Ethnography on the East Carolina Native American Organization
The East Carolina Native American Organization is a unique organization here at ECU that predominantly consists of Native American members, but it open to anyone willing to pay the annual dues. The organization, like all others has many good things about it but it also has some places that could possibly be built upon. With this in mind, one thing that stands out about the organization is that they are very intent on taking the resources that they have and showing students what it is like to be a Native American. One of the big events that the Organization takes a lot of pride in every year is the annual pow wow. While sitting in on some of the meeting this year I noticed that the organization focuses most of their resources on making this a success, they even book the event on the same day every year, a year in advance. Also, at these meeting the leader of the meetings stated several positive things about the pow wow including the amount of money it raised, but she was disappointed in the actual crowd that was there. She explained that she would have much rather had a lot more students than community members in attendance because the main point of the pow wow is to show students what it is like to be a Native American and not just older members of the Greenville area. After doing some research on Native Americans and the ECNAO, I would like to take this information and try to convey the way that Americans look at Native Americans, and the reason that we even have a subculture devoted to them when we are all created the same. By doing this I hope to be able to inform as well as persuade readers to rethink the meaning behind the common misconception.
One thing that the Native American Organization does every year is arrange a pow wow that involves a little bit of everything involving Native American culture. This year at the pow wow there was several booths set up that were selling and displaying information and artifacts about the Native American culture. While at the pow wow the main point of interest for the guest as well as the individuals participating was the large ring of dancers and instrument players that were there to show how a traditional pow wow went as far as dancing and music is concerned. Having the annual pow wow is very important in portraying what the ECNAO is really about and how they affect the University. One thing that was mentioned in one of the meetings that is extremely admirable is that the organization was solely focused on making the event around informing people about the history and the views of Native Americans and there was very little concern about what profit, if any that was made. At the actual pow wow itself, there were only about 80 to 100 people but the environment was filled with energy. Just by themselves there were at least 25 dancers that were hired to portray the actual pow wow dances and all of them were Native Americans. One thing I noticed about the pow wow that was questionable to me was the attire that the dancers wore. For the most part the costumes were very detailed and genuine looking but the small things were the part that I was concerned about. More specifically, not all of the dancers but some of them were wearing very contemporary basketball shoes that did not fit the theme and overall feel of the event. Even though this is a small issue it just made me wonder what other parts of not only the Native American culture but all cultures are we losing to modernization and the non-traditional norms of today’s society.
Native Americans have been around the Americas since long before the average European born American; with this in mind it makes one wonder why then is there a Native American Organization and not a European Organization on ECU’s campus. The best way to answer this is to start looking at Native American history and go all the way up to current times to see how things have changed. Native Americans have been through more than most other groups in society as far as dominance is concerned. Native Americans were the only group of people around the Americas for a long time, all the way back to long before Columbus arrived here in 1492 by accident. One of the main obstacles that Native Americans had to overcome was The Trail of Tears. The Trail of Tears took place in the early 1830’s and basically what it did was take the land that belonged to this culture and just take it out from under them with, leaving them with no choice but to move. The Trail of Tears was a relocation of five groups of Indians that caused the death of nearly one third of all of the individuals who made the trip. The reason I bring this topic up is to show that over the history of the United States, there is more than one culture of people that has gone through challenging times in their past. No matter the severity.
One problem that is relevant when thinking about Native Americans is the way that they are portrayed in today’s society. During any given sports season it is extremely easy to spot Native American influence in almost any aspect. A recent article published by Becky Reamey, does an excellent job of bringing some of the examples of how Native Americans are portrayed to light. In her article, Reamey tells about how several big universities such as Syracuse and Florida St. use Native American associated things such as the Seminoles and they use mascots such as the Chief. Using these Native American artifacts as mascots has proven to cause several problems amongst a lot of the Native American subculture today. In her article, Reamey states that after a recent survey over 80% of Native Americans surveyed said that using these articles as mascots is inappropriate to them and it comes off as crude and offensive. With this in mind it is easy to tell that Native Americans would envision the way that they are viewed in a completely different manor. Because of this lack of regard for other cultural groups I believe that over time the Native American culture has felt a need to take the small minority of people they have a form it into an organization to represent their subculture. When thinking deeper into this matter it makes you wonder why only certain groups of people feel the need to group together. Since there are several ways that Native Americans are misconstrued to the majority of society, I think it is fairly easy to get the wrong impression on them without even being judgmental.
One of the most common misconceptions about Native Americans is that they are all savages. This is not true and hasn’t been for hundreds of years, especially now a day with modernization and other factors. Ways to prove that Native Americans are not savages are all around us but the best way to tell is just by talking or interacting with a modern day Native American. The East Carolina Native American Organization has several members that are Native American decent. While interacting with this group I noticed that they are almost as far from savage as they could possibly be. Most of the members of the group were women that couldn’t be more proper and if skin color and bodily features were not a factor you would never be able to tell that the Organization was Native American. One thing that really stuck out about the Organization was the overall accent they had. Almost every single member had an extremely southern accent almost to the point that I could not distinguish their words which is something that is generally not associated with Native Americans. Another stereotype associated with Native American Organizations is that they are predominantly controlled by men, for instance the Chief of a traditional tribe is male, but this is not the case when dealing with the ECNAO. Every single person in a position of power in the group was female. This is a seemingly small issue when looking at the bigger issue at hand, but it all plays a crucial part in the making of what is perceived to be a Native American norm and what is actually the norm for modern day Native Americans.