Friday, December 31, 2004

Native Americans as a non-Western culture

The fighting of a war waged by the West on another culture by indigenous here, or people partially indigenous, brings up the question of what exactly Native American culture is.

My opinion is that, simply, Native American culture is a series of non-western cultures just like Indian, Asian, African, Middle Eastern, cultures, which sounds really simple and obvious but really isn't in American discourse on Native America.

The notion was brought home to me a few months ago when I saw a Native American band perform some of their songs, some of which were in the traditional style. They were from cultures in the Southwest. Listening to these guys play their music my mind suddenly switched gears and instead of hearing it as 'Native American music' I heard it like I was listening to a recording of Chinese or Asian music and trying to understand the style. At which point it became extremely clear that the style, which is rigid and formal, was the same sort of formal musical construction that's found in many non-western cultures and that I hadn't been paying attention to the form of the music but just hearing it as something totally other; once the form was recognized the musical content became much clearer. I imagine that it would be clear to people around the globe.

The point of all of this is that in agonizing over understanding Native America we, the non-Natives, have done everything except look at their culture as if it's a series of cultures just like any other non-western culture, with commonalities with them.

Native Americans aren't our long lost brothers, they're people with a distinct culture which has nothing to do with our own.

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