Tag Archives: american indian

“Why are you trying to be black when you’re red?”

by Guest Contributor Jessica Yee

The whole “acting black” label isn’t an unheard one in really any community these days, but I’ve always thought it was an interesting one to hear in my own community, from my own people.

Let me give it to you straight and say I already know how much we have in common; Native/Indigenous peoples and Black/people of African descent. While we might have been born here (although the jury is still out on where we all actually came from) y’all were dragged here, and not by your own choice. And you came from a place with a strong Indigenous identity and spiritual centre.

Not to mention of course the number of “Black Indians” there are, who some say represent almost 50% of African Americans today (with Oprah, Rosa Parks, and actress Rosario Dawson on that list). As White historian William Katz who has studied this stuff to death says:

“This story began at the time of Columbus, ranging from North American forests to South American jungles, and the jewel-like islands of the Caribbean. The first freedom paths taken by runaway slaves led to Native American villages. There black men and women found a red hand of friendship and an accepting adoption system and culture. The sturdy offspring of Black-Indian marriages shaped the early days of the fur trade, added a new dimension to frontier diplomacy, and made a daring contribution to the fight for American liberty”.

The story also included some Native Americans owning slaves, namely in the Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek and Seminole nations. There were also many nations who as Katz says, adopted people in, helped slaves escape, or assisted organizing various revolts. It’s a long, complicated history to go through, but I do know today that the Descendants of Freedmen are still trying to acquire legal recognition in the Cherokee Nation.

In a perfect world, we would understand this and all work as allies for our common struggles of self-determination and autonomy to live as our authentic selves in this still oppressively bigoted society. We would celebrate our rich heritages in peaceful solidarity, while together honouring the ancestors who lived so courageously to give us those few bits of raw culture we cling on to today.

Alas, that world isn’t part of the real world and what’s happening is rather shameful. In light of hip-hop culture or acting what some might perceive as just plain “cool”, the label you are automatically given if you partake in any of this is of course “black” with all of its stereotypical negative connotation. And every time I hear someone from my community say that, whether it’s because they are criticizing Native rappers or don’t understand why so many Native youth identify with Black culture, it makes me wonder how much they don’t know or just don’t remember where we’ve all come from, or even how we got here.

I thought the colonizers were the ones who told us what we could or could not be.

Kid Nation meets Indians

by guest contributor Rob Schmidt, originally published at Newspaper Rock

Usually I don’t watch reality shows. They’re too hokey and manipulative for my taste. But I had to look when the penultimate episode of Kid Nation (airdate: 12/5/07) featured Indians.

If you don’t know the premise of Kid Nation, it’s simple. A bunch of kids have been “left alone” to “pioneer” in a Western “town” set up in the “wilderness” near Santa Fe. “40 Kids! 40 Days! No Adults!” is the show’s tagline.

I use quotes because it’s obvious the whole thing is staged. One adult acts as a moderator on-screen and other adults are just off-screen: holding cameras and asking questions. Knowing little about the show, I’d guess that every scene is planned and executed by a director with a script. The kids have some latitude about what to say but they’re basically puppets.

How contrived is Kid Nation? In the episode’s inevitable competition, the kids have an hour to move shacks from one location to another. What are the odds that the last team will complete the task with exactly one second to spare? Pretty good if it’s a staged “reality show.”

Indians to the rescue?

As “Where’s Bonanza, Dude?” opens, it’s Day 35 of 40. Led by a “town council,” the faux Bonanza City seems to be under control. Why then are the kids checking an “1885 journal” for help?

Supposedly written by Bonanza City’s first settlers, the journal says the townsfolk failed to explore beyond the outpost’s borders. It advises the readers to seek out the people who lived there “centuries before us.” It even includes a map.

In theory, this is a valid idea. America’s plucky but ignorant pioneers often relied on the Indians they met. Starting with John Smith at Jamestown, they frequently had to find help or die.

Using Indians as practical and philosophical guides from the beginning would’ve been a worthwhile approach. But the show is almost over. What possible aid could the Indians provide at this point? It’s hard to imagine.

The premise might as well have a flashing red light and blinking sign that says “gratuitous.” It’s painfully obvious that this is going to be a gimmick. Apparently the show’s creators want to get the town council off stage for an hour so the other kids can shine. They might as well have sent these pseudo-leaders to the mall.

Igloo or teepee?

So the town’s four honchos wander off into the semi-tame “wilderness.” (I suspect it’s grazing land on a ranch.) Eventually they come over a rise and spot…what? “It looks like an igloo,” guesses one boy. No, it’s…teepees.

Is there a single child in America who couldn’t tell an igloo from a teepee? I doubt it. But let’s assume the show’s creators found the one kid dumb enough to make this mistake. Let’s pretend it wasn’t a scripted moment. CONTINUE READING >>

Martha Stewart, Playing with “Indian” Names?

by guest contributor BB, originally published at Brady Braves

Well, this was a rare moment: a story on Indianz.com involving Martha Stewart. She has a place (i.e., 153-acre estate purchased in 2000 for the trifling cost of $16 million) in Katonah, NY. Now, Stewart wants to trademark “Katonah” for some of her products. Never mind if Katonah residents (of the Village Improvement Society in Katonah) are not pleased. Never mind if today’s descendants of Chief Katonah of the Lenape Nation are not pleased. As reported by Jim Fitzgerald, AP, Diana Pearson, a Stewart spokesperson, says Stewart “seeks to honor the town and the hamlet by using the word `Katonah.'”

