February 18, 2007

"Dead Astronaut" by Douglas Fraser

Comment:  Russell Bates sent me this image. He claims the painting shows what would happen if John Herrington, the Chickasaw astronaut, met "real" Indians. But I say the 'naut's not Herrington.

One could take this as a comment on the price of progress, or what happens when you venture where you don't belong. I'm reminded of the joke about The Navajo Message to the Moon:A few years back when NASA was preparing for the Apollo project, they did some astronaut training on a Navajo Indian reservation. When the Navajo Indians found out about it, they asked if they could send a message to the moon on the Apollo. NASA spindoctors happily agreed (dreaming sweetly about the free propaganda!), and quickly arranged to record a message of an elder. With the recording completed, NASA asked what the message said, the Navajo elder smiled and said nothing. Intrigued, the NASA men played the recording to several Indians in an attempt to find out what the message said, but the Indians would only laugh and refused to translate the elder's message to the moon. Finally, NASA called in an official government translator. He reported that the moon message said, "Watchout for these guys; they've come to steal your land."Incidentally, Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars novels were all about preserving vs. developing the Red Planet. The people defending the planet had an Indian-like attitude. They called themselves Reds and were aided by a character named Coyote.

I give Red Mars and Green Mars an 8.5 and Blue Mars and The Martians a 7.5. Rob says: Check 'em out.


voyageur said...

So, who matches the stereotype here? The astronaut who is a Native American, or the Indians in this cartoon who shot the arrows? Hmmmm....

Anonymous said...

What? And no good word for Chakotay? About warm sonic showers?

The Local Crank said...

"Herrington's Chickasaw Native blood is thinner than the upper stratosphere..."

Hmmm...maybe I should keep my mouth shut under the circumstances...

"...and thus meeting real Native Americans..."

Yeah, I think I'll definately keep my mouth shut. Getting into "redder than thou" arguments doesn't really accomplish anything besides raising everyone's blood pressure.

Anonymous said...

At least Dawson WalkingBear had a more specific and "real" background. I recall Chakotay, at least in the shows, having a sort of generic, New Agey background.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't think they ever really named what tribe or nation Chakotay was from in the show. It's not even mentioned in the Wikipedia article.

The Local Crank said...

In actuality, those kinds of "arguments" are more in the manner of what Rob Schmidt calls 'semantics'.

Your point is well-taken, sir. I will just say that as a thoroughly white-assimilated NDN of relatively thin blood, who did not grow up in the culture, who did not grow up in the language, whose total knowledge of the language and culture is self-taught or from dribs and drabs of family history, who has never lived on the Rez, who has never even lived in Oklahoma, who does not "look NDN," who does not have an "Indian name" (my father's family name is, I think, Finnish), who has never experienced discrimination because of my heritage, whose heritage no one would ever likely know without asking, I am acutely, painfully aware of my position. I would never ever presume to lecture anyone who has had those experiences on who is or is not NDN. That would not be go-hi-yu-gi. I didn't get a vote on my granny's mother's decision to marry a white man and move to Texas. So be it. I do the best I can. I learn what I can and I try to pass that on to my sons. I contribute to the tribe. I follow tribal politics; I'm trying to help a friend of mine in her campaign for principal chief. But even keeping all that in mind, the "blood quanta" argument makes me flinch. For one thing, it's adopting a racist yonegv notion; and for another, it's a suicide pact. Tribes with high blood quanta will eventually vanish. There just aren't enough of us left. On the other hand, I don't like the idea of people with miniscule blood quanta, no cultural identification and no interest in the culture, strolling right in to pick up their CDIB cards, either. I don't know what the answer is. As I said, I'm just doing the best that I can with decisions that were made long before I was born.

Rob said...

I used the word "semantics" in its common, non-technical sense, Russ. If you're as unaware of this definition as you were of "decimate's" common, non-technical definition, I can provide it again. Or you could use a dictionary for once.

You're the one who has praised Gibson's Maya fantasies uncritically. I've the one who has criticized Gibson's Maya fantasies. You must not understand the concept of "thinking for yourself" either, because I'm the one who's done it in the case of Apocalypto.

Note that Russ's interpretation of the painting is his own, not Fraser's. There's nothing to indicate the astronaut is supposed to be John Herrington--or William Pogue, the real first Native in space. I'd say my interpretation is the likely one, not Russ's.

You could say the arrows are stereotypical, but I think they work in this context. They're a comment on America's drive to extend its domain to the moon--i.e., on manifest destiny--not on the savagery of Indians.

You won't have much luck engaging Russ in the question of who's an Indian, because he can't or won't answer the question. All we know is that it involves a "genetic racial memory" or an "awareness granted by heredity," concepts Russ apparently invented out of thin air.

I've posted extensively on Chakotay at Star Trek Voyager:  Chakotay. He supposedly comes from the Rubber Tree People of Central America, not the Sioux. Suffice it to say that the character is more stereotypical than not.