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James W. Loewen (1942-2021)

We mourn the loss of our friend and colleague and remain committed to the work he began.

Native American Issues,
Including the Explorers

Until the 2004 opening of the National Museum of the American Indian on the Mall in Washington, D.C., most Americans had nowhere to go to get an accurate history of Native Americans. In 2003, NMAI commissioned a paper from Loewen to provide them an overview of Native American/European American race relations, contrasted to what Americans learn in high school. His paper came too late to influence the opening, but eleven years later, when the staff was revising its interpretation, he was asked to revise the paper and provide a three-day workshop. The paper may be valuable to you as an introduction to Native American issues.

Teaching about Native Americans, the "Explorers," and the Colonial Period

In K-12, students learn the pantheon of “Great Explorers”: Prince Henry the Navigator, Bartolomeu Dias, Christopher Columbus, Vasco da Gama, Ferdinand Magellan, etc. Soon most forget which explorer did what (except Columbus, who “discovered America”), but they do think of them as Great White Men, our forebears. Always, the question to be asked is, what did they do when they got there?



Syncretism is the main way that cultures evolve. Specifically, it explains how Plains Indian cultures flourished briefly after Europeans and Africans arrived. As well, syncretism supplies a way out for today’s young American Indians who cannot see how to “be Native” and do not want to acculturate completely and “be American.”

“In anthropology and sociology, syncretism means combining elements from different cultures to make something new. A famous example would be how Christmas was celebrated in Christmas as celebrated in Europe and North America, which combines ideas from Egypt and the Near East — monotheism, the birth of an infant who will grow up to be the savior — with winter solstice observances from northern Europe — Yule log, candles, holly, and the day itself.”

Read the full document.

Other Resources for Teaching About Native Americans

No one would ever use all these slides in one presentation. For your convenience here they are all together. Make use of any you want, with or without citing us. The few duplications are there for reasons.

American Indians as Mascots

Loewen got the OAH (Organization of American Historians) to come out against the Washington NFL team’s use of a racial slur for its team name. See Valerie Strauss, “Organization of American Historians calls on Redskins to change name, logo,” Washington Post.