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The Effects of Ethnocentrism on Storytelling

Ethnocentrism is one of the most prominent themes in The Truth About Stories and in a great deal of our world history. Ethnocentrism played a large role in the systematic oppression of Native Americans and the colonization of North America. The displacement, enslavement, and killing of so many people cannot be done, or even conceived, without some sort of justification for it. The simple fact that Native American culture was different from that of the Europeans seemed like a good enough reason to begin and continue the violence. However, ethnocentrism is not a characteristic that was exclusive to colonists. We all form both conscious and unconscious analyses about the people around us, and we tend to you our own biased preconceptions of that is “right” as the baseline for these analyses. It is necessary to recognize these biased judgments that we make and the harm they cause. Otherwise, we are doomed to repeat mistakes of the past. Ethnocentrism can strengthen the power of a storyteller and fuel the stereotypes that are birthed from those stories.
Ethnocentrism can be defined as the evaluation of another culture according to preconceptions and standards that are set by our own culture. According to Ken Barger, a Professor of anthropology at Indiana University, ethnocentrism involves the process of making assumptions about others. These assumptions can be negative or positive judgments, but in both cases, the assumption is often false (Barger, 2018). Barger uses Anglos observations of Cree Indians in his examples of false negative and false positive judgements. If Anglos were to see Cree Indians gathered around a campfire not doing obvious work and deem them “lazy”, that would be an example of false negative judgment. People in the West generally value “busyness” and working long hours. If we think of an element of our culture (being industrious) as a criterion to measure other cultures against, then it would make sense to consider cultures lazy if they don’t match our work ethics. The example that Barger uses to reflect false positive judgments about another culture is the fact that we often think of Native Americans as “free of the stress of modern society” (Barger, 2018). However, this view eliminates the oppression and inequality that Native Americans face in our society. Thomas King describes a time during the 1960s when “hippies” flocked to Indian reserves and reservations, “sure that Native people possessed the secret to life. Or at least something that middle-class North America didn’t have ” (King, 2005, p. 113). In reality, that “something” was poverty. Middle-class North Americans had romanticized the idea of living simply from afar, but when they got a closer look they realized that it wasn’t so desirable.
I think a significant exemplification of ethnocentrism in North American history is the implementation of boarding schools that were opened for the purpose of forcing Native Americans to assimilate into American (which in this context is synonymous with White) culture. Roughly 150 of these schools were opened by the U.S. government in the late nineteenth century. The schools forbid Native American children from using their own languages and practicing their own religions. They were given white names, clothes, and haircuts (Little, 2017). Anything that was a part of their Indian identity was inferior to whites, and so it must be left behind. It seems to be a reccurring theme in history: that the future is white, and everyone else is part of the red, black, brown, or otherwise dark past.
Perhaps the genesis of this ethnocentric attitude arose from Genesis itself. King argues that the creation story that is generally accepted by the West sets a dangerous and telling precedent for a culture that lacks compassion and understanding. He argues that “contained within creation stories are relationships that help define the nature of the universe and how cultures understand the world in which they exist” (King, 2005, p. 10). In the Native creation story he tells, The Woman Who Fell from the Sky, the world was created with cooperation. Working together was vital; humans, animals, and nature were unified. The Judeo-Christian creation story is much different, with an omnipotent, authoritative god. Within the Christian earth, there are strict rules and harsh punishments for not following orders. There are rigid laws and order, leaving little room for anything else. With the lack of forgiveness and second-chances in Genesis, combined with all of the power being in the hands on one uncooperative god, King wonders, “What if the creation story in Genesis had featured a flawed deity who was understanding and sympathetic rather than autocratic and ridged?…What kind of world might we have created with that kind of story?” (King, 2005, p. 27-28). If white men had allowed or had been introduced to a kinder God, like those in Native creation stories, perhaps the legal and societal operations here in North America could have also been kinder. Instead, we sneer at the collaboration and balance found in Native Stories and find comfort in the dictatorial hierarchy of Christianity. We are satisfied with our culture’s grip on individualism, so we are comfortable thinking of the collectivism often found in Native literature as immature, primitive, and/or underdeveloped.
