Native American Representations

nuit-au-musee-2006-194-g-1020x757Since the birth of our nation, Native Americans have always been mistreated and misrepresented in society due to their assumed inability of assimilating to the American way of life. Native Americans, much like any other racial/ethnic group, have their own culture and beliefs as well as the freedom to pass on their traditions and legacy to future generations. Often they are stereotyped as “savages”, “drunks” and even accused of “stealing” the government’s money (Bird, 9). The lack of knowledge and familiarity of Native American culture results ignorance, false representations and stereotypes. In his article Myths and Stereotypes about Native Americans, Walter C. Fleming states, “Stereotyping is a poor substitute for getting to know individuals at a more intimate, meaningful level…” (Flemming 2006). When one imagines what a Native American looks like, typically it is a dark-skinned man or woman with a feather headdress, and some sort of bow and arrow. This is the stereotypical image the media has forced into the minds of Americans as the ideal Native American.

It is not surprising that Native American culture is more likely to be articulated through a white perspective, which poorly represents the authenticity and fairness of Native American culture. This diminishes the real “cultural identity” of a Native American and their ideal of who they really are (Bird, 7). Any other race but Native American often plays the role of Native Americans in media and mass culture, especially in movies and television (Bird, 7). In the video attached, actress Mizuo Peck, a Japanese and Cherokee descendant, portrays the infamous Sacajawea in the movie Night at the Museum and its sequels. The fact that Peck is actually Cherokee Native American depicts the attempt to find actors and actresses who are culturally appropriate to play the role (without being offensive).

In the story entitled “Lady Thunderhawks Leading the Way” on the Native-run site theways.org, the captain of Oneida Nation High’s Lady Thunderhawks basketball team –Jessica House– is a very proud and respectful member of the Oneida Nation tribe. Jessica House is ambitious as well as successful in impacting the community with her fellow Lady Thunderhawk teammates. The Lady Thunderhawks have thrived as the regional champions at Oneida Nation High School. Her basketball team focuses on respect, loyalty and gratitude parallel to her tribe’s beliefs and attitudes. The Oneida Nation School System teaches an insight of traditional Oneida culture, alongside the standard academic school programs. As stated, her school mission is to “empower students by giving them the opportunity to explore and develop pride in their unique cultural identity” (theways.org). There is a definite influence Native American culture has upon everyday life even in communities today. Unfortunately popular culture has become the ultimate defining tool of Native Americans (Bird). The lack of knowledge has molded stereotypes, and offensive imageries of Native Americans. Just as any ethnic group, Native Americans deserve the right to have authentic and nondiscriminatory representations of their culture in the mass media.

Bird, S. Elizabeth. “Introduction” in Dressing in Feathers: The Construction of the Indian in American Popular Culture (Pages 1-12). Boulder: Westview Press, 1996.

Fleming (2006) “Myths and Stereotypes about Native Americans” Phi Delta Kappan. 2006. 88: 213.

Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qql1_U8JJIU 

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