July 26, 2015

Rod Stewart's daughter in a headdress

Another white girl, Kimberly Stewart, stigmatizes the Native American people and their traditions

By Dr. Lorena BrownleeKimberly Stewart, the daughter of Rod and Alana Stewart, after leaving the public limelight for four years to have and raise Benicio del Toro’s baby, comes shamefully back into the spotlight wearing nothing but a Native American headdress riding a rickety old rocking horse.

While her fans may be eager for her comeback, her behavior is nothing short of deplorable and exudes her inability to read and learn from those who have made this same culturally disparaging statement in the past.

A headdress is reserved for revered elders who have through their actions earned the right to wear one. The headdress is not merely a cultural piece but also a spiritual one. Feathers and even face paint carry a high spiritual significance in Native American societies bringing honor to both tribes and nations. These practices are earned through selfless and unwavering leadership. This reprehensible act could only be compared to a person stealing the medals of a war hero and publicly wearing them.

Under United States federal law it is a federal misdemeanor to falsely represent oneself as having received any US military decoration or medal. If convicted, defendants might have been imprisoned for up to six months. Wearing an unearned Native American headdress is no different to stealing a US military medal.

July 25, 2015

Is Captain Kirk a conservative?

Some comments on the following subject:

Ted Cruz: ‘Star Trek’s Captain Kirk was probably a Republican

Kirk is militaristic, makes up his own reality, and thinks of women in sexual terms. I wouldn't rule out his being a moderate 1960s-style Republican.

William Shatner shoots down Ted Cruz: Captain Kirk is no Republican

Shatner says Kirk is apolitical? Okay. I could see Kirk as a "rely on yourself" libertarian-leaning type. I.e., don't trust government or anyone giving orders or computers. He might not vote--but if he did vote, he might prefer a moderate Republican.

Spock, McCoy, Sulu, and Uhura would be Democrats, of course. Scotty and Chekov might lean to the conservative side just like Kirk.

Federation politics

It's funny that Star Trek is overtly apolitical--never discussing politics except on alien worlds. Yet the Federation is a utopian ideal and we know it has a president, at least. So it should be championing democracy and elections, not ignoring them.

I presume it's a democracy and people vote, although I suppose a Federation computer could pick officials using its awesome AI. Yet the characters literally never discuss this among themselves. No off-hour chats between Sulu and Chekov or O'Brien and Bashir about whom they're supporting in the next election.

You remember the TNG episode about the game that hypnotized the whole crew? The creators could've made it a political video instead of a game. Candidate X using subliminal messages to win an election and take control of Starfleet. That would've been a bold commentary on our society.Kirk has disobeyed Starfleet more times than MacArthur disobeyed Truman, but with better results. I guess that's not really political, but for some reason seemed an appropriate analogy.Old Vulcan proverb: "Only Nixon could go to China." Kirk is Nixon.

Of course, Kirk would never take Cruz's side in anything. He'd scorn a blowhard like Cruz. He'd treat him like Harry Mudd or Cyrano Jones...as a big fat joke.

Same with Cruz's other hero, Spider-Man. Except the comparison there would be to an egotistical egghead like Dr. Octopus.

For more on the subject, see The Native Spock and The Political Spock.

July 24, 2015

Native woman has white privilege

A light-skinned Native woman talks about whether she has white privilege:

I Am a Native American Woman With White Privilege

By Misty Shipman EllingburgI’ve thought about this more and more in passing weeks. The shooting in Charleston, the death of Sandra Bland, the deaths of many, many more–all of these things have affected me on a deep level. When Mike Brown was murdered, I was so outraged that I immediately became that awkward person, jutting into a conversation not my own, all well-meaning, bumbling passion that needed to learn its place. My place, I now know, during this epidemic of police brutality, violence, and death, is as an ally. I can listen to what my Black friends share and say is their experience. I can believe them because they tell me it’s true. And I can choose to stand with them, encourage them, lift up and amplify their voices by listening, learning, and sharing what they tell me.

