Native American
(Traditional Indian Values)
(Dominant Society Values)
GROUP (take care of the PEOPLE) I SELF ( take care of #1)
AGE (knowledge-wisdom) OF THESE YOUTH (rich, young, beautiful)
LISTEN (and you'll learn) BECOME SPEAK UP
GIVE and share CONFUSED TAKE and save
Live in HARMONY (with all things) ANGRY CONQUER Nature
(Ego) SELF attention
A SPIRITUAL Life SPIRITUALLY Religion (a PART of life)

As a teacher of Native American students, I would allow time to get to know the students in my class. This may be done in class and through one-to-one contact in the classroom. Once a rapport is established with the group then I would know what area to address with input from my group. Here I would find out from students the traditional ways of talking about a certain area. I know, traditional Native Americans are most often not assertive, but that has changed. If I feel a need then I would start with that area. (Marilou Schultz)

Some Indian Values, Attitudes and Behaviors, Together with Educational Considerations (from The American Indian: Yesterday Today and Tomorrow, A Handbook for Educators. California Department of Education, Bill Honig, State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Sacramento, 1991.)



Attitudes and Behaviors

Cooperation is highly valued. The value placed on cooperation is strongly rooted in the past, when cooperation was necessary for the survival of family and group.. Because of strong feelings of group solidarity, competition within the group is rare. There is security in being a member of the group and in not being singled out and placed in a position above or below others. Approved behavior includes improving on and competing with one's past performance however. The sense of cooperation is so strong in many tribal communities that democracy means consent by consensus, not by majority rule. Agreement and cooperation among tribal members are all-important. This value is often at odds with the competitive spirit emphasized in the dominant society.
Educational Considerations

A common result of the disparity between cooperation and competition is that, under certain circumstances, when a fellow Indian student does not answer a question in class, some Indian students may state that they, too, do not know the answer, even though they might. This practice stems from their noncompetitive culture and concern that other individuals do not lose face.
Group Harmony
Emphasis is placed on the group and the importance of maintaining harmony within the group. Most Indians have a low ego level and strive for anonymity. They stress the importance of personal orientation (social harmony) rather than task orientation. The needs of the group are considered over those of the individual. This value is often at variance with the concept of rugged individualism. One result of the difference between group and individual emphasis is that internal conflict may result since the accent in most schools is generally on work for personal gain, not on group work. The Indian student may not forge ahead as an independent person and may prefer to work with and for the group.
The value of modesty is emphasized. Even when one does well and achieves something, one must remain modest. Boasting and loud behavior that attract attention to oneself are discouraged. Modesty regarding one's physical body is also common among most Indians. Indian students may not speak freely of their various accomplishments (e.g., traditional Indian dancing, championships or rodeo riding awards won.) Therefore, non-Indians are generally unaware of special achievements.
Value is placed on respect for an individuals' dignity and personal autonomy. People are not meant to be controlled. One is taught not to interfere in the affairs of another. Children are afforded the same respect as adults. Indians support the rights of an individual. One does not volunteer advice until it is asked for. A conflict in these essential values is evident in circumstances in which Indians resist the involvement of outsiders in their affairs. They may resent non-Indian attempts to help and give advice, particularly in personal matters. Forcing opinions and advice on Indians on such things as careers only causes frustration.

Attitudes and Behaviors

Placidity is valued, as is the ability to remain quiet and still. Silence is comfortable. Most Indians have few nervous mannerisms. Feelings of discomfort are frequently masked in silence to avoid embarrassment of self or others. When ill at ease, Indians observe in silence while inwardly determining what is expected of them. Indians are generally slow to demonstrate signs of anger or other strong emotions. This value may differ sharply from that of the dominant society, which often values action over inaction.
Educational Considerations

This conflict in values often results in Indian people being incorrectly viewed as shy, slow or backward. The silence of some Indians can also be misconstrued as behavior that snubs, ignores, or appears to be sulking.
To have the patience and ability to wait quietly is considered a good quality among Indians. Patience might not be valued by others who may have been taught "never to allow grass to grow under one's feet." Educators may press Indian students to make rapid responses and immediate decisions and may become impatient with their slowness and deliberateness of discussion.
Generosity and sharing are greatly valued. Most Indians freely exchange property and food. The respected person is not one with large savings but rather one who gives generously. Individual ownership of material property exists, but is sublimated. Avarice is strongly discouraged. While the concept of sharing is advanced by most cultures, it may come into conflict with the value placed by the dominant society on individual ownership. Some educators fail to recognize and utilize the Indian students' desire to share and thus maintain good personal relations with their peers.
Indifference to Work Ethic
The Puritan work ethic is foreign to most Indians. In the past, with nature providing one's needs, little need existed to work just for the sake of working. Since material accumulation was not important, one worked to meet immediate, concrete needs. Adherence to a rigid work schedule was traditionally not an Indian practice. Indians often become frustrated when the work ethic is strongly emphasized. The practice of assigning homework or in-class work just for the sake of work runs contrary to Indian values. It is important that Indians understand the value behind any work assigned, whether in school or on the job.

