The portrayal of native American violence and warfare: Who speaks for the past?


We raise a series of key issues and questions concerning the depiction and portrayal of native North American violence and warfare as it has been expressed in art, education, and entertainment over the past 400 years by nonindigenous people. The cultures of violence and the nature of warfare for Europeans and native people alike were not only complex, but they were also contingent upon their respective political, religious, and social institutions. These expressions of violence stem from differences in sociopolitical complexity and cultural beliefs that arose from varying ideas and values about the nature of conflict and the rules of warfare. Differences in levels of social integration have given rise to fundamentally diverse ideas about the role of violence for a wide variety of social groups and polities in the New World. The only viable alternative to stereotypes, ethnocentrism, and dehumanization policies is the pursuit of a sustained effort to objectively identify cultural beliefs and patterns of indigenous people that result in conflict and violence. We encourage scholars to seek input on discussions and presentations from Native American groups as well as scholars whose research interests provide a scientific perspective of conflict and violence. We believe failure to pursue studies of violence honestly and truthfully results in further dehumanization and marginalization of indigenous people. The long shadow cast by violence in the past needs to be understood in ways that appreciate indigenous people in terms of their own cultural beliefs and ideas about their geopolitical world.

Publication Title

The Ethics of Anthropology and Amerindian Research: Reporting on Environmental Degradation and Warfare