February 24, 2008

No authentic Indians left?

Remaining 'authentic' in a changing world"Authentic Indians" are for many non-American Indians only those who look and dress like the stereotypical image of a Plains Indian--stoic and vanishing. There is a tendency for the general public--and often sympathetic foreigners--to believe that the only true Indians are those who greeted the Mayflower in 1620, and continue to live in the same way.

Famous anthropologists like Alfred Kroeber, a major researcher of California Indian tribes, and Franz Boas, the father of American anthropology, argued there were no authentic Indians in the United States after 1850. These men did not study the Indian communities they found during their field research, but tried to reconstruct Indian communities as they existed in the past, before significant Western contact. Rather than find examples of living history and continuing customs, they consulted elders who could remember the languages and cultures, the old ways.

There is no doubt that the anthropologists provided great service to tribal communities by preserving cultural knowledge and aspects of languages. But the emphasis on "salvage" anthropology, researching to find the last remnants of indigenous communities before they were lost, and the absence of interest in living indigenous communities, did a great disservice to indigenous peoples.
And:The question of authenticity, however, continues to plague contemporary American Indians. Native images and authenticity are frozen in time and are most often defined by non-Native people. The general public receives vast amounts of images from modern media, including movies and television. Most film and television writers of shows depicting Native people and history are often non-Natives with no particular study or first-hand knowledge. American Indians are treated as one-dimensional characters--as noble savages, the unfortunate victims of history, or as bloodthirsty warmongers. Even some American Indians today have adopted a static imagery of authenticity. When Native people are called "apples," white on the inside and "red" on the outside, putting aside the racial connotations, the imagery suggests that individuals and communities cannot change, and that being Indian is and always will be a static condition.

Indian people do change. We just may not change in patterns that are recognized or common to Western or American society. Indian people are willing to change and adapt to necessarily uphold their values, cultures and ways of life. The world is changing rapidly, and Indian people must make decisions about how to manage relations with local, state and federal government, while trying to gain economic self-sufficiency and maintain cultural and political autonomy. Changing world conditions require Indian people to meet the new conditions in order to continue as communities or distinct cultures. Since the world is fundamentally different from the past of say, 200 years ago, the ways of meeting the demands of contemporary and future life will also require change. Even more so, the new conditions often require new solutions, sometimes not contained in the traditions. New ways of approaching economic self-sufficiency or cultural expression are found useful. The changing world offers new choices. Native individuals and communities have more choices and ways of finding solutions to issues as they pertain to cultural survival.
Comment:  To reiterate the obvious: "The general public receives vast amounts of images from modern media, including movies and television."

There's only one problem in this otherwise fine editorial. When the author says:[F]or tribal groups who petition for federal recognition by way of the mixed blood community clause in the Indian Reorganization Act must show that the surviving mixed bloods continue to live in the style of Indians. These views do not allow that the world has changed considerably over the past 200 years, and that Indians today do not, and cannot, live like their ancestors. Americans expect authentic Indians to remain unchanging, although no one expects Americans to look and behave like pilgrims.If a tribe has none of its traditional culture left and has only a fraction of "Indian blood," in what sense are they Indians? The point of federal recognition is to restore a tribe to a semblance of its previous existence. It's not to create a facsimile of a tribe from people with no cultural or biological links to the tribe's past.

That's why the BIA imposes stringent rules on who gets to be federally recognized as a tribe. And why most "tribes" fail to get recognized. Without strong cultural or biological ties, they're no longer Indians.

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

The misrepresentation of history, traditional history and information at this site sickens me. Are you rewriting history?
You are Not Authentic Indians!!
I will share this with with others who are!!

Rob said...

I never said I was an Indian, authentic or otherwise. In fact, everyone knows I'm not an Indian--except you, apparently.

Which aspects of history do you think I've misrepresented in the 1,800-plus pages and 3,300-plus blog entries of this site? Could you be more specific?

If you're talking about this particular article, I didn't write it. I quoted it. Feel free to contact the editors at Indian Country Today if you disagree with what they said.

Yes, please share this site with everyone you know. Since it earns praise from Indians and non-Indians alike, I'm happy to get more exposure.

Anonymous said...

