June 30, 2008

"Comanche Heritage" in Comanche Moon

The "Comanche Heritage" featurette on the Comanche Moon DVD tells us what the producers did to make the mini-series authentic. Here's a summary:

  • The costume designs were an expression of Comanche culture, according to Bill Voelker, who narrates part of the featurette.

  • As noted before, Comanche Moon used real eagle feathers, not dyed turkey feathers. The Comanche tribe loaned them every day and took them back every night.

    (In explaining the importance of the feathers, actor Val Kilmer began his remarks with, "It might not sound like much...." Indeed.)

  • The Indians' hair had traditional Comanche scalplocks or third braids.

  • At least one character wore a traditional breastplate. But the featurette also noted that the Comanches didn't like a lot of ornamentation.

  • The actors painted their own horses with designs.

  • The English was translated into traditional Comanche.

  • And...that's about it.

    So the Indians in Comanche Moon looked and sounded like real Comanches. That's nice, but it's only the tip of the cultural iceberg. It isn't or shouldn't be a substitute for real culture.

    I believe Buffalo Hump (Wes Studi) goes on a "vision quest" to hatch his revenge plot. I don't know for sure, but I'm guessing that's not the usual purpose of a vision quest. Other than that, Comanche Moon shows zero evidence of the Comanches' cultural beliefs and practices. It's as if Jonathan Joss's statement on Comanches is true: the people were nothing but murderous savages.

    The reality

    Here are a few postings that explain what Comanche Moon may have missed and why:

    The Religion of the ComancheThe typical Comanche was a great individualist and it is very likely that the religious views and dependencies of the Comanche varied greatly from group to group and even within the same family group.

    The Nermenuh were also very secretive about their beliefs and believed that the efficacy of their "medicine" or powers derived from some natural force might well be eliminated or dimmed if discussed with or viewed by another. The Comanche did not have a coherent religion. They believed that many things in their surroundings had "powers" or "forces" that they might share in if they could just learn how to persuade the Sun, the Moon, the Buffalo or some other natural force to share a portion of their power. A totem or symbol of this power was then placed in their "Medicine pouch" around their neck and shared with nobody. But they did not believe that the sun was a god, nor the buffalo, nor the wolf. They were just creatures with power that they shared with certain human individuals when properly approached.
    ComancheComanche religion stressed visionary experiences, which an individual deliberately sought out in isolated situations of privation. Animal spirits were believed to favor particular individuals and to render aid to them; protective spirits were also believed to dwell in rocks and thunder.The Comanches as aboriginal skepticsMany anthropological accounts have portrayed the Comanches as skeptics with little interest in religion. This stereotype is due to aspects of Comanche religion which were overlooked in the early accounts. The Comanches do not conform to the typical big ritual pattern for Plains cultures, as they have retained Basin and Shoshonean cultural traits including an individualistic approach to religion. In addition, Comanches disapprove of public displays of spirituality.The Comanches as Aboriginal Skeptics

    More Comanche culture

    The summary above covers only the religious aspects of Comanche culture. Here are other aspects of Comanche culture that Comanche Moon omitted--presumably to make the Indians seem more savage.

    ComancheThe Comanches maintained an ambiguous relationship with the Europeans and later settlers attempting to colonize their territory. They were valued as trading partners, but they were also feared for their raids.

    At one point, Sam Houston, president of the newly created Republic of Texas, almost succeeded in reaching a peace treaty with the Comanches, but his efforts were thwarted when the Texas legislature refused to create an official boundary between Texas and the Comancheria.

    Comanche groups did not have a single acknowledged leader. Instead, a small number of generally recognized leaders acted as counsel and advisors to the group as a whole. These included the "peace chief," the members of the council, and the "war chief."

    Sometimes a man named his child, but mostly the father asked a medicine man (or another man of distinction) to do so. He did this in hope of his child living a long and productive life. During the public naming ceremony, the medicine man lit his pipe and offered smoke to the heavens, earth, and each of the four directions.

    The Comanche looked upon their children as their most precious gift. Children were rarely punished. Sometimes, though, an older sister or other relative was called upon to discipline a child, or the parents arranged for a boogey man to scare the child. Occasionally, old people donned sheets and frightened disobedient boys and girls. Children were also told about Big Cannibal Owl (Pia Mupitsi) who, they were told, lived in a cave on the south side of the Wichita Mountains and ate bad children at night.

    When he was ready to become a warrior, at about age fifteen or sixteen, a young man first "made his medicine" by going on a vision quest (a rite of passage). Following this quest, his father gave the young man a good horse to ride into battle and another mount for the trail. If he had proved himself as a warrior, a Give Away Dance might be held in his honor.

    Boys might boldly risk their lives as hunters and warriors, but, when it came to girls, boys were very bashful. A boy might visit a person gifted in love medicine, who was believed to be able to charm the young woman into accepting him.

    Old men who no longer went on the war path had a special tipi called the Smoke Lodge, where they gathered each day. A man typically joined when he became more interested in the past than the future.

    Like other Plains Indians, the Comanche were very hospitable people. They prepared meals whenever a visitor arrived in camp, which led to the belief that the Comanches ate at all hours of the day or night. Before calling a public event, the chief took a morsel of food, held it to the sky, and then buried it as a peace offering to the Great Spirit. Many families offered thanks as they sat down to eat their meals in their tipis.
    So the Comanches traded as well as raided. They had peace chiefs as well as war chiefs and negotiated treaties. They were hospitable to visitors and loved their children.

    You won't learn any of this from Comanche Moon. What you will learn is largely negative. As I wrote in Comanche Moon:  Rangers, Tramps, and Thieves:Other than speaking Comanche, these Indians show no evidence of culture. They have no religion, no beliefs, no ceremonies. They live to steal horses, capture women, and kill white men. Scull apparently describes them accurately when he calls them "those torturing fiends."

    Native golf tour

    Who knew there was a whole golf association and tour dedicated to Native golfers? Not me. But apparently there is.

    ABOUT FNGAThe goal of First Nations Golf Association (FNGA) is to introduce and promote the game of golf to Indians or Natives, especially youth, throughout the United States and Canada. FNGA is committed to making social and economic contributions to Indian and Native Communities by exemplifying the rewards, honor, and integrity of golf.Invitation to playDear Native Golfer,

    Competition! Challenge of a physical act or involvement to create a champion.

    The First Nations Golf Association (FNGA) is honored to hold the 2008 FNGA Native Professional Golf Tour. This prestigious tour represents the Native Nations from the United States and Canada with the honor of a warrior striving to become a champion. We encourage your participation in the Professional/Amateur Events of the Professional Tour.

    The Ha-Sho-Be Golf Management, Seminole Tribe of Florida and the Oneida Tribe of Wisconsin have taken leadership on hosting tournament events of the tour to promote the advancement of professional golf in Indian Country.

    Your attendance will be marquee for the tour events designed to showcase the talents of Native American and Native Canadian Golfers. Our events will offer large purses between twenty and thirty thousand dollars. On behalf of the FNGA Board of Directors we look forward to seeing you at all of the events schedule.
    Comment:  The FNGA logo is interesting but somewhat stereotypical. Any use of an arrowhead to refer to Indians is.

    P.S. Update your website, FNGA! It looks like you haven't updated it since early 2007.

    Senecas to run tour boats?

    Senecas Eyeing Maid of the Mist Takeover as Logical Next Step Here"What they've got down there is a license to print money," one Seneca Niagara official told the Reporter last week. "They've had that for nearly 40 years, nobody else has been allowed to bid on it, and even the amount of money they pay to operate is a deep dark secret."

    Even the name "Maid of the Mist," appropriated by Glynn's company for commercial gain, refers to an episode in the Seneca religious tradition that would be comparable to a story out of the Book of Genesis for Christians.

    Operating the tour boats would be a natural fit for the Senecas, who could use the trips as perks for Players' Club members and other high rollers while still generating revenue from paying customers.

    "One of the problems in the past is that anyone who might want to take over the operation would have to have a tremendous amount of startup cash just to buy new boats and other equipment," said one source familiar with the proposal. "Obviously, that would not be a problem for the Senecas."
    Comment:  For more on the Indian lore of Niagara Falls, see The Wonder of Wonderfalls.

