December 04, 2006

Dances taught us all

Student group aims to stop American Indian stereotypesWhen Sam Spence watched the movie "Dances with Wolves," he said it taught him all about American-Indian culture.

"All Indians killed buffalo because back in that time, they could sell buffalo hide for a lot," the 8-year-old said.

Misconceptions like this one led the Native American Graduate Students Association to team up with the Mathers Museum of World Cultures to host the annual Celebrating Kids and Culture event Sunday. The groups put on the event with the help of the American Indian Student Association and First Nations, to help dispel stereotypes and focus on the true culture of today's American Indians.


Rob said...

Spence could've gotten "all Indians killed buffalo" from the movie and "they could sell buffalo hide for a lot" from another (media) source. And the selling part is a factual claim, not a common stereotype. That means the youngster was partly mistaken at worst, not completely mistaken.

Even if he misstated what he saw (he's only eight years old, after all), the movie contains a host of Native stereotypes. There's more than enough pseudo-information for Spence to conclude that "it taught him all about American-Indian culture."

Considering how many tribes there are and how many media sources are (mis)representing them, our stereotypes about Indians are uniform and homogeneous. Most schoolkids can reel off the most commonly held beliefs: Indians lived long ago. Indians were savages. Indians lived in teepees. Indians scalped people. Etc.

In this blog alone, I've presented dozens of media sources that influence what people believe. Mel Gibson's Apocalypto is just the latest example of one. In contrast, you haven't presented a single example of a parent, church, or community member transmitting a Native stereotype to other people.

I don't know about "media-spawned cultural facets," but your postings have lacked "parochial idiomatics, dialectic patois, regional or geographic colloquialisms." Again, show us the evidence that Native stereotypes vary from place to place. Your opinion that the above stereotypes aren't universal is just that, your opinion.

True, you can't conclude much from this one article. But when you've read a hundred such articles, you can start drawing conclusions. That's what I've done in The Harm of Native Stereotyping: Facts and Evidence.

I've said that parents, churches, and other parts of the community, especially schools, contribute to stereotypical thinking. But the media is by far the predominant source. Just about every expert and layperson says so, except you.

Rob said...

You said Spence was "completely" mistaken about Dances With Wolves even though the film depicted Indians killing buffalo, as Spence believed. So you were mistaken about Spence's being completely mistaken, at least. Dances could've been the source of every notion he holds about Indians except the one about selling hides.

I'd say just the opposite of "there are core stereotypes but these are outnumbered by the trite conventions involving tribal people in separate regions of the nation." There may be some regional stereotypes, but they're grossly outweighed by the ubiquitous national stereotypes: the savage warrior, the stoic chief, the teepee, etc.

For instance, people in Oklahoma may think Indians are rich from oil wells. But people around the country, including those in Oklahoma, think Indians are rich from 1) getting free government "benefits" 2) not having to pay taxes, and 3) owning casinos.

Nobody has done a study on this matter, so it's impossible to say for sure. But are you seriously arguing that more people think Indians are rich from oil wells than from casinos? If so, I have a bridge you may want to purchase.

Fact is, the national media dominates our perceptions and the national media has portrayed Indians as rich casino owners. If you disagree, let's ask people whether they think most Indians are 1) rich casino owners or 2) rich oil-well owners. I'm guessing they'll choose 1) over 2) by a factor of five or 10 to 1.

If stereotypes weren't uniform and homogeneous, for the most part, this test would fail. My money says this test would succeed. Shall we try it and learn just how uniform and homogeneous Native stereotypes are?

The notion that Indians are drunkards is a national one propagated by the national media more than a local one propagated by parents, churches, and the community. Proving the point, you can find innumerable references to Indians and "firewater" in the two-plus centuries of American media. Again, people around the country, including those who have never discussed Indians, link Indians and alcohol because of media-driven stereotypes.

You don't have to "present a single example of a parent, a church, or a community transmitting a single Native stereotype to other people" if you want to keep losing these arguments. It's fine with me if you think your occasional anecdote is equivalent to my reams of facts and evidence. Readers can judge for themselves whose claims are superior.