Identity and Assimilation
Native American boy drumming Annette Phoenix tries to keep her son Adrian
connected with their home Tohono O'Odham
reservation.

Identity is a two-way street.

Human beings are social creatures. We all, as individuals, have the need to identify ourselves as a member of a larger group. We may be a member of more than one group. But simply identifying ourselves as a member isn't enough — the other members of the group have to accept us as a member before we can enjoy whatever benefits membership brings with it. We have the deep human need to "belong" and "be accepted." When the individual is accepted into the group, he or she has been assimilated or absorbed by the group.

Assimilation is also a two-way street, particularly when you're dealing with people.

In this video drawn from both programs you will see how a sense of identity is critical for both urban and reservation Indians.

Click here to watch a video clip

When we join, or are assimilated into a group, we are changed, but so is the group. Ideas, attitudes and beliefs flow back and forth. Group dynamics change. Both the individual and the group have changed.

For Native Americans, identity and assimilation have been critical challenges, both in the past and in today's world.

In the early history of Native and European contact, it was the Europeans who most often assimilated into Native societies. Fur traders often married Native women and were adopted into the tribe. Most tribes were matrilineal, tracing kinship through the mother's family, so it was natural for the male fur traders to be absorbed into his wife's family.

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