What cultural differences are there between the Puritans and Native Americans?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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There are several primary differences between Puritans and Native Americans.  The most evident difference between both is that one group emigrated to the New World, while the other group was indigenous to it.  This highlights that fact that the Native Americans possessed a more holistic and understanding approach to themselves in relation to the New World.  The Puritans emigrated to the New World to escape religious persecution and with this level of anxiety approached the New World as something to control, over which to exercise power.  The Native Americans never used the approach of power to control the land or the inhabitants on it, whereas the Puritans saw their existence in the New World as a constant and anxious battle to appropriate it in accordance to their own subjectivity.  This difference in perception of themselves in relation to the world indicates a fundamental difference between both groups.

Another difference rests in the realm of religion. Native American religion was pluralistic.  This means that there were many differing conceptions that helped to explain cosmology, individual consciousness, purpose of existence, and "the way things are."  While there was animosity between Native American tribes, there did not seem to be an understanding that one version of religious truth was sought to be obliterated at the hands of another.  Puritan approaches to religion resided in the fact that their view of religion was dogmatic:  Original sin dominated over all.  This created a very antagonistic approach to religion, in so far as there was little, if any, comfort that Puritans had in their religious faith.  It was something to be feared, to be revered, to be accepted, and the natural tension that existed when the three of them converged created anxiousness and a lack of understanding of other conceptions of religious truth as well as a lack of their own conception of it.  The Salem Witchcraft Trials could only happen in a Puritanical community, where there is only one conception of "Truth" and those who speak out against it are deemed as "speaking out against truth."  We don't see this level of dogmatism to this extent in Native American religious experiences and expressions.

The final cultural difference is another apparent one.  The Puritans ended up winning.  They became the dominant cultural, political, and social power.  They ended up starting the process of relegating and eventually silencing the Native American voice.  This reflects a cultural difference of power and the lack of it.  When we end up seeing American History as the competing narratives of those who are deemed as "winners" and those who came about at the cost of those who "won," we begin to have a greater understanding and appreciation of the diaspora called American History.  This becomes a cultural legacy of both:  Puritanism's victory and the question of what cost and Native American silence and the question of what could have been.  This is a theme that starts out with the Native American and Puritans and is played out throughout American Historical dialogue.

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