American Indian Heritage Month: Commemoration vs. Exploitation
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Pan-Indianism

Pan-Indianism has historically been a reaction to European arrival and westward expansion. In general, pan-Indianism may be defined as a conglomeration of intertribal Native American people who organize in an effort to accomplish a set of specific goals. Pan-Indian movements have had proponents and critics from all segments of modern-day society. It is simultaneously evidence of the adversity of Native American culture and proof that European cultural imperialism has successfully erased many tribes from existence.

The earliest examples of pan-Indianism are typically linked to Native American revolts. Native Americans pooled their intertribal resources to resist colonization, as exemplified by the several revolts between 1680 and 1700 including the Pueblo Revolt, the Great Southwest Revolt, and King Philip's War. Pan-Indian resistance continued in the United States with leaders such as Pontiac, Neolin the Prophet, and Tecumseh creating pan-Indian alliances that crossed tribal lines. Their collective goal involved preserving Native autonomy over land by preventing European settlers from spreading westward.

The late 1800s saw the emergence of at least three pan-Indian movements. First came the movement to make modern-day Oklahoma an intertribal Indian state to be governed by a pan-Indian set of laws and cultural practices based in the traditions of several tribes. Second was the Ghost Dance movement that spread across the Great Plains, promising to return the land to its condition prior to European arrival. U.S. agents interpreted Ghost Dance activities as a revolt and killed Sitting Bull, leading up to the massacre at Wounded Knee. The Ghost Dance movement was stopped, and many former ghost dancers became active in the so-called peyote cult, forming the third pan-Indian movement. Peyote use is most commonly linked to the Native American Church, which merges intertribal groups with Christian and Native American spiritual practices.

As European colonial activity evolved, so did the reaction that Native Americans embarked on in terms of pan-Indian activity. Perhaps a product of European efforts to assimilate Native Americans via boarding schools, many graduates went on to form pan-Indian organizations based on the notion of a shared national Indian identity. The process of assimilation allowed for the emergence of middle-class, educated Natives who attempted to utilize U.S. laws to make improvements in the lives of reservation and urban Native Americans. These organizations tended to take practical approaches to promoting the needs of impoverished Native Americans by advancing integration into mainstream U.S. political and economic institutions.

An early example of a pan-Indian integration organization was the Society of American Indians (SAI) formed in 1911 to monitor U.S. policy and its effect on Native American communities. Although the SAI was concerned with improving the education and integration of Native Americans, the group could not agree on how best to accomplish these goals. Its drive for U.S. citizenship for all Native Americans was realized in 1924, the same year the SAI disbanded.

Another successful pan-Indian organization is the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI). The NCAI initially focused on Native American education and legislation, much like the SAI, but expanded its efforts to job training and legal aid for Native people. Today the NCAI serves as a beacon for federal policy and legislation impacting tribal government and individual Native Americans. Since its origin, the NCAI has expanded its focus to include environmental resource management, elder and youth health care, and the promotion of religious freedom for Native Americans.

Amid the tide of ethnic movements during the 1950s and 1960s for increased integration and self-determination, a pan-Indian civil rights movement emerged. These civil rights organizations followed a pattern similar to other ethnic groups. As the sixties went on, newer civil rights organizations emerged with more extreme ideologies and actions than the previous organizations.

In 1961 the National Indian Youth Council (NIYC) emerged as a predominantly college student–based organization tasked with ensuring political visibility for Native American youth. The NIYC resorted to civil disobedience as a way of garnering exposure for the issues they deemed important. In 1967, a California-based group called the United Native Americans followed the path of NIYC but focused on reservation and urban pockets of Native populations. A year later, the most famous pan-Indian organization, the American Indian Movement (AIM), began patrolling the streets of Minneapolis and St. Paul to monitor the abuses police forces exerted in Native communities. AIM would emerge on the national scene because of their tactics and their involvement with many acts of disobedience against U.S. authority.

AIM is credited with bringing many issues to national visibility and, in the process, lost some members to prison and death. AIM worked with many other pan-Indian organizations to reclaim Alcatraz Island, the former site of an island prison in San Francisco Bay, on November 9, 1969. The resulting media attention was utilized to bring forward a long existing pan-Indian consciousness that rejected many of the principles of U.S. legitimacy. For the first time in U.S. history, notions of manifest destiny, U.S. nationalism, and the American Indian as conquered people were being challenged in front of a national mainstream audience.

