A few days ago I ripped into Dawnstar, the 31st century Indian superhero, for being bland and stereotypical. That raises the question of whether the character is hopeless or whether she can be salvaged.
Ideally, one shouldn't criticize a problem without proposing a solution to it. So here's a hypothetical origin for a new, improved Dawnstar.
Days of future past
In the centuries leading up to the year 3000, Native Americans saw their views increasingly marginalized and ignored. The United Earth government practiced a policy of manifest destiny: finding, terraforming, and colonizing new worlds. Remaking them in Earth's image and destroying their alien and indigenous beauty.
A coalition of Indians, environmentalists, and others demanded that Earth end its colonial policy of organizing and exploiting the galaxy for its own purposes. Buoyed by popular support, the Earth's government refused. Frustrated, the anti-progress coalition grew increasingly radical. Fringe elements began committing terrorist acts.
The public grew angry toward these anti-colonization Indians and their followers. The Indians were reviled, shunned, demonized. They were treated about like Muslims were treated after 9/11: as enemies of the state. Their sincere beliefs and intentions didn't matter; what mattered was their opposition to the ruling credo of progress.
Fight or flight
The coalition's leaders feared they were about to be shut down, silenced, even imprisoned for their views. Rather than fight a losing battle, they decided to leave Earth. They would find their own planet where they could live according to their values. They would live in harmony with that world's nature rather than shaping it to their whims.
To maintain a strong, unified culture, they closed off their world (Starhaven) to outsiders. More important, they adopted a facade of being peaceful, inward-looking spiritualists. To facilitate this, they obscured all evidence of the hundreds of separate Native cultures. They adopted bland, stereotypical beliefs, costumes, even names (e.g., Moonwalker, Greatfire, Dawnstar) for public consumption. All this served to convince the United Planets they were no longer a threat to its hegemony.
Indeed they were a spiritual people who preferred to seek peaceful solutions. But this was only one side of their being--the public side. In private, they were still fierce, uncompromising warriors who opposed the UP's policy of colonization. But they knew from 1,500 years of history what happened to Indians who didn't toe the line. They would keep this side hidden so they'd never again face oppression, subjugation, or extermination.
Origin of the species
While the UP was perfecting its technology to transform worlds, it was also perfecting its technology to transform people. Whole populations were genetically altering themselves to make themselves compatible with alien ecologies. The people of Starhaven came up with a brilliant idea: They would give themselves wings--and with that, the ability to fly through space at incredible speeds.
Becoming winged would have several benefits. They would reduce their "footprint" on Starhaven, both literally and figuratively. They could travel between the stars without relying on the UP and its resource-wasting technology. And they would become unbeatable warriors. Flying at the speed of light, they could defeat almost anyone: a fleet of UP starships or a horde of Daxamites. Never again would they be vanquished.
But just as they were keeping their anti-UP views secret, they would also keep their fighting abilities secret. They would act as if they couldn't dismantle a star-cruiser or pummel a Validus into submission in the blink of an eye. Because if the UP knew how dangerous they were, it would unite against them. It would clip their wings in more ways than one. Secrecy, they believed, was their only chance for survival.
Summing it up
And there you have it. Dawnstar's other name, her private name, is something non-stereotypical like Maia Goldschmidt (her father is part Jewish). She's of the Haudenosaunee, a warrior people who established the Iroquois League to foster peace.
She joined the Legion to keep tabs on it and mold its thinking--perhaps to change it from an imperialist tool into something better. She could defeat most supervillains in single combat, but her people have sworn never to use their powers to the fullest extent. She's adopted an innocuous New-Age personality so no one will suspect she's the most radical Legionnaire of all.
Just think: This origin wouldn't invalidate anything written about Dawnstar before. But it would take a cardboard character and make her infinitely deeper and richer. She would go from being a token minority to the conscience of the Legion.
Even if you don't buy every detail, it's an example of what could--and arguably should--be done with American Indian superheroes. There's absolutely no reason they should be generic warriors or shamans. Real Indians--like the new, improved Dawnstar--have real cultures and histories. They aren't just a pair of breasts with wings.
Memo to DC Comics: If you want a smart, sharp story about a Legionnaire, here it is. Give me a call and I'll write it for you. I'm thinking it may be the best Legion mini-series ever, so let's do it.