Tribal Culture

Indian Cultures

Reprinted from The Indian Child Welfare Act produced by the Indian Child Welfare Consortium in Escondido , Ca.

Few Material Things

Timeliness and grace of giving are virtues to be admired. Members of tribes are often suspicious of individuals who collect many material possessions . Some tribes even hold celebrations and give away most of their possessions to others as "love gifts" or "honor gifts".

Today Concept

Indian people generally live each day as it comes. Plans for tomorrow are left until the future becomes the present. To be occupied with things and events too far into the future is to invite trouble and threatening influence for those future plans.


What one is going to do or have in life is not an issue in the Indian home. Tribal cohesion, tribal solidarity and tribal prosperity are ideals that all work together. There is a decided "us", "we”,” our" orientation to possessions and to success. Indian people, however, are very competitive in sports. Sports are games. Life is not a game.


Personal actions are based upon what rewards behavior will invite. No guilt is experienced over the act of wrong-doing itself. Disciplinary practices among Indian groups often include shaming an individual, but once this is done, no guilty feeling is held by an individual, and the group forgets the transgression. The personal shame and public ridicule arising from the negative fruition of poor behavior and/or poor judgment comprises the punishment.

Time is Unimportant

Time is a very relative thing. Clocks are not wanted. One does things as they need to be done. "Indian Time" means when everyone gets there . A community meeting can be set for 1 p.m. and people will come as near that time as they wish. So the meeting may actually begin an hour or two later, and this bothers no one. There will always be time in which things can be done, so pressure to do things at specific times is foreign to native peoples. The concept of "wasting time" is not understood, i.e., as long as a person is breathing, living and occupying space in the physical world, that person is not "wasting time" .

Extended Family

Indian cultures consider many individuals to be relatives. Aunts are often considered to be mothers. Uncles are called "fathers". and cousins are brothers and sisters of the immediate family . Clan members are also considered to be relatives.


Elders are respected . Experience is felt to bring knowledge. The older one is, the more knowledgeable he/she is. No effort is made to conceal white hair or other signs of advancing age.


The respected member of many Indian communities is the one who shares and gives all his/her wealth to others . As resources are available, the virtue is to share them and use them.

Role-Set and Status

Attitudes toward a person are not usually contingent upon that person's role or status in the community, or the fact that a person has a title or is considered by others to have power, authority or influence in a private or government organization. It is the personality of the person rather than the entity that person represents that is important in establishing rapport and cooperation.

Compact Living

Several people living in close quarters provide each person with a spiritual source of world security. The phenomena is akin to the sense of security experienced by a mother wolf and her pups nestled together in a small cave, or a group of Boy Scouts in their sleeping bags within a camping tent in a storm. One can live both modestly and comfortably in dose quarters.

Man is in Balance with Mother Earth

The earth and all the creatures dwelling upon it are here to respect and enjoy. If man accepts this world as it is and lives with it as she/he should, there will be balance and harmony and an abundance of food to sustain good health.

Non-Indian Cultures

Many Material Things

Wealth is measured in terms of material accumulation. Many such possessions often constitute "status symbol" and are considered highly desirable. The accumulation of possessions is directly related to the happiness of an individual, both now and in the future.

Tomorrow Concept

Non-Indians are very concerned with the future. Such items as insurance, savings for college, plans for vacation, etc., suggest to what extent non-Indians hold this value. "I am the master of my fate and the architect of my future" is an oft-heard phrase.


What one is going to do, be or have in life is of great concern to parents. Plans for opening up the test" doors for children are virtues. Personal and individual accomplishment are highly respected and praised. There is a marked "I", "me", "mine" orientation.


After an act is committed that a non-Indian feels to be wrong he carries inside him the knowledge of having done something wrong. This terrible feeling may make one ill mentally and physically. The offending act itself is the tragedy. Much frustration is felt within an individual because there is little direction given to that individual on how to process out these guilt feelings and redeem her/himself in her/his own eyes.

Time is Important

Time is of great importance. When a person says he will be somewhere at 10 a.m., he must be there at 10 a.m. Otherwise, he is felt to be a person who "steals" another's time. The premium placed on time results in "rushes" "rush hour traffic", "last minute rush". It is felt among this culture to be a virtue to use time to its fullest extent . One who is prompt is respected. There is much emphasis placed on order and organization and to have both, one must not "waste time". Time is among the most priceless commodities an individual possesses.

Nuclear Family

Biological family is of utmost importance. Relationships are limited within this group.


Youth is venerated. The assumption is that as one grows older, one's productivity arid usefulness diminishes. The virtue is to maintain youth as long as possible. Thousands of dollars are spent yearly for hair dyes, make-up, and other things that make older people look younger. Whole towns have sprung up in the United States which advertises youthful living and that are designed for "senior citizens".


An individual with the quality of "thrift" is felt to have acquired a virtue worth much.

Role-Set and Status

Esteem, veneration, and respect are given to others according to their titles, roles, designation, and social standing. It is not so much the personality of the person that is reacted to, but the entity that person represents and the purposes of that entity/organization and how much influence it has that is important in establishing rapport and communication.

Space Living

Several people living in close quarters are unhealthy and immoral in some instances. The larger one's home, the more intelligent and prosperous he will look to others . Children cannot adequately develop, friends cannot easily be cultivated, and one cannot have a general sense of well being when one's living quarters are small.

Man Controls Nature

Control and mastery of the elements are the constant motivations for scientific research. Artificial lakes are made; natural waters are controlled; electricity is generated and controlled. Such accomplishments are looked upon with pride.


The person who is admired is the one who is decisive and quick to ad. She/he gets things done rapidly and then moves on the next thing to be done. To sit and let one's competitor pass one by because the competitor acted more decisively and quickly is considered to be risky business.

The Algonquian Indians of North Carolina, Inc.

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