And part of what they’re telling me is that there are things I take for granted that I receive as a direct result of my skin color. Because I am Indigenous and I do face a great deal of challenges specific to my nationality, I have often wrongly believed that I don’t have white privilege. That isn’t true, because the larger world views me as a white woman. When I’m out and about in the rural area I live in, white people assume I am their natural ethnic ally. Police officers don’t stop me on erroneous, trumped up charges. In fact, I could, hypothetically, see a police officer, and feel either more safe, or neutral. I can look at a TV and see people who look like me. In magazines, movies, and casting calls, white is considered normal or standard. Avatar actress Zoe Saldana once said that she was turned down for a role because her skin was “too dark.” Said Zoe, “It’s only dark if you’re comparing it to something.”
Comment:  Answer: Yes, she does. Because white privilege is mainly a function of skin color. The whiter you are, the more you benefit from it.

For more on white privilege, see Even Children Enjoy White Privilege and White Men = Winning Tribe.

July 23, 2015

Native ghosts in comic books

A teacher e-mailed me to say she was interested in Native ghosts. For a section of her literature class, she wanted to know about Native ghosts in comic books. I sent her this response:

Native ghosts in comic books...interesting question.

There are a ton of stories in every genre--comics, movies, TV shows, novels, etc.--that feature Indian ghosts, spirits, or demons. Often they arise from an Indian burial ground that's been cursed somehow.

But these are usually throwaway stories. They're not central to the comic book, movie, or whatever in question. So it's difficult to produce a list of such stories. You'd have to search for "Indian burial ground," "Indian ghost," "Indian spirit," and so forth and weed through the false hits.

There are all sorts of variations, of course. I remember an old Tomahawk story where some Brits pretended to be ghosts to scare the Indians. Lots of wacky things like that.

As one approach, I'd suggest perusing my blog on two topics:

Burial grounds

Most of the postings are about movies or TV shows, not comics. But they may spark your interest anyway.

As for particular comics, characters such as Alpha Flight's Shaman, the New Mutants' Dani Moonstar, the Justice League of America's Manitou Raven, and DC's Arak sometimes enter the spirit world or the dream world. That's kind of like being a ghost. You could search those series for individual issues about ghosts. For instance, try "Alpha Flight Shaman ghost." See what it pulls up.

Beyond that, I can think of a few possibilities. Most of them don't involve ghosts in the classic European sense, but they may be close to what you want:

  • Desperadoes: Buffalo Dreams. I don't remember this mini-series well, but it may involve actual ghosts.

  • Ghostdancing. Dancing through different realms or dimensions--kind of like being a ghost.

  • Muktuk Wolfsbreath. Entering the dream world--again kind of like being a ghost.

  • I Am Coyote (Epic). Coyote shifts into a phantom state, which is kind of like being a ghost.

  • Timespirits. I don't remember this series well, but the characters go traveling through time and space. I wouldn't be surprised if they entered a ghostly state too.

  • New Mutants: The Demon Bear Saga. Dani Moonstar faces a spectral demon, which is kind of like a ghost.

  • As you can see, there are many suggestions about characters like a ghost. I don't know if that helps, but it's about all I can think of.

    As for buying them, I sell just my own comics and a few others. I'd try Mile High Comics at http://www.milehighcomics.com. They have a huge inventory--possibly the biggest online.

    From what I've seen, it's about 50-50 whether they have Native-themed comics such as the ones I've mentioned. But the prices for lower-quality items are reasonable.

    I trust that helps!


    P.S. In a follow-up message, the teacher said she was also interested in Native spirits, demons, and related supernatural beings. That would increase the number of relevant comic books immensely.

    July 22, 2015

    Review of Allen's Pocahontas

    Pocahontas: Medicine Woman, Spy, Entrepreneur, DiplomatIn striking counterpoint to the conventional account, Pocahontas is a bold biography that tells the extraordinary story of the beloved Indian maiden from a Native American perspective. Dr. Paula Gunn Allen, the acknowledged founder of Native American literary studies, draws on sources often overlooked by Western historians and offers remarkable new insights into the adventurous life and sacred role of this foremost American heroine. Gunn Allen reveals why so many have revered Pocahontas as the female counterpart to the father of our nation, George Washington.

