December 11, 2008

"Sociological Images:  Seeing Is Believing"

Contexts magazine has posted some images and analyses of Native stereotypes. They're geared toward teachers who may want to discuss stereotype issues with their students.

Images of Native Americans  [funny names and romantic images]The things associated with American Indians–wildlife (particularly wolves), nature, and the warrior tradition–tend to romanticize their connection to the natural environment and even portray them as part of nature themselves, able to communicate with the other “wild things.”

It’s a weird double bind: on the one hand, presumably American Indians are more “noble” than other groups–surely they wouldn’t have driven wolves, bald eagles, and bison to the verge of extinction, given their close connection to nature. But at the same time, they are depicted as relics of the past, brave fighters from the glory days.

Some Native American Sports Mascots

This page is useful fordiscourses surrounding American Indian mascots, particularly the idea that they honor or respect American Indians, and the selective use of certain American Indian voices to invalidate critiques of Indian mascots. Who gets to be Indian for the purposes of speaking about whether or not Indians resent the mascots? Why do non-Indians feel a special attachment to, and often identify with, these images? Does it really matter whether or not most American Indians personally oppose the mascots–is that the issue here?

Appropriation of American Indian IdentitiesThe actor, Iron Eyes Cody, was not actually Native American, he was Italian American. You can read more about him at

In case you didn’t know, the famous “Chief Seattle” speech about the need to honor the earth and care for the environment was written by a white guy, also in the early 1970s.

These could be interesting for discussions of environmentalism and American Indians. Why do environmental messages somehow have more authority if they supposedly come from an Indian? Would the “Chief Seattle” speech be less meaningful if we knew a white guy wrote it? Why?

The Neutral and the Marked:  A Primer for Your Kids  [toys]Notice how American Indian tribal difference is erased with the phrase “the traditional American tribe.” Diane pointed out that the set actually combines teepees and totem poles which were traditions of tribes in the plains and on the west coast respectively.

Comment:  For some people, these Contexts pages may be a good place to start on these topics. You can find more detailed information on my website and elsewhere.

For more on the subject, see my Stereotype of the Month contest.

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