Based on stereotypes of Native Americans, people may believe that they all look like the characters in the media with dark skin, long hair and dressed in feathers. However, it is just a stereotype. Not all Native Americans have those characteristics. (Fleming, W, p.215). In the video, Clan Mother by theways.org, Native Americans are shown wearing everyday clothes, with short hair and Molly, the clan mother, and her family is fairly light skinned. This is image of the Natives is not the same way that they are shown in the media. In an episode called the Harvest Festival, from the hit television series Parks and Recreation (2011), I noticed that a Native American was portrayed as a dark skinned man with long black hair tied in a ponytail and wearing a bolo tie. Stereotyping Native Americans makes them easier to identify in shows. A stereotype “is a means of quickly bringing to the audience’s collective consciousness a character’s anticipated value system and/or behavioral expectations” (Wilson, Gutierrez, Chao. P. 55). The media presents a race/ethnicity through stereotypes, even though people don’t always agree with those representations.
The episode’s plot focuses on the main Character Leslie Knope, who created a festival for the town. However, because of the location, the Native American leader Ken, put a curse on the event. Leslie and her coworker try to pretend as though the curse is not real, but when they finally believe it’s real, Leslie needs to strike up a deal with Ken. After coming up with a compromise, Ken says he will make a statement proclaiming that the curse has been lifted, but Leslie says she has a better idea. She makes Ken do a formal ritual with a dance and a song to lift the curse. In the video, Clan Mother, the Natives are seen dancing and singing, but only as part of their spiritual culture. To them it is a special tradition from their culture and should be passed down to their children. “I know the kids are watching us adults and what we do. I want them to have a better example, so I’m trying to be that for them. I don’t always like to dance, but I know that they are watching us” (Miller, M. 2016). Molly says that it’s important for the children to see the traditional dances in order to be good examples for them. In the show, Leslie only uses the dance to make a statement that the curse is gone and also because it’s entertaining for the press/media. “Succeeding in these various activities requires patience, attentiveness, and a well-developed memory” (Strong, P, T. p. 190). The entertainment industry does not take the Native rituals as seriously and the Natives do themselves. It would be naive to say that the media only presents false versions of Native Americans because they do show some truth about the Natives.
In the Parks and Rec episode, the reason that Ken put the curse on the festival was because the carnival was going to be on the location of a famous battle of the town Pawnee where many of their ancestors died. That land is a sacred burial area for all of the past ancestors who tried to protect their land from the settlers but ultimately failed. Even if it was a fictional battle, this is an example of what Molly calls in her video historical trauma.
“We have an early historical trauma. We try real hard to hang on to that community feeling, but those things that happened a long time ago… there’s a pain in here and there’s a hurt and there’s an anger. And you know people will say, ‘well that happened a long time ago, so why do you still hang on to it. But that’s what we mean by historical trauma, it’s still in there” (Miller, M. 2016).
Both the video and the show, explain that what happened in the past to their ancestors still has a huge impact on their lives. Many may think that Natives use this as a way to gain what they want from the government, like health and educational benefits, but it’s not true. A “stereotype strongly held in Indian Country by non-Indians is that Indians receive special privileges that other American citizens do not” (Fleming, W. p. 214). I think this is a horrible stereotype to believe because Indians work very hard for what they earn. Natives gain their benefits from treaties their ancestors have made with the American government. They had to give up their land in order to gain their privileges. All the fighting that ultimately left the Native ancestors give up their land has left scars on the Natives’ lives. In some ways the media can represent Native Americans inaccurately based on stereotypes, but at times they can show the truth about the Natives’ painful past.
Daniels, G. Schur, M. (Writer) & Holland, D. (Director). (2011). Harvest Festival [Television Series Episode]. In S. Sackett, Poehler (Producer), Parks and Recreation. Los Angeles, CA: NBC Universal
Fleming (2006) “Myths and Stereotypes about Native Americans” Phi Delta Kappan. 2006. 88: 213
M Miller. (2016) Clan Mother [Video Blog]. Retrieved from http://theways.org/story/clan-mother
Turner Strong, Pauline. “Playing Indian in the 1990s: Pocahontas and the Indian in the Cupboard” in Hollywood’s Indian: The Portrayal of the Native American in Film, ed. Peter C. Rollins and John E. O’Connor, 187-205. Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 1998.
Wilson, Gutierrez, Chao. (2013). Racism, Sexism, and the Media: Multicultural Issues into the New Communications Age. Pp. 55-57.