Folks thought that brain structures determine how people think and act, and scientists in the 1840s looked at Indian skulls to determine their behaviors.
At the root of the issue was an assumption that brain size and shape dictated intelligence. Because Indian skulls were smaller, folks assumed Indians were less intelligent.
And that gave way to predictions like Indians could not be civilized.
But I can’t help but wonder if such thinking still permeates contemporary discourse.
Sure, the scientists from the 1840s had their theories replaced by new models where Indians can be civilized and educated. Bleached white.
Problem is that stereotypes framed hundreds of years ago still stick.
Indians are still seen as close to nature, as resistant to change, and as less intelligent.
So when a conflict arises that pits American Indian beliefs against other viewpoints, the Native perspective is often downplayed as antiquated.
Indians that have fought to have their burial grounds kept sacred or their ancestral bones returned. But their views continue to be disparaged, echoing the view that American Indian minds would “seize with avidity on simple truths, while they reject whatever requires investigation or analysis,” according to Robert Bieder.
Even being exposed to civilized European settlers “scarcely effected an appreciable change in the manner of life; and as to their social condition, they are probably in most respects the same as at the primitive epoch of their existence.”
Such views continue today.