    From Publishers Weekly

    In what is presented as the first study of its kind by an American Indian scholar, Allen (The Sacred Hoop) offers a corrective to the romantic story of Pocahontas told initially by Capt. John Smith of the Virginia Company and most recently by Disney Studios. Euro-American historical accounts of Pocahontas's brief life, asserts Allen, typically depict her as a lovelorn and tragic character (she died in 1617 in the aptly named river port of Gravesend, England, at the age of 20 or 21). Allen's Pocahontas, by contrast, is a real visionary, a prodigiously gifted young woman fervently devoted to the spiritual traditions of her people: a loose-knit group of Algonquin tribes known as the Powhatan Alliance, or Tsenacommacah. When the English colonists who began establishing Jamestown in 1607 invaded the Tsenacommacah, Pocahontas immediately identified it as the fulfillment of a prophecy that foretold the end of their world and the beginning of a new one, argues Allen. It was "world change time," she writes, and Pocahontas (also called Matoaka, Amonute and finally Lady Rebecca Rolfe) was nothing if not mutable--as implied by the book's subtitle. Still, notwithstanding Pocahontas's significant role in American history, Allen's claims that Pocahontas "set in motion a chain of events that would," among other things, "liberate the starving and miserable peoples of Europe and beyond" can seem overstated. More persuasive are Allen's comments about the cultural similarities between the English and Algonquin and the idea that each group changed the other. When casting Pocahontas as "the embodiment of this dual cultural transformation," her role, and the book, are at their clearest, and are made manifest by Allen's often lyrical and powerful writing.
    Allen's take on Pocahontas

    Some statements from Paula Gunn Allen's "Sendings" from Pocahontas: Engaging with an Unusual Reality show how Allen reinterpreted Pocahontas's life:Before Pocahontas is born, the elders receive a vision from the Manito. The Manito reveal that an influential child "possessed of a high-order of spiritual identity" will be born into the Powhatan peoples (235). That child is Pocahontas.

    Pocahontas is an "adept"—one who is highly educated in Dream-Vision disciplines (21). She was granted this skill before birth by the Manito, so she could communicate more proficiently with supernaturals throughout her life.

    Because of Pocahontas's Dream Vision, wherein she saw Smith's fa├žade float to shore, Smith will be initiated into the Powhatan Alliance to be an ambassador between the English and the Powhatans; to maintain a peace; and aid the Powhatan peoples in the time of transformation.

    Allen declares that Pocahontas boarded ship with Argall because "it was the occasion she was waiting for," it was "a continuance of her duties as spy and perhaps as emissary ... and the council needed eyes and ears within the [English] enclave" (131).

    Pocahontas married John Rolfe, not because of "romantic impulses" (90), but because marrying him would insure the "spirit of tobacco would find a home in the new world" (235).

    Pocahontas's intentions in going to England were quite different from Rolfe's. Her Manito-directed mission was to exchange "arcane knowledge" with the English occult and to deliver this knowledge back to the Native Elders (284).

    Pocahontas ... successfully built a bridge between "Manito and Faerie," she introduced the shamanistic herb tobacco to the world, and "she was the mother of a new race"—there are three million mixed-blood descendants of English and Powhatan stock (305).
    More reviews

    Some reviews from Goodreads:Meg rated it 3 of 5 stars

    This book was intriguing at times, maddening at other times. I really liked the way the author just laid it out there at the beginning that she was going to mix up traditional Western linear biography narrative with a cyclical-time-based spiritual understanding of history. Her opening chapter describing this is really brilliant. While reading the rest of the book, I felt that (on the one hand) she had some super insightful ways of envisioning Pocahontas' history. It never would have occurred to me that Pocahontas was a spy but it makes total sense when put in this perspective. On the other hand, I wanted to be more clear about when she was giving known historical (Western linear etc etc) fact, when she was looking from a more cyclical-time lens, and when she was speculating. And sometimes she got really too into the whole trip of Native Americans having a unitary philosophy/way of seeing things. As a side note, I loved how she made parallels between Native American spiritual worlds and the pagan English alternative spiritual world (alchemy, ceremonial magic, fairies, etc). That was fun and unusual.

