Updated: Nov 30, 2019
How to Discover the Beauty of America Through the Eyes of Native Americans
Contribution by: Jordan Bowels
Edited by: My Identity Mag Team
How many times have you seen someone dress up as an “Indian” for Halloween? Or perhaps you have seen a woman don a Pocahontas costume for a party on the weekend? Typically, these costumes are endowed with large feathers, an assortment of beaded jewelry, and are dripping with hanging fringe everywhere. These costumes do not fully represent the richness of the #Americanindian history and #culture. #NativeAmerican culture is not merely a costume to be worn once a year and shoved in a closet for the remainder, but it is a #culturalidentity that demonstrates a strength and courage that has been around before America was established and deserves to be held in high regard and respect. November is the month dedicated to celebrating the #Native culture, and this article is dedicated to celebrating the kind of strength that #Indigenous exhibit every day.
If you haven’t had a personal interaction with a person of Native ancestry, how have you formulated your opinion of this group of people? Perhaps, you have watched a Western Movie. The Western Movie genre has been quite popular in the film industry for quite some time. If one were to study this genre within American culture over the course of the last few decades, they would be able to see the interesting dichotomy between the role of the Natives and the Caucasian-American “hero” of the story. In these kinds of films, Natives are either depicted as a “noble savage” or a “wretched Indian” -fact on noble savage(www.facinghistory.org).
For example, in the 1939 film Stagecoach, Natives are depicted as wretched Indians as the film depicts several Caucasian individuals traveling in a stagecoach across “dangerous plains” frequented by the villainous Apache Tribe. One crucial scene in this film displays the stagecoach under attack by the Apache Tribe, and during the shoot-out, one of the Caucasian men holds a gun to a lady’s head ready to shoot her, however, he is killed himself before this occurs. Basically, this scene was demonstrating that it would have been more plausible for the Caucasian woman to be killed rather than having to be subjected to assault by the Natives.
In that particular film, the Natives were positioned as dangerous savages with nothing but the intent to kill innocent civilians, along with an obsession of obtaining a white woman.
The aspect of the white male hero (or anti-hero in this film) stereotype paralleled against the “dangerous Indian” typecast has been a common theme in films and other forms of media for decades. These images were powerful enough to perpetuate and transcend in culture over a significant period of time, and they were a stark reflection of the socially constructed hierarchical position that Euro-Americans placed Natives in.
In regards to lack of representation of Indigenous population on the big screen, one could reference the 2013 film The Lone Ranger, where Johnny Depp, a Caucasian-American actor, played the role of Tonto (a Native). Could that film have casted a Native actor to have true representation of Tonto? This is where the term whitewashing comes to play in Hollywood. Rather than cast an actor that truly reflects the role, the casting directors hire Caucasian actors to play minorities.
When Hollywood, or any entity that holds a significant amount of influential power chooses to not represent a culture authentically, it contributes to the silencing of the voice of that culture and also connotes a false representation of what that culture truly is. If one were to take a look at the fashion industry, or even the sports industry, there has been many a time where a model, or a sports fan, has donned “Native-American” garb as nothing more than a mere costume without any regard to the significance of what the clothing and traditional Native headdresses mean to their culture.
Natives are a strong and vibrant people who, in spite of the many challenges their culture has faced historically and in other ways, they are still here raising their voices and living out their own truths not to mention, there are 573 federally recognized Indian tribes; 37 tribal colleges; and 326 Native reservations with their own distinct customs and lifestyles. Indigenous #millennial identity is complex as there are various tribal identities, historic traditions, and cultural dimensions.
There are also Native models like @camisteinn and @hozhoniwhitecloud that showcase their work on Instagram.This is a great way to educate the masses on the Native culture; not only is it a strategic tool to combat stereotypical images, but it is also maintained by those within the culture, so no kind of interference is taking place in terms of authentic representation.
Natives are not afraid to make their voices heard, and this has been clearly showcased with the Dakota Access Pipeline project, #NODAPL. This pipeline, a $3.8 billion dollar project that began in 2016, was given the green-light in spite of it cutting across private land of the Standing Rock Indian Reservation. In response to the pipeline’s approval from the U.S. Government, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe took action and positioned themselves at the construction sites to protest the creation of the pipeline on their private property. The fight against this pipeline has been met with many of the protesters being arrested or harassed for standing up for what they believe in.
In America, there has been a steady timeline of events throughout history that demonstrates the hardships that the Natives have endured. The U.S. government created an assortment of laws and acts that were supposed to “protect” the Native people and preserve their lands, but one wonders how the Native people have been truly impacted by immigrants inhabiting their land . Some insight is provided by an Native author, Andrew J. Blackbird.
In Blackbirds’ book entitled, History of the Ottawa and Chippewa Indians of Michigan, he expressed how white settlers introduced some immoralities and vices such as alcohol to the Natives who were alcohol- intolerant.
As reported by history.com, the Treaty of Hopewell was established in 1785 in an effort create land boundaries for the #CherokeeTribe for safety reasons in the state of Georgia. This agreement did not last long, however, as the land was soon after trespassed upon by Europeans. After an uprising formed in an attempt to defend the land that was rightfully theirs, according to mandates established by the U.S. government, a second treaty (The Treaty Holston, 1791) was signed which mandated that the #Cherokees release all the plots of land beyond their “established borders,” in an effort for peace to be reached once more.
According to the 2010 Census, Natives accounted for approximately 1% of the American population. America’s cultural diversity dates back to 1607 when Jamestown, Virginia was founded by European settlers. Immigrants inhibited the land to escape religious persecution and people still migrate for those same reasons today.
Think about it, if the indigenous people account for 1% of the population then majority of the North American population have either migrated to the United States or have ancestors who were immigrants at some point in time.
#Nativeidentity deserves to be treated as more than a costume, a stereotypical character, or a marginalized body of people whose voice seems to be routinely ignored. The reason that this group is called Native Americans is because the American land rightfully belonged to them in the first place, and they are the true indigenous people of America.
America still has a ways to go in regards to the conversation surrounding Native culture, but it is important to note that progress is currently being made. People are now dedicating themselves to studying both sides of American history. For years, the public school system painted Christopher Columbus as a hero who “discovered” new lands, while ultimately ignoring the fact that he and his crew abused, tortured, enslaved and ultimately killed the natives of the lands he traveled to in an attempt to seize power and riches.
The best way to respect a culture and develop #unityindiversity is to educate yourself about other people, especially from the those who are a part of that culture. How would you start? Get to know American History from its origins from the eyes of the Native people. Try attending a Pow Wow and learn first-hand about Native dancing, singing, and food. The Seminole Tribe of Florida hosts an annual Pow Wow at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood, Florida, and this annual Seminole Tribal Fair is free and open to the public.
It is our responsibility to give Natives the respect they so rightfully deserve, especially in regards to their beautiful and vibrant culture. So, this Thanksgiving let’s start by being thankful for the land that we share with indigenous people of United States of America. Love for America stems from our ability to celebrate cultural differences and embrace the human race. As the second paragraph of the United States Declaration of the Independence clearly states that we all are created equal. The Indigenous community is strong and resilient group of people, and even though November may be the month to celebrate this culture, they deserve to be celebrated all year around.
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