A Myth that Shaped Reality: The Native Americans and Discrimination

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Most Americans in the nineteenth century did not appreciate or understand their Indian neighbors. The Native American lifestyle seemed foreign and uncivilized compared with American society, which was experiencing unprecedented revolutions in technology and engineering. For this reason, a myth began to develop in the minds of the American people that the Indian presence in the West was unacceptable and that the American government needed to take action to solve the problem of the “uncivilized” Indians. Over time, two conflicting opinions developed concerning the form that the proposed government intervention should take. Some thought that the Native Americans were pitiful, uncultured people who should be trained to assimilate and succeed in the modern world. Others were convinced that the Indians were a violent, subhuman race who should be exterminated in order to ease westward expansion. These opposing views were expressed not only in politics, but also in paintings. Several nineteenth century painters attempted to capture different sides of this debate in their art, but regardless of the opinions of the painters, all of these paintings were based on the myth of the uncivilized Indian. In 1863, Albert Bierstadt completed The Rocky Mountains, Lander’s Peak, a painting which fantasizes the Rocky Mountains and portrays the Indians as “noble savages” (The Humanities pg 1047-1048). In the foreground of the painting is a green meadow populated by Native Americans. Some of the Indians are shown sitting down, while others are gathered around the spoils of a recent hunt. Beyond the field is a glassy lake, fed by a foaming cascade from the mountains. The land then gradually rises in wooded ridges and sunlit cliffs, ultimately culminating... ... middle of paper ... ...ccessfully within the confines of that culture for centuries before Europeans ever arrived on the American continent. Even though Americans had different opinions about the way the government should handle the Native American tribes, the myth accepted by most people was that the Indians were uncivilized and wrong in their way of life. Americans also believed that the government needed to take action, whether by obliterating the Indians entirely or by integrating them into society. In the end, both well-intended policies and actions of violence proved devastating to the natives. Many Indian tribes were either exterminated or relocated in horrible ways (The Humanities pg 1050-1051). While American nationalism increased during the nineteenth century, the first American culture was wiped out because it was deemed to be a hindrance to progress and advancing civilization.
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