October 03, 2008

If Only I Were an Indian

A 1995 Canadian documentary about Europeans who want to return to a simpler time--when they could dance and whoop and run around naked like Indians:

If Only I Were an IndianA group of Czechs and Slovaks, disenchanted with both communism and its aftermath, gathers in a field to build and live in teepees, create and smoke peace pipes--to get in touch with the North American aboriginal way of life and live it. When three aboriginal elders from Manitoba go to visit them, a film crew documents the trip and thus If Only I Were an Indian is born.

At the start of the film (which kicks off its commercial distribution with a launch at the Winnipeg Art Gallery November 10th), the sight of 150 pale, pasty Eastern Europeans--clad only in thongs, whooping and dancing around in a pastoral valley--is amusing to say the least. But director John Paskievich's sensitive handling of the situation turns it from a joke to a deeply touching tribute to aboriginal culture.
And:Paskievich gives some historical perspective to their situation: well known throughout Europe are the novels of Karl Mays, which portray a cowboy hero who is helped by aboriginal peoples. And even more popular are the works of late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century naturalist Ernest Thompson Seton (many of whose stories were set in Manitoba's Carberry Hills, where he once lived). Seton predicted ecological disaster if Westerners did not adopt a harmonic acceptance of nature, and he even encouraged children to attend camps teaching aboriginal ways of life. One of the Czech "Indians" delivers a touching speech:

As a child, I didn't want to be an astronaut . . . but neither did I want to be a world record breaking potato sorter . . . we had no role models except from the Indians of those stories.
Comment:  This movie tribute may be "touching," but the Czech/Slovak version of Indian culture is stereotypical.

First, it copies only the Plains cultures, although hundreds of Indian cultures were equally spiritual. It's clear the Czechs and Slovaks don't want to be Indians, they want to be "leathers and feathers" Indians. They want to act out every phony bit they've read in a book or seen in a movie. (Their "whooping and dancing" only confirms this point.)

Second, the bit about Indians going around nearly naked, wearing only thongs, rings false. That may have happened in the humid Southeast, the Caribbean region, or the Amazon Basin...but on the northern plains? Don't think so.

Wanna be an Indian

As people have said before, why don't these wannabes emulate the Visigoths or whoever from their own past? Why don't they pick up a book other than a Karl Mays Western? Is some sort of book burning going on in the former Czechoslovakia that I don't know about?

Pick up a James Bond or Star Trek DVD if you're having trouble finding a non-Mays book. Heck, I'll send you some PEACE PARTY comics if you promise to emulate today's Pueblo Indians. You know, the ones who live in houses or condos, drive to work in cars, but still respect and honor nature.

But I'm glad to see how this writer characterized the subject of Mays's novels: "a cowboy hero who is helped by aboriginal peoples." I had a long debate with someone who claimed the books were about the Western hero's Indian sidekick. Wrong.

Meet the wannabes

Back in 2000, I debated members of the Orthodox Wannabe League. They were Russians who also felt a kinship with their one-dimensional notion of bucolic Plains Indians. If you want to see how these people stereotype Indians--how they ignore the depth and breadth of Native cultures--peruse the debates.

Sheesh. Give me a break, you Euro-wannabe crybabies. This is one case where the overused phrase "Get a life" applies.

If you want a role model, feel free to emulate me. I can appreciate the positive aspects of Native cultures without wanting to "go Native." I'm close enough to Native values in my high-tech, climate-controlled home.

Below:  "I'm a naked flower child...an Indian!"

1 comment:

Laurel said...

The mixture of admiration for fake Indians and contempt for real ones says a lot about the wannabe mindset, doesn't it?