It was while studying the Sioux and Yurok Indians that Erik Erikson was drawn into an analysis of syndromes that were outside the norms established by standard psychoanalytic theories, yet seemd to also project are more universal insecurity and neuroses that ran parallel to behavioural theory. At the heart of the native American’s emotional anguish was the sense of uprootedness despite the nomadic and non-agrarian nature which was still connected to this rupture in continuity between the precarious present lifestyle compared with that represented in classic tribal history. The break with the past ws real enough, but the larger hurdle was acculturating into the white value system while retaining identity. Erikson saw the problems as ego and culture driven, and unlike Freud, very marginally related to sexual drives…
The Indian, particularly the Sioux that Erikson studied, found themselves in a cultural vacuum. They seemed to expect that at any moment, their bad dream would be over. In the meantime, why learn to farm since time for them, seemed to be empty waiting, punctuated by vivid moments of the present that connected with a boundless past, a home without borders. They had been glad to accept items of white culture such as weapons and horses, but they had little understanding of the kind of men, imbued with notions of “manifest destiny” who were sent from mysterious Washington to re-educate them. This of course was a life plan with the goals of home, real estate and bank account,which received their meaning from a sense of time in which the rootless immigrant past is to be overcome and the full measure of fulfillment in the present, delayed gratification, must be sacrificed to a higher standard of living in a distant future.
Both Indian and white man suffered from the identical fears of extinction and on the fear of loss of group identity. The Indian could not part with a past that provided him with the last cultural synthesis he was able to achieve, and, they could not identify with a white system that offered no new synthesis. Virtues originally designed as measures of self preservation become rigid under the pressure of anachronistic fears of extinction and the anxiety aroused by threatened identity loss, effectively rendering a people unable to adapt to changed necessities.
These same problems, peculiar to a “New World” are still relevant; they place, for a White majority, a difficulty in facing a minority problem that endangers what synthesis their dearly won status in a federal bureaucracy seems to promise. Without empathy, the passive fortitude of Indian children was as infuriating as it was incomprehensible. Their misconduct rarely erupted into open juvenile insurrection but smoldered in the form of a general and intangible passive resistance against any further and more final impact of white standards on the Indian conscience.