Moderation in Speech
Attitudes and Behaviors

Talking for the sake of talking is discouraged. In days past in their own society, Indians found it unnecessary to say hello, good-bye, how are you, and so on. Even today, many Indians find this type of small talk unimportant. In social interactions, Indians emphasize the feeling or emotional component rather than the verbal. Ideas and feelings are conveyed through behavior rather than speech. Many Indians still cover the mouth with the hand while speaking as a sign of respect. Indians often speak slowly, quietly, and deliberately. The power of words is understood; therefore, one speaks carefully, choosing words judiciously.
Educational Considerations

The difference in the degree of verbosity may create a situation in which the Indian does not have a chance to talk at all. It may also cause non-Indians to view Indians as shy, withdrawn, or disinterested. Indians tend to retreat when someone asks too many questions or presses a conversation. Because many Indians do not engage in small talk, non-Indians often consider Indians to be unsociable.
Careful Listening Being a good listener is highly valued. Because Indians have developed listening skills, they have simultaneously developed a keen sense of perception that quickly detects insincerity. The listening skills are emphasized, since Indian culture was traditionally passed on orally. Storytelling and oral recitations were important means of recounting tribal history and teaching lessons. Problems may arise if Indian students are taught only in Non-Indian ways. Their ability to follow the traditional behavior of remaining quiet and actively listening to others may be affected. This value may be a variance with teaching methods that emphasize speaking over listening and place importance on expressing one's opinions.
Careful Observation Most Indians have sharp observational skills and note fine details. Likewise, nonverbal messages and signals, such as facial expressions, gestures, or different tones of voice, are easily perceived. Indians tend to convey and perceive ideas and feelings through behavior. The difference between the use of verbal and nonverbal means of communication may cause Indian students to be labeled erroneously as being shy, backward, or disinterested. Their keen observational skills are rarely utilized or encouraged.
View of Time as Relative Time is viewed as flowing, as always being with us. Time is relative; clocks are not watched. Things are done as they have to be done. Time, therefore, is flexible and is geared to the activity at hand. This attitude is rooted in the past, when only the sun, moon, and seasons were used to mark the passage of time. Many Indian languages contain no word for time as well as no words to denote a future tense. This view of time is radically different from that of the dominant society, for which careful scheduling of activities is important. In that view time is linear and moves at a fixed, measurable rate. Emphasis is placed on using every minute. Because of the influence of the traditional view of time, some Indian students may clash with educators when they do not arrive at the appointed hour for class or a meeting. Non-Indians may mistakenly interpret Indians' different attitude toward time as irresponsible.

Orientation to the Present
Attitudes and Behaviors

Indians are more oriented to living in the present. There is a tendency toward an immediate rather than postponed gratification of desires. Living each day as it comes is emphasized. This value is closely tied to the philosophy that one should be more interested in being than in becoming.
Educational Considerations

