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The Worst Native Problem

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  • Rob
    Indian Comics Irregular #120 Why bother with Indian mascots and other stereotypes, people sometimes ask? Don t Native people have more important things to
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 2, 2005
      Indian Comics Irregular #120

      Why bother with Indian mascots and other stereotypes, people sometimes
      ask? Don't Native people have more important things to worry
      about--things such as healthcare, economic growth, and tribal
      self-reliance? How does it hurt if a stereotypical chief, brave, or
      maiden stands in for all Indians?

      I've answered questions like these many times. I usually respond with
      comments such as

      If we "honor" Indians by painting them as warriors of the past, we
      mislead people about their present lives. Millions of Americans
      think Indians vanished or are vanishing--and therefore don't need
      social justice--precisely because of stereotypes.


      The mascot and stereotype issues have a lot to do with how people
      perceive Indians, which has a lot to do with how much respect
      people pay to Indian rights and sovereignty.


      If you think of "other" people as less than human, then you feel
      free to exploit them. So how we perceive them relates directly to
      how we treat them.

      So I'm glad to see the great Vine Deloria Jr. implicitly agrees with
      me. A column in the Chicago Sun-Times (4/24/04) summarized his views:

      Native American scholar Vine Deloria wrote that of all the problems
      facing Indian people, the most pressing one is our transparency.
      Never mind the staggering suicide rate among Native youth, or the
      fact that Indians are the victims of violent crimes at more than
      twice the rate of all U.S. residents--our very existence seems to
      be in question.

      "Because people can see right through us, it becomes impossible to
      tell truth from fiction or fact from mythology," he wrote. "The
      American public feels most comfortable with the mythical Indians of
      stereotype-land who were always THERE."

      In his book "American Indians, American Justice," Deloria made the
      problem more explicit:

      American Indians seem an enigma to most other Americans. The
      images portrayed in the movies, whether of noble red man or
      bloodthirsty savage, recall the stereotypes of western history.
      Newspaper stories dealing with oil wells, uranium mines, land
      claims, and the occupation of public buildings and reservation
      hamlets almost seem to speak of another group altogether and it is
      difficult to connect the two perceptions of Indians in any single
      and comprehensible reality.

      It's not hard to find statements like this from thoughtful critics.
      I've collected some of them at
      http://www.bluecorncomics.com/stquotes.htm . But finally someone has
      made the point plain.

      At an UCLA symposium on Indians and the press held in April 2004,
      Anthony Miranda, chairman of the California Nations Indian Gaming
      Association, was the speaker. Stereotyping is "the worst problem"
      facing Indians, he said. Not alcoholism, not poverty, not threats to
      sovereignty, but stereotypes.

      Miranda didn't go into the reasons behind his claim. With a largely
      Native audience, he probably didn't have to. When people deem Indians
      crude and degenerate or greedy and corrupt, they deny the Indians'
      humanity. Believing Indians to be something other than good Americans
      allows people to dismiss them and their concerns. If you think they're
      warriors or heathens or moneygrubbers who don't fit in modern society,
      their issues become their own problem--not everyone's.

      All clear now? I trust Deloria and I have explained the
      matter sufficiently. Please don't make us repeat ourselves. <g>

      For more on the harm of stereotyping, go to
      http://www.bluecorncomics.com/stharm.htm . And be sure not to miss the
      Stereotype of the Month contest at
      http://www.bluecorncomics.com/stertype.htm .

      Rob Schmidt
      Blue Corn Comics
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