Redshellwin: Are there AMerican Indians in the BIA, making those decisions about cultural and biological ties? I hope so, it would be sad to see history again repeated by non-Natives once again deciding who is and isn't "Indian". It is an interesting article. It still bothers me that Native people continue to call themselves "full-blood" or "half-breed" etc.... and see no connection between this and the terms "buck", "squaw", or even "octaroon" or "mulatto". lol @ "not authentic indians" comment above.

russell said...

Writerfella here --
It is more the case that modern America wishes that the bison and 'authentic Indians' would just go away and stop bothering them. Or in the words of this blog, providing "clutter" to their otherwise continued and uncluttered pursuit of truth, justice, and the American way. Bison and Indians remind the 'dominant culture' that the United States of America devastated the forests, the wildlife, the Native peoples, and even the air and the water and the land itself in building their monotheistic democratic empire. The 'greatest nation on earth' and its modern citizens have a past they very much would like to sweep under the rug of history, along with the Native survivors and anything else that 'clutters' the road to their future...
All Best
Russ Bates
'writerfella'

Rob said...

Most of the BIA's employees are Indians. More to the point, the Assistant Secretary who heads the BIA is an Indian, and he or she makes the final decision on a tribe's recognition. So yes, there's substantial Native input on the issue.

http://www.americansc.org.uk/online/indians.htm

Today more than 95 percent of the bureau's twelve thousand employees are Indian.

Rob said...

Yes, I'm trying to reduce the "clutter" of authentic Indians by posting 5-7 blog entries on them every day. That's because the more I post, the less I think you'll learn about Indians. My goal is to miseducate people so they'll believe all the misinformation out there.

How stupid can you get?

This claim is almost as silly as Anonymous's original claim. In case you hadn't noticed, the vast majority of the items I post are from articles about Indians and quote Indians. If you think I'm "misrepresenting" Indians, you must think the media (including the Native media) is misquoting them. Or that it's quoting them accurately but the Indians being quoted are inauthentic.

So which is it? Recently I've quoted Winona LaDuke, Russell Means, Irene Bedard, and Robert Mirabal among dozens of others. Which of these well-known Natives have I somehow misrepresented?

russell said...

Writerfella here --
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Then drop the templates and practiced rote rhetoric and the attitude that, once you have written something, Rob, you do not have to rewrite or restate it any differingly. The echoes continually heard from you on this blog really are like Newspaper Rock because you think that your words as well are chiseled on stone, or at least scribbled on a great piebox in the sky. writerfella posts as much as he does because he is a writer fella and everything is new to him every day, including what he writes or rewrites that day...
All Best
Russ Bates
'writerfella'

Rob said...

I don't use "templates" on the 1,800-plus pages of my website. You know, the pages that complement the 3,300-plus postings in this blog? Have you ever read one of them, or are you just spouting off ignorantly, as usual?

I'm confident I've written more about Indians than you ever have or will. In fact, I've already explained how I've written and published more than you have. I've explained this point repeatedly.

If you're getting too old to remember what I said, that's your problem. Take a pill or something before you grow senile. Whatever you do, stop embarrassing yourself.

Rob said...

Re "everything is new to him every day": That's one way to express your child-like insistence that you don't need to prove your case because you know best. Like some kindergartner, you think the world revolves around you and everything you say is precious. Too bad no one else agrees.

You repeat your claims and I repeat mine. The difference is, I back my claims with facts and evidence. When you present the first shred of documentation to back yours, I'll consider changing my position.

Until then, I have the facts and evidence and you don't. All you have is your anecdotes and opinions. As you've said, everyone has an opinion, which means yours are basically worthless.

Rob said...

I guess you're in the "Rob doesn't write enough" phase of your hypocrisy at the moment. This contrasts with the "Rob writes too much" phase of your hypocrisy. You alternate between these two poles because you're apparently too dumb to realize you're contradicting yourself.

Let's see: When I post other people's reviews, you say I'm unoriginal. When I write my own reviews, you say I'm too negative. When I rave about something...I guess you're not smart enough to come up with a cogent response.

If you're writing anything intelligent about Indians every day, you sure aren't posting it here. Why don't you share your thoughts on all the Native-themed movies, TV shows, books, and comic books you've seen or read? You know, the way I do?

On the other hand, if you don't like what I'm posting, feel free to get lost. Stop your hypocritical whining and leave if this blog bothers you. As I've told you before, that's the only choice I'm offering.