INDIAN VALUES, ATTITUDES AND BEHAVIORS, AND EDUCATIONAL CONSIDERATIONS
By Joann Sebastian Morris
Cooperation is highly valued. The value placed on cooperation is strongly rooted in the past, when cooperation was necessary for the survival of family and group. Because of strong feelings of group solidarity, competition within the group is rare. There is security in being a member of the group and in not being singled out and placed in a position above or below others. Approved behavior includes improving on and competing with one’s own past performance, however. The sense of cooperation is so strong in many tribal communities that democracy means consent by consensus, not by majority rule. Agreement and cooperation among tribal members are all-important. This value is often at odds with the competitive spirit emphasized in the dominant society.
A common result of the disparity between cooperation and competition is that, under certain circumstances, when a fellow Indian student does not answer a question in class, some Indian children may state they too do not know the answer, even though they might. This practice stems from their noncompetitive culture and concern that other individuals do not lose face.
2. Group Harmony
Emphasis is placed on the group and the importance of maintaining harmony within the group. Most Indians have a low ego level and strive for anonymity. They stress the importance of personal orientation (social harmony) rather than task orientation. The needs of the group are considered over those of the individual. This value is often at variance with the concept of rugged individualism.
One result of the difference between group and individual emphasis is that internal conflict may result since the accent in most schools in generally on work for personal gain, not on group work. The Indian child may not forge ahead as an independent person and my prefer to work with and for the group. Some educators consider this to be behavior that should be discouraged and modified.
The value of modesty is emphasized. Even when one does well and achieves something, one must remain modest. Boasting and loud behavior that attract attention to oneself are discouraged. Modesty regarding one’s physical body is also common among most Indians.
Indian children and their parents may not speak freely of their various accomplishments (e.g. traditional Indian dancing: championships or rodeo riding awards won.) Therefore, non-Indians are generally unaware of special achievements. Regarding the matter of physical modesty, many Indian student experience difficulty and embarrassment in physical education classes and similar classes in which students are required to undress in front of others.
Value is placed on respect for an individual’s dignity and personal autonomy. People are not meant to be controlled. One is taught not to interfere in the affairs of another. Children are afforded the same respect as adults. Indian parents generally practice noninterference regarding their child’s vocation. Indians support the rights of an individual. One does not volunteer advice until it is asked for.
A conflict in these essential values is evident in circumstances in which Indians resist the involvement of outsiders in their affairs. They may resent non-Indian attempts to help and give advice particularly in personal matters. Forcing opinions and advice on Indian on such things as careers only causes frustration.
Placidity is valued, as is the ability to remain quiet and still. Silence is comfortable. Most Indians have few nervous mannerisms. Feelings of discomfort are frequently masked in silence to avoid embarrassment of self or others. When ill at ease, Indians observe in silence while inwardly determining what is expected of them. Indians are generally slow to demonstrate signs of anger or other strong emotions. This value may differ sharply from that of the dominant society, which often values action over inaction.
This conflict in values often results in Indian people being incorrectly viewed as shy, slow, or backward. The silence of some Indians can also be misconstrued as behavior that snubs, ignores, or appears to be sulking.
To have the patience and ability to wait quietly is considered a good quality among Indians. Evidence of this value is apparent in delicate, time-consuming works of art, such as beadwork, quillwork, or sandpainting. Patience might not be valued by others who may have been taught "never to allow grass to grow under one’s feet."
Educators may press Indian student or parents to make rapid responses and immediate decisions and may become impatient with their slowness and deliberateness of discussion.
Generosity and sharing are greatly valued. Most Indians freely exchange property and food. The respected person is not one with large savings, but rather one who gives generously. Individual ownership of material property exists but is sublimated. Avarice is strongly discouraged. While the concept of sharing is advanced by most cultures, it may come into conflict with the value placed by the dominant society on individual ownership.
Some educators fail to recognize and utilize the Indian student’s desire to share and thus maintain good personal relations with their peers.
8. Indifference to Ownership
Acquiring material goods merely for the sake of ownership of status is not as important as being a good person. This was a value held by many Indians in times past. The person who tried to accumulate goods was often views with suspicion or fear. Vestiges of this value are still seen among Indians today who share what little they have, at time to their own detriment. Holding a "give-away" at which blankets, shawls and numerous other items, including money, are publicly given away to honor others is till a common occurrence, even in urban areas. Because of this traditional outlook, Indians tend not to be status conscious in terms of material goods. Upward social mobility within the dominant non-Indian society is not actively sought.
