Journal of Social Sciences

Teaching Indigenous American Culture and History: Perpetuating Knowledge or Furthering Intellectual Colonization?

Michael Kent Ward

DOI : 10.3844/jssp.2011.104.112

Journal of Social Sciences

Volume 7, 2011

Pages 104-112

Abstract

Problem statement: This study addresses a number of ongoing and important issues related to teaching the history and culture of Native Americans in the public setting. As part of the social science curriculum, the study and academic interpretations of American Indian culture and history regularly attracts educators and students alike, but remains problematic for reasons of cultural property and identity. Of particular concern are matters related to the accuracy and purposes of such instructional content and problems of cultural representation, cultural boundaries and cultural and/ or intellectual property. A related question concerns problems associated with limiting access to cultural knowledge versus increased demands for open access to information. Approach: By examining the historiography related to this subject and exploring other mainstream and indigenous academic and traditional indigenous perspectives on this topic, the scope of the problem of American Indian cultural misrepresentation can be ascertained, while the complexities of these issues may also be recognized. A key aspect of this study is its emphasis on indigenous perspectives, which often stand in contrast with those of mainstream academic thought on this and related topics. Though legal questions arise from such an examination, the issues addressed here are largely ethical in nature. Results: From traditional indigenous and indigenous academic perspectives, the unauthorized use of ceremonies, sacred songs and stories, or ritual and other material culture objects constitutes a theft of cultural and/ or intellectual property. The fact that this problem persists despite many decades of indigenous criticism indicates the continuation of an overall non-indigenous disregard for American Indian authority. Thus, the perpetuation of cultural misrepresentation and the continued theft of cultural and/ or indigenous intellectual property serves to further the historic process of non-indigenous colonization of Native American cultures. Conclusions/Recommendations: In most cases, solutions to the problems of cultural property and misrepresentation are obvious but difficult to carry out due to the general use of and emphasis on authorities not recognized by traditional indigenous peoples. This study addresses that fact and concludes that everyone involved (teachers, students and indigenous peoples) are best served when traditional American Indian authorities are regularly consulted, with regard to matters involving public presentations and interpretations of indigenous cultures. The single greatest remedy to the problems described involves open communication and the unbiased recognition of indigenous authority. Due to the complexities of these and related issues, further contributions by indigenous peoples, expanded study and analysis by academics are recommended.

Copyright

© 2011 Michael Kent Ward. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.