King mentions that as a teenager he knew that “white was more than just a color” (King, 2005, p, 2). King employs a strong example of white people using their influence to weave a hateful story of Indians. He describes the Puritans desire to acquire as much North American Soil as possible, to establish and isolate their community. Of course, they viewed the Native Americans as threats to their vision. King explains that the Puritans “set about creating the stories that were needed to carry the day” (King, 2005, p.75). The Indians, who were once seen as strange and exotic, were now graceless, savage, and dirty (King, 2005). Just like that, the story of the American Indian can be revised and mangled without the consent or the input of its victims. Adichie tells a similar story about John Locke and this account of his voyage to West Africa in 1591. He referred to Africans as beasts without houses or heads. As Adichie explains, “it represents the beginning of a tradition of telling African stories in the West. A tradition of Sub-Saharan Africa as a place of negatives, of difference, of darkness” (Adichie, 2009). Perhaps John Locke made up this story of Africans to scare his fellow Europeans, to convince them (and later, the world) that Africans were not human or a lesser version of humans, and therefore enslaving them would be justified. Regardless of his reason, it serves as another example of a storyteller taking advantage of their power and privilege in society, using it to write a story that its subjects are defenseless against and powerless to dispute.
Ethnocentrism also has the ability to destabilize the identities of the story’s subjects by narrowly defining the concept of authenticity, a theme that can be found in both The Truth About Stories and The Danger of a Single Story. Adichie expresses her annoyance when people refer to Africa as one conglomerated country. While this assumption is born from ignorance, Where Bias Begins: The Truth About Stereotypes author Annie Murphy Paul explains that “…we tend to see members of our own group as individuals, we view those in out-groups as an undifferentiated–stereotyped–mass” (Paul, 1998). Adichie did not identify as African until she came to the United States and realized that everyone deemed her as such. But when she began to embrace her African identity and express it through her writing, she was shamed by her professor, as her work was not “authentically African”. Her professor thought her African characters were too much like him: educated and middle-class. The single story that Adichie’s professor had of Africa was starvation. Instead of confronting his ignorance he tried to blame her by criticizing her authenticity as an African. This is another result of ethnocentrism: you think that because your culture is the “right” one, that must mean that your culture is always right. However, it’s possible that Adichie’s professor wasn’t trying to be racist or prejudiced by insinuating that her story was not African enough. His interpretation of her story could have been influenced by his unconscious mind attributing what it has absorbed about Africa from his culture (commercials for charities to feed and sponsor African children for example) to Adichie and her characters as Africans. He likely knew that he was making a judgment, but he might not have been sure of what that judgment was based on (Paul, 1998).
King’s describes the life and career of Edward Sheriff Curtis, the most famous photographer of American Indians. Curtis was determined to capture images of Indians before they vanished, as it was a common belief that they were “poised on the brink of extinction” (King, 2005, p. 33). This stereotype is untrue, but Curtis and authors during the American Romantic Period were not interested in the factual Indian. Curtis was especially fascinated with the concept of what King calls the “literary Indian” (King, 2005, p. 34). The imaginary, dying Indian who deserved nobility for disappearing at the peak of human progress. Curtis wanted to capture these Indians so much that he carried boxes of “Indian” materials such as wigs and backdrops with him, just in case the Indians he found weren’t quite Indian enough. This infatuation with the ideal Indian contributed to the erasure of real American Indian identities, because the Indian that people wanted to see was not real; Indians were not supposed to exist, but the Indian is what everyone was looking for. This is how Edward Sheriff Curtis’ images of Indians “have form and power while something that is alive and kicking – Indians – are invisible” (King, 2005, p. 53).
