September 23, 2008

Western artist vs. Kiowa activist

Someone informed Thom Ross, the artist who created "Buffalo Bill and the Indians on the Beach," about the online criticism of his work. Ross responded via e-mail and someone posted that response also. Mark Anquoe, the Kiowa activist who protested Ross's work, then responded to Ross. This led to the following pseudo-exchanges:

Ross:there were many people i did not know (that gal gazelbe being one) who came up to me with attitude and disgust for what i had done and never tried to engage in a conversation: i was a white guy celebrating my white heros and so was guilty without a trial.Anquoe:To begin with, he mentions a number of times things that I did, but he obviously has no idea who I am, as he keeps referring to me as a woman.

First of all, I never approached Mr. Ross. The first day I was on the beach, before I had even *spoken* to anyone, he started verbally abusing me. I couldn't believe it! He had no idea who I was as I had never seen him or been there before! Maybe it was because I had an AIM patch on my jacket. Maybe it was because I have braids that he assumed I was there to make trouble. I have no idea. But it was pretty obvious to me that there was no point in talking to him.

Other people however, *did* try to talk to him. In fact, I can think of at least five Indians who tried to talk to him on separate occasions. Every single instance resulted in Mr. Ross becoming verbally abusive. He even tried to provoke Tony Gonzales into a physical altercation.
Ross:if what i did on ocean beach had truly been disrespectful of indians NO ONE would have come see itAnquoe:That is ridiculous. The exploitative and offensive use of our images is standard practice and completely accepted as the status quo. That is exactly why we have to do protests and education all the time. There is a reason that the Washington Redskins and the Cleveland Indians are always having to contend with Indian objections. This is no different.Ross:buffalo bill cody was the schindler of that holocaust. HE kept the indian culture alive.Anquoe:This is patently offensive. I'm sure the Jewish community would agree.

And for the record, it was Indians who kept Indian culture alive. Buffalo Bill became rich off of exploiting cartoonish, inaccurate caricatures of Indian culture.
Ross:the lakota of montana whose ancestors worked the "wild west" shows still honor the fact that it was their ancestors who performed.Anquoe:It's true that there are Indians who have no objection to the wild west shows. They certainly were not the descendants of any of the well-documented performers who were abused by these white promoters.

Regardless, it is a very racially sensitive subject. Mr. Ross knows this perfectly well. It should not be handled in a way that trivializes us and makes into a carnival attraction.
Comment:  Go to the posting to see all of Ross's and Anquoe's comments.

The "Lakota of Montana" are only a fraction of the total Sioux population, so their views don't tell us much.

I'm not sure the Wild West shows displayed any genuine aspects of Plains Indian cultures besides their superficial appearances. And I'm sure the shows didn't do much to keep the hundreds of Indian cultures beyond the Plains alive.

Indians owned

Ross goes into a long, gratuitous attack on Indian cultures, starting with:the earliest slave culture in north america was right here, between san francisco and the panhandle of alaska. the indians along the west coast of america had a slave culture long before columbus came.This is generally true, but it's ancient history. It ignores the fact that Indians treated slaves better than Euro-Americans did. More to the point, it's irrelevant to Ross's argument.

Ross is big on saying Indians were and are flawed just like everyone else. But how does that justify his Wild West show homage? He wasn't showing real, flawed Indians with all their warts. He was showing Indians as nothing but the familiar stereotypes--literally as two-dimensional caricatures of reality.

Go ahead and create art showing Indians, Americans, and Europeans as slaveowners, Ross. To be fair, you'll want to show that non-Indians not only owned slaves, but engaged in an inhuman slave trade of horrifying dimensions. I'd support that art (in theory) because it would be more honest than your "valentine" to cowboys 'n' Indians stereotypes.

Following Ross's "logic"

I'm having trouble following Ross's "logic." He seems to be saying that because Indians were flawed, it justifies any depiction of them, no matter how stereotypical. And because they were flawed, any Indian who protests Ross's stereotypical depictions is trying to be politically correct. I.e., to falsely deify Indian as perfect paragons of virtue.

Needless to say, this is nonsense. As far as I know, Anquoe didn't demand that Indians be portrayed as flawless. His point was that Buffalo Bill's Indians were caricatures like something out of a minstrel show. None of Ross's responses address this point. So answer, Ross: Did the Wild West shows (and your artwork of same) promote an authentic or stereotypical vision of Indians?

Below: "Some Indians on the West Coast owned slaves. Therefore, it's okay if we dress up as stereotypical Plains chiefs and braves."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Nice exchange....Mark. I am a girl who has always adored native culture. I am French Canadian,Scottish,German. Possibly some NA on father's side. I am going to get a DNA test done. I am a Native American advocate. I have a feeling it is leading to activist as well. I recently have been immersing myself with NA spirituality and looking for a NA mentor. I thought I'd share the following as well. I have recently had a Jehovah's Witness come to my home on Saturdays giving me literature and trying sway me in her direction. After this one visit, I began questioning her about times, dates, etc. relating to the bible. She proceeded to ask me if I think all religions are the "right" religion. I was kind but, I'd rather not get anymore "visits." I have not seen her in two weeks but when she comes back I am going to educate and enlighten her to the Native ways and spiritual path I am taking. Just thought I'd share how people are still pushing religion on others. Sorry to comment so long. I enjoy this blog as well and if you are out there Mark, maybe you could contact me ( I would be willing do help all I can here in central Texas with AIM!