And I suppose the Hornell Brewing Company had “honor” in mind when it slapped the revered name Crazy Horse on malt liquor bottles in 1992. (Crazy Horse, says David Wilkins (Lumbee) in American Indian Politics (2001), “is remembered as a staunch Sioux nationalist who remained committed to his people throughout his short life. He never signed a treaty with the federal government, and he opposed the use of alcohol by his people” (229)). I suppose Liz Claiborne, fashion guru, also had “honor” in mind when her clothing company threaded Crazy Horse (and Cherokee) on tags. Although one of Stewart’s lawyers said that his client’s use of the name “will not stop Katonah residents – or anyone else – from using the name Katonah exactly as they always have,” what will happen? Likely, Katonah becomes synonymous with Martha Stewart products (much to Stewart’s delight, the BBB imagines), not with Lenape People, not with descendants of Katonah, not with respect for Indigenous Peoples, not with honor for Katonah, New York, residents. To Ms. Stewart and Ms. Stewart followers: One’s intentions do not always match the effects.

As said before in “Indian” mascot debates and other contested arenas, it is difficult to honor those who are not honored, including Autumn Scott (Ramapough Lenape), the New Jersey State Commission on Indian Affairs co-chair. “We trust,” Scott explains, “that Martha Stewart intended no malice in seeking to have her corporation trademark the name of one of our great ancestral leaders, but for her to say she is doing so to honor him and our tribe is absurd, especially when it is being done solely for profit.” Although Stewart is talking of honoring the town, a place of refuge for her, the town is named after the Lenape (Delaware) leader. Stewart, then, would do well to address certain Native People’s warranted concerns. So far, she has greeted them with silence.

Stewart may not talk, but we Brady Braves can. Thoughts of righteous anger can be sent to television@marthastewart.com (address available at www.marthastewart.com, more specifically this page) A customer service number available at www.marthastewartstore.com is 1-800-357-7060.

Authority decides that Virgin Trains commercial is not racist to Native Americans

by Carmen Van Kerckhove

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), which is sort of like the U.K.’s version of the FCC but specifically for ads, has ruled that the commercial below is not racist. From The Manchester Evening News:

the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has decided the commercial was a tongue in cheek pastiche of Hollywood cowboys and Indians films and not a slur on Native Americans. It said the ad was unlikely to cause serious offence.

Hmmm… I wonder how many Native Americans are in the ASA?

Our friend Rob from Newspaper Rock is not amused though, and nominated the commercial for his Stereotype of the Month award:

In the ad, stereotypical savages on horseback attack a train but – silly savages! – they don’t realise it’s not the old-fashioned kind they can leap onto from the saddle. They slide down the metal sides of the train and fall off! Ho ho ho! Toward the end, an Indian wordlessly demands through the window glass a book that a white traveller is reading. The traveller refuses and the Indian menacingly raises his tomahawk to smash the glass but – phew! – the nasty savage is wiped off the side of the train by the front apron of a tunnel. Oh, my aching sides.

Oh Rob, lighten up! A committee of white men has decided for you that it’s not racist. So just listen to them — they know what’s best for all Native Americans.

I certainly hope that one day you will be able to grasp Virgin’s humor.

If you’re reading this in an RSS reader and can’t see the video, please click on the post headline.

Edward curtis erased whites and froze Indians in the past

by Carmen Van Kerckhove

edward curtisFascinating article about Edward Curtis, whose photographs of American Indians are instantly familiar to us all. (Hat tip to Newspaper Rock!)

Curtis’ images of Indians are burned into the hearts and minds of many Americans to this day. They are also at the center of controversy.

The photos are so luminous and exquisitely composed that it is impossible to imagine the disputation that rages around them. Curtis started as a society photographer in Seattle, and his portraits of Indians are as stunning as those he might have taken of big-wigs…

Curtis’ images have not been universally welcomed in Indian country. Many Indians — and non-Indian scholars — object to Curtis’ methods, even if the results are stunning. For instance, Curtis arranged many of the photos carefully and at times ludicrously. His Hopi women ground corn in ceremonial dress, and he sometimes clothed individuals in items from other tribes.

Still, as UCSD scholar Ross Frank and Heidi Wigler, the Wangenheim librarian point out, Curtis’ legacy is troubling on more serious grounds. Curtis “collected” people, their dwellings, and their material culture (baskets, clothing, cradleboards, for instance). Anthropologists shelved Indians and their artifacts in museums — thousands of Indian remains rested in museums until repatriation — but Curtis froze them in images. “His approach was anthropological, he wanted to capture an ideal in a pure form, as if the outside world didn’t exist,” says Wigler. Continue reading

Watch out for the evil American Indian identity thieves!

by Carmen Van Kerckhove

Yet another race-baiting political ad. This one from Jeff Johnson, who’s running for Attorney General in Minnesota. Notice how the American Indian sitting in his dark apartment is juxtaposed with images of Johnson’s smiling white family, sitting in the great outdoors, flooded with sunlight. (Thanks to Rob at Newspaper Rock for the tip!)