Exploring Native American Culture In The USA

I have been back in Germany for about a month now and I have been contemplating how to best sum up my time and experiences in the US. Five months of studying in a foreign country and another month of travelling leaves one with a variety of emotions and opinions about the country; especially when it’s one as controversially discussed as the US. If you have read my previous article, you know that my experiences weren’t always positive, but I have decided to focus this article on the good things I took from my time in the US.

I know how Europeans often think about the US, because I have had the same thoughts and I have spoken to other Europeans with similar views. Mostly, we believe that the US is one odd little place across the pond. We don’t really take people who count down how much ethnicity they have in them (5% Irish, 10% Scottish, 25% German, etc.) seriously. And, maybe more concerning, is that we often believe that the US does not have any history, because it is such a young country compared to the ancient places we learn about and are able to visit all over Europe. To us Europeans, the US is often seen as a patchwork country that nobody takes too seriously when it comes to culture and history.

For me, these ideas of culture and cultural diversity in the US, as well as the country’s history, became topics that I considered frequently as I travelled through it. And, I have found that I don’t agree with it anymore – not even a little bit. The US, as the country it is today, has a lot of history, especially political history. Europeans, unfortunately, do not consider it too often, even though it is so closely linked to our own.

The US is a nation of great cultural diversity that can be found just about everywhere in the country. It was founded by people with all kinds of backgrounds, with many of them political, economic or religious refugees. It is a history that Europe created, because these people came from Europe and we need to start recognising it as part of our own history. With the idea of awareness and responsibility in mind, I want to focus this article on the Native American history in the US. You may wonder why I want to go there, but I am German! I don’t do history without a good portion of awareness and responsibility attached to it.

As I’m from Germany, I know how difficult it can be to continuously learn and deal with your own country’s history. However, I am also aware of the importance of dealing with it; of taking responsibility in terms of education and prevention, and of answering uncomfortable questions almost daily – especially when dealing with people from another country. And, in that manner, I believe it is essential for Europeans to also acknowledge the mostly negative legacies we created through colonialism and to take the same sort of responsibility I have described above.

And so, if you ever do come to the US, take the time to explore something other than New York City and Los Angeles – although, these places are great melting pots of cultures and you can learn a lot about the US and its history as well. For example, if you go to New York City, get educated at the African Burial Ground National Monument. It marks a massive cemetery with 419 bodies of Africans, most of them enslaved, buried during the 17th and 18th centuries.

However, my travels concentrated on Native American reservations as we explored the areas of the Grand Canyon, which were the Navajo and Hopi reservations. On our way to the Hopi reservation, we picked up a Hopi boy who was hitchhiking. In return, he spontaneously gave us a tour of his village and a quick culture and history lesson. When you travel through the US, though a culture and history that is unfamiliar to you, always keep an open mind. Don’t shy away from spontaneous opportunities and encounters. Talk to people and learn from them. These places are also home to some of the most beautiful natural phenomena I have ever had the chance to witness. One such example is the Antelope Canyon, which is the famous canyon through which you are led by mostly Native Americans themselves who are open to any questions and happy to teach you a thing or two.

exploring Native American culture Rakbo Antelope Canyon
“Lady in the Wind” – Antelope Canyon

For anyone with a particular interest in archaeology or ancient history, you should check out Mesa Verde National Park, which is an accumulation of various archaeological sites. Here, you can find the ancient ruins of presumably temporary Native American villages built into the alcoves of sandstone mountains.

exploring Native American culture Rakbo Mesa
Mesa Verde National Park.

If you believe the US doesn’t have a long-standing history, then you are in for a shock. While the European-based history in the US is young, its Native history is ancient and diverse. It’s especially interesting that historians and archaeologists are still deciphering this history and the varied cultures of all the tribes that live and lived on this continent for centuries, because of the slandering that occurred when Europeans came to the country and colonised it.

Have you ever heard of the Moundbuilder Myth? It is the idea that there were once people that were more advanced than Native Americans who build a collection of mounds, and that Native Americans later killed them. It was used by Euro-American colonisers as an excuse to kill and imprison Native Americans. It wasn’t true, though, and newer historical and archaeological findings have shown that Native Americans were, in fact, advanced enough to have built these mounds.

Why am I telling you all this? Well, because this part of US history is not just interesting for Europeans, but should be equally interesting for the American public. We may not be able to take back the wrongdoings of our ancestors, but we can make sure that past actions do not continue to hurt and discriminate Native Americans today. Learning about the history and culture of other societies is essential in defeating discrimination and ensuring equality, and it is the responsibility of those who have the sense and knowledge that our forefathers did not.

So, whether you are from Europe or the US, travelling this beautiful and culturally rich country can only be educating. And that’s absolutely worth it! The essence of the US culture, in my opinion, is its diversity of culture. I know it doesn’t always work, but the same still happens in other countries. We all still have a lot of learning and understanding to do, but nonetheless, I believe in this core of the US culture and history. The fact that so many people from so many different backgrounds and cultures come together to live peacefully with each other, to teach and learn, and to make amends, is the true beauty of this big country.

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Nuria Hammen

Nuria is a 22-year-old international student from Germany, currently attending school in the Netherlands. She spent a semester studying in Laredo, Texas during high school, and in January 2017, she’ll return to America to study for a semester in Pensacola, Florida. She’s a passionate world traveler with a committed desire to learning about different cultures, languages, and all of the countries that make up our world.

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