The three major subgroups of Native Americans, in order of population size, are American Indians, Eskimos, and Aleuts. Nearly one-half of them live west of the Mississippi River, and in Oklahoma, California, Arizona, and New Mexico, in particular. Like African-Americans and Hispanic-Americans, as a group they are below average for the U.S. population in educational attainment and income (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1995).
In the eyes of the federal government, Native American have a different status than other minorities. They are viewed as a conquered people, poor unfortunates who must be protected, rather than independent citizens. They suffer from a variety of health problems, among which are high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, lactose intolerance, alcoholism, cirrhosis of the liver, and tuberculosis. Although Native Americans have a lower than average risk for the three major killers of Americans—heart disease, cancer, and stroke — the high rate of other diseases and accidents during young and middle adulthood results in the shortest life span of all minority groups. Compared with a 70% rate for other Americans, only 42% of Native Americans reach age 65 (Singh et al., 1996).
Another problem confronting Native Americans is the multiplicity of languages (250 in all) spoken by the 400 tribal groups (Edwards, 1983). Moreover, the different lifestyles of the four major groups of Native Americans according to area of residence- reservation, rural, migrant, and urban-interact with tribal traditions and values.
On the whole, Native Americans are quite tolerant of what may seem to a white person as strange or idiosyncratic behavior. However, they are intolerant of greedy, selfish, or materialistic behavior of the sort in which they perceive most whites as engaging. The Native American conception of nature and humanity emphasizes their interdependence, and that human beings should be responsible for, rather than dominating, nature. Unlike the linear concept of time followed in technologically oriented cultures, Native Americans perceive events as being repetitious and circular. The seasons, for example, are continuous and alternating. Who is to tell which comes first: winter or spring? One follows the other, as in a circle. Even more than African-Americans, Native Americans have experienced great difficulty in adapting to Anglo-American culture, which is based on ideas and procedures that are so foreign to their traditional culture (Gonzalez, 1993).
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