    Emily rated it 3 of 5 stars

    Although this book is supposed to be a biography of Pocahontas, it is unlike any biography I have read before. Rather than recount what few facts we know about her life, (and, as Allen points out, most of those facts are filtered--several times--through a foreign lens), Allen seeks to provide a context for Pocahontas, to flesh out the world she came from, so that we can reinterpret who she was and what her life meant. And as far as that goes, I though Allen did a fantastic job. In fact, the context of Pocahontas' world turned out to be far more interesting to me than the woman herself, at least as described by Allen. Sometimes the book becomes quite repetitive (Allen says she does it on purpose, as repetition in the oral tradition is meant to emphasize important points), and sometimes she makes what seem to me to be long leaps of logic (though she says she is writing from a perspective outside of the world of rationality). Nonetheless, this book is well worth the read if you're interested in learning more about what a Native American worldview might have been like during a time when tribal cultures were still strong and intact throughout the continent
    Comment:  These postings give you an idea of what the book is like, but it's hard to pin down.

    I'd say Allen's claims are provocative and compel you to see Pocahontas in a new light. But they're speculative more than persuasive. You may end up thinking none of them are true.

    Allen's Pocahontas may be a must-read for Pocahontas aficionados. But I'm not sure anyone else will enjoy it. Especially if they're not interested in Native subjects in general. Rob's rating: 6.5 of 10.

    For more on Pocahontas, see Fever Sexualizes Pocahontas and "In Defense of Pocahontas."

    July 21, 2015

    America the biggest loser

    “The U.S. often goes to war very overconfident about how the war will turn out”

    We've lost four of our last five wars, despite being the superpower. Dominic Tierney explains why this happens

    By Michael Schulson
    Since the end of World War II, the United States has fought five major ground wars—one in Korea, one in Vietnam, two in Iraq, and one in Afghanistan. By many measures, we’ve lost four of them (the first Gulf War is the one clear exception). The U.S. may be the world’s dominant military power, but we seem to have lost the ability to win.

    Dominic Tierney’s new book, “The Right Way to Lose a War,” begins with a depressing premise: the United States will probably lose again. “We live in an age of unwinnable wars, where decisive triumph has proved to be a pipe dream,” he writes. For Tierney, a professor at Swarthmore College and a contributing editor at The Atlantic, the solution is not just to prepare to win wars. It’s to develop clearer plans for how to cut our losses and run when the situation demands it, instead of becoming bogged down in a protracted, fruitless conflict.

    In our era of ambiguous, stateless wars, Tierney argues, “losing the right way is a victory.” He argues that the military needs to be ready to surge (adding more troops, briefly), talk (spin the narrative) and then leave (before it’s too late). The strategy, Tierney suggests, is less about pride, and more about pragmatism—and saving lives.

    Over the phone, Tierney spoke with Salon about ISIS, nation-building and why the military destroyed all its counterinsurgency notes after the Vietnam War.

    You’re talking about losing wars. I’m an American. Why does this make me feel so uncomfortable?

    American culture is very much a victory culture, a culture of competition and winning. The notion of cutting losses or dealing with an unwinnable situation might seem vaguely unsettling and un-American. But the reality is that four out of five wars that the U.S. has fought in recent decades have become unwinnable. Although it might make us uncomfortable, I think it’s necessary for us to think seriously about the question.
    Comment:  I've talked about this subject often--especially after 9/11. The whole premise of invading Afghanistan and Iraq was to get even for the terrorist attack. Bush didn't consider any alternatives and didn't have any fallback plan. It was all schoolyard machismo: Muslims hit us hard so we'll hit them harder.

    For more on the subject, see America's Cultural Mindset.

    July 20, 2015

    Adam Sandler defends Ridiculous Six

    Adam Sandler: ‘Ridiculous Six’ Racism Controversy Was ‘Just a Misunderstanding’

    By Alex StedmanAdam Sandler is finally addressing the controversy that surrounded his Netflix project “The Ridiculous Six” after about a dozen Native Americans walked off the set of the movie in April.

    The actors complained of racist jokes against Native Americans, but, finally speaking on the issue at the premiere of his upcoming movie “Pixels,” Sandler said he wasn’t trying to offend anyone.