    Stupid white-man arguments

    Diversity Inc.--“Why Whites Can’t ‘Get Over’ Color”Diversity Inc.’s Ask a White Guy Column has posted a letter that should feel all too familiar to any anti-racist activist.Some excerpts:* “[B]lacks that keep bringing up how their ancestors were slaves need to look a little more into history books. Blacks were not the only ones who were slaves, all races have had slaves, and even whites.”

    * “Nobody is forcing anyone to stay in America, you are free to leave whenever you please (and that is for every race), and, nobody took YOU personally from Africa or Asia or Spain or Italy or from anywhere else.”

    * “I love the fact that America is a big melting pot, full of color and different cultures.”

    * “Until we get over the past we will never fully get along.”

    * “Get over the color!”
    Comment:  Yes, these arguments sure do sound familiar to me. I hear them all the time from anti-Indian pundits and correspondents.

    For more on the subject, see Multiculturalism Defined.

    Knowledge of whale hunt denied

    Makah chairman refutes defendant's court memo, says tribe didn't know about Sept. 8 whaling beforehand"The Tribal Council did not know" about the hunt before it happened, said McCarty, who was serving on the council but was not tribal chairman at the time of the incident in the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

    "The whole tribe was not behind this," he said.

    "There was no official approval of this hunt.

    "We're not interested in rehashing the past. We're committed to moving forward."
    Comment:  For more on the subject, see The Makah Whale-Hunt Controversy.

    Good cartoon on race relations

    A Concise History Of Black-White Relations In The U.S.A.

    Comment:  Although this cartoon explicitly targets black-white relations, it applies to Indian-white relations also.

    For more on the subject, see Highlights of the US Report to the UN on Racism.

    Ishi roundup

    A roundup of links on Ishi, the "last of his tribe," with special attention to the differences between his real and his fictional life.

    June 29, 2008

    Indian kitsch collection

    An illustrated set of Indian labels, advertisements, knickknacks, and toys from the Authentic History Center:

    Modern Mass CultureAmerican Record Company Label (1920s)
    Fruit Crate Label: Mischief Washington Apples
    Fruit Crate Label: Yakima Chief Apples
    Fruit Crate Label: Yakima Chief Apples
    Fruit Crate Label: Pala Brave Oranges
    Fruit Crate Label: Redman Apples
    Fruit Crate Label: Redskin Grapes
    Fruit Crate Label: Indian Warrior Florida Citrus Fruit
    Fruit Crate Label: Squaw Peas
    Fruit Crate Label: Big Injun Cranberries
    Fruit Crate Label: Skookum Apples
    "Injun" brand Cigar Box
    Magic Lantern Glass Slide
    Mask
    Michigan Tuberculosis Association Poster
    OKEH Record Label
    Red Cloud Brand Cigar Label
    Redskin Brand Tobacco Spitoon
    Wigwam Brand Coffee Tin
    Red Indian Station Playing Card
    Coconut Head Indian Chief
    1962 Bell Telephone Magazine Ad
    Calumet Baking Powder Tin (1960s)
    Cherikee Red Soda (1960s)
    Corn Flakes Magazine Ad (1960s)
    Funny-Face Drink "Injun Orange" Refrigerator Magnet
    Lucky Penny
    "Me Heap Big Injun" Postcard
    Postcard: "Barely Able To Write"
    Postcard: "Heap Big Talk"
    Postcard: "Just Pausin' Fer a Little Refreshin'"
    Postcard: "Injun Heap Like Dog"
    Postcard: Turrible Wild Injun
    Burlap Sack of Nodak "Red Skin" Potatoes
    Red Indian Motor Oil Can
    Wigwam Brand Motor Oil Can
    Salt & Pepper Shakers
    Chalkware Wall Hanging with Love Poem
    Indian Chief Popcorn Box
    Big Chief Writing Tablet
    Book, "The Iron Redskin" (Indian Motorcycles)
    Indian Motorcycle Ornament
    Indian with Peace Pipe Stone Doorstop
    Iron Redskin Indian Motorcycle Belt Buckle (1993)
    Hand-painted Glass Charm
    Indian Princess Popping Corn Tin
    "Red Injun" Firecrackers
    Remember! Forgetting! Firecrackers
    Big Chief Sugar (2007)
    Adirondack Mountains Drum (c.1980s)
    Coffee Cup From New Mexico
    Postcard: Indian Fire Dancer
    1975 Indian Crafts Catalogue
    Book: Indians Wild and Cruel
    "Injun Chief" Tin Toy
    Little Scout Cook Stove
    Indian Drummer Toy
    "Indian Joe" Battery Operated Toy
    Warpath Willie Indian Toy
    Tin Wind-up Drummer Toy
    "Nutty Mad Indian" Toy
    Tom Tom Indian
    Toy "Cowboys & Indians"
    Levi's "Western Roundup" Advertisement
    "Injun Country" Cartoon Jigsaw Puzzle
    Redskin Finger Paint
    Big Chief Game Board
    Big Chief Indian Sign Language Game
    Nabisco Ad for free "Indian Wars Medal"
    Party Snappers
    Smurf Indian Chief (1981)
    "Indian Red" Crayola Crayons
    Indian Boy Figures by Hallmark
    The Little Injun That Could Movie Poster
    "Eastern Friendly Indians" Model
    Mighty Beanz Chief Bean & Hiawatha Bean
    Smurf Indian Set (2007)
    Comment:  The variety of stereotypical images is almost stunning. And yet they have a common theme: Indians as (noble) savages from the distant past. Most of them featuring Plains chiefs, braves, or maidens.

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

    Eric Schweig, mask carver

    'Watch out for the cars'

    Carving, art yields expressionEric Schweig, Inuk, isn't shy. He's not afraid to share his opinion. His ability to not block that expression is shown with his skill of carving.

    Carving was a gift he acquired at an early age. It started as a love that was nurtured into adulthood.

    Schweig studied traditional Pacific Coast carvings before refining this scope toward the traditional masks of his ancestors, the Inuit. He hand-carves the masks from the red cedar of Vancouver, British Columbia.
    The meaning of the article's obscure title:"[T]he education system ... is more interested in getting kids in line, pay attention to the rules, watching the stoplights instead of the cars. If I had kids ... I'd want them to watch out for the cars, not the stoplights, because stoplights fail, but your eyes don't."

    In addition to being an artist, he's an actor, musician, and a volunteer representative and motivational speaker for street outreach. He appears throughout North America speaking to indigenous, American Indian and First Nations youth about suicide prevention, alcohol abuse and adoption, among other things.
    Comment:  I imagine it's tough for Native actors--everyone except Adam Beach, that is--to make a living from acting. I wonder if Eric Schweig considers himself more of a carver who acts than an actor who carves.

    For more on the subject, see The Best Indian Movies.

    Update on Hiawatha Diary

    An update on Hiawatha Diary, a Native-themed movie that's been in the works a few years now:

    2008 UpdateAs most know, we lost two valued members of this project since our last update. Floyd Redcrow Westerman passed away in December and then Harold Ironshield, the man who introduced me to the in-depth history of the asylum, passed away in February. We have been working on a special page for Harold, to pay tribute to all his hard work regarding the asylum and hope to have it up soon.

    One of the other hold ups is entirely my fault, I got married to Still Spring Films' Art Director--tall guy, Cheyenne, some of you might know him. All that wedding stuff tends to get in the way of everything else whether you want it to or not. I apologize for being remiss.

    I wish I could say that we have a good lead on funding but as of this date but we do not. Since January we've been contacted by no less than ten different individuals from all over the world wishing to invest but every single one of them has strings that I, as the author of the current script, refuse to attach. I won't sell out history--nor will I play matchmaker to Indian obsessed Europeans who seem to think they can "get themselves an Indian wife" by investing in said production. It would be grossly irresponsible for any of one of the Still Springs team to accept such offers. Of course this means it's taking far longer than expected to make this movie but the reality of the importance of this production's history far outweighs the wait.
    Comment:  For more on the subject, see The Best Indian Movies.

    Makah okayed whale hunt?

    Court memos suggest on eve of sentencing that Makah Tribal Council OK'd whale kill last yearThe Makah Tribal Council knew about and approved an illegal whale hunt Sept. 8, says one of the hunters in documents filed in federal court.

