, singing as well as the commercial sale of food (e.g. frybread) and arts, occur somewhere in the U.S. every weekend of the year. Pow wows tend to be intertribal, inviting Indigenous performers from many nations, and they are also frequented by non-Indigenous individuals who have a chance to celebrate, honor, and learn from Indigenous cultures.

    Gathering of Nations Pow Wow
    Figure \(\PageIndex{5}\): "Gathering of Nations Pow Wow" flyer from April 26-28, 2018 in Albuquerque, New Mexico. (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0; A.Davey via Flickr)

    Conflicts, Coalitions, and Collaborations

    It is clear that the U. S. government and its policies were antagonistic to Native Americans. These policies sustained the tone of strained intergroup relations that began with conflict over resources between European colonists and American Indians. However, not all intergroup relations were negative since there are examples of coalitions and collaborations.

    Intragroup Relations

    According to James H. Merrell (1989), various Native American tribes would be at war with each other, often over trade or land having been pushed out by European colonists. Some of the most striking examples are Iroquois fighting the Piedmont Indians, Piedmont Indians versus Savannahs, and Catawbas versus Iroquois. Curiously, this intragroup conflict is connected to intragroup coalitions and collaborations. After the Tuscarora War, the remaining Tuscaroras sought refuge with the Five Nations, which are the Iroquois. The Tuscarora refugees were eventually formally adopted by the Iroquois becoming the Six Nations around 1722. Another example is the Yamasee War, where the Yamasee were allied with the Waxhaw and Santee tribes to fight against the Catawbas and Cherokee (Merrell, 1989). It can be argued that European colonists exploited intragroup tensions, particularly in the case of the Yamasee War since the European colonists and militias supported the Catawbas and Cherokee against the Native American tribal coalition of Yamasee, Santee, and other Indigenous groups.

    Aggressive Intergroup Relations

    European colonists and Native Americans had the capacity to live in peace and even collaborate, but this peace would not last. Consider the 1620 Plymouth example, a Pemaquid by the name of Samoset and three Wampanoags by the names of Massasoit, Squanto, and Hobomah helped the Plymouth colonists survive, which they regarded as "helpless children." As more European colonists moved in, the Wampanoags were pushed out, but they fought back. Unfortunately, by 1675, the Wampanoags were virtually exterminated (Brown, 1970). These early aggressive intergroup relations would influence the government policies towards Native Americans after the Revolutionary War.

    Picture of the Old Camp Grant in Arizona.
    Figure \(\PageIndex{6}\): Old Camp Grant Arizona. (CC PDM 1.0; Legends of America via Wikimedia)

    There are examples of coalitions and collaborations, like the Yamasee War mentioned above. One such example took place in 1871, and it is regarded as the Camp Grant Massacre. Rodolfo Acuña writes, "6 Euro-Americans, 48 Mexicans, and 94 Tohono O'odhams attacked a defenseless Apache camp near Camp Grant, massacring more than 100 Apache women and children (Acuña, 2015)." The result of the Camp Grant Massacre was obviously violent, but it was nonetheless a coalition of a Native American group, Euro-Americans, and Mexican Americans all fighting against their common enemy, the Apache, another Native American group. While these varied racial groups generally do not collaborate, they set aside their differences to form a coalition.

    Perhaps the most notorious example of violent intergroup relations happened with the 1862 Uprising also known as the 1862 Dakota War. In August of that year, after a drought, lack of annuities from the federal government, broken treaties, loss of land, and outright starvation experienced by the Dakota, the Santee Sioux attacked a the white settlement of New Ulm which resulted in the Santee capturing more than 200 white women and children (Brown, 1970). Another account of this attack states that it resulted in the killing of 490 white settlers which included women and children (Wiener, 2012). It is unknown how many Dakotas lost their lives during the period leading up to the 1862 Uprising. According to Brown (1970), there were 303 convicted Santees that President Lincoln was being pressured to execute. The result was that 38 of the convicted Santees were hung on December 26, 1862 making this the largest mass execution in U. S. history, yet accounts dispute whether any of these 38 executed men were actually part of the raids and killings. This mass execution did not bode well for future intergroup relations between Native Americans and white settlers/citizens. In remembrance of this jarring history, Reconciliation Park in Mankato, Minnesota seeks to mend this history with a giant scroll recognizing the 38 men who were publicly hung as well as a Mni Wiconi mural (honoring the Minnesota River), a large limestone buffalo, and a bench with the enscription, FORGIVE EVERYONE EVERYTHING.

    Picture of Reconciliation Park where a Limestone buffalo symbolizing the spiritual survival of the Dakota people.
    Picture of Reconciliation Park where a giant scroll enscripted with the names of the 38 Dakota men hanged by the government.
    Figure \(\PageIndex{7}\): Reconciliation Park: Limestone buffalo symbolizing the spiritual survival of the Dakota people and giant scroll enscripted with the names of the 38 Dakota men hanged by the government. (Janét Hund via

    Contributors and Attributions

    Works Cited

    • Acuña, R. F. (2015). Occupied America: A History of Chicanos. 8th ed. Boston, MA: Pearson.
    • Aguirre, A., Jr.& Jonathan H. T. (2004). American Ethnicity: The Dynamic and Consequences of Discrimination. 4th ed. Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill.
    • Brown, D. (1970). Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the America West. New York, NY: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston.
    • Eckert, A.W. (1983). A Sorrow in Our Heart: The Life of Tecumseh. New York, NY: Bantam.
    • Landis, B. (1996). Carlisle Indian Industrial School History. Carlisle Indian School Research.
    • Healey, J. . & Eileen O. (2015). Race, Ethnicity, Gender and Class: The Sociology of Group Conflict and Change. 7th ed. Los Angeles, CA: Sage.
    • Marger, M. (2003). Race and Ethnic Relations: American and Global Perspectives. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.
    • Merrell, J.H. (1989). The Indians’ New World: Catawbas and Their Neighbors from European Contact Through the Era of Removal. New York, NY: W. W. Norton and Company
    • Schaefer, R.T. (2015). Racial and Ethnic Groups. 14th ed. Boston, MA: Pearson.
    • Wiener, J. (2012). Largest mass execution in US History: 150 years ago today. The Nation.