Figure 1 Three Horses. (Curtis, 1905)
King explains that it’s easy to separate ourselves from the past and from the actions of our ancestors. We say that we have progressed as a species and we’ve become smarter and more compassionate (King, 2005). I think that’s true to an extent. While we can passively read through history books and listen to stories from the past and feel horrified by it, it’s much more difficult to actively confront the prejudice that is within all of us. Annie Murphy Paul argues that “we can’t claim that we’ve eradicated prejudice just because its outright expression has waned” (Paul, 1998). We begin to form biases with our very first stories, and we can’t always control where they come from and how much we absorb. Fortunately, we know that we can weaken old pathways in the brain, and strengthen new ones, thus rewiring our brains and our thinking/judgment processes (Sentis, 2012). I think one of the things we can start to undo some of our unconscious biases is expose ourselves to people who are different than us whenever possible. Increasing your social capital by networking can open new worlds of stories. Adichie reminds us that “The consequence of the single story is this: It robs people of dignity. It makes our recognition of our equal humanity difficult. It emphasizes how we are different rather than how we are similar” (Adichie, 2019). The consequences of a single story are very similar to the consequences of ethnocentrism.
Adichie, C. (2009, February). The danger of a single story | Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie [Video file]. Retrieved May 7, 2019, from
Barger, K. (2018, September 29). ETHNOCENTRISM. Retrieved May 7, 2019, from
King, T. (2005). The Truth About Stories: A Native Narrative. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.
Little, B. (2017, August 16). How Boarding Schools Tried to ‘Kill the Indian’ Through Assimilation. Retrieved May 7, 2019, from
Paul, A. M. (1998, May 1). Where Bias Begins: The Truth about Stereotypes. Psychology Today.
The Sentis Brain Animation Series [Sentis]. (2012, November 6). Neuroplasticity. [Video file]. Retrieved from
Smith, J. (2013, November 15). The 20 People Skills You Need To Succeed At Work. Forbes Magazine.
File: Three Horses by Edward S. Curtis, 1905.jpg. (2019, January 24). Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository. Retrieved 12:07, May 7, 2019 from,_1905.jpg

The Early Mississippian Period Peoples of the Southeast Missouri Region

Question 1: Describe the purpose of your research. What will be the focus of your investigation? What is your main research question? What other questions will you need to answer to address it? [Limit: 1000 words]
This project will present the existing evidence for the presence of paleolithic tribes in the southeast region of Missouri and the historical significance of a people that may have pre-dated the Cahokia Mound Builders of the Ohio River Valley. This project aims to examine why the prehistoric Indians would have settled along what is now known as the Sac-Osage River just outside the town of Stockton, MO; how long they lived in the area; and the seemingly forgotten historical presence of an established and successful Indian settlement of this region, pre-Cahokia.
Driven by three primary concerns, I will first study how and where the previously discovered artifacts were discovered and excavated, if there are more discovered sites in the area, and the current research available. Second, information on the geographical formations, natural resources, and climate of the region will be gathered to determine why this area was inhabited for such an extended period. Third will be to determine the possible historical significance of the people that lived in this region as it pertains to the archaeological record.
Thus, I ask: How, where, and in what context were the first documented artifacts in the area of study discovered? Who conducted the initial research, why research was determined to be necessary, and what entity funded the initial excavations? Is there more evidence of large group settlements in nearby areas and if so, what are the barriers to further research of the sites? How long was this area inhabited by pre-historic Indians? What historical significance would the settlement of this region hold on current beliefs of the continuity of prehistory in the region and time periods? Through a structured visual, contextual, and discursive investigation this research will address these questions through an investigation of the Big Eddy archaeological site, historical documentation and research available, and the geographical analysis of southeastern Missouri.

Question 2: How does your research draw inspiration from existing scholarship in anthropology and other disciplines? Whose findings will you be building on? Give specific examples of the various lines of work with which you are in dialogue and which you are seeking to advance. [Limit: 1000 words]
In the 1940s, Jimmy Allen of Cody, Wyoming, began investigating an area along the Sac River for the purposes of obtaining artifacts for commercial sale (Nichols et al. 1980). Professional archaeological surveys in the area began in 1961 with the investigation of the area that would be affected by the building of the Stockton Dam to create Stockton Lake. Preliminary investigations conducted by the University of Missouri, under contract to the National Park Service, located a total of 40 sites with various artifacts, nine of which contained ceramic artifacts. Test excavations at three of the mounds and three shelters, between 1962 and 1965, showed a general similarity with other burial mounds discovered in southwestern Missouri (Wood 1965, 1966; Wood and Brock 1985). However, the mounds located along the Sac River were separated from the southwestern mounds due to the increased quality of limestone tempered ceramics and the presence of charred seeds, Cupp points, siltstone pipes, and distinctive bone spatulates (Wood and Brock 1985: 166). Investigations of the Sac River area continued until 1967 (Calabrese et al. 1969; Wood 1965, 1966) that further defined the local cultural sequence and defined the burial complex, officially named the Bolivar Burial Complex (Wood and Brock 1984). Investigation of three floodplain sites – Dryocopus Village, Flycatcher (Calabrese et al. 1968, 1969; Pangborn et al. 1971) and Shady Grove (Ward 1968) – in the area produced information on the discovered sites spanning the transition from Woodland to Mississippian Culture.
