Overview: Study Guide

The materials on this page are intended for use by students enrolled in ANTH 329 North American Indians. This page and its references are periodically up-dated.

Reading Assignments

Frey 1995:xii-37 and 217-231

Gill 1982: xi-14

Oswalt and Neely 1999:vii-30 and 47-56


The focus of this course is on the Indian cultures of North America and on the forces of acculturation that has affected those cultures. In this section we will offer an approach to the course, exemplified in the metaphor of the "tin shed" (Frey 1995:5-9). As we are focusing on Indian "cultures," a working definition of one of the key conceptual frameworks, "culture," is in order. There are numerous definitions of "culture." For our purposes, we will define "culture" as the way of life of a people, embracing their underlying ontological (organizational) and epistemological (knowledge) premises. Within the context of Indian cultures, the way of organizing and coming to know that life is based in the oral traditions, i.e., the "teachings" handed down from the "First Peoples." Among the other key concepts and images considered in this lesson will be "Indian," "myth," "tale," "landscape," "teachings," and "culture area." This section will also provide an introduction to and overview of the geographic, linguistic, demographic, cultural, and historic character of North American Indians.

Study Guide Questions

1. What is meaning in the account of the "tin shed," and what are the implications of that metaphor on how one approaches and attempts to learn about Indian peoples?  How would you characterize the approach taken in class toward an appreciation and understanding of Indian peoples? What is the methodology? What are its advantages and disadvantages?

2. What are among the challenges in accessing and understanding an oral-based literature through the media of literacy, and what are the advantages in formatting and presenting oral literature in a style more akin to poetry?

3. What is meant by the phrase, "America was invented and not discovered"? How has the image of the "Indian" been influenced by Europeans and, overtime, how has that image changed?

4. According to Oswalt and Neely, what criteria can be applied to defining who is an "Indian"?

5. What is the meaning of the terms "oral literature" and "oral traditions," and what is the distinction between "myths" and "tales"?

6. How are the terms "landscape" and "teachings" defined, and what advantage do they have over a term such as "natural resource"?

7. What was the approximate Indian population of North America and how many different languages were spoken at the time of first European contact?

8. Who were the "Paleo-Indians"?

9. What is a "culture area," and what are its limitations as an analytical construct and means of classifying Indian cultures?

10. Identify the six culture areas and seven primary tribal groups considered in this course, locating their approximate geographic locations and typical subsistence and religious orientations.

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