Cultural Representation in Native America (Contemporary Native American Communities)
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Violence continues today. A study by the U. Nonetheless, as Tuscarora Chief Elias Johnson has pointed out, American Indians are represented as barbarous, with tomahawk and scalping knife in hand. In contrast, Euro-Americans are depicted as innocent victims of savagery, especially from Indian males.
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Increasingly lurid details of Indian savagery also appeared in captivity narratives, published from the s to the s, accounts of non-Indians captured and held prisoner by Indians. Dime novels, inexpensive booklets first marketed in , became popular as well.
This bestselling fiction portrayed Indians as savages preying on defenseless Euro-Americans. Wild West shows, performed across North America and Europe from the late s into the 20 th century, dramatized Indian attacks on stagecoaches and cabins as well as mock battles between cavalry and Indians. These shows, and related influences, inspired filmmakers to produce Westerns depicting hordes of Indians attacking Euro-Americans.
As a matter of fact, many American Indians were taken captive by non-Indians, tortured, incarcerated, murdered, and expelled into slavery. Because Europeans and Euro-Americans colonists threatened Native peoples, many resisted mightily to defend their families and homelands. The ongoing perception of Indians as dangerous contributes to negative expectations, interactions, and consequences. Thus, Indians are incarcerated at high rates, encounter discrimination and hate crimes, and experience other negative impacts. Stereotyped Indian violence also leads non-Indians to fear Native people.
Such representations prevent others from seeing Native people realistically, including in a range of roles, settings, and occupations. In contrast to the inane stereotype of the Indian as soundless, we know from the vast storehouse of our oral traditions that Aboriginal peoples were peoples of words.
Native American And Native Americans
Many words. Amazing words. Cultivated words. They were neither wordless nor illiterate in the context of their linguistic and cultural roots. Such measures included the establishment of mission and government boarding schools to implement English-only and other harsh policies. With English, a lexicon of words and phrases became entrenched, a shorthand way to refer to all Native people, language reflecting stereotypical attitudes and behaviors.
Savage, pagan, injun, brave, buck, chief, redskin, squaw, papoose, and other terms became commonplace. The negative impact was heightened with the addition of adjectives such as wild, dirty, pesky, sneaky, and worse. Other terms may have been benign, but have been weaponized over time, also by context.
Even Pocahontas, the name of a historical figure, is misused as a slur.
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Compounding slurs, media such as Hollywood films and Wild West shows contributed to the notion that American Indians, regardless of linguistic background, speak a fictional, substandard version of English. This language became entrenched, endlessly repeated across time and place. Stereotypes sell. For hundreds of years, merchants have used images of American Indians to advertise and market merchandise. Products include tobacco, associated with Native Americans, advertised via tobacconist figures, or cigar store Indians, and more.
The tobacconist figures, made from wood or cast iron, soon became popular across North America. Marketers also invoked Native associations with herbs and plants to sell medicinal concoctions. Popular during the s, Indian medicine shows, a number featuring Indian or Indian-impersonator performers, pitched a range of patent or proprietary across the counter nostrums or remedies as cure-alls, among them Kickapoo Indian Salve, Big Chief Liniment, and Indian Stomach Bitters.
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The burgeoning advertising industry was patently instrumental to the rise of medicine shows during the period. Native food associations, too, contributed to companies promoting a range of products using Indian names, titles, and images. While minstrel shows have long been criticized as racist, American children are still socialized into playing Indian. Columbus Day celebrations, Halloween costumes and Thanksgiving reenactments stereotype Indigenous Peoples as one big distorted culture. We are relegated to racist stereotypes and cultural caricatures.
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Being American Indian is not a profession or vocation. It is a human identity, tribally specific and integral to Native personhood and nationhood. Actually, the practice has a long history.
go to link Sounding war whoops and masquerading as Mohawks, colonial men boarded ships in Boston Harbor and threw chests of tea overboard to protest British tea taxes. White males such as these were the first of many participants to engage in Indian play. Playing Indian cuts across race, class, gender, age, and group affiliations. Playing Indian also extends to depictions of animals dressed as Indians in a variety of products, including books and toys.
These portrayals are dehumanizing, suggesting that Native people are creatures of fantasy and not fully human. Playing Indian with one-size-fits-all images of American Indians is contrary to actual Native peoples, past or present. Such practices prevent other people from learning about, or understanding, Native America. And that matters. Having more popular positive representations of Native Americans will actually change social and political practices.
Having media that is produced by Native Americans gives them the chance to represent themselves as they wish to be represented, as people, not tropes, as characters, not stereotypes.
Representation allows people to see others like them, to build a sense of community, and allows others to see people who are different. The historically poor representation of Native peoples in our media has obscured the serious issues that have plagued these communities for years and led to the creation of warped stereotypes that make it easier to ignore ongoing oppression. Native Americans faced the highest rate of police killings of any racial group in the U. Additionally, Native American women are 3. Without accurate portrayals of Native struggles in the media, no one can be inspired to find out how to work with these communities to find solutions.
It is also imperative that the media look to provide positive representation of these groups. Without representative role models to look up to, Native children may struggle to be proud of their identities and other children will perpetually maintain false narratives and will only serve as barriers to solving real Native problems. Our media environment is missing something big here. Not only are the the majority of Native American representations in our media inaccurate, offensive, and distracting from the serious issues facing Native communities today, but they also repress opportunities for everyone to be exposed to their diverse cultures.
Native American artists, writers, and producers have important, compelling, and historical narratives that deserve to be heard. If we stay in our corner watching Adam Sandler ridicule Native cultures instead of demanding something better, Hollywood will continue to churn out the same tired, whitewashed stories to the detriment of us all.
We need to do better! Of course, demanding proper representation is only a small step towards repairing the harm caused by earlier treatments, but it is certainly a necessary undertaking. Listening to these voices will create broader awareness of Native issues, cultures, and stories in society. Kagagi by Jay Odjick. Tribal Force by Jon Proudstar. Barnes, Katie. Deloria, Philip J. Yale University Press. Maira, Sunaina. Takaki, Ronald. Oxford University Press.
Tchen, John Kuo Wei. Baltimore, Md. Young, Brian. Time, 11 June