In the twentieth and twenty-first centuries “Family Values” have been at the forefront of many a politician’s rhetoric in the United States. Though these social servants may think that they mean well, in truth they often have done and do more to hinder family values than they do to help. Indigenous family values have been steadily attacked for the greater span of history, often by the goals and aims of the capitalist mainstream of American and Western society through the colonial process. It is through this process of colonialism and the perpetuation of the values inherent in this philosophy of conquest and assimilation that has brought the plague of impoverished, powerless families in crises to the world. Indigenous peoples in general have always been the primary targets of these acts of aggression against family values, and since the close of the fifteenth century, Native Americans have been the victims of this war on the family. As an Indian and a Stomp Dancer at a traditional ceremonial grounds I have some close ties to this subject as I have witnessed first hand some of the destructive policies of the government in these matters which have long standing and far reaching consequences for people of all races.
Traditionally Native Americans have lived in social organizations that anthropologists and sociologists have called bands and tribes. As Andre Cherlin points out;
Before the twentieth century, kinship ties provided the basis for governing most American Indian tribes. A person’s household was linked to a larger group of relatives who might be a branch of a matrilineal or patrilineal clan [→p38] that shared power with other clans. Thus kinship organization was also political organization. Under these circumstances, extended kinship ties reflected power and status to a much greater extent than among other racial ethnic groups in the United States. American Indian kinship systems allowed individuals to have more relatives, than did Western European kinship systems (Shoemaker, 1991). Even today, extended family ties retain a significance for American Indians that goes beyond the sharing of resources that has been noted among other groups (Harjo,1993). Kinship networks constitute tribal organization; kinship ties confer an identity.
Vine Deloria Jr., renowned Native American author and former Executive Director of the National Congress of American Indians develops the idea further into more practical detail;
Indian tribes have always had two basic internal strengths, which can also be seen in corporations: customs and clans. Tribes are not simply composed of Indians. They are highly organized as clans, within which variations of tribal traditions and customs govern. While the tribe makes decisions on general affairs, clans handle specific problems. Trivia is thus kept out of tribal affairs by referring it to clan solutions.
Customs rise as clans rise to meet problems and solve them. They overflow from the clan into general tribal usage as their capability and validity are recognized. Thus a custom can spread from a minor clan to the tribe as a whole and prove to be a significant basis for tribal behavior. In the same manner, methods and techniques found useful in one phase of corporate existence can become standard operating procedure for an entire corporation.
However, this tribal structure has never suited the palate of Western colonialism which seeks to consolidate its power and authority over national as well as individual resources. The socialistic and communal nature of Native tribalism in America is in exact opposition to the nuclear family oriented and discriminating values of Western colonialism.
After four hundred years of struggling against the effects of colonialism; disease, wars and genocide the last free Indians in North America were forced onto reservations in1886 when Geronimo and his band of Chiricahua Apaches surrendered at Skeleton Canyon in Arizona. As soon as the federal government was convinced they had rounded up all the Indians, they forced Native communities to be defined by a set standard of perceived genetics in an attempt to undermine the integrity of the Indian tribal structure. By applying blood standards to Native Identity the federal government alienated and further factionalized Native families and communities which were often genetically mixed, while also limiting their contemporary as well as future claims to Indigenous identity and sovereignty. Ward Churchill, professor of Ethnic Studies at the University of Colorado, Boulder says;
In clinging insistently to a variation of eugenics formulation — dubbed “blood-quantum” – ushered in by the 1887 General Allotment Act, while implementing such policies as the Federal Indian Relocation Program (1956-1982), the government has set the stage for a “statistical extermination” of the indigenous population within its borders. As the noted western historian, Patricia Nelson Limerick, has observed: “Set the blood-quantum at one quarter, hold to it as a rigid definition of Indians, let intermarriage proceed…and eventually Indians will be defined out of existence. When that happens, the federal government will finally be freed from its persistent ‘Indian Problem’.”
Though portrayed as a means of preserving tribal identity and interests, the blood quantum standards of the General Allotment Act have in fact only served to undermine tribal integrity.
