The Thanksgiving holiday recently passed in America and although many shed light on the dark history upon which the holiday was founded, very rarely do we read about the positive actions being taken by the indigenous people of America to reverse the negative effects of the European colonization of their people and land.
The European colonization of the ‘Native American’ people was not only a physical genocide as some like to simply look at it, it was spiritual and cultural as well. In an attempt to ‘kill the Indian’ and ‘save the man’ the European colonisers destroyed the habitats of indigenous people, thereby cutting off their natural food sources. Colonisers also introduced them to lethal intoxicants, banned their cultural ceremonies and forcibly relocating their children to their own schools to adopt the values of the new American civilisation.
The effects that colonising methods had on the native people is still seen to this day when looking at both the mental and physical health of those in indigenous communities. ‘Native Americans’ are more likely than white Americans to suffer from major health diseases such as diabetes. More so, lcoholism is predominant in the indigenous community and is linked to high rates of homicide and suicide as well as a host of other alcohol-related diseases. Furthermore, the general sense of feeling amongst the indigenous people seems to be one of loss and despair as a result of their loss of religion and culture.
The cultural revitalization movement in relation to the ‘Native American’ people is a movement that aims to combat the negative effects of colonialism by “affirming and promoting people’s individual and common cultural identity”. It aims to revive the most important aspects of previous or ancestral societies thus keeping them alive for future generations. One step the indigenous people are taking in order to achieve this is to restore the lands, animals, plants and diet of the past. They are re-wilding and harvesting wild plants as well as collecting and preserving endangered seeds that their ancestors used. They have petitioned to remove the dams on their rivers built by the European colonisers in order to bring back the Salmon driven from the areaand are also preserving a herd of bison which hold spiritual and cultural significance to the indigenous people.
The restoration of language is also another important step being taken by the indigenous people. Language has always been the key to their culture as they have always been a people that passed down tradition orally in forms of stories and legends. When the European colonizers banned native children from speaking their many different languages in reform schools they were not only instilling a sense of shame amongst these children they were putting an entire culture built upon verbal communication at risk. The cultural revitalization movement aims to put language back at the forefront of the Native American community by teaching the different languages to others and are preserving them by writing a number of books on grammar.
Finally, they are attempting to form opportunities within education, politics and health care in order to enable their community to engage in society. This will be beneficial for indigenous groups and particularly indigenous women who are amongst the most marginalized groups of people in the country. They suffer from many forms of abuse and are constantly discriminated against in the areas of work and education. The UN has warned that indigenous women are becoming more and more invisible to society and all of these issues as a whole contribute to their lack of participation in the political arena and among government agencies all together. Encouraging the education and empowerment of indigenous women will enable them to communicate effectively with the necessary people and organisations. They will be able to take charge of their own rights and development.
At the JAN Trust we fully support movements such as this as we ourselves aim to empower isolated groups of women by giving them the opportunity to tackle and overcome the barriers they face. We want to enable these women to take charge of their own lives and help them move forward in the direction they CHOOSE to. If you are a woman in the UK who feels isolated due to a lack of education or communication skills please contact us. We run a number of services, training courses and workshops that aim to help users gain the necessary skills to empower themselves and integrate into British society.
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