New Philosophy

Native American Philosophy

What are some of the current issues in Native American philosophy?

The concerns address politics, ecology, religion, and feminism. The Native American claims are both straightforward and difficult to solve. Political activist and former ethnic studies professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder, Ward Churchill, has argued that progressive movements within mainstream American society do not address Native American ideals because those progressive movements are dedicated to getting more of the prizes of technology and capitalism. Traditional Native Americans, by contrast, seek to withdraw from the dominant system and into self-sufficient traditional communities.

To some extent, the current political issues of Native Americans concern ecology and environmentalism. On the one hand, Native Americans may refuse to be used as symbols of ecological virtue, even though ideals of self-sufficiency on tribal lands do rely on sustainable ecological practices. It is a significant irony that some Native American communities have been able to use profits from their casinos to purchase those ancestral lands that the U.S. promised them in unfulfilled treaties.

Viola Cordova (1937–2002), a university professor and the first Native American to earn a doctorate in philosophy (she was also part Hispanic), argued that the history of Western philosophy has an overwhelming Christian bias and influence in ways that are incomprehensible to thinkers in Native cultures. Anne Waters, another Native American philosopher, as well as an attorney who teaches at California State University at Bakersfield, has challenged the myth of European discovery of the “Americas,” referring to oral traditions claiming that Native Americans have always inhabited the Americas.

Native American women writers such as Paula Gunn Allen have traced matriarchal patterns in indigenous political history, which were dislodged by European settlers who refused to negotiate with female leaders. This suggests very different feminist concerns among Native American women compared to Western feminists, recovering political power instead of attaining it.


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