We, as 21st century “Americans”, thrive on making distinctions. We want to dissect our nation into separate slices of culture, religion, and race. We note the difference between the culture of African-Americans who have been here for generations and that of white Anglo-Americans who have been here for generations. So do the African-Americans. We want to differentiate between Anglo families and Mexican families who both have been here for one hundred years or more; they are Mexicans and we are Americans. There are Jews, Muslims, and Christians. There are Irish, Germans, and Pennsylvanian Dutch. There are the Northerners and the Southerners. There are the rich and the homeless.
We ignore shared nuances, commonalities, and values. We attempt to make divisions where there are none, and emphasize differences that only make “Americans” diverse from one another. For most, white is “American”, and “others” are Mexican, Black, or Indian. It is rare that we residents of the United States refer to all of us as “America”.
Pre-historic Natives organized themselves as groups of people that lived together in small residential units. They might have lived together based on kinship, maybe shared ceremony, or perhaps shared values. The reasons they were living together, as a group is unimportant here; the fact that they lived together in a small group of 5-50 is important. There was no recognized leader. Whoever was the most knowledgeable for the immediate situation, led the group. There was no political structure. This may be called a rancheria. This was typical of nomadic, hunter-gatherer groups.
Some groups speaking the same language, or related by territory, or shared ceremony might join with each other in the matter of defense of their territory. They might band together to accomplish a repulsion of common enemies. They might join to arbitrate between individuals of the different groups who were having a dispute. They might become a band. They might begin to adopt similar dress, ceremony, and values. They would inter-marry. Families may move from one group to another, and a co-mingling of culture may occur. The might become a “political” unit. They might become a “band”.
There might be no strict political function of a band. One band may go join together with another band; their connection was tenuous. There was no central leader over collective bands. Sometimes two or more bands might choose to live together. Sometimes several families might leave one band and join another. They would join together as a matter of convenience or necessity, with no permanent tie that was observed.
The Spanish did not understand. This was not how peoples ruled or organized themselves. This was not the way the world existed. There was a strict hierarchy to be recognized. There was supposed to be a leader, and there were supposed to be followers. To their regret, their mere arrogance in this concept brought about the deaths of hundreds of their own.
Bands came together in defense of their common culture, land, and ritual. While initially receptive to the Spanish, bands of people might come together to remove the invaders from their territory because of shared abuse. Recognition of common language, ceremony, and tradition may have turned bands into tribes. Leaders of bands came together to form tribal councils. Political organization became more centralized. A unity of purpose may have united previously independent people.
While they had a shared language, it never made them one people under one leader. While they had shared ceremony, it never made them one people. While another culture defined them as one people, it never was so. Their commonality of purpose, of territory, and of survival, did. They became a tribe.
Time has passed and tribes have survived. They have joined together to make separate treaties with the “American” government. They realized their tribal identities. And this failed them. They recognized the need to coalesce.
They have melded their cultures to become one. As in the instance of the Pima, Papago, Akimel, Maricopa, and Hia C-ed, they have joined together to become one. The former tribes are now the Tohono O’Ohdam Nation. “Nation”, in “American” legalize, has come to describe a legal status. It is the interface that the Spanish imposed on the groups, then the bands, and finally, the tribes. It brought about a unification of all the tribes.
Tribes have come together now as Nations to set a new agenda for all Native peoples. Legislation has been passed in the U. S. Congress that applies to all Native Nations, including Seminole, Navajo, Hopi, and hundreds of others. Antiquities acts, restoration of lands, and rights to cultural remains have been recognized for all Native peoples.
Native Americans have just begun to realize themselves again. They have come to support one another as a people, as a Nation. They have a common agenda. They hire the same lobbyists. They each support each individual Nation across different languages, cultures, and territories.
They have evolved together as a “Nation”.
Yet “Americans” choose to see themselves as separate groups living in the same space. We are a still a conglomeration of bands and tribes (Anglos, African-Americans, Mexicans, Christians, Jews, Muslims and many others), as yet unable to organize ourselves into a coherent whole. Such divisions are superfluous. The Native Americans have learned this lesson. They have banded together. They have survived thousands of years. They are one Nation.
One day, perhaps, “Americans” can recreate this phenomenon. Perhaps we can set aside differences, distinctions, and divisions. Perhaps Irish, Mexican, and Jew can become one with Anglo, Christian, Black, and Muslim. Perhaps that self-recognition of “us”, a united force to exist as one with the earth and all other people, would herald an acknowledgement of recent history.
Perhaps one day our time will come.
Perhaps the “Spanish” will arrive one day, and we will truly become a Nation.
Let’s have a discussion; leave a comment.