Today tribal membership is determined on quite a legalistic basis, which is foreign to the accustomed tribal way of determining its constituency. The property interests of descendants of the original enrollees or allotees have become determining factors in compiling tribal membership rolls. People of small Indian blood quantum or those descended from people who were tribal members a century ago, are thus included on the tribal membership roll. Tribes can no longer form and reform on sociological, religious, or cultural bases. They are restricted in membership by federal officials responsible for administering trust properties who demand that the rights of every person be respected and whether or not that person presently appears in an active and recognized role in the tribal community. Indian tribal membership today is a fiction created by the federal government, not a creation of the Indian people themselves.
Throughout the years that followed, interaction between the United States government and Native peoples the federal policy has been one of either complete destruction or dissolution of the tribal structure. Less than half a century after the last Indian wars the United States government began investigating ways to rid themselves of the impoverished, unified family-based communities surviving off of federal commodities, hopefully this time, without having to shoot anybody.
In 1947, in order to save funds and gain stronger control over tribal reservation lands, Acting Commissioner of Indian Affairs William Zimmerman was pressured to classify Indian Tribes into categories between those tribes that could be immediately terminated from federal service and those tribes who will require a decade or more of intensified programs of development in order to reach a level of assimilation to function within white society. In 1950 the House Internal Committee based their survey of Indians on The Domesday Survey of 1086 as the model for their investigation on Indian affairs and economic assets. The Domesday Survey was William the Conqueror’s survey of his recently conquered British territory and subjects nearly a thousand years earlier. The committee’s intention was to expedite the assimilation of Native Americans and the dissolution of their tribal structure, the indigenous family value. The following years between 1954 –1968 were full of Congressional cases of tribal termination.
Native American communities have continuously been treated more as conquered prisoners to be assimilated rather than American citizens effectively trivializing them as human beings. While federal policy has tended to always be aimed toward unraveling the tribal structure in order to dissolve Native sovereignty all together, the media and non-indigenous society typically portray Indians in historical romance rather than in contemporary settings; showing Natives dealing with our modern day colonialism. This lack of accurate portrayal of Natives has served to keep the general populace ignorant and uninformed regarding much of the truth regarding Native America. Churchill again brings the issue into focus by explaining;
Nothing, perhaps, is more emblematic of Hollywood’s visual pageantry than scenes of Plains Indian warriors astride their galloping ponies, many of them trailing a flowing headdress in the wind, thundering into battle against the blue-coated troops of the United States. By, now more than 500 feature films and half again as many television productions have included representations of this sort. We have been served such fare along with the tipi, the buffalo hunt, the attack upon the wagon train and the ambush of the stage coach, until they have become so indelibly imprinted upon the American consciousness as to be synonymous with Indians as a whole (to nonindians at any rate and, to many native people as well).
It’s not the technical inaccuracies in such representations that are the most problematic, although these are usually many and often extreme. Rather, it is the fact that the period embodied in such depictions spans the barely three decades running from 1850 to 1880, the interval of warfare between the various plains people and the ever encroaching soldiers and settlers of the United States. There is no “before” to the story and there is no “after.” Cinematic Indians have no history before Euroamericans come along to momentarily imbue them with it, and then, mysteriously, they seem to pass out of existence altogether.”
It is for these reasons that both of the United States ethnic majorities, both black and white tend to misunderstand, misrepresent, not care or consider issues of native sovereignty and the integrity of the tribal structure to be a joke. As far as most Americans are concerned Native tribalism and sovereignty does little more than stimulate the imagination. The most support and understanding or sympathizing with Native family struggles outside of Native America arises in the Mexican and Latino population who tend to feel some kinship with Indians. Native political concerns do not translate well across ethnic boundaries. Unlike issues between black and white, which tend to be focused on integration, equal opportunity and employment, few ethnic groups in the United States can identify with modern conflicts over Reservation sovereignty, treaty violations, the right to ethnic self-identification and to maintain self-governance. As Deloria explains it;
The closest parallel that we find in history to the present conditions of Indians is the Diaspora of the Jews following the destruction of the Temple … The Indian exile is in a sense more drastic. The people often live less than a hundred miles away from their traditional homelands; yet in the relative complexities of reservation and urban life, they might be two-thousand or more years apart. It’s not simply a special separation that has occurred but a temporal one as well.
