Today there are 4.5 million Native American people in the United States - just a quarter of the 18 million living at the time of the early European settlers. Then they lived in diverse tribes each having its own traditional practices, religious ceremonies, and complex, often matriarchal, social structures. The early settlers had a need for land, even if it was already in use by Native Americans, and they brought with them their largely Christian way of living.
The Indian Removal Act of 1830 led to the eviction of Native Americans, often by force, from their homelands onto reservations, thus freeing up land for the settlers. At the same time the desire to convert or "civilize" the Native Americans according to the Christian faith led to bans on traditional and religious practices; for example, Pow Wows, the Sundance, and use of the peyote were discouraged or banned. Generations of Native American children were forcibly separated from their families and sent in residential schools in an attempt to indoctrinate them in the western way of life. The attitude towards Native Americans has gradually softened. They were granted US citizenship in the early 1900s and today reservations have the status of sovereign nations, albeit poor ones.Many aspects of Native American tradition have survived over the years because the strong cultural identity kept them alive. And yet the years have taken their toll in other ways. The once matriarchal society has given way to one in which women face an uphill battle against abuse and domestic violence; rates of depression, alcoholism, and teenage suicides are disproportionately high; and the influence of the western lifestyle has a constant pressure on the traditional way of life.
This project attempts to document the life of the Native American today, after around three centuries of interaction with European settlers.