The Native American Ethnicity
The United States of America is one of the first successful republics in the world. In fact, its nation consists of people from the whole world, who have sought a better life in the former English colonies. Therefore, the American nation is a multiracial and multiethnic democratic country fated to be one of the most powerful states in the world. Native American community takes a special place among all ethnic groups in modern America. Native Americans had lived there before European colonists and indigenous peoples, who formed quite a different civilization. For a long period, Americans did not recognize them as equal American citizens. They considered Indians aliens and savages who were killing European colonists. Only several Indian tribes could have American citizenship because they showed loyalty to Americans and supported them in all wars. Native Americans as well as other ethnic and racial groups became an integral part of the American nation. They became real American citizens, but some problems remain until nowadays and require to be solved. Otherwise, they will become a major reason for involving Native Americans in such disasters as terrorist movements, riots, or other conflicts in America, which can even cause a disintegration of the country.
In his article “Ethnicity” in Keywords for American Studies, Dr. Henry Yu explains the definition of an ethnic group and the term of ethnicity. In particular, he states that this term was spread in the last century to determine “a process by which individuals or groups came to be understood, or to understand themselves, as separate or different from others” (Yu 103). According to him, individuals have the same ethnicity if they share the same language, traditions, religion, customs and “other patterns of behavior – that define the content of a group’s culture” (Yu 103). At the same time, the term race unites representatives of many ethnicities by phenotypes and morphologic attributes. Thus, there are four main races in the world including Caucasian, Mongoloid, Ethiopian and Amerindian. Unfortunately, racist and Nazi regimes invented notorious myths causing certain prejudices towards the rest of non-Caucasian to excuse their crimes against the humanity. Therefore, modern scholars try to avoid the notion of “races” in their works. At the same time, in case of Native Americans, the term race is more suitable than ethnicity, because they have different traditions, languages and religions and cannot be united into one ethnic group.
Famous American author, Sherman Alexie, reveals contemporary problems of Native Americans in his work The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven. From the beginning, Sherman Alexie explains that his book connects the past and the modern times of the Spokane Indians because young people have not forgotten the history of their tribe, which has forced them to settle in the reservation. At the same time, Sherman Alexie calls his tribe the Rural Poor people as a class of the poor. It is a very interesting definition, which undetermined the whole study of ethnic groups in America. According to him, the whole tribe forms a political class of poor Americans, which has its own traditions, customs, religion, and language and lives economically and politically depending on Whites. As Alexie says, “Looking at my hair through a slightly more serious lens, I think I wore such an exaggerated mullet as a means of aggressively declaring my Indian identity. And my class identity” (Alexie III). Although the whole book is filled with humor, jokes and satire about Indians, it does not hide the real state of affairs in this community.
The white civilization brought mass death, disasters, alcohol and drug addictions, corruption and lust to Native Americans. Memories still exist in Indian reservations, which is a major obstacle for creating friendly relationships between Native Americans and Whites. Thus, in a story of “The Trial of Thomas Builds-the-Fire,” Alexie depicts a common Indian charged with a crime, which he has not committed. His only guilt was his love of speaking and his thoughts as well as silence irritated White judges. Actually, “Builds-the-Fire has a history of this kind of behavior…. A storytelling fetish accompanied by an extreme need to tell the truth” (Alexie 93). The Whites considered this behavior a threat to the society. Consequently, a conflict arose between Whites and Native Americans in which they violated Indians’ human rights of free speech. Whites forbade him to speak but Thomas’ silence seemed more dangerous than his speeches. In fact, Alexie describes the silence, which has aggravated the whole situation. Whites did not plead guilty in all disasters of Native Americans related to their colonization, which Indians remembered passing on the truth of colonization from generation to generation.
Although Native Americans can get higher education and gain good social position due to the modern elimination of racial segregation, they remain one of the poorest communities in the United States. Although some of them became successful and left reservations assimilating to White societies, the majority preferred to live in their communities in reservations as Thomas Builds-the-Fire did. As Alexie stated, Thomas kept silence for twenty years and when he started speaking White judges could not excuse the crimes listed by Thomas. On the contrary, they began inventing reasons to imprison him. Thus, they accused Thomas of past illegal deeds because his words became dangerous. His words helped Esther liberate herself from her tyrannical husband. Moreover, Thomas’ answer to the judge, “I don’t believe that the exact nature of any charges against me have been revealed, let alone detailed” (Alexie 95) depicts his attitude to the trial. It was a protest and neither Thomas nor his mates were treated due to their rights on speech and action. Maybe the absence of a talented leader was a sufficient reason for it.
The most dramatic episode was when Thomas blamed Whites for the massacre of over eight hundred ponies. Obviously, he could have accused Whites of the mass murders of Indians, but the author created this scene to emphasize an awkward situation at the court. Thus, on behalf of animals Thomas said what was alarming gravely the whole community – dependence on Whites. At the same time, the court proved powerless to sentence Thomas, which became his victory. Actually, it was a strict warning to American community to solve the problems of Native Americans as soon as possible.
Although Sherman Alexie created his work more than twenty years ago, these problems still exist in America and will remain until the White community of the United States recognizes its guilt before Native Americans for mass murders, disasters, wars, alcohol addictions and dangerous epidemics. Only Whites’ confession in their deeds can eliminate old antagonism between them and Indians uniting American nation. Otherwise, terrorists, authoritarian regimes or other political enemies can use the issues of ethnic groups to undermine the United States. For instance, such countries as Northern Korea, Russia or Islamic states are known for wishing the United States to become weak and disintegrated.