    Theron Parker, 45, provided U.S. District Court in Tacoma with statements to that effect as he sought leniency in the sentence he will receive on Monday.
    An example of what he meant:"Theron asked Chairman Johnson, 'What if I went out and got a whale?' The chairman's response was 'Go ahead, get one.'

    "Theron asked if he would have the Makah Tribal Council's support.

    "Ben [Johnson] said they would support the whale hunt if Theron decided to go out for a whale."
    Comment:  Wow. If true, this news would be a stunning turn of events. After all their protests of shock and outrage, the Makah Tribal Council knew about and even authorized the illegal whale hunt?

    Talk about hypocrisy. Not to mention a public-relations nightmare. This could sink the tribe's chances of ever getting approval for another whale hunt.

    For more on the subject, see The Makah Whale-Hunting Controversy.

    Comanches ruled an empire

    How the Comanche won the west

    Raymond Seitz reviews Comanche Empire by Pekka HamalainenBy the start of the 19th century, the Comanche tribe of Native Americans had come to dominate all the southern plains of the present-day United States. Comanche power stretched from the western frontier of French-controlled Louisiana to the foothills of the Rocky Mountains and from the waters of the Arkansas River to the northern provinces of Spanish-controlled Mexico. The region today includes most of Texas and Oklahoma, and all of New Mexico and the trans-Rio Grande down to Durango.

    So vast was the territory and so complete the sway that Pekka Hamalainen, in this scholarly and eye-opening book, asserts that Comanche dominance deserves to be called an empire. Not an empire in the classic, Western meaning of the word, with a central metropolis and demarcated frontiers, but an empire in the sense of hegemony.
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    The tribe developed a military, economic and cultural cohesion that rivalled the French and Spanish presence in North America and overwhelmed the many other Indian tribes in the region. Only in the third quarter of the century, when the post-Civil War United States began its real push into the plains, did Comanche pre-eminence fall apart. But for more than 100 years, the Comanche were the 800-pound gorilla of the American West.
    Comment:  For more on Comanche history and culture, see Comanche Moon:  Rangers, Tramps, and Thieves.

    More Indian bits in Family Guy

    In "He's Too Sexy for His Fat" (Season 2, episode 17), a throwaway scene shows a group of parka-clad Eskimos saying good-bye to a youth on an ice floe. They have harpoons and there are igloos in the background. The young Eskimo says he's headed to Hollywood, where he'll get plastic surgery and become a star. His name is "Jennifer Love Hewitt." (In other words, Hewitt the actress was once a male Eskimo.)

    In "Blind Ambition" (Season 4, episode 3), a throwaway scene has Cleveland auctioning a Comanche headdress at Sotheby's. It's apparently an Indian auction because a pottery bowl, a canoe, and a totem pole are on display.

    In "Stewie Loves Lois" (Season 5, episode 1), a throwaway scene presents an Indian version of What's Happening? Two black guys in loincloths stand in front of teepees, talk slowly, and say "How."

    The first and third bits are stereotypical. They reinforce existing stereotypes and don't do anything to counteract them. The second bit is neutral. The mixing of artifacts from different cultures makes sense since it's an auction.

    For more on the subject, see Indians in Family Guy.

    Older than America wins

    A note from Morten on MySpace:Georgina Lightning and her film "Older than America" won best feature film, at the Talking Stick film festival in Santa Fe, New Mexico.Comment:  For more on the subject, see The Best Indian Movies.

    June 28, 2008

    Canadian apology = divide and conquer

    Stephen Harper government and native chiefs collude in neo-colonial sham apologyIn the last several years, there has been a growing pan-aboriginal consciousness in Canada, united against the elite-driven agenda in opposition to aboriginal peoples. In order to apparently weaken an evolving grassroots political consciousness, that the majority of Canadians, have empathized with, the elites came-up with a brilliant strategy, which was cut from their on-going "game plan" against aboriginal peoples. That strategy, consistent with the first arrivals of European empires in Canada, has been to "divide, rule, and conquer." In order to accomplish this, the Stephen Harper government relied on getting strategic support from the very neo-colonial impostor aboriginal governments, which were set-up under the Indian Act. This is the same Indian Act, that the South African apartheid system was based upon.

    In the view of many aboriginal people, the apparent operational intent of the so-called apology, is to create a political divide between the aboriginal people who continue to face worsening exploitation and oppression, and others who have been financially persuaded to support respective co-opted native chiefs, who derive their power from the Eurocentrcized Indian Act.

    30 Days on Navajo rez

    FX '30 Days' show to feature Navajo NationRenowned Navajo rodeo champions, Karl and Deborah Jackson-Dennison and family hosted documentary screenwriter and director, Morgan Spurlock at their ranch near Tohatchi, N.M. on the Navajo Nation last summer for an upcoming TV episode.

    The Dennison family will be featured in "Life on an Indian Reservation," a 30 Days series on the FX Network on July 8 at 10 p.m.

    Morgan Spurlock caught a glimpse of Navajo life by living in a Navajo hogan without running water and experiences firsthand the difficulty of finding suitable employment on the reservation.

    Unlike most reality shows, 30 Days generates awareness of real life issues and situations. Undertaking unique situations is format spun from Spurlock's award-winning documentary "Super Size Me" (Critics Award winner and 2005 Academy Award nomination).
    Comment:  For more on the subject, see Native Documentaries and News.

    How the West was wined

    Another historical overview (with lots of pix) from the Authentic History Center:

    The Ignoble Drunkard:  Indians & AlcoholThe building of the transcontinental railroad, the destruction of the buffalo, and the resulting Plains Indian Wars devastated the Plains Indian culture. Confined to reservations and forbidden to hunt, they became wards of the federal government, reliant on sporadically delivered welfare for their very survival. This new reality plunged the American Plains Indian into a state of cultural shock and poverty ripe for the spread of alcoholism. Subsequent Government policy, whether it be attempts to create reservations, disband reservations, assimilate Indians, or to obliterate Indian culture created an astonishing range of Native American social pathologies associated with alcohol that continue to the present day. Euro-Americans played the multidimensional role of creating this environment, supplying the alcohol, and then perpetuating stereotypes of Indians by identifying alcoholism as a sign of some inherent weakness that justified the centuries of treatment they received and the righteousness of their subjugation.Comment:  For more on the subject, see Drunken Indians.

    Roanoke play must go on

    'Lost Colony' returns to North Carolina's Outer Banks"The Lost Colony" production, which has been performed at the Waterside since 1937, bills itself as the longest-running symphonic outdoor drama in the U. S. Producer Carl V. Curnutte said the show was bound to return despite last year's blaze, which caused more than US$2.7 million in damage. The cause of the fire remains undetermined.

    Long and his New York-based staff spent the month of May at the production's costume shop, but many others also helped recreate what was lost. The state of North Carolina and the National Park Service each donated $500,000 and various groups also raised money at small fundraisers, with titles such as "Dimes for Drama" and "Cookies for Colonists." HBO donated fabric and other items from its "John Adams" miniseries; more items came from the set of a movie about a jazz musician, Buddy Bolden, that was filmed in Wilmington.
    Comment:  For more on the subject, see Native Plays and Other Stage Shows.

    Radmilla Cody visits Russia

    Former Miss Navajo helps break down Native American stereotypes[One] surprise was the stereotype vision many Russians hold of Native people.

    "It was so interesting addressing individuals who feed into the stereotypes," Cody said. "They seemed to think that all of us wear beads and say 'hau.' I explained that there are many, many tribes--we don't look the same, we don't speak the same languages--we are just one tribe out of hundreds.

    "The whole purpose was to talk about tolerance. I was giving three presentations every day. I was exhausted, but it was such an honor to share with them the Navajo culture and songs, and my experiences as Miss Navajo Nation," Cody continued. "The women were fascinated that we are a matriarchal people."

    Best CD, songwriter, new artist

    May I Suggest ... 'No Lies,' by Tracy BoneIt's no wonder Tracy Bone was named Best New Artist of 2007 at the Canadian Aboriginal Music Awards. It's also no surprise that she won Best New Artist, Best Country CD, Single of the Year, Best Songwriter, and Best Album Cover Design at the Aboriginal Peoples Choice Music Awards.

    Bone is the latest young female American Indian artist to bring her music to a mainstream audience through talent and personality. The Manitoba native and mother of five has had a whirlwind year with the release of her debut album, "No Lies."