    “It was just a misunderstanding and once the movie is out will be cleared up,” Sandler told the Associated Press.

    The comedian also called “Ridiculous Six” a “pro-Indian” movie.

    “I talked to some of the actors on the set who were there and let them know that the intention of the movie is 100% to just make a funny movie,” he told ScreenCrush. “It’s really about American Indians being good to my character and about their family and just being good people. There’s no mocking of American Indians at all in the movie. It’s a pro-Indian movie. So hopefully when people see it—whoever was offended on set and walked out, I hope they realize that, and that’s it. It was kinda taken out of context.”
    A partial rebuttal of Sandler's claims:

    Adam Sandler’s insulting “Ridiculous 6″ defense: Being “pro-Indian” looks nothing like this

    "It's really about American Indians being good to my character" doesn't exactly redeem this ill-advised project

    By Paula Young Lee
    Could Sandler’s P.R. problem get any worse? Of course it could. Yesterday, Sandler dug himself into a hole by affirming that “The Ridiculous 6” was a “pro-Indian” film. He explained: “It’s really about American Indians being good to my character and about their family and just being good people.”

    Alas, poor unhappy Gilmore, we hardly knew ye understood so little about the medium that made you so very rich. To explain, let me begin by making three observations. First, “Me smoke peace pipe, Kemosabe”-style jokes don’t only reduce First Peoples to stereotypes, they also mindlessly reinforce every negative stereotype Hollywood has manufactured about them.

    Second, the “White Savior” trope goes like this: Clueless white person stomps all over Noble Savages who fight against Regular Savages, and then receives Enlightenment for which he is eternally grateful (but will never share credits, profits or royalties), for he has already rewarded the Noble Savages with the greatest of all gifts: the opportunity to help him.

    Third, when the White Savior film is “historical,” it can even be sanctified with an Oscar nomination for best picture — an Oscar that “Dances With Wolves,” 1990, actually won.
    My thoughts

    There's no mocking, says Sandler...in the unlikely event he removed every joke reported in the press. I wouldn't bet a dime on that.

    The Indians raise Sandler's character...which proves they're good? Not if the jokes mocking them are still in the movie. All sorts of characters can be good and kind yet still treated as idiots and savages. In fact, the idea of Indians as big-hearted but comical buffoons is an old tradition in movies.

    Repeating jokes that might've been in old comedies isn't mocking them. You mock movie conventions by having Indians laugh at other people, not by having people laughing at them.

    I bet the debate will come down to this:"Adam Sandler feels that when audiences finally see his upcoming Netflix comedy, 'The Ridiculous Six,' they will realize he wasn't trying to offend anyone."No, you stupid ass. The issue isn't whether you were trying to offend someone. It's whether you did offend someone despite your ignorant and ill-considered intent.

    Only a few movies in Hollywood history were trying to offend Indians. But the fact is that several thousand of them did offend Indians with their racist and stereotypical depictions. How do you not understand this distinction, Sandler?

    More trashing of Sandler:

    Why Adam Sandler should retire immediately

    Why No One Likes Adam Sandler Anymore

    For more on the subject, see Adam Sandler's History of Racism and Sandler's Racist Ridiculous Six "Jokes."

    July 19, 2015

    "Restoring America's greatness" = Disneyesque dream

    Those Who Advocate "Restoring America's Greatness" Are Living in a Mythology

    By Mark KarlinThe United States has been, for years, on the cusp of either returning to the fantasy of a privileged elite or moving forward to achieve the creative possibilities of an actualized democracy.

    Those politicians and individuals who advocate "restoring America to its greatness" are living in a Disneyesque dream, guided by the image of a Norman Rockwell portrait of a white-ruled United States that is the "greatest nation in the world." The underlying message here--which helps explain Donald Trump's appeal to an overtly racist sector of the population--is that only the continuation of white dominance in the electoral process can "save" the country. It is a vision of the United States that looks backward through a fractured, distorted lens.

