Tag Archives: American Indians

Representation of the “Primitive” American Indian

by Guest Contributor Lisa Wade, originally published at Sociological Images

We owe many iconic images of American Indians to photographer Edward S. Curtis.  Growing up in Wisconsin and Minnesota, Curtis began photographing Indians in 1895 and, in 1906, was offered $75,000 by JP Morgan to continue documenting their lives (wikipedia).  The 1,500 resulting photographs inevitably impacted the image of Indians in the American imagination.

Later it came to light that Curtis’ photographs weren’t exactly pure representations.  In some photographs, for example, he erased signs of modernity.   The first photograph below, the un-edited version, includes a clock between the two men, whereas the edited version, following, does not.

Curtis also sometimes staged scenes and dressed paid participants in costumes, as in this photograph:

According to Wikipedia contributors:

In Curtis’ picture, Oglala War-Party, the image shows 10 Oglala men wearing feather headdresses, on horseback riding down hill. The photo caption reads, “a group of Sioux warriors as they appeared in the days of inter tribal warfare, carefully making their way down a hillside in the vicinity of the enemy’s camp.”  In truth headdresses would have only been worn during special occasions and, in some tribes, only by the chief of the tribe.  The photograph was taken in 1907 when natives had been relegated onto reservations and warring between tribes had ended. Curtis paid natives to pose as warriors at a time when they lived with little dignity, rights, and freedoms.

Curtis’ photographs, then, pushed his subjects back into a false past that non-Indian Americans would misrecognize as authentic for a hundred years.

The problem of misrepresentation of groups who have little power to control their own images is a widespread one.  Shelby Lee Adams’ work was mired in controversy, with critics suggesting that he contributed to the belief that Appalachians were backward, imbred, and unintelligent.   We might apply the same critical eye to representations of marginalized peoples today, like the representation of Arabs in video games and Italian-Americans on Jersey Shore and spin-offs.

Thanks to Dolores R. and Adrienne at Native Appropriations for the post idea.

Confrontations, Indian Villages, and the start of Black History Month

By Special Correspondent Jessica Yee

Okay, so I’ll be honest, my night didn’t really start off too well. Waiting for the streetcar to come so I can go check out the much anticipated photo exhibit for “Prom Night in Mississippi” I see this gem of a display in a popular Queen West shoe store right across the street:

Between debating on going inside to voice my annoyance and offense, or hopping the fast approaching streetcar on this bitterly cold night and making my opinions heard later, I chose to go inside, and become angrier by the second as I make my way over there. Who the hell do they think they are? I’m probably like the tenth person who complained, I mean this is Toronto, for heaven’s sake!

“Excuse me, I am extremely offended by the “Indian” village display at the front of the store, can I speak to the manager?” I ask.

“Thank goodness you said something! No, he’s not here, but yeah, I said something and since I’m just an employee, it didn’t change.” she replies.

Turns out the company making the moccasins, mukluks, and boots on display is called Laurentian Chiefs, and she proceeds to tell me how they are actually from a reserve in Quebec (although I still have yet to confirm all the details of who this company really is).

“So does Laurentian Chiefs mandate the store to put on a display like that?”  I continue.

“No, my boss just went out and bought the stuff.” she says.

Well that’s just great, especially considering all the amazingly gifted (and popular!) Native fashion designers, photographers, artists, and countless others in Toronto who could have easily given them some better guidance on how to put together a more realistic and ethical display.  There are more than 60 000 Aboriginal people who live in this city. And apparently, I’m the first person who has said anything about it.

After collecting said manager’s info and being assured my comments would be passed along, I go back outside to wait for another streetcar, when a group of young Native women come along and also take notice of the display.

“That’s just racist, man.” one of them says. Continue reading