Difference Between the White & Native American Culture

Written by jody hanson
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Difference Between the White & Native American Culture
Native American elders play an important role in the culture. (Dick Luria/Photodisc/Getty Images)

When the white European explorers and settlers arrived in North America, they brought their culture with them. Cultures develop in response to how people adapt to their particular environment. Cultural clashes result when one group doesn't understand why people from another culture do things so differently. In contemporary times, some white people who have never met Native Americans have stereotypical ideas that they all live on reservations and wear buckskin clothing.


Many Native Americans believe that all plants, animals and birds also have spirits. When a deer or buffalo was killed for food, the warrior would apologise to the spirit of the dead animal. European culture, on the other hand, believes spirits are what separate humans from animals.

Individual vs Collective

European-based culture stresses the individual. Native American culture follows the philosophy that the collective is more important. As an example of this, if there wasn't enough food, an old person might quietly wander off into a blizzard so that the others could survive. The trend of sharing continues with some Native Americans today.

Nonverbal Language

For Native Americans, it is rude to stare at someone and very impolite to look an elder in the eye, as the gaze should stop at the neck or chin. European culture however stresses that you have to look a person in the eye and hold the gaze if you are speaking the truth.

Social distance

Whereas white culture has a relatively close social space between people -- and in southern Europe countries, such as Spain or Italy, this is particularly true -- Native Americans prefer to keep a distance of a few feet. Similarly, touching someone while talking is acceptable in white culture, but not to the Native Americans.


In the white culture, seniors are often left to the side and their opinions are not sought out by younger people. In the Native American culture, however, the elders are consulted on decisions. Further, they are regarded as the teachers of the young and the keepers of tribal history.


People from white European cultures trace their blood line through their father and take his name. For Native Americans, however, the lineage is traced through the mother.

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