In June of 1979, Espey Houston and Associates, Inc., surveyed COE-controlled lands along the Sac River, downstream from the dam (Roper 1977). This survey covered about 45% of the Sac River Valley. A total of 280 acres were surveyed for prehistoric and historic resources. Fourteen sites were located that included eight historic sites, five prehistoric sites, and one site with both historic and prehistoric artifacts. However, only one site produced a diagnostic artifact that was assigned to the Woodland period. It was determined that as the elevation of the setting lowered within the lake area, the higher the probability of locating a site. Cultural components identified included Dalton, Middle Archaic, Late Archaic, Early Woodland, and Middle/Late Woodland periods. However, since none of these new sites produced pottery, only arrow points, they could be either Woodland or Mississippian in affiliation. Testing was recommended at two of the prehistoric sites that were endangered by heavy public use. One of which, the Fox House site, represented the oldest known homesite in the area. Six other potential house sites and a cemetery were also recommended as being potentially significant historic sites in the Stockton Lake area (Nichols et al. 1980). Roper (1977:97-99) concluded that the Sac River Valley had been mostly continuously occupied since the Dalton period but had been used by different cultures resulting in different uses of the sites.
The most recent excavations in the Sac River Valley were conducted in 1990-91 by the Historic Preservation Associates (Klinger et al. 1992). Text excavations were performed at seven sites all located along the Sac River, downstream from the dam, and were subject to river bank erosion. Excavations produced artifacts from periods as mentioned earlier, but most notably was a Dalton point and a Dalton Serrated point, recovered from the river bed, which was suggestive of early occupation, but no evidence of a Dalton component was recovered to support this theory further. All sited failed to produce enough evidence to assign specific cultural affiliations. Many sites along the edge of the river produced evidence of severely mixed and probably redeposited prehistoric and historic materials. Of the seven most recent sites investigated, three were determined to contain enough data to potentially make them eligible for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places (Wood and Brock 1985; Pangborn et al. 1971).
Question 3: What evidence will you need to collect to answer your research question? How will you go about collecting and analyzing this evidence? [Limits: 1000 words]
The fundamental component of this project will be to survey the project area and test nearby sites known to have produced significant artifacts. The field survey will consist of an intensive ground survey of the project area, which is located on the Mutton Creek branch of Stockton Lake and will include the previously discovered sites located on the southeastern shoreline. A land survey will take advantage of exposed soils such as plowed fields, cut banks, animal burrows, and other disturbances which provide the best situations for site discovery. In areas where there are no obvious or visible soil disturbances or where the ground surface is not adequate to determine the presence/absence of cultural resources, shovel testing will be utilized.
Underwater survey of the Mutton Creek branch will be a necessary component of this research as this is the area where the burial mounds, previously mentioned, were discovered. Underwater surveys will be initially conducted using a John Boat and a fish finder radar device in an area that reaches depths of between 50-90 feet deep. Once the presence of possible sites is located, a side-scan sonar device will be used to analyze the surface area of the lake bottom further and narrow the search for sites. Upon the discovery of adequate evidence for a site, a sub-bottom profiler will be utilized to gather under surface data of the site. All data will then be analyzed, and a determination will be made as to whether there is enough evidence to assemble a scuba team to perform test excavations at the underwater sites.