    Family Guy roundup

    Family Guy is competing with The Simpsons and King of the Hill as the animated series most likely to feature Indians. Here's a roundup of links on the show.

    For more on the subject, see TV Shows Featuring Indians.

    June 27, 2008

    Why we love Custer and Indians

    The Brady Braves blog summarizes a key passage in Michael Elliot's new book Custerology: The Enduring Legacy of the Indian Wars and George Armstrong Custer:

    Custerology:  far more than the study of "Custer"Elliot later writes what we see as one of the strongest past-present-future connecting passages in Custerology: “The secret to the historical power of the Battle of the Little Bighorn is that the defeat of the Seventh Cavalry means that twentieth-century and now twenty-first-century whites can commemorate the violent work of Western expansion without having to feel entirely guilty about the fate of the American Indians whom the United States attempted to conquer. Custer’s loss so sharply resists the tides of history, as commonly understood, that it has seemed to one generation after another as though it were the outcome of some unknowable, preternatural force. The spectacle of defeat explains why generations of Custerologists have pored over the arcane details of this one conflict in the Indian Wars when so many others remain relatively neglected; why Custer continues to exert power as a romantic hero even when the larger public sympathizes with his foes; and how a historic event can be transformed into an object whose aesthetic appeal rivals that or artistic masterpieces” (187).
    Comment:  This might explain the Cornut family's fixation on Custer, which I documented in Site Blames Indian "Mutilations" for Custer's Campaigns.

    It also might explain the German fascination with Indians in general and Karl May's Winnetou in particular. And the American love of mascots and other stereotypical Indians. Note that all these people focus on the Plains Indians and the associated stereotypes: chiefs, braves, teepees, etc.

    Elliot gives us a plausible explanation for this. It's one I've expressed many times also. Namely, that in celebrating Plains Indians, we also celebrate our victories over them. They were savage and fierce, wild and free, which we consider good qualities in warfare. And yet we defeated them, which proves we're even more mighty militarily.

    This also explains why we build monuments to half-naked savages and not to civilized Indians such as Sequoyah, Charles Eastman, or Vine Deloria Jr. Honoring Indians for their modern achievements doesn't bolster our fragile egos. It doesn't reinforce the message that ultimately we're no. 1.

    So we focus on their "primitive" achievements because they're irrelevant to us. Who cares if Indians were brave and noble? So were the ancient Greeks and Romans, but we don't make decisions based on them.

    What's past is past, and the Indians eventually lost. We "honor" them like we honor American Idol losers, who also don't matter. Then we break their treaties and take their land.

    If we acknowledge that Indians had viable cultures and civilizations, it would call into doubt our dubious behavior. We destroyed these cultures and civilizations because we thought ours were better. That's still our operating principle: that Western (i.e., white Christian) civilization is the pinnacle of creation.

    Our entire society is built on the assumption that our values are incontrovertible. Because we think we can do no wrong, we invade other countries, heat up the climate, fill the ocean with garbage, consume vast quantities of resources, etc. Once you start questioning these values, the whole house of cards threatens to fall down.

    For more on the subject, see America's Cultural Mindset.

    Preview of Retired

    Filmmakers, actors, animators team with local students for production of fantasy filmAbout "AH-HOS-TEEND (Retired)"

    • Directors and scriptwriters: Chris Kientz and Shonie De La Rosa

    • Funded by: National Geographic and the Smithsonian Institute

    • Produced by: Dona Ana Community College

    • Length: 26 minutes, possible feature-length film later

    • Stars: Ernie Tsosie and Gerald Vandever

    The plot:

    Where do the spirits go when they are no longer remembered? And who shepherds them back to their native land? "Retired" is a short film that employs the conceit of a world where gods still live and die among men to explore questions of individual belief and cultural identity as well as the mystery and meaning of faith. The script is written by award-winning Cherokee animator Chris Kientz and Navajo filmmaker Shonie De La Rosa.

    Two men are revealed to be much more than they initially seem. First there is Nameless, a young Native American man obviously lost and searching to understand who he is, as well as remember his name and his purpose in living. This quest to find out who he is begins at the Glittering World Casino, where he is strangely compelled to play the slots. He hits the jackpot, but fails to attain the revelation he is seeking. He's thrown out of the casino and taken to the Running Indian truck stop nearby. There he meets Pete, who appears to be little more than an old man as lost as Nameless. But Pete is hardly lost, and more importantly, he knows the true nature of what Nameless is, and what he is really searching for. By the end of the film both Nameless and Pete find what they are looking for in the strangest of places.
    Comment:  On the film's official website, you can find a script, script breakdown, and story reel.

    For more on the subject, see The Best Indian Movies.

    Below:  The logo of Retired's fictional casino. It feature what looks like an Apache gan, a holy spirit.

    I'm not convinced any Indian casino would put a sacred dancer on its logo. Casinos want logos that say good luck and prosperity, not faith and spirituality.

    Jonathan Joss in Comanche Moon

    The second disc of the Comanche Moon DVD includes special features. One of them is a featurette called "Comanche Heritage."

    Jonathan Joss, the Comanche actor who played Kicking Wolf, speaks first in the featurette. He describes what it is to be Comanche:Comanche people—you hear a lot about Comanches. And usually what you hear about them is, is it’s some feel what you would say is a negative type of approach to a fierce warrior—a fierce guerrilla war fighter. You know, it’s not a stereotype that’s untrue. You know, we care about our lands, we care about our people, we cared about our issues. And sometimes when you have such a love and a demanding sense to express—I mean, when we would do something, whether it be for good or for bad, what we left behind—whether it be a mutilated body or it be a burnt town building—it was our expression, our palette. I like to think of Comanche people as being almost an artist.Translating this from Comanche-speak into English, you get something like this:McMurtry and Ossana were right to portray Comanches as bloodthirsty savages with no redeeming qualities. They killed, raped, and plundered with no regard for others. In fact, they were so creative at evildoing that they made it into an art form. Like the Marquis de Sade, the Zodiac Killer, or Hannibal Lecter, they painted with blood and sculpted with body parts.Note:  Clearly Joss was speaking extemporaneously, which accounts for the disjointed nature of his quote. No criticism here, since coherence can be hard when you speak spontaneously.

    But the filmmaker could've edited this passage into something more passable. Or the filmmaker could've asked Joss to repeat himself once he knew what he wanted to say.

    For more on the subject, see TV Shows Featuring Indians.

    P.S. Joss is known for supplying the voice of John Redcorn on King of the Hill, of course.

    Uxmal:  Site of Lost Grandeur

    Twenty years ago, my friend Mark Schalit and I took a vacation in Mexico's Yucatan peninsula. We traveled from Mérida to Cancún via a tour bus. Naturally we saw lots of Maya ruins.

    We had a few little adventures. The airline lost one of Mark's suitcases--poor Mar-Mar. The tour forced us to stay overnight in a fleabag hotel in Chichén Itzá, and we almost didn't get a seat on the outbound bus. But as compensation, we saw the spring equinox light up one of the Great Pyramid's rattlesnake staircases.

    In Cancún we split up. I wanted to explore the land and its history while he wanted to hit the beaches by day and the discotheques by night. On our last day, our departure time changed and I had to find him in an hour. Luckily, I knew him well enough that it wasn't a challenge. He was lounging on the patio of one of the big hotels, and I guessed which one on my first try.

    I was still employed at Northrop then, doing programming for the corporate office. So I wouldn't say I was a full-fledged writer. But I wrote various things after hours at work while I waited for the traffic to die down.

    After the trip I penned a series of travel articles on our trip. I tried to peddle them to travel magazines, but I didn't have much hope. With no track record in the highly competitive industry, a novice like me had little chance to break in.

    I did publish part of one article, but the others have remained in my files. Since they cover Mesoamerican Indian topics, they're relevant to this blog. Therefore, here's the first of a four-part series. Enjoy!

    Uxmal:  Site of Lost Grandeur

    Navajo Country Music Fest

    Country music festival comes to ShiprockThe two-day Country Music Fest draws visitors from across the Navajo Nation and the Four Corners area and showcases talent from American Indian musicians. The festival began four years ago as a dance, but unexpected crowds of country music fans forced organizers to think bigger, Begay said.

