Through this course, while the primary focus has been on a historical as well as contemporary and subtopic-based study of Native American societies, we have simultaneously been confronted with the history of anthropological study of Native Americans. We have seen a transition from early “ethnographic” (if they can even be called that) writings by colonizers and missionaries about Native American people, to full-fledged salvage ethnography as well as anthropologists conducting work for the U.S. Government, to a more apologetic approach, painting Native Americans as victims, and finally, to a more holistic and critical post-modern method of studying Native Americans. While we certainly have been in a period of critical reflection concerning both the painful history of Euroamerican and Native American interactions as well as of Anthropology, it is incredibly important to continue to examine the role of the Anthropologist in the study of Native American people, particularly because broader American society tends to still hold incorrect and often discriminatory views concerning Native Americans.
After reading the Starn article and discussing with Dr. Lewis, it became clear to me that there is a real necessity for Native American anthropologists in the field, particularly in American anthropology where so much of the field work takes place among Native American people. I think this approach to anthropology is incredibly important because Native Americans should have the ability to self-represent, particularly in a way that reflects their own ontologies as well as their own form of autohistory. Fundamentally, a Euroamerican study of Native American groups is limited to the Euroamerican way of thinking, construction of culture, and understanding of anthropology. A Native American anthropologist has the ability to employ their own worldviews in order to hopefully better represent the groups that they study. All of this being said, I do think it is important, as Dr. Lewis feels as well, to have a variety of perspectives when conducting anthropology. The work of Native American anthropologists can be complemented by a Euroamerican perspective, and can hopefully get closer to some conception of truth concerning a culture through these multiple lenses of analysis.
Anthropology’s complicated history with Native American groups often leads to a more apologetic construction of Native American histories and experiences by Euroamerican anthropologists. I believe that instead of depicting Native Americans as victims in ethnographic studies, it is important for Native Americanists to utilize their unique role as anthropologists to both study cultures, as well as to work to advocate for them. For example, Dr. Lewis’ work both studies Eastern Band Cherokee economics, but it also works to create a framework through which small business owners in Cherokee can move forward entrepreneurially in order to better themselves and their community. This type of advocacy should be central to anthropological studies of Native Americans, as it creates some sort of practical purpose for making a group of people the object of a study.
Finally, I believe that anthropology should be used to educate broader American society about Native American societies, in a way that reflects the autohistories and self-representations of these groups. There is a reason that most children learn about tepees, the trail of tears, and pow-wows, rather than AIM, removal, termination, or the incredible diversity and individual autonomy and sovereignty of Native American cultures. It is incredibly important, for the future of our country that anthropologists work to construct accurate and culturally relative representations of Native American groups for public education.