Investigation of the Mutton Creek area will take two seasons. The first season will consist of a geophysical survey of the Mutton Creek shoreline and underwater scanning. Investigations will be limited to COE property. Interviews with local artifact collectors familiar with the Stockton Project and Mutton Creek areas and familiar with the sites previously tested or located within the project boundaries will be conducted, and a literature and records review will be conducted to determine if cultural properties were known to exist in any of the areas to be surveyed. The second season will consist of extensive land site excavations and diving for survey and excavation of underwater sites.
Budget Justification: ($20,000)
$1,872.00: Travel and Lodging: Because the Mutton Creek, Stockton Lake area of interest is rural, my research will require travel to location and lodging near the site. Mutton Creek will allow camp reservation for five weeks, and has campsites located within a 10-minute walk/ 5-minute drive to shoreline.
$5,344.00: Food and drink for undergraduate/graduate students during the two five-week seasons of field investigation.
~ Underwater survey of the area will require specialized equipment:
$826.00: Rental of Tritech StarFish 990F side scan sonar system for one week each season
$840.00: Rental of Trimble Kenai rugged Windows 10 tablet computer for one week each season
$1,500.00: EdgeTech 216s Chirp Sub-Bottom Profiling System for one week each season
$2,520.00: 2 Alum 80 Nitrox Tanks, BCD, Regulator/ Compass/ Gauge, Mask, Fins, Snorkel, Wetsuit, Inflatable Safety Marker for one week each season for two divers.
$7,098.00: Rental of Stratos 258 Bass Boat
This survey equipment cannot be obtained from my institution because neither the department nor the college has equipment to loan out for graduate work. Further, the equipment that is available on site is not of the quality that this project requires. The local community has a Historical Society that is willing to donate all tools needed for excavation purposes. There are also local archaeological enthusiasts that have offered their volunteer assistance if needed.
Question 4: How have you prepared yourself to do this research? Describe your language competence, technical skills, previous research, and any other relevant experience. Describe any work you have already done on this project and how this research relates to other research you have done. You may be working with academic collaborators, if so, please describe their role in this project and how it will relate to yours. [Limit: 1000 words]
My primary training for this research stems from my two years of coursework within anthropology at one of the leading anthropology graduate programs in the United States. During this time took classes on a broad range of anthropological topics including Biological Anthropology, Cultural Anthropology, Medical Anthropology, Archaeological Field School, Anthropological Method and Theory, Anthropology of Hunters and Gatherers, Rise of Early Civilization, and Osteology.
My background in visual communication, both academic and technical, has prepared me to use video and photographic equipment as my primary recording method for this project. In addition to my ten years of technical and academic training in art photography and photojournalism, I have taught community and youth classes in manual camera, black and white darkroom techniques, and documentary video.
In May-August 2004, and again for several weeks in December 2004 and February 2005, I assisted Stockton area law enforcement with underwater searches for ongoing investigations. This required me to obtain my SCUBA certification and has provided me with a significant amount of experience diving in the Stockton Lake. I am familiar with the lake water conditions and seasonal tourist activity of the Stockton Lake area. My familiarity of the research area will be of vital importance when conducting underwater research during the summer seasons as this is a tourist hotspot and there is a significant about of boating and fishing activity to the north of the Mutton Creek branch.
Question 5: What contribution will your project make to anthropological theory? Please note that the Foundation’s mission is to support innovative research in anthropology. We are interested in supporting work that does more than simply add to an existing body of knowledge. Describe how your project will bring new insights to the field as a whole. [Limit: 500 words]
My contribution to anthropological theory will be to use approaches from archaeology, science, geography, and technology to identify the indigenous identity, prehistoric significance better, and attempt to further current limited knowledge on the ways of life of Paleoindian people. The approach that I will use is of archaeology as a science. That is, archaeology has traditionally have been seen as a branch of history, focused on the explanation of the past and the gathering of data to collect site-specific assemblages.
Archaeology in Missouri has typically been interpreted through the archaeological discoveries in western Kansas City (Johnson 1974), northeastern Missouri (Logan 1952; Klippel 1971; Shippe 1957, 1966; O’Brien and Warren 1979), and in the Ozark Highlands (McMillan 1976b; Kay 1982a, 1982b; Roper 1981). By conducting thorough research in the Stockton Lake area, vital information on the prehistoric cultures of the southwestern Missouri region will be gained.
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