    Organizers have enticed musicians to perform who are famed among many of the New Mexico and Arizona tribes. The line-up includes performances from Delhell Band, Stillreserve, Fenders II, Pueblo Country, Stillwater Band, Re-Coil and Stone Country.

    "Country music is big on the reservation," Begay said. "Many of the Native American radio stations are geared toward country music, so everyone is brought up listening to it. For some, it's all they listen to."

    Ojibwe wins writing contest

    Ojibwe writer wins awardSimone Greenleaf’s future as a writer is linked to her past.

    The 18-year-old from northern Minnesota’s Cass Lake received an award this week in the nation’s capital for her essay about her grandmother’s life and Greenleaf’s desire to carry on the Ojibwe culture through writing.

    Greenleaf, a member of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, was one of five first-place winners in the contest for young American Indians.

    2nd Concert for Reconciliation

    Brulé makes return trip to help fundraising efforts at Prehistoric Indian VillageThe Mitchell Prehistoric Indian Village Saturday will present a concert headlined by Brulé and the American Indian Rock Opera, performers of contemporary American Indian music, for the second straight year.

    Brulé will be playing its “Concert for Reconciliation,” which was first performed at Mount Rushmore last year and which the band hopes to take global.

    June 26, 2008

    Court bolsters gun nuts

    Justices Rule for Individual Gun RightsThe Supreme Court declared for the first time on Thursday that the Constitution protects an individual’s right to have a gun, not just the right of the states to maintain militias.

    Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for the majority in the landmark 5-to-4 decision, said the Constitution does not allow “the absolute prohibition of handguns held and used for self-defense in the home.” In so declaring, the majority found that a gun-control law in the nation’s capital went too far in making it nearly impossible to own a handgun.

    But the court held that the individual right to possess a gun “for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home” is not unlimited. “It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose,” Justice Scalia wrote.
    Comment:  Gun love is fundamental to our national culture. It's tied to a host of other things we value: conquest, domination, authority, violence. We're all about imposing our will on others, and guns are an integral part of that.

    Indians were the first victims of our unhealthy lust for guns. If we had had fewer guns, more slaves would've escaped and more Indians would've lived. Guns are why Indian haters such as Andrew Jackson could enforce their will despite the opposition to them.

    Since other cultures don't share our fixation, it's clearly not universal. Americans see the issue one way and foreigners see it another. Therefore, it's a good reason to take a multicultural perspective--to view the issue as other people do.

    Anyway, what can we conclude from this ruling?

  • Conservatives are willing to overturn two centuries of precedents whenever it suits them. In other words, they're shameless judicial activists. And they're flaming hypocrites because they complain when liberals do what they do constantly.

  • In the current term, the five conservative justices won several 5-4 decisions over the four liberal justices. Although the liberals occasionally take conservative positions, the reverse isn't true. I think Robertson has voted with the liberals only once or twice, and Alito never has.

    The claim that these two would be fair and impartial is a pathetic joke. They're almost pure ideologues who rarely if ever vote against their partisan beliefs. The Democratic senators who opposed them were right to do so.

  • This vote demonstrates the vital importance of being able to nominate judges. That's a major issue in any presidential campaign. When Obama or the next Democratic president nominates more centrist, less fanatical judges to the Supreme Court, decisions such as this one will go the other way.

  • Justice Scalia didn't say anything stupid this time, but he's still a doofus. His recent vote against the right of habeas corpus is a prime example. He supposedly votes based on the Founding Fathers' "original intent"...but in this case he thought a weak substitute for habeas corpus would be okay.

    Where in the Founders' voluminous opinions did they say habeas corpus was an option, not an absolute? Nowhere, that's where. The Founders would have kicked Scalia's ass for ignoring their clear intent.

  • Fortunately, this gun ruling doesn't affect my central argument: that the 2nd Amendment permits gun control. The Court prohibited only the most extreme form of regulation: banning guns completely. Other forms of gun regulation are still legal.

  • Return of Return of Navajo Boy

    'Navajo Boy' returns

    Uranium undercurrent surfaces in ‘The Return of Navajo Boy’ epilogueIn 1997 a white man identifying himself as Bill Kennedy from Chicago showed up in Monument Valley with a silent film called “Navajo Boy,” which his late father produced in the 1950s. Seeking to understand his father’s work on the Navajo Reservation, Kennedy returned the film to the people in it.

    When Cly family matriarch, Elsie Mae Cly Begay, watched the film, she was amused to see herself as a young girl and delighted in identifying other family members: her late mother Happy Cly and infant brother, John Wayne Cly, who was adopted by white missionaries in the 1950s and never heard from again.

    With the return of “Navajo Boy,” Elsie seized the opportunity to tell her family’s story. Amid a variety of still photos and moving images from the ’40s and ’50s, the film’s producers allow the family to tell their story in their own voices, shedding light on the Native side of picture making and uranium mining in Monument Valley.

    When John Wayne Cly, who was married and living in Zuni, learned about “The Return of Navajo Boy” from a story in the Gallup Independent, he contacted the Clys in hopes that they were his family. “The Return of Navajo Boy” documents John Wayne Cly’s unforgettable return to his blood brothers and sisters in an emotional reunion in Monument Valley.

    Narrated by Elsie’s son Lorenzo Begay, “The Return of Navajo Boy” was the official Sundance Film Festival 2000 selection.
    Comment:  For more on the subject, see Native Documentaries and News.

    Killing Custer was patriotic

    The patriots who killed Custer

    Indians fought against the U.S., but they also show great loyalty to the nation.Consider this: The Lakota Sioux offered some of the most fierce resistance to the United States in the 1860s and 1870s, but in the decades that followed, Lakota artists regularly incorporated the design of the U.S. flag into their beadwork, painting and weaving. What those stars and stripes meant to the Lakota artists could vary widely: In their hands, the U.S. flag could be a gesture of their new allegiance, a plea for justice from the U.S., a symbol of the nation for which their young men were now fighting or simply a decorative motif they knew to be popular with collectors. It might have been all of these things at the same time.

    The other insight is that genuine patriotism can still take place amid divided loyalties. Americans are capable of more nuanced thinking about what it means to be an American than we usually give ourselves credit for. Non-Indians who attend celebrations like the Little Bighorn anniversary are often surprised by the exhibitions of U.S. patriotism. But for more than a century, American Indians on the Plains have understood that their love of country can contain both their struggles to achieve tribal autonomy and their deeply felt attachments to the United States.

    That is the kind of patriotism that was born at the Little Bighorn battlefield, and the kind that American Indian soldiers now take with them to Afghanistan and Iraq. It is the kind of patriotism that is too big to fit on a lapel pin.
    Comment:  For many Americans, patriotism means blind loyalty. For Native Americans, it means something else: understanding and embracing the country's strengths and weaknesses.

    "Return to Your Roots," Natives

    The Value of Our Ancestral DietThose who study modern diseases and diet have concluded that the majority--probably as much as 80 percent or more--of our chronic illnesses in westernized societies are specifically due to lifestyle behaviors, the most significant of which is the way we eat.

    A major part of the revival of intense interest in the ancestral diet has been generated by a “Return to Your Roots” movement in Native American populations.

    Prior to 1936, there were no known cases of diabetes mellitus in American Indians. Today, one out of every five Native Americans has diabetes, compared to one out of every 20 in the total non-Indian adult population in this country.

    Experts believe that Native Americans have developed diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, kidney disease, alcoholism and other chronic medical disorders at high rates because of what they eat. Beginning in the 1930s, government commodity programs and other factors led to very poor eating habits by Native Americans. Bad diseases, like diabetes and hypertension, quickly followed, almost like an epidemic shadow.

    Experts also believe that these diseases are not inevitable in Native Americans, if only they could go back to their ancestral diet.

    This would mean eating leaner game meats, green vegetables and nuts instead of sugary breakfasts, convenience food products, fast foods, soft drinks and alcohol.

    The Battle for Whiteclay

    Whiteclay documentary debuts WednesdayThe controversy over the sale of alcohol in Whiteclay to Oglala Sioux tribal members is the subject of a new documentary film, “The Battle for Whiteclay.”

    It is a five-year labor of love by producer/director Mark Vasina of Lincoln, who returned to Nebraska a few years ago to pursue documentary filmmaking after working for 10 years on Wall Street.

