RACISM, ETHNOCENTRISM -- AND NATIVE TRIBALISM [HUNTER GRAY / HUNTER BEAR]
ADDED NOTE BY HUNTER BEAR: 5/29/06
Interesting discussion on Redbadbear.
I would have to, in all candor, describe myself as more of a cultural
traditionalist than a "with it" modernist. I much prefer Western lever
action rifles to bolt actions and semi-automatics, would take one good
revolver over a dozen semi-automatic pistols. [Other family members
essentially join me in this.] We love our spartan, bare bones Jeep Cherokee
[closest thing we can find to my even-then-archaic '29 Model A I had as a
kid.] Our home is a nice one but has a notably un-lavish interior. Never,
as most know, a theoretician, I quite prefer the old IWW Preamble [written
by Father Thomas J. Hagerty of New Mexico] as my social justice catechism.
Yesterday, for the first time in ages, I visited our local Pine Ridge Mall
and, with the exception of its sadly fast waning bookstore, saw sights that
would astound even that great and creative critic of American materialism
and conspicuous consumption, Thorstein Veblen [Theory of the Leisure Class.]
And scratch a bit deeper in me, and you'll find older roots and flint
foundations -- very, very old indeed. Here is a post that I published some
years ago which, even if you chanced to see it then, might be worth another
[This was published initially in The Northwest Ethnic Voice, based at Salem,
Oregon: July and September 2001 -- and then in several other journals.]
I'm a tribal person. And I don't use terms like "primitive" and "civilized."
And why I don't leads directly into a look at two other concepts -- racism
and cultural ethnocentrism: big components of that River of Poison that's
so antithetical to humankind [along with all of the other anti-people isms]
that must come from a murky and fog-bound headwaters full of witchy goblins
and demonic bats.
Racism is the effort to deny the biological humanity of the victim -- the
target. It's the most dangerous nonsense that humankind has yet produced.
While anthropologists talk of various racial stocks: Negroid, Caucasoid,
Australoid, and Mongoloid [with some including Native Americans as
Mongoloid -- and others placing Natives as a separate group], there is
certainly, of course, extremely pervasive consensus among the anthros and
all scientists [and has been for many decades], that "racial differences"
are extremely skimpy and superficial -- and have nothing to do with any
intelligence qualities or physical abilities. Further, there is wide
recognition that there is no longer any "pure" or completely "full-blooded"
racial category among humankind.
Racism is historically new. It began to develop -- and with a brutally
cutting clarity -- in the late 1400s and early 1500s as western Europe moved
into the non-White sections of the world seeking land and resources, ports
and booty, and slaves. From the outset, it was the basic rationalization
for genocide and slavery. Very quickly indeed, the Roman Catholic Church
condemned racism in a series of Papal pronouncements: correctly recognizing
the anti-human nature of this fast emerging and thoroughly destructive
doctrine -- and also very much interested in the conversion of the
non-Whites [and a bona fide conversion has to be predicated on a recognition
of the basic human equality of the intended convert.] These major
denunciations of racism carried heavy weight in Spain, Portugal, France.
But the fast developing Protestant Reformation saw England and Holland break
with Rome -- and, quickly, those two nations came early-on to embrace racism
as national doctrine. False and dangerous terms like "primitive" and
"civilized" are common currency in racism.
Cultural ethnocentrism is essentially a "cultural superiority complex." It'
s as old as humankind -- and can easily run close behind racism as extremely
dangerous doctrine. [Racism, since it seeks to deny the basic humanity of
the victim, is always inherently ethnocentric for, if one presumes the
victim to be biologically inferior, it "follows" that his or her culture is
But cultural ethnocentrism flourishes very widely in its own right.
Carried beyond quietly private and mildly smug pride, it has been
consistently used throughout human history to justify genocide and slavery
and seizure of land and resources. Sometimes centered on theology -- "the
only bona fide religion" -- it usually moves much more broadly, trumpeting
the alleged superiority of one culture ["culture" -- the total way of life
of a people] over another. The targets of ethnocentrism are frequently --
but not always by any means -- non-White peoples and their cultures; and
here, as in racism, terms like "primitive" and "civilized" are thrown to the
four directions. The Catholic countries -- especially Spain and Portugal
and France and later Italy -- frequently carried ethnocentrism into
dimensions as lethal as racism. But, if the target victim [usually
non-White], renounced [or appeared to renounce] his/her original culture
and adopted that of the European ethnocentric, he/she was pronounced
essentially equal [or almost so] to the oppressor. If the victim did not
renounce, hard and lethal stuff -- despite the efforts of courageous Church
reformers -- could follow fast.
