February 08, 2007

Dead Indians are easier

No One Ever Sees Indians:  “We Have Become God’s Madmen”No one wants a modern Native American. No one even wants a fantastical Indian. The industry keeps slipping back to the portrayals of the beads and feathers and tee pees because in all honesty, that is what they prefer. Dealing with the “dead” Indian is easier than dealing with the living Natives. The historical Indian does not protest stereotypical imagery, they do not assert their rights as contemporary human beings. But we are not those Indians. They do not see the Arapaho, the Navajo, the Lakota, the Shawnee, the Cherokee, nor any of the over three hundred still living tribes in North American today. No one ever sees Indians.

If the power to represent ourselves is gone or taken, the industry is then free to indulge in Indian imagery without guilt or defiance. They could speak freely about the ancient culture as if they are the experts since the public consciousness accepts there is no living Native culture, no one to object or dispute. They can plaster war-bonneted Chiefs on the walls and there will be no protest. People all over the U.S. could speak for Natives because now, they are indeed viewed as an extinct civilization in these movies. That will be the final accomplishment.

With all Indians gone there will be a void left by the absence. It is a void that they will gladly fill. But they can only try. The Indians they imagined were better than the actual Natives that still live. These “Indians” do not talk back or demand rights or to be treated as a living, breathing, evolving, contemporary society. The Indians of those old film are constructs meant to keep Native peoples from expressing a voice, taking control, or taking power.

1 comment:

writerfella said...

Writerfella here --
In actual point of fact, the 'Vanishing American' still was not considered an 'American' at the time he ostensibly was going to 'Vanish'. The Bureau of Indian Affairs originally was chartered to exist only twenty-five years for, after such a time, the Natives all should have disappeared. Only, they didn't, even on far-flung, desolated reservations. Bereft and isolate, many survived because their cultures were the only things keeping them alive. Treaty-promised supplies and other equippage either were diverted or never materialized and so time-honored practices were brought back into play. Thus, the next attacks were on the cultures, the languages, and even the family units themselves.
In Glendon Swarthout's novel, BLESS THE BEASTS AND CHILDREN, the bison is a metaphor for the Native American, as no white man can look on a bison and not feel the overwhelming guilt from the ravaging of the species by his kind. Thus, they do not even want to see them nor allow them to exist. One only has to witness the current slaughter of bison that wander out of Yellowstone Park to know that the above is true...
All Best
Russ Bates