Native Americans: villains or victims? realities behind stereotypes

Who are the bad? Who are the good?
The Wounded Knee Massacre occurred on December 29, 1890,

Hollywood stereotypes

Films and comics depicted American Natives as war-hungry savages

The negative image of Native Americans in popular culture is connected with Hollywood stereotypes. Western films and comics used to paint the Native Americans into war-hungry savages.

It took a long time to change the image of Native Americans from the bloodthirsty (it: assetato di sangue) crazies (crazy: pazzo, folle) into what they really were: a proud (it: orgoglioso) group of people who would, when necessary, stand up (it: opporsi) and fight for what they thought was right.

Many Native American tribes were very peaceful. And some of the tribes who went to war only did so after the Europeans upset the balance (it: sconvolgere l'equilibrio) of things, trying to take land from the native people.

The Europeans invaded native lands and yet, even today, the most common image of a Native American is a warlike stereotype.

What do we know about the history of Native Americans?

Early History. The History of Native Americans is both fascinating and tragic. Between 10 and 90 million Native Americans inhabited America at the time of the European arrivals. They had lived in the land many years before white man set foot on their soil (it: terra). It is believed that during the ice age, they had travelled a land-bridge across the Bering Sound, from Siberia into what is now Alaska. They had gradually migrated across the land and southward into Mexico and beyond. The name “Indian” was given them by Christopher Columbus who mistakenly believed he had landed in the Indies.

They migrated to all regions of the land and were formed into many different tribes or nations. These were a people who adapted well to their particular regions and made wise use of all natural resources available. They believed in respecting the land and the abundance of gifts it offered. They became proficient fishermen, hunters, farmed crops such as corn, and built homes with whatever available resources their territory provided .

Native Americans and the Europeans. The Native Americans of the east coast met the new 16th and 17th century visitors from Europe with enthusiasm. Initially, the people of this land tried to co-exist with the Europeans. But many more problems arose. The Europeans soon pursued (persue: perseguire) their intent to conquer this new continent with brutal attacks and invasion. The white men - colonists and explorers - brought deadly diseases to the Native Americans: measles, smallpox, cholera, yellow fever. This drastically diminished the Native American population and destroyed entire villages.

In addition to this, the arrogant attitude of the ever-growing whites led to the Indian Wars, the Indian Removal Act (1830), and several massacres. The Native American peoples were not only reduced in number but taken from their homes, stripped of their customs, and even forbidden to speak their native languages. Their children were taken from them and sent to schools to “civilize” them, forced to abandon every aspect of their heritage. In January 1876, the U.S. government forced them to live on ‘reservations’ where the majority of Native Americans still reside today.

Write/express your comment on the following issues:

  • Native Americans made wise use of all natural resources available.
  • The white men - colonists and explorers - brought deadly diseases to the Native Americans.
  • The Indian Removal Act began the forced relocation of thousands of Native Americans.
  • Native Americans were taken from their homes and stripped of their customs.

Native Americans had to stand different forms of violence...


The Indian Removal Act began the forced relocation of thousands of Native Americans in what became known as the Trail of Tears.

Native Americans opposed removal from their ancestral lands, resulting in a long series of battles with local white settlers. The forced relocation freed more than 25 million acres of fertile, lucrative farmland to mostly white settlement in Georgia, Florida, North Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, and Arkansas.

More than 46,000 Native Americans were forced to abandon their homes and relocate to “Indian Territory” that eventually became the state of Oklahoma. More than 4,000 died on the journey—of disease, starvation, and exposure to extreme weather.

James Earle Fraser (American, 1876–1953). End of the Trail (it: cammino), 1918 (cast 1918). Bronze; 33 x 26 x 8 3/4 in. (83.8 x 66 x 22.2 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Fraser intended the work as a commentary on the damaging (it:rovinoso) effects of Euro-American settlement on American Indian nations confined on government reservations. Seated upon a windblown (it: battuto dal vento) horse, Fraser's figure slumps over (slump over: accasciarsi) hopelessly, embodying (it: incarnando) the physical exhaustion and suffering of a people (it: popolo) forcefully driven to the end of the trail. The sculpture captures every horror, every injustice, every betrayal in the forced Westward resettlement of the country's Native Americans post-1830.


Native American boarding schools were established in the United States during the late 19th and early 20th centuries to educate and assimilate Native American children and youths according to Euro-American standards.

Indian people would be taught the importance of private property, material wealth and monogamous nuclear families. The reformers assumed that it was necessary to “civilize” Indian people, make them accept white men’s beliefs and value systems.

Boarding schools destroyed Native cultural identity by removing all signs of tribal life that the children brought with them.

The long braids worn by Indian boys were cut off. The children were made to wear standard uniforms. The children were given new “white” names and surnames. Traditional Native foods were abandoned, forcing students to acquire the food rites of white society, including the use of knives, forks, spoons, napkins and tablecloths. In addition, students were forbidden to speak their Native languages, even to each other.


Here are some of the most horrible massacres of the Native American population located within the United States.

1813 Tallushstchee: Tennessee Troops Attack Creek Town 200 killed

1813 Autossee Massacre: Georgia militia sets fire to Creek village 200 killed

1850 Bloody Island Massacre: US soldiers attack Pomo village 100 killed

1851 Old Shasta Town: Miners set fire to Wintu village 300 killed

1860 Indian Island Massacre: White settlers attack Wiyot villages 250 killed

1863 Bear River Massacre: US soldiers attack Shoshone village 280 killed

1862 Tonkawa Massacre: Union soldiers attack Tonkawa village 400 killed

1864 Oak Run Massacre: White settlers attack Yana’s at spiritual ceremony 300 killed

1864 Sand Creek Massacre: Colorado militia attacks Cheyenne village 160 killed

1870 Marias Massacre: US soldiers attack Piegan village 173 killed

1871 Camp Grant Massacre: White and Mexican posse attack Apache village 140 killed, 40 sold into slavery

1890 Wounded Knee Massacre: US troops open fire on Lakota at Wounded Knee 300 killed

Who are the bad? Who are the good? Are Native Americans really villains?
Read the following data and draw your own conclusions.

In the reservations - but also outside - the Native Americans have to deal with further worrying social developments. Of all ethnic groups in the USA the American Indians have the:I

  • highest rate of school drop outs (about 54%),
  • highest rate of child mortality,
  • highest rate of suicide
  • highest rate of teenage suicide ( 18.5 per 100,000),
  • highest rate of teenage pregnancy,
  • lowest life expectancy ( 55 years)

Mass problems among the American Indians:

  • drug abuse
  • alcoholism
  • crimes
  • domestic violence
  • unemployment
  • decay of the reservations

Who is to blame?

Eva Picco, Scuola Secondaria di I Grado Sarnico

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