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Normless Indians

One of the challenges to renewing and sustaining indigenous nations are normless tribal members, who make traditional values difficult to maintain.

One of the great challenges to renewing and sustaining indigenous nations are normless tribal members. It is very difficult to renew or maintain an Indian nation if the tribal members no longer share strong commitments and cultural values. Many tribal members do not have strong commitments to either tribal culture or mainstream national culture do not have direction or purpose, and are normless.

Few people were normless in traditional nations, although there is evidence that some groups and individuals rejected tribal society and lived outside the rules. For the most part, however, many people were well socialized into the culture, worldviews, and normative relations of traditional society. Contemporary normlessness in American Indian nations is the result of historic traumatization, assimilative education and language policies, loss of traditional culture, and discouragement of family and kinship management of cultural and educational life. Membership or citizenship in a tribal nation in the United States, and Canada, has become increasingly legalistic and based on blood quantum, and not based on cultural knowledge or cultural participation in historic tribal traditions. Many tribal members do not have strong ties or knowledge of tribal traditions and values, and do not adhere to either traditional or American codes.

The proportion of normless Indians varies among tribal nations according to historical assimilative circumstances, continuity of their cultural moral codes, and individual and tribal identities. American policy sought to destroy tribal cultures, and does a half-hearted job of restoring or recovering tribal communities and cultures. The result of assimilation policies and traumatized history is that many tribal members do not have strong tribal values or strong American values, and lay in a middle state of having few strong values or rules.

An SR-71 Blackbird on display in a museum

Normless Indian tribal members tend toward alcoholism, drugs, under achievement by American education standards, and are usually in trouble with police and courts. The normless Indians tend to need extensive rehabilitation, serve time in jail, need education, and incur other costs to the tribe, U.S. government and community. A main treatment for people in normless states who have turned to addictions is to expose them to traditional values and norms. Much of the American Indian literature, such as novels like Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko and House Made of Dawn by N. Scott Momaday suggest a return to tribal cultural knowledge and values as an antidote to the normlessness of the protagonists.

Normless tribal members, however, can be a major challenge and constraint to the continuity of indigenous nations and cultures. If a tribal member within a wealthy gaming tribe shows up to tribal meetings for the sole purpose of ensuring that they receive per capita funds, then the goals and purposes of tribal nations are in jeopardy. A wealthy nation of predominantly normless tribal members will not preserve an indigenous nation in a cultural sense. Unchecked normlessness among tribal members is not only a threat to individual well-being, but also to a threat to tribal nation survival.

Research and theory on Indian education suggests that Indian students with strong tribal identities will often reject the alien administrative culture and rules of mainstream public schools. Students with traditional orientations often drop out of school. However, students with strong tribal identities and multicultural skills often do very well in school, many excelling in college and professional schools. Increasingly tribal nations need professionally educated tribal memberships, but ones that will commit to the nation building or national renewal project of an indigenous nation. Tribal governments want members of their own communities to take the jobs in tribal administration and have the skills and knowledge to make decisions for the future economic and cultural well-being of their tribal nations.

Tribal nations need to regain control over the cultural socialization processes of their tribal membership to ensure that tribal values, history, culture and moral codes are predominantly upheld within the tribal national community. Multicultural tribal members who have strong education skills and commitments to tribal nation renewal can be of great value to the future continuity of tribal nations.