    The late Eduardo Galeano wrote about the European-descended ruling class at the end of the last century. He focused on South and Central America, but what he wrote in his brilliant book Open Veins of Latin America equally applies to the US:Veneration for the past has always seemed to me reactionary. The right chooses to talk about the past because it prefers dead people.... The powerful who legitimatize their privileges by heredity cultivate nostalgia. History is studied as if we were visiting a museum, but this collection of mummies is a swindle. They lie to us about the past: they mask the face of reality. They force the oppressed victims to absorb an alien, desiccated, sterile memory fabricated by the oppressor, so that they will resign themselves to a life that isn't theirs as if it were the only one possible.
    Comment:  For more on the subject, see The Confederate Flag Must Go and Rubio Ignorant of US History.

    July 18, 2015

    Wyoming pageant features whites in redface

    Wearing ‘red face’: A changed perspective

    By Caitlin TanUnfortunately, there is one other event that makes the entire Green River Rendezvous Days controversial. The last day a play is put on called the “Pageant.” Basically it reenacts the meeting and trading of the mountain men and Native Americans.

    The controversial part is the cast is made up almost entirely of white Pinedalians. The mountain men simply dress-up in buckskin hide outfits and fur hats; however, the Native American actors not only wear buckskin outfits, but their faces are painted a deep brown, almost red color, and they either wear black wigs or dye their hair crispy black.

    I regret to say I have worn the latter costume in past years.

    My only defense is I grew up in the town, submersed in the culture and simply did not know better. The entire town participates and people see the event as a fun, innocent celebration, and in some ways it is, but the ‘red face’ is simply taking it a step too far.

    Even worse, Rendezvous involves excessive drinking; thus, many people painted-up in ‘red face’ are running around drunk, “playing” the roles of Native Americans.

    Again, I painfully have to admit I used to do this.
    Her conclusion:Therefore, white people dressing-up like Natives–painting their skin dark and attempting to reenact the culture–is simply a sad disgrace.

    Changing my standards on this issue was incredibly difficult–I feel like I am saying goodbye to a part of myself forever; however, it is liberating to now stand for something that is morally correct and sensitive to another culture.
    Comment:  Good for her!

    For more on redface, see Ontario Camps Feature Mock Ceremonies and Sandler Crew "Bronzed" Native Actress.

    July 17, 2015

    Moonshot comics anthology debuts

    Native Characters and Creators Thrive in 176-Page 'Moonshot' Comics Anthology

    By Stephanie WoodardExcitement crackles off the pages of Moonshot: The Indigenous Comics Collection, a handsomely produced book just out from AH Comics. The striking art and captivating stories by Indigenous authors and artists will appeal to adults in addition to the typical adolescent comic-book reader. Moonshot has a place in colleges, schools and libraries, as well as on individual bookshelves.

    The title comes from a poem by superstar Cree singer-songwriter Buffy Sainte-Marie. In her poem, published in the book, she rejoices in the visionary framework of indigenous storytelling: “Off into outer space you go my friends / we wish you bon voyage / and when you get there we will welcome you again.” Sainte-Marie pokes fun at the false expectations and stereotypes often assigned to indigenous people: “I know a boy from a tribe so primitive / he can call me up without no telephone.”

    The book’s Native contributors and others (some indigenous storytellers are paired with top non-Native comic-book artists) have no problem smashing tired stereotypes. In Moonshot’s 176 pages, you won’t find any of what award-winning Caddo comic-book author and historian Michael Sheyahshe calls "fringe-and-feathers Indians"—sepia-toned sidekicks for non-Native characters who are somehow better at being Native than their indigenous buddies. Instead, Moonshot’s stories feature complex Native characters, exhilarating action and thought-provoking lessons threaded through with humor.

    The 13 comics published in Moonshot slip-slide along a continuum that arcs from the mythic past through the present to a sci-fi future. The storylines are either little-known or invented—“to help break down ideas of what Native spirituality and culture ‘should be,’” according to editor Hope Nicholson in a foreword to the volume. Importantly, she says, the book emphasizes the diversity of Native cultures.
    Comment:  For more on comics anthologies, see Review of Trickster.

    Below:  "A panel from 'Water Master,' one of the tales in 'Moonshot.' Courtesy AH Comics."