Non-Indians frequently have difficulty understanding and accepting the Indian’s lack of interest in acquiring material goods. If the student’s family has an unsteady or nonexistent income, educators may incorrectly feel that economic counseling is in order.
9. Indifference to Saving
Traditionally, Indians have not sought to acquire savings accounts, life insurance policies and the like. This attitude results from the past, when nature’s bounty provided one’s needs. Not all food could be saved, although what meat, fruit or fist that could be preserved by salt curing or drying was saved. Most other needs (e.g., food, clothing, shelter, and land) were provided by nature in abundance, and little need existed to consider saving for the future. In Indian society, where sharing was a way of life, emphasis on saving for one’s own benefit was unlikely to be found. This value may be at odds with the dominant culture, which teaches one to forgo present use of time and money for grater satisfactions to come.
Emphasis on the European industrial viewpoint in most educational systems causes frustration and anxiety for the Indian student and parent, since it conflicts sharply with so may other values honored by Indians (sharing, generosity, and so on).
10. Indifference to Work Ethic
The Puritan work ethic is foreign to most Indians. In the past, with nature providing one’s needs, little need existed to work just for the sake of working. Since material accumulation was not important, one worked to meet immediate, concrete needs. Adherence to a rigid work schedule was traditionally not an Indian practice.
Indians often become frustrated when the work ethic is strongly emphasized. The practice of assigning homework or in-class work just for the sake of work runs contrary to Indian values. It is important that Indians understand the value behind any work assigned, whether in school or on the job.
11. Moderation in Speech
Talking for the sake of talking is discouraged. In days past n their own society, Indians found it unnecessary to say hello, good-bye, how are you and so on. Even today, many Indians find this type of small talk unimportant. In social interactions Indians emphasize the feeling or emotional component rather than the verbal. Ideas and feelings are conveyed through behavior rather than speech. Many Indians still cover the mouth with the hand while speaking as a sign of respect. Indians often speak slowly, quietly, and deliberately. The power of words in understood: therefore, one speaks carefully, choosing words judiciously.
The difference in the degree of verbosity may create a situation in which the Indian does not have a chance to talk at all. It may also cause non-Indians to view Indians as shy, withdrawn, or disinterested. Indians tend to retreat when someone asks too many questions or presses a conversation. Because many Indians do not engage in small talk, non-Indians often consider Indians to be unsociable.
12. Careful Listening
Being a good listener is highly valued. Because Indians have developed listening skills they have simultaneously developed a keen sense of perception that quickly detects insincerity. The listening skills are emphasized, since Indian culture was traditionally passed on orally. Storytelling and oral recitation were important means of recounting tribal history and teaching lessons.
Problems may arise if Indian students are taught only in non-Indian ways. Their ability to follow the traditional behavior of remaining quiet and actively listening to others may be affected. This value may be at variance with teaching methods that emphasize speaking over listening and place importance on expressing one’s opinion.
13. Careful Observation
Most Indians have sharp observational skills and note fine details. Likewise, nonverbal messages and signals, such as facial expressions, gestures, or different tones of voice, are easily perceived. Indians tend to convey and perceive ideas and feelings through behavior.
The difference between the use of verbal and nonverbal means of communication may cause Indian students and parents to be labeled erroneously as being shy, backward or disinterested. Their keen observational skills are rarely utilized or encouraged.
14. Permissive Child Rearing
Traditional Indian child-rearing practices are labeled permissive in comparison with European standards. This misunderstanding occurs primarily because Indian child rearing is self-exploratory rather than restrictive. Indian children are generally raised in an atmosphere of love. A great deal of attention is lavished on them by a large array of relatives, usually including many surrogate mothers and fathers. The child is usually with relatives in all situations. Indian adults generally lower rather than raise their voices when correcting a child. The Indian child learns to be seen and not heard when adults are present.
In-school conflicts may arise since most educators are taught to value the outgoing child. While an Indian child may be showing respect by responding only when called upon, the teacher may interpret the behavior as backward, indifferent, or even sullen. Teachers may also misinterpret and fail to appreciate the Indian child’s lack of need to draw attention, either positive or negative, upon himself or herself.