The realities, of course, are that racist and ethnocentric terms like
"primitive" and "civilized" should be dumped and never used. Racism is
dangerous, false doctrine -- and so is cultural ethnocentrism. People --
all of humankind -- are fundamentally equal. And every society and its
culture has its own special origin and vision and unique history and
destiny; linear ranking is hideously fallacious; and the only way any
culture can be even generally evaluated is to measure its own realities
against its own ideals.
In what's called the United States, Blacks have been consistent targets of
racism. Native Americans and Chicanos and Asians have, depending on local
and regional history and circumstance, been subjected to either racism or
As a Native American, I certainly grew up with a great wariness of terms
like "primitive" and "civilized." Whenever I've heard them used, it's
been at best -- with regard to "primitive" -- a pat on the head of "our
little brown brothers" or -- more frequently -- a presumption of
"culturally inferior simplicity." As far as "civilized" -- well, that's
always used to denote the presumed top of the mountains -- no matter how
sanguinary their conduct in recent centuries has been.
But, let's recognize that even the smallest band of "hunters and gatherers"
and its nomadic nature -- which, being nomadic, sensibly doesn't permit
massive materialistic accumulation -- always holds a set of
philosophical/theological beliefs that are just as complex as any other in
humankind. [And, as a kid -- and beyond -- I've always found much support
in the fact that Jenghiz Khan was very much a product of a "hunting and
gathering" tribal society!]
But, more seriously: everything, of course, is in the process of some
change. All societies -- and I reiterate that each has its special origin
and vision and history and destiny -- are changing in various ways:
diffusion, invention, discovery. If something can be seen to have positive
function, it's used -- unless it's perceived as too threatening [and,
increasingly, "threatening" seems less and less a restraining factor in
large-scale human societies!] Geronimo, that unyielding traditionalist,
obviously loved his Winchester 1876 lever action. He was always an Apache.
The Navajo people of today use pickups ["Navajo Cadillacs"] and, in those
sections of the vast reservation which have electric power, computers are
more and more frequently encountered. The Navajo remain Navajo. Nothing is static and there is always change, but consistently valid basics remain in
place. Native tribes have withstood every effort by their land and
resource-coveting enemies to put them, the tribes, out of business -- but,
unless virtually all of the tribe's people are literally killed [and this
has certainly happened many, many times over the blood-dimmed centuries],
the tribes and their cultures and their people have survived. This has
certainly required some cultural adjustment vis-a-vis, say, U.S. and
Canadian culture, but not in any sense the sacrifice of the basic tribal
ethos and its key cultural components. "Take what can be used, take it
carefully -- and use it in the framework of our Way."
I am certainly quite convinced, as I have been since I've been a Teen, that
the great River-thrust of History -- the dichotomy of working
class/employing class -- will carry us all -- all colors and all cultures --
into genuine humanistic socialist democracy. But in that context --
increasingly mass populated urban/industrial societies -- every one of the
tribal nations and the other "folk societies," and their cultures and their
self-determination and their inherent sovereignty, must be fully recognized
and supported. And all of this not as "primitive" museum pieces -- but as
viable and vigorous socio-cultural entities, important because they are
important to their people, and from which the larger societies can learn
much about common ownership, grassroots democracy, freedom and
Each tribal society has its own unique culture -- but there are common
dimensions. And the most fundamental is a communalistic ethos in which the
crux principle is that of "tribal -- or mutual -- responsibility": i.e.,
the group has a responsibility to the individual and the individual has a
responsibility to the group; if there is a conflict, the group's position
always prevails; but there are also -- very significantly -- certain clearly
defined areas of individual and family autonomy into which the group cannot
That principle, "tribal responsibility," has enabled all types of tribal
nations: hunters, gatherers, farmers, town-dwellers, the Toltec city-people
of yore and their contemporary descendants -- and even the urban Indian
migrants of today, grouped inter-tribally in such crucibles as New York
City, Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, Portland and Seattle -- to survive, keep
going, keep fighting, and on and on and far beyond. This isn't "linear" or
"primitive" or "civilized." This is shrewd, canny, principled living.