Date of Award
Master of Arts
Native and Colonial Americans had vastly different approaches to the world, and viewed nature and other people in quite dissimilar ways. The concept of self is central to this project because personal values and attitudes toward others are grounded in agency - actions that emerge from the self and define the way that one treats his or her surroundings and everyone or thing in it. The way that one's self is perceived is necessarily communicated within the context of social settings. Situation in a world of other people (and of nature) requires that actions be weighed in accordance with agency. The very concept of what it is to have self is a key way to understand a world-view, because the values that are central to cultural communities have their locus within self. As such, the importance of defining to what or to whom one is agent must be addressed. The concepts of self that were fostered in members of tribes and early settlement communities contributed greatly to the world-views of their members, and consequently the treatment of their surroundings. One aim of Native American religions was to cultivate within tribal members the worthiness of respect harbored within beings of all sorts. Native American oral traditions established in members, from early on, the skill of actively listening to nature and the mindset that the earth and its inhabitants should be approached with care and respect. This was apparent in the treatment of nature, for personhood was extended to living creatures of all kinds, and even what we might regard as inanimate objects. Native Americans viewed themselves as vitally related to all other living powers of the world. These approaches to interacting with nature, combined with a word-view that was willing to accept a wide array of entities as beings, instilled a broad concept of self within Native American peoples. In contrast, based on traditional Western thought - foundationally that of Descartes and highly influenced by John Locke - Colonial Americans developed a very different concept of self from which members of this culture saw the world as hierarchical. As a result, selves turned inward and understood personal existence as other than, or separate from, nature. Persons were manifestly cognitive beings with moral agency, and only other beings with the same attributes should be afforded equal respect or regarded as having rights, as such. The thematic that developed as a result was, and still is today, founded upon the value of property ownership and the utilization of property and natural resources for production. Why is it important to look at the individual Native American tribe member or Colonial American community member? Since the actions of each member contribute to the wellbeing of the whole group, and consequently of nature, it is important to grasp how self-conduct that is necessarily a product of the individual self, fits into the bigger picture and affects the attitudes and actions of the individual toward other people and the environment. This coincides with the purpose of this project to show how the concept of self for Native Americans can be illuminating in many ways, consequently casting light on how we might learn from their ways, rather than give the impression to readers that one concept of self is any better or worse than the other. It is my aim to illustrate the unique and intriguing way that Native Americans view the self as part of nature, and investigate how these differing concepts of self, in relation to nature, affect how the these groups act toward nature. My hope is that readers will be encouraged to reflect on their own values and the roles that those values play in modern America, including some of the implications that these concepts of self have had in the past and continue to have for the future.
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