Native Americans are often underrepresented in media, and when they are portrayed it is usually stereotypical and inaccurate. Many times Native Americans roles in movies and television are given to white actors or other minorities. Hollywood’s depictions of Native Americans have come to be known as “the white man’s Indian” (Bird, 3). The way they talk act, and dress in television and film is from a white perspective and because the information of them seems to be sparse they have been called “the most misunderstood ethnic groups in the United States” (Fleming, 213), which ultimately gives people wrong and negative images of Native Americans.
That being said, the 2006 TV miniseries Into the West approaches Native American representation differently, most notably by casting Native American actors. Set in the 19th century, the show follows the lives of white settlers and a Lakota family during the expansion of the West. In the fifth episode, a large group of Lakota children are taken to the Carlisle Indian Industrial School where they were to be assimilated into white culture. By doing so the children would learn the ways and customs of the settlers and forget their own. The scene starts with the children being lined up outside the school, the teachers strip them of their personal belongings. They are then forced to choose a new “white man” name and given a plain uniform. Lastly, the male children are required to have their long hair cut, an act that is only done in a time of mourning, which completely takes away their Native American identity.
The Waadookodaading Ojibwe Language Immersion School, as described on the Native-run site theways.org, works to do the opposite and undo what the Native American boarding schools did to their culture. Theways.org video story “Waadookodaading” shows young Native American children learning the culture of Ojibwe through the language. Teaching the Ojibwe language to the children is seen as way to reclaim their culture which was lost when many Native Americans were sent to the boarding schools. They were stripped of their culture and language, leaving the younger generations in the dark. “Sadly, some Native children know nothing of their tribal cultures, for a variety of reasons. Some come from families in which the parents are members of different tribes. Some parents do not know their own cultures because they were products of the boarding school system that discouraged traditional customs and traditions” (Fleming, 215). The affects of the boarding schools in the late 1800s are seen in this video as elders must teach the children the culture that was lost. By bring the language back into the children’s lives they can hope their culture and traditions will continue to live through future generations.
Both videos strive to portray Native Americans accurately. Into the West shows the injustices that many Native American suffered at the hands of the white settlers whose mission is to have the Native Americans lose their identity and assimilate into white culture. Theways.org video shows Native Americans mission to restore it through language. They both emphasize the importance culture has and its ability to define a group. Native Americans have been shown in media as savages and uncivilized, the scene from Into the West shows them as victims of oppression from the white majority. The settlers are vilified, a role that is normally given to the Native Americans. By trying to portray the atrocities Native Americans faced in a more accurate light and bring attention to it, people that are exposed to that media receive a different image of Native Americans. Instead of the negative stereotypes that are prevalent in popular culture Native Americans are seen as diverse groups with a prominent culture that they have suffered to keep alive in today’s world.
Bird, S. Elizabeth. Dressing in Feathers: The Construction of the Indian in American Popular Culture. Boulder, CO: Westview, 1996. Print.
“Into the West-Carlisle Indian School.” YouTube. YouTube, 17 Sept. 2011. Web. 02 Mar. 2016.
Fleming, Walter C. “Myths and Stereotypes about Native Americans.” The Phi Delta Kappan 88.3 (2006): 213-17. JSTOR. Web. 03 Mar. 2016.
“Waadookodading: Ojibwe Language Immersion School.” Waadookodading: Ojibwe Language Immersion School. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 Mar. 2016.