One result of the disparity between the Indian's present oreintation and the European's future orientation is that frustration often results when Indian students are pressured to forgo present needs for future rewards.
Pragmatism Most American Indians are pragmatic. Indians tend to speak in terms of the concrete rather than the abstract or theoretical. In learning situations educators frequently place primary emphasis on the memorization of abstract theories, concepts, formulas, and so on and provide examples only to validate a particular theory. Indian students often learn more rapidly if there is a greater emphasis on concrete examples, with discussion of the abstract following.
Veneration of Age Indian people value age. They believe that wisdom comes with age and experience. Tribal elders are treated with great respect. It is not considered necessary to conceal white hair or other signs of age. This stage of life is highly esteemed. To be old is synonymous with being wise. The talents of the elders are utilized for the continuance of the group. Hence, even today there is little evidence of a generation gap, since each age group is afforded respect. The Indian view of aging is at odds with the emphasis on youthfulness and physical beauty evident in the dominant culture. Conflict may result when Indians are influenced by non-Indian attitudes toward youthfulness. A generation gap may result causing a loss to Indian people of the wisdom and knowledge of the elders, who are the speakers of native languages and the carriers of the culture.
Respect for Nature Because nature cannot be regulated, Indians formed a cooperative way of life to function in balance with nature. If sickness occurs or food is lacking the Indian believes that the necessary balance or harmony has somehow been destroyed. Nature is full of spirits and hence spiritual. Indians fashioned their way of life by living in harmony with nature. As a result, even today most Indians do not believe in progress at the expense of all else. Mainly Indians have also been taught to reject a strictly scientific explanation of the cosmos in favor of a supernatural one. Certain tribes adhere to restrictions against touching certain animals. The Indian respect of nature is in opposition to the value others place on the importance of controlling and asserting mastery over nature. Although the general public is becoming more conscious of ecology, the continuing emphasis on man's attempts to control nature runs contrary to what Indian students are taught by their people. Certain tribes may have taboos against touching, let alone dissecting, frogs and other reptiles. In general, because of their respect for all of nature, the practice of using animals in science experiments is met with revulsion by many Indians.

Attitudes and Behaviors

Indians hold to a contemplative rather than a utilitarian philosophy. Religious aspects are introduced into all areas of one's life. Much emphasis is placed on the mystical aspects of life. Religion is an integral part of each day; it is a way of life. There is no evidence that any Indian group ever imposed its system of religious beliefs on another group, nor were there separate denominations that sought to attract members.
Educational Considerations

The Indian value placed upon the spiritual is frequently misunderstood by non-Indians. Additional frustration may result when spirituality is avoided in most school discussions, since it is not seen as being an integral part of a person's life. This practice ignores an aspect of life considered essential and natural to Indians.
Importance of
Cultural Pluralism
Indians resist assimilation and, instead, emphasize the importance of cultural pluralism. Indian people desire to retain as much of their cultural heritage as possible. They leave their reservation to find city jobs and educational opportunities, not to stop being Indian. Indians avoid educators with reformist attitudes who strive to propel Indian students into the American mainstream. In reservation communities and even in urban areas where there are anti-Indian attitudes among the non-Indian population, Indians tend to stay among Indians and go into non-Indian areas only when necessary. Confusion and misunderstanding often result when Indians go through the motions of assimilating outwardly (e.g., adopting the use of material items, clothing, and so on) when they have not really accepted European-American values.
Avoidance of Eye
Most Indian people avoid prolonged direct eye contact as a sign of respect. Among some tribes, such as the Navajo, one stares at another only when angry. It is also a simple matter of being courteous to keep one's eyes cast downward. Frequently and erroneously, non-Indians presume that Indians are disrespectful, are behaving in a suspicious manner, or are hiding something when they fail to look a person in the eye. Since educators consider direct eye contact as a measure of another's honesty and sincerity, they often become upset with Indian students and tell them to look up, when the student is looking down out of respect.
Importance of Bilingualism It is important to Indians to retain their native languages. Many cultural elements are contained within the context of a native language. Certain words and concepts are not easily translatable in English. Each Indian language contains the key to that society's view of the universe. Often, non-Indians become impatient with Indians who still speak their own language and whose grasp of English may not be as strong as or as fluent as the non-Indians would prefer. Indian students may need a longer time to formulate a response, since they may be thinking in their native language and must translate into English before verbalizing. Clear and accurate communication between Indians and non-Indians may be difficult, since words do not always translate identically in either's language Because the general population prefers that everyone speak English, the importance of native languages goes unrecognized.
Caution Indians use caution in personal encounters and are usually not open with others. Information about one's family is not freely shared, and personal and family problems are generally kept to oneself. Indians may have difficulty communicating their subjective reactions to situations. Some of the personal caution stems from a hesitancy about how they will be accepted by others. Because of past experiences Indians may fear that non-Indians will be embarrassed for or ashamed of Indian individuals, family, or friends. Because the American ideal is to appear friendly and open, although one may be hiding one's true feelings, Indians and non-Indians may be uncomfortable with each other because of these differing modes of behavior While non-Indians may see Indians as aloof and reserved, Indians may see European- Americans as superficial and hence untrustworthy.
Table of Contents Strategies for Teaching Native Americans A Model for Understanding Cultural Group Identity and Behavior Patterns