    It follows Native activists, including Frank LaMere of Winnebago, from the streets of Whiteclay to the halls of the Nebraska State Capitol in their campaign to end alcohol sales in Whiteclay.

    Whiteclay’s beer stores sell an estimated 11,000 cans of beer a day, mostly to Oglala Sioux tribal members living two miles north of the town. The sale and possession of alcohol is banned on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.
    Comment:  For more on the subject, see Native Documentaries and News.

    Celebrating "Spirited Daughters"

    Gallery shows art by Native AmericansStroll through Trickster Gallery in Schaumburg, and you'll come across paintings by established artists like Le'Ana Asher and Leonard Peltier. But when you step into the room devoted to "Spirited Daughters," the mood changes.

    Artworks of all shapes and sizes adorn the walls, from schoolgirl Vlora Xhaferi's notebook cover sketch of native women under the stars to Adrian Silas' lush, beaded painting of a bear holding a fish in its mouth.

    "Spirited Daughters," the first-annual celebration of art by young American Indian women and girls, is the brainchild of Chicago resident Jasmine Alfonso, the 2008 Miss Indian Chicago.

    "The idea was to get young native girls engaged in the arts," said Stephanie Dean, a 31-year-old photographer and poet who served on the selection committee. "We wanted them to express themselves because a lot of these girls might not have done so otherwise."

    Sturges in Connecticut Hall of Fame

    Life Time Chief Ralph Sturges is Inducted into CT Hall of FameChief Ralph W. Sturges, also known by his Native name G’tinemong (He Who Helps Thee), was posthumously honored by an induction into the CT Hall of Fame. A ceremony sponsored by The CT General Assembly took place in Hartford on June 18, 2008. The CT Hall of Fame salutes current or former residents of the state who distinguish themselves in their profession and perform outstanding service to the state and to the nation.

    Chief Sturges, a native of New London, was a leader in the movement to gain federal recognition for the Mohegan Tribe. He was also a leader in the Tribe’s establishment of Mohegan Sun, which now stands as one of the most successful Native American owned and operated casino-resorts in the world. ... Previous members of the CT Hall of Fame include Mark Twain, Katherine Hepburn and Igor Sikorsky.

    June 25, 2008

    Cynthia Ann Parker in Comanche Moon

    The Comanche Moon mini-series portrayed the fate of Cynthia Ann Parker, a white woman captured by the Comanche. More correctly, it misportrayed her fate. Here's the story.

    In Sources for Comanche Moon, I wrote:Comanche Moon showed her briefly but shortchanged her situation. She wailed when the Rangers removed her, but they said she'd get over it. Viewers were left with that as their final impression.Someone named IndianThenNowForever responded:If you watched the miniseries, the scene with Cynthia Ann Parker DOES NOT even imply "she'll get over it." It says, straightaway, that she WON'T get over it...and the DVD version, which I just watched, elaborates on that.He or another commenter (Anonymous) then quoted the dialog from the scene.

    Since I was going by memory when I wrote my comment, I couldn't verify my claims. But now I've checked the Comanche Moon DVD. The characters didn't literally say Parker would get over it, which is why I didn't put the "get over it" claim in quotes. But I'd say the show implied it.

    More to the point, the creators definitely shortchanged Parker's situation. It was arguably a whitewash of her case. The effect was to bolster Comanche Moon's underlying message: that the Americans were civilized and the Indians weren't.

    The reality

    Let's review the Parker story. First, the relevant historical facts:

    Cynthia Ann ParkerOn May 19, 1836, Fort Parker was attacked by several hundred Caddo, Comanche and Kiowa. They killed several of its inhabitants. During the raid the Comanches seized five captives, including Cynthia Ann. Within 6 years, all the captives had been returned to their white families, except Cynthia Ann who remained with the Indians for almost twenty-five years, forgot white ways, and became thoroughly Comanche.

    Although she was beaten and abused at first, she was soon integrated into the tribe. Cynthia was given to a Tenowish Comanche couple who cared for her, and who raised her like their own daughter. She became Comanche in every sense; was trained in Native ways and was totally devoted to her adopted parents. The memories of her white life quickly faded, and every attempt to ransom her was refused by the tribal council at her request.

    It is said that in the mid-1840s her brother, John Parker, who had been captured with her, asked her to return to their white family, but she refused, explaining that she loved her husband and children too much to leave them. She is also said to have rejected Indian trader Victor Rose's invitation to accompany him back to white settlements a few years later, though the story of the invitation may be apocryphal.

    A newspaper account of April 29, 1846, describes an encounter of Col. Leonard G. Williams's trading party with Cynthia Ann, who was camped with Comanches on the Canadian River. Despite Williams's ransom offers, tribal elders refused to release her. Later, federal officials P. M. Butler and M. G. Lewis encountered Cynthia Ann with the Yamparika Comanches on the Washita River; by then she was a full-fledged member of the tribe and married to a Comanche warrior. She never voluntarily returned to white society. Indian agent Robert S. Neighbors learned, probably in 1848, that she was among the Tenawa Comanches. He was told by other Comanches that only force would induce her captors to release her.
    Cynthia Ann ParkerRecapture by Texas Rangers at Pease River

    In December 1860, Cynthia Ann and her daughter were among a Native American party captured at the Battle of Pease River by Texas Rangers led by "Sul" Ross.

    When Ross arrived back at the campground, he discovered that the woman his men had captured had blue eyes.

    Though some of the Rangers urged Ross to set her free to return to the Comanches, he considered it best to try to return her to her white family.

    Death

    Cynthia Ann never adapted to her new life among the whites, and attempted to escape on several occasions. Her brother, Silas Jr., was appointed her guardian in 1862, and took her to his home in Van Zandt County. When Silas was mustered into the Confederate Army, Cynthia Ann went to live with her sister, Orlena. According to some accounts, the Parker family was negotiating to return her to west Texas and her adopted people when the American Civil War broke out. The chief cause of Cynthia Ann's unhappiness was that she missed her sons and never knew what had happened to them. In 1863, her daughter, Prairie Flower, caught influenza and died from pneumonia.

    In her grief, Cynthia Ann stopped eating. She became sick and died in 1870.
    The fiction

    Next, Comanche Moon's phony version of the same story and the problems with it:

  • There's no mention that the white men knew where Parker was and had negotiated for her release repeatedly. No mention that these white men were sensible enough not to try removing her by force. They understood, if only implicitly, that they couldn't compel her to prefer white society.

  • There's no mention that the Rangers captured Parker after they killed or scattered her people. That they didn't even know they had captured her at first. That a single Ranger, "Sul" Ross, arbitrarily decided to return her to white society

  • In the TV version, the Rangers identify her as Parker first, then decide to remove her. They act as if she's been missing and lost for 25 years, which is patently untrue (see above). They ignore the conventional wisdom that kidnapping her won't succeed--that the only way to secure her return is with her approval.

    In reality, "Sul" Ross had an excuse for ignoring the conventional wisdom: his Rangers had killed most of Parker's people. There were no Comanches nearby to return her to. In the fictional version, the Rangers have no such excuse. They take her despite the Comanches surrounding and shielding her.

    The implication? She'll get over it, eventually.

  • The key lines from Comanche Moon are these:

    MAJOR FEATHERSTONAUGH:  If you’re certain she’s a white woman, we have to take her back, Mr. Goodnight.

    GUS MCCRAE:  We know that, Major.

    The words put in Gus's mouth are absolutely false. The previous negotiators for Parker's release knew she was a white woman but didn't "take her back" against her will. They did not believe they had to take her back. Unlike these fictional Rangers, they recognized the complexity of the situation.

  • The implication? She'll get over it, eventually.

  • Gus McCrea and Woodrow Call weigh in against removing Parker. But they're talking to themselves more than they're objecting to the others. They don't raise their voices or precipitate an argument. They don't "urge" the Rangers to free her.

    Regardless of what they say, they offer no resistance to the decision. All they do is comment on a done deal. In other words, they acquiesce in Parker's removal. They implicitly--and in Gus's case, explicitly--agree she "has" to go back.

  • The implication? She'll get over it, eventually.

  • On the ride back to town, Parker doesn't scream or wail, thrash about, or try to escape. Other than one shot of her looking confused as she glances around the town, she shows no reaction to her captivity. It seems as though she's already adjusting to her new life.