In less than five hundred years once powerful and highly specialized family oriented nations were reduced to ‘fourth world’ poverty .
NATIVE AMERICANS, or American Indians, suffer some of the highest rates of poverty and unemployment among racial minority groups in the United States, and conditions are even worse on Native American reservations. In 1989, 27.2 percent of Native American families lived below the poverty level while 10 percent of all American families fell into this category (U.S Bureau of the Census 1990a, Table 112). The 1989 Native American family median income was $21,619, only 67 percent of the average family median income for the total U.S. population (ibid). Census Bureau estimates of Native American unemployment rates across selected reservations in 1990 vary from 14 percent to 44 percent (U.S. Bureau of the Census 1990b, Summary Tape File 3c). The Bureau of Indian Affairs reports even higher unemployment rates for these areas, estimating rates as high as 70 percent for some reservations (Stuart 1987). Both series place reservation unemployment rates far above average rates for other races or regions.
Indian tribes have been located to lands, splintered, relocated to other places and then relocated again whenever they begin to show a little too much organizational and political aptitude or when valuable resources are found on tribal lands. Native Americans are continually losing their cultures and identity through tribal dissolution and general neglect of our current political and social obstacles by the media. The loss of land and sovereignty is continuing to cripple the societies and render the individuals as little more than impoverished peoples and blood quantum standards encourage factionalism and disintegration by forcing mixed blood cousins off of tribal rolls.
The poor treatment and misrepresentation of social issues of Indigenous peoples by the colonial governments and their respective media sets a bad precedent for other nations. When the world’s Indigenous peoples are oppressed and maltreated on the land that is rightfully their own then the individuals within the colonial society themselves are subject to similar or worse treatment by their own governments. When a people whose historic and ethnic, social and religious claim to a land is undermined and effectively nullified, no one can expect to have land rights or social and religious freedom without government interference.
Native American tribalism has been an issue of trivia for western society for the past five hundred years. The colonial structure has shunned it and counterculturalists have imitated it in their defiance of their corporate culture yet, this is perhaps the most misunderstood, misrepresented and misconstrued aspect of “Indianess.” The Tribal structure of Indigenous people is the backbone of human culture from its roots to its leaves, but oddly enough this truest aspect of human nature has been enduring a wholesale eradication in the name of progress. The most unfortunate aspect of this dilemma just may be the total alienation of westernized society from its indigenous roots, its true family nature.
It would do Western societies good to pay heed to indigenous ideas and views. The world’s nations will likely never come to any justice in social reform if they do not reconsider their modern colonial perspective and come to grips with their indigenous roots.
 Cherlin, Adrew J., Public and Private Families, McGraw-Hill Higher Education Publishing, 2005, pg 22
 Deloria Jr, Vine, Custer Died For Your Sins, Macmillian Publishing, New York, 1988, pg 232
 Churchill, Ward, Indians Are Us, Culture and Genocide in Native North America, Common Courage Press, 1994, pg 42
 Deloria Jr, Vine, God Is Red, a Native View of Religion, Fulcrum Publishing, Golden, 1994 pg 243
 Deloria Jr, Vine, Custer Died For Your Sins, Macmillian Publishing, New York, 1988, pg 60
 Churchill, Ward, Acts of Rebellion, the Ward Churchill Reader, Routledge, New York, 2003, pg 186
 Deloria Jr, Vine, God Is Red, a Native View of Religion, Fulcrum Publishing, Golden, pg 249
 Geib, Elizabeth Zahrt, Do Reservation Native Americans Vote with Their Feet? A Re-examination of Native American Migration, 1985-1990 – Focus on Economic Sociology American Journal of Economics and Sociology, The, Oct, 2001