Cultural Imperialism in Alaska and the United States

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By David Henry

American Cultural Imperialism, or ACI as it shall be referred to from here on out, has affected Native American Culture, and world culture in many ways. Hollywood is where the world turns to for entertainment. Much like news corporations set agendas for the American people, Hollywood sets the agenda socially. Hollywood determines who the larger society of America looks up to as heroes, and who to despise as villains; they install qualities into those characters we are to aspire to as well as qualities we should seek to avoid. Hollywood and the music industry have set the cultural backdrop of America, as well as much of the worlds.
The printing press has made this dissemination of information to mass audiences a reality early on. An aspect of this dissemination is the widespread dispersion of Christianity too many far flung remote places; often replacing many cultural practices of people much earlier than the arrival of music and entertainment. My brother quoted something to me that I enjoyed hearing, it was this, “They can keep their white God… and their white devil.” This early fear and forced assimilation had more to do with the death of my own personal culture than any of the newer forms of cultural imperialism. Records of are shamanistic beliefs are very few and often accounts of Russian traders who were more worried about logs of pelts than preserving a rich cultural heritage.
Rather than coming to Alaska with the intent to colonize the state the Russians came to exploit many of the coastal natural resources. They trapped and brought their wears back with them to Kamchatka, Which is Russia’s Alaska which had already experienced over trapping. Using the Aleutian chain as a natural sea route to much of Alaska, Aleuts were the first affected by their desire for more furs. My family and many others were brought to St. Paul Island as workers, St. Paul being one of the largest rookeries of fur seals anywhere. It was there that Russians eventually married into families, settled down, and brought with them the Russian Orthodox Church. It came to replace many of our cultural values, and Russian replaced much of our spoken word. Thanks Gutenberg.
On to American Culture and American Indian Culture; the melting pot of America has not only hurt the American Indian it has robbed the nation of any individual cultures. A country of immigrants, seeking to find a new national identity, cultural norms, and cultural Hierarchy; all did away with distinct cultures. Only to be replaced with the American Dream which at its core is consumerism. As native peoples we were by and large collectivist groups, separated by geography, language, and our ancient beliefs and customs. America’s belief that her way is the only way, and the belief, disseminated by mass communication, that groups of people could be of lesser value than others, led to the genocide of first nations people. Through mass media we were made inhuman, savage animalistic shells of humanity, to be taken care of after our mass execution, almost as a faint afterthought. The Federal government, at one point, could not function without the support of its people. The belief that we were sub-human is a direct result of cultural imperialism and media manipulation of mass thought.
Presently, American society has taken a kinder stance to Native Americans. I would argue that this is by and large due to the softening of the American people. A simple look at movies made in certain years can pay homage to this. The 70’s 80’s were all about the lone violent hero saving the day, bleeding all over some hot blonde while making out in fading victory. As time has progressed out of that macho phase we moved into a period of great cinema in the late 80’s and 90’s. It seems now we may have one inspired film a year, gone are the Casablancas, Good Fellas, Forest Gumps, and Pulp Fictions.
Music aired on radio moved from great singer song writers in the 60’s and 70’s who sang about political issues, intelligent love, the earth, and the senselessness of conflict. Now we are suffering from artless plastic wrapped beat lines and manufactured hooks on just about every station. The scope of these songs, popularized by records companies and a carefree populace are very narrow. They do not inspire discovery, love, hardship, introspection; but rather narrow the public focus on sex and material wealth. Individualism without thought for the community, or the smaller community of family, has been placed on the altar of public thought.
So how much has American Cultural Imperialism hurt Indian culture? Very much, we are quickly moving away from our cultural traditions and values to a more American view of life. The best way for America to assimilate us would to have been to leave us alone. The harsh interactions of the past have prevented our total incorporation into the American way of life. If America could turn its back on profiteering, and marketing to the lowest common denominator, perhaps its future might be a little bit brighter for Native people and the Nation at large.