  • The implication? She'll get over it, eventually.

  • The young men with the Rangers recount Parker's "rescue" to Woodrow's son Newt. They're almost gleeful, as if they've done a good deed. Judging by their attitude, they believe their actions are right and the warnings are wrong.

  • The implication? She'll get over it, eventually.

  • There's no further mention of Parker's return to "civilization." Nothing about her trying to escape repeatedly. Nothing about the Parker family planning to return her to the Comanches. Nothing about her dying in captivity like a caged animal.

  • The implication? She got over it, eventually.

    Conclusion

    Comanche Moon presents a sanitized, pro-American version of Parker's return. In reality, it was an immoral and inhumane mistake that ended tragically. On TV, it was a justified act of duty with no negative consequences (despite a few unheeded warnings). The Rangers "had" to return her because, well, civilization is better than savagery.

    For more on the subject, see The Best Indian Movies.

    Mythologizing the American West

    The Authentic History Center presents a good summary (with images) of the myth-making process that occurred after the Indian Wars.

    The End of "The Indian Threat":  1881-1913

    IntroductionIn the July 1891 edition of Century Magazine, an article appeared written by Major George W. Baird, in which he recounts his glory days as an Indian fighter under the command of General Nelson A. Miles. Illustrated with engravings by Frederic Remington, the article covers Mile's career from its beginning at Fort Dodge in 1874 to its conclusion six months earlier at Wounded Knee, where armed troops opened fire on a group of Big Foot's band of Lakota people killing 200-250 men, women and children who were illegally performing the Ghost Dance. Already by July 1891, Baird recognized that Wounded Knee represented the climax of what he called "the battle of civilization," and that the Indian threat in the West was now over. With White hegemony secured, Baird was now in a position to offer a more magnanimous approach to what remained of the "Indian problem":

    There are but two goals for the Indians--civilization or annihilation...I feel for the Indians, not only friendly feeling but admiration for many of their qualities....The American people, those who really wish and hope to save the Indians from extinction and degradation, must be prepared to use great patience and summon all their wisdom.
    The signal that a new day had come in the history of the West elicited two public responses. There was a new wave of reform, most evident in the creation of Indian boarding schools designed to civilize the Native through forced assimilation. And there was an acceleration of efforts to re-characterize this "battle of civilization" in the public imagination; to cast the Indian as an "other," distinct from Euro-American civilization and deserving of displacement to make the wilderness safe for the civilized farmer. Ever since 1881, when Sitting Bull surrendered at Fort Buford, every generation has recreated this historic conflict with the Plains Indians dramatically; in photographs, Wild West Shows, Victorian advertising, dime novels, paintings, early cinema, pulps, literature, comic books, movies, radio, and on television. That the Western genre of entertainment still thrives reflects the dominant culture's need to dramatize its history and to believe in the righteousness of that history's outcome. This section emphasizes the critical time period from 1881-1913, when the mythic American West became firmly entrenched in the popular imagination.
    The Wild West ShowWhen Sitting Bull agreed to join Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show in 1885, he probably didn't realize he was about to make a major contribution to the stereotyping of the American Indian and the romanticizing of the American West in the popular imagination. Sitting Bull himself was a major attraction, as thousands of spectators turned out to catch a real-life glimpse of the infamous "Killer of Custer." A photograph of Sitting Bull with Buffalo Bill taken by William Cross in 1885 was one of the most popular souvenirs of the show. Invented in 1883 by Buffalo Bill, the Wild West Show became an enormous entertainment attraction well into the early Twentieth Century, particularly in the Eastern American cities. At the same time the real frontier was coming to a close, Eastern cities were filling up with native-born Americans and European immigrants who were wholly unfamiliar with the unique American frontier experience. Buffalo Bill and others gave it to them in the form of vaudeville-style theatrics that forever mythologized the West with their presentation of that rapidly vanishing way of life. Buffalo Bill even took his show to Europe in 1886, to wild acclaim.Victorian Trade Card AdvertisingWith the closing of the American frontier in the late Nineteenth Century and the success of the Wild West Show, Euro-Americans quickly came to see the Native American, especially the Plains Indian, in mythological terms, and as a people of the past. Once no longer a threat, the Noble Savage made a comeback. Though he never completely replaced the Ignoble Savage, the Noble Savage was appropriated to represent that vanishing culture, whose demise was inevitable, if tragic, given the march of White hegemony under the banner of manifest destiny. The demise of the Indian coincided with the rise of a new form of advertising; the Victorian trade card. These postcard-sized lithographed images were mass produced in the latter quarter of the Nineteenth Century and became the most important form of advertising of the era. They were widely distributed in stores and as premiums packaged with some products, and were collected by many Americans because of their often lush, colorful graphics. The manufacturers of trade cards catered to America's carnivalesque fascination with imagery, and they often mined the racial attitudes of the time to promote a sense of Euro-American middle class consumer solidarity. Blacks, Asians, Irish, and Indians were all marginalized in Victorian trade advertising in order to foster this sense of White American identity.Comment:  One thing missing from this analysis is the larger context. Perhaps because the owner doesn't have any artifacts or images from earlier times, he doesn't discuss earlier efforts at myth-making.

    In fact, Euro-Americans have mythologized Indians ever since their first encounter. The Victorian Age may have been when this process culminated, but it began in the Age of Exploration. Every colonizer following Columbus had to deal with the "Indian problem." Namely, how to justify removing the human obstacles that were inconveniently in the way.

    Remember the Boston Tea Party? The romantic odes to Pocahontas and Hiawatha? The paintings, statues, and coins with Indians representing "Liberty"? These were all part of the myth-making process.

    I tried to explain how this happened in A Brief History of Native Stereotyping and why it happened in The Political Uses of Stereotyping. For more on the subject, check these postings out.

    From porn star to Libertarian

    Former tough-guy actor sets sights on US SenateSonny Landham carved out a tough-guy reputation in a series of big-screen roles, from roughing up Sylvester Stallone to getting tossed out a window by Carl Weathers. He pulls no punches in his newest role: Libertarian challenger to a man known for political toughness, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

    Now 67 and living in northeastern Kentucky, the man who played Billy Bear in "48 Hours" and was killed by an alien in "Predator" admits his action-movie days are behind him. "I think I'm having wild action when I take two aspirin with my hot chocolate at night," he quipped.

    The actor known for his powerful physique, booming voice and his American Indian heritage says he's serious about his longshot bid, because too many politicians are indifferent to voters' problems.
    His questionable past:To qualify for the November ballot, Landham must collect at least 5,000 valid petition signatures by Aug. 12. State Libertarian Party Chairman Ken Moellman said the petition drive began recently and he believes Landham will make it.

    But the bid includes some campaign baggage that seems scripted for Hollywood, instead of socially conservative Kentucky. Early in his acting career in the 1970s, Landham bared it all in adult films.

    Asked whether that could hurt him politically, Landham replied, "What can I do? That was a part of my life you cannot call back."
    Biography for Sonny LandhamAn actor with a powerful physique, booming voice and Native American looks, Sonny Landham first broke into mainstream film with a bit part as a police officer in Walter Hill's gang film The Warriors (1979), then other minor roles in Southern Comfort (1981) & Poltergeist (1982), before Walter Hill cast him in his first decent role as James Remar's gun happy, criminal partner in the high voltage hit 48 Hrs. (1982). Landham continued to turn up in high testosterone films of the mid 1980s including the action sci-fi film Predator (1987), alongside Sylvester Stallone in Lock Up (1989), and being hurled out a window by Carl Weathers in Action Jackson (1988). His career on screen wound down during the 1990s, but he still managed to crop up in several roles taking advantage of his strong physical presence.

    He is a descendant of the Cherokee and Seminole Nations.
    Comment:  There must be a good joke in this posting somewhere. Something like, "What's the difference between a porn star and a Libertarian? One prostitutes himself for money, and...the other prostitutes himself for money."

    For more on the subject, see The Best Indian Movies.

    Shoshone woman modeled Sacagawea

    The Sacagawea DollarAs soon as she learned of the Mint’s invitation, Goodacre set to work. She started researching Sacagawea, although she already knew a great deal about American Indians and their societies. For many years, she had had a home in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The city is a center for American Indian art and is near many thriving communities of the Pueblo peoples.