Members of AIM took controversial stands on issues in Indian Country as well. By challenging the authority of tribal reservation governments, AIM risked alienating traditional Native Americans and the most powerful of Native Americans relative to all reservation residents. One of the most famous examples of such a challenge comes from the Pine Ridge Reservation in the midseventies when Guardians of the Oglala Nation (GOONs), a private police force hired by the Lakota tribal government, were accused of overstepping their authority and killing reservation residents unjustifiably. AIM members began to patrol GOONs activity. After several altercations between AIM and GOONs, the FBI was brought in to control the situation. Although no one agrees on the details, the outcome was the arrest and conviction of AIM member Leonard Peltier for the murder of two FBI agents. Peltier remains incarcerated to this day for what many believe is a crime he did not commit.

As access to economic, educational, and political institutions increased, pan-Indianism took on a less militant approach. Today, many pan-Indian organizations represent groups of professional Native Americans in the private sector, in U.S. government, and on university campuses throughout the U.S. Some examples include the Native American Journalists Association, the American Indian Science and Engineering Society, the Association of American Indian Physicians, the Native American Law Students Association, and the American Political Science Association's Indigenous Studies network.

Also expanding in the university is the pan-Indian discipline of American Indian (or Native American) studies. Emerging in the late seventies, bachelor's, master's, and doctoral programs have proliferated. Several philosophies of education, community building, and integration with mainstream U.S. institutions have developed. The diversity of approaches to Native American issues has led to the appearance that the discipline lacks focus as a whole. One example of this inconsistency may be the very name for the discipline. Academic programs founded in the 1980s use the name American Indian studies, newer programs use the phrase Native American studies, Canadian programs call themselves First Nations' studies, and programs being formed today are tentatively called applied indigenous studies programs. Despite the label changes, all these programs share a common concern for the future of Native American people in terms of economic development, access to education, cultural sensitivity in research, and cultural revitalization.

Today, academics of political philosophy are emerging and promoting theories of pan-Indianism as an explanation of world power structures. Based on the premise that the world is composed of developed and developing nations, indigenous studies scholars argue that developing nations can never truly become developed nations. Rather, developed nations are developed only because of their relationship with First Nations' resources. Members of the First Nations' culture generally saw themselves as part of their environment, whereas developed nations saw themselves as masters of their environment. Colonialism allowed developing nations from Europe to become developed at the expense of First Nations' resources. Only those capable of functioning in their environment in nonexploitative ways will emerge from the inevitable resource depletion. Academics in indigenous studies believe only a pan-Indian movement will be capable of leading the world once developed nations consume resources beyond the point of sustainability.

Often taken as a double-edged sword, panIndianism is interpreted in terms of positive and negative impacts. The danger of pan-Indianism is that it threatens the purity of tribal cultures that have survived into the modern era. Pan-Indianism contains no language and adheres to a "powwow culture" potentially in conflict with individual tribal cultures. On the other hand, without a pan-Indian movement, many Native Americans throughout the world who have lost their former tribal affiliations would be left without a connection to Native identity. The youth of many tribal and urban Native communities are often brought together in university environments and seek support from other Native youth in pan-Indian student organizations. This is a continuation of the phenomena once experienced by Native individuals subjected to relocation into urban Indian centers. Pan-Indian centers still exist in urban areas in many states, including California, Arizona, Minnesota, Illinois, and Ohio.

Michael Lerma


Further Reading
Deloria, Vine, and Raymond DeMallie. 1999. Documents of American Indian Diplomacy: Treaties, Agreements, and Conventions, 1775–1979. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.; Deloria, Vine. 1999. Tribes, Treaties, and Constitutional Tribulations. Austin: University of Texas Press.; Grande, Sandy. 2004. Red Pedagogy: Native American Social and Political Thought. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.; Smith, Linda Tuhiwai. 1999. Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples. London: Zed Books.; Wilkins, David E. 2002. American Indian Politics and the American Political System. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.
 

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