Date of Award


Document Type

Senior Scholars Paper (Open Access)


Colby College. Anthropology Dept.




In this project I examine several of the ideological forces acting upon Native American cultures from 188Q..1920. During this period, Native Americans were subject to extraordinary pressure to assimilate, constituting a virtually bloodless war against traditional Native American identities. As a result the ideology of the majority society infiltrated Native American tribal groups and helped to break down the traditional borders of tribal identity. I focus on three major forces leading to the shift from traditional bounded identity to nebulous Pan-Indian identity. The first is the influence of the federal government and its policies, especially concerning Native American education. The American government attempted to break apart cultural groups over the course of two generations and, to a certain extent, succeeded. By removing Native American youths from their native cultural groups the government denied them the chance to be socialized into their traditional identities. Instead, they were taught how to be American Indians," an identity which was a combination of the various tribal -characteristics conceptions of the identity taken from the belief structure of the larger society, and syncretic traits of both groups, as well as some native to the new set of experiences faced by the Native American individuals. The second influence on the shifting of identity is the appropriation and manipulation of symbols within Native American societies. The cultural influences of the majority society began to make an appearance in the traditional arts of Native Americans. The appearance of these new cultural traits in the works of art was the result of the hegemonic activities -of the majority society within the traditional context of Native American culture. This process involved appropriation of a symbol of the subject cultures, their arts, and the alteration of meanings in order to advance the ideological purpose of the majority culture. Most Native American groups were not aware of the process of appropriation of meaning by which symbols of traditional identity became tools for spreading the new ideology. By analyzing the works of art of various tribal groups from this time period, I demonstrate the extent to which the ideology of the majority society had infiltrated the tribal groups. Newspapers and periodicals played an important role in expressing and shaping Native American identity during the period 1880-1920. Not all of these newspapers and periodicals produced by Native American groups, during this period were produced on the reservations, and not all were intended solely for Native American audiences. Nonetheless, many of these publications played important roles in forming and producing an expression of the contemporary Native American identity. My analyses pay particular attention to large issues facing Native American groups cross-culturally, if &ere even was, by this point in time, major- cross cultural variation. The hegemonic forces of the majority culture permeated the subject groups to the extent that certain publications whose goal was to contradict the ideological message of the majority society actually served to advance its causes. This shows the extent to which the enforced identity was accepted by Native Americans, and how they in turn used it in attempts at self-definition and defiance of the majority society.


Indians of North America, Cultural assimilation, Indians of North America, Government relations, manipulation of symbols, newspapers