Native American Civility

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Throughout history and even to this day, people have called the Native Americans “uncivilized” However, that is not always the case. Some tribes were innovative in their own right or surprisingly resembled other countries in various aspects. The Comanche, Cherokee, and Choctaw tribes, while labeled as savages, exhibited civilized and advanced aspects of culture and government.

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The Comanche tribe are mostly known historically for fierce fights against the white settlers. However, they also invented their own method of transportation. The tribe created a variant of the dog sled; two wooden poles would be attached to the dog, with netting or a small platform suspended between the poles. This could then be used to carry supplies or food to wherever they needed to go. Dogs could carry up to 20 pounds, so it made it easier for the Natives to carry everything or relocate to a new location as they left the harder work to the dogs. This improves upon dog sleds in one major way: the transportation could be used even without snow on the ground. The Comanche create technical improvements to better their own lives, but they also adapted to new technologies brought to them from the Europeans. The Comanche tribe were introduced to the Europeans’ horses, and learned how to expertly ride these animals as well by observing the Spanish and attempting to learn on their own time. Soon after, one succeeded and was renounced as a hero of the tribe. The tribe eventually began conducting battles on horseback, a first for the Native tribes, and quickly became feared for their mobility and creativity, all because they mastered a technology they did not even invent. Combining the two previously mentioned aspects, the Comanche then attached two poles to horses, similar to the dogs. The horses could carry much more, including people. The Comanche could utilize horses for transportation easily because they did not carry many possessions, therefore they could efficiently use horseback as a means for travelling and transportation. This adaptation further improves the Comanche way of life, and cements the idea that they were civilized enough to invent new ideas. Savages would be unable to think of creative ideas, however this tribe does that and continues to improve their own invention with adaptations.

The Cherokee tribe bears some striking similarities to how certain older European countries were run. For example, their tribe was set up to where they had red war towns and white peace towns. There was a war chief and a peace chief that each type of town was subject to, one for foreign activities and the other domestic, respectively. If an emergency occurred and the towns needed to unite, one man would be elected Chief until the crisis had passed. Then he would step back down to whatever position he was in, and the towns would return to autonomy. The Cherokee also believed that they were the representatives of the Native Americans as a whole, given they were the largest tribe at the time of coming into contact with the white people. This shows a surprising quality of caring for one’s self-image, something an uncivilized group would not even consider. The women had a role in their government, too. A few were even Chiefs. This could suggest an argument could be made that the Cherokee were even ahead of their time on important issues such as women rights. Overall, it ran like a confederacy, which is similar to countries like the Netherlands when they once had a confederacy as well. Upon earning independence, the United States had a brief period of confederacy, too. Their religion was also similar to older beliefs of the Catholics. As stated in a book called The Cherokee Perspective, written by Eastern Cherokees but edited by Laurence French and Jim Hornbuckle, Catholics once believed the earth was flat and surrounded by water, with heaven immediately above earth. The Cherokee believed the earth was an island floating in the water, also completely surrounding it. They thought four cords connected the earth to a rock vault in the sky, their form of heaven. Catholics believe in a powerful entity they call God, while the Cherokee believe in a natural mighty figure they called Nature. These similarities present a shared way of thinking between the so-called savage Cherokee and the civilized Catholics, and reveals how the men were similar to each other in their beliefs and minds. The government structures sharing similarities as well support this argument. Confederacies were a relatively successful form of government for both the Cherokee and the Netherlands, and mirrored in coalitions such as the European Union today. It is hard to argue how the Native Americans are uncivilized when they did many things that the Europeans either currently do or have once done.

Finally, the Choctaw had a very structured government system along with laws. They had three separate districts of autonomous units, however when needed the Chief of each district would convene and form laws. In A Gathering of Statesmen: Records of the Choctaw Council Meetings 1826-1828, by Peter Perkins Pitchlynn, the laws are detailed, such as “If men had been fighting each other, and, even though they had quit, and the fighting was feigned, if one kills himself through his own actions, he himself will lie there to decay” (Pitchlynn 87). The three Chiefs all signed off on these laws, and they would be enacted across the tribe universally. Further laws detail when a man’s will comes into play, and whether a well-educated man can help the will be completed, or detail that if a man employs someone to steal, he and the robber will both be punished based on the value of what was stolen. These laws establish the idea of a civilized and well thought out governing plan. Their laws punish most forms of savagery, such as crimes. Some punishments involve lashes on the back, while others involve sentencing one to death or requiring them to pay a fine. The system of laws overall mirrors the United States’ Congress, though on a much smaller scale, because three representatives- the Chiefs- make laws for the entire country, which the people have allowed the representatives to govern for them. The main difference is that the Chiefs are not elected, and do not have terms. However, they still gather together to make new laws. An uncivilized tribe would not make laws nor would they have a system so in-depth and well refined as this one.

In the end, these three tribes help dispel the notion that the Native American tribes were so-called savages. The Comanche utilized technology, a concept the white people believed brought about superiority to themselves. Next, the Cherokee resembled Europe’s older lifestyle, with a shockingly similar religion and form of government which the white people once solidly believed in just as much. Lastly, the Choctaw’s laws were well-structured and combated savage crimes and thoughts, contradicting the whites’ labelling of all Native Americans as uncivilized beasts. In some way or another the tribes each had similarities to various countries and colonies. There is no universal characteristic of savagery, but each tribe has a very refined behavior or system in place that they should not be labelled uncivilized in the big picture.

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Native American Civility. (2019, Dec 23). Retrieved November 30, 2022 , from
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