    Goodacre decided she needed a model for her portrait of Sacagawea. She met with three young Indian women—one from the Navajo tribe and two from the Comanche—but none seemed exactly right. Goodacre then asked for help from the Institute of American Indian Art (IAIA) in Santa Fe. The IAIA is the only Indian-operated school of art in the United States.

    On the IAIA’s staff was a Cree Indian woman named Bonnie Teton. She showed Goodacre photographs of her four daughters. Immediately, the sculptor was struck by twenty-one-year-old Randy’L, whose father is half Shoshone and half Bannock Indian. She seemed a perfect model for Sacagawea. Randy’L Teton had long black hair and large dark eyes just as Sacagawea did according to Shoshone legend.

    As luck would have it, Teton lived nearby in the city of Albuquerque, where she was a student at the University of New Mexico. She agreed to spend a Saturday working with Goodacre at her Santa Fe studio. Teton had never been a model before and didn’t quite what to expect. She found that the job meant a fun, but exhausting day of having herself photographed from every angle. In some photos, Goodacre used a baby doll as a prop. She had Teton hold the doll on her back in a blanket just as Sacagawea had probably held her own baby.
    Comment:  For more on the subject, see New Design for Sacagawea Dollar.

    My TRICKSTER article

    'Trickster'--a Native anthology of tales in graphic novel form

    Check it out.

    As you may recall, I posted a longer version of this article at TRICKSTER Q&A.

    For more on the subject, see Comic Books Featuring Indians.

    My political foresight

    In the mid-1980s I wrote a script for a comic-book maxi-series. It ended with the first black man being elected US president. It was set in the year 2008.

    June 24, 2008

    Educating Russ about the Anasazi

    Kiowa sci-fi writer Russell Bates has claimed the "Anasazi" aren't related to today's Pueblo people. To confirm or deny this claim, I sent the following inquiry to archaeologist Paul Reed:Paul,

    Hello. I've been debating with someone who claims the "Anazasi" (Ancestral Puebloans) aren't related to today's Pueblo people. I thought that connection was pretty well established as fact. Do you have any thoughts on the matter? Can you point me to the latest research on the subject--on the Web or in books--so I can check it out?

    Thanks for your help,

    Rob Schmidt
    Publisher
    PEACE PARTY
    http://www.bluecorncomics.com
    Reed replied as follows:Rob,

    The Anasazi or ancient Puebloans were most certainly the ancestors of the Modern Pueblo people. The lines of descent, in general terms, are beyond debate in the field of American archaeology. Almost any Pueblo archaeology reference that discusses the linkage between past and present groups will cover this topic. You might look at the discussion in my book: The Puebloan Society of Chaco Canyon, 2004, published by Greenwood Press.

    Now, the specific ancestries of individual Puebloan groups and pueblos (towns) are very complicated. We cannot say, with certainty, that the people from Chaco Canyon, for example, went on to become the builders of one or two or three specific pueblo towns on the Rio Grande or among the Western Pueblo. Chaco seems to have been a gathering point for multiple members of various Pueblo ethnic and biosocial groups.

    Tracing the ancestry of various modern Pueblo towns is a current issue of interest for many Southwestern archaeologists. I think we'll see some breakthroughs in the not-to-distant future.

    best,
    Paul Reed

    Paul F. Reed
    Chaco Scholar--Preservation Archaeologist
    Center for Desert Archaeology
    Salmon Ruins Museum
    P.O. Box 125
    Bloomfield, NM 87413
    505-632-0657
    505-632-1707 (fax)
    preed@cdarc.org
    Alas, Russell Bates hasn't provided a shred of documentation for his cockeyed theories. In fact, he hasn't even stated his theories with anything resembling rigor or clarity.

    In contrast, Paul Reed has documented his position in a book published by a scholarly press. Reed confirms what I've read in dozens of books and articles: that the so-called Anasazi are the ancestors of the Pueblo people.

    You can decide for yourself whom you believe:

    1) An archaeologist who has written a book on the subject and who makes his living as an Anasazi expert; or

    2) An amateur who has nothing but daydreams to support his claims and who makes his living writing fantasies.

    It's a tough call--not--but I'll go with the expert over the amateur every time. Poor Russ loses another debate--badly. He doesn't seem to have a clue about the Anasazi's actual history.

    For more on the subject, see Anasazi = Ancestral Puebloans?

    Educating "Original Pechanga" about news

    Recently, the people at the Original Pechanga blog claimed the PECHANGA.net website censors bad news about the Pechanga tribe. They claimed this even though the website and tribe are unaffiliated.

    Since I work at PECHANGA.net, that means they were claiming *I* censored the news. I don't mind if they defame the Pechanga tribe, which they do frequently without justification. I do mind if they defame my work and me.

    Since their claims were false, I challenged them to send me any legitimate news story that we hadn't already posted. The blog's owner sent me a link Friday, June 20. It was an Inside SoCal item about a crime allegedly committed by Pechanga employee Kathy Zhou.

    Here's what happened. As I wrote to the blog's owner (who hides behind anonymity):I posted this brief notice:

    http://www.insidesocal.com/crime/2008/06/drugs-guns-fraud-murder-state.html

    And the much longer article in the Press-Enterprise:

    http://www.pe.com/localnews/inland/stories/PE_News_Local_N_pechanga21.5117b17.html

    on PECHANGA.net at about 3:40 am Saturday morning (June 21). The P-E story was the top story in Indian Gaming and Latest News (the home page) for about 24 hours. Because of the timing, the story remained on the site until about 1 am Monday morning (June 23).

    There were no attempts to censor this bad news about Pechanga. No phone calls or e-mails from Victor Rocha, Mark Macarro, or anyone else asking me to remove these items.

    Let's recap:  I said I'd post any legitimate news item you sent me. You sent me the Inside SoCal item and I posted it.

    Therefore, we're one for one in posting anti-Pechanga stories. And you and your readers are zero for one with your accusations that PECHANGA.net is biased, censors the news, takes orders from the tribe, etc.

    Oh, well. Better luck next time, eh?

    You also touted the superiority of NDN News as a news source. Checking it Monday morning, I see the most recent item posted is from June 16, a week ago. In that time, PECHANGA.net posted more than 500 stories on Native subjects, including the two negative stories about the Pechanga tribe.

    As of 8:30 am PST, neither Indian Country Today nor Indianz.com had posted an anti-Pechanga story, although that may change. In contrast, PECHANGA.net had the stories online for almost two days. These facts demonstrate exactly what I told you: that PECHANGA.net is the most comprehensive news source for Native issues, including news about the Pechanga tribe.

    Any questions?

    Rob Schmidt
    Comment:  As of Tuesday morning, Indian Country Today, Indianz.com, and NDN News still hadn't posted anything about the Zhou case. Not only is PECHANGA.net the most comprehensive news source, it's the only news source for this issue. Far from censoring the news, we're the only ones reporting it.

    For more on the subject, see Leading Native News Sites.

    Comanche film-score controversy

    Did a White Supremacist Intimidate the Oklahoma Historical Society on Comanche Film?Last year the Oklahoma Historical Society decided to commission a musical score for Daughter of Dawn, a 1920 silent film. The actors are almost all Comanche or Kiowa. Such a film obviously is of great interest to Comanche people. Many of the actors were grandparents or great-grandparents of many Comanche living today.

    Brent Michael Davids, a Mohican classical composer with eighteen years of film scoring experience and over two dozen film scores to his credit, was the early favorite to score the film. A number of prominent Comanches, including educators Juanita Pahdopony and Leslie Whitefeather, recommended him. Robert Blackburn, the president of the OHS, praised Davids’s work on the film repeatedly and other employees of the OHS also at first believed Davids would score the film.

    Enter white supremacist David Yeagley.
    Blackburn chose Yeagley over Davids:Blackburn would claim in emails that he hired Yeagley “solely because he was Comanche” and that “Comanche and Kiowa tribal representatives” demanded he hire Yeagley. Yet neither Blackburn nor Yeagley have ever publicly named any American Indians who supposedly recommended Yeagley, and the Comanche leadership were never consulted, and ignored when they offered their opinion. Blackburn then went one step further and even threatened a lawsuit if this article were published or the subject written about.

    The reason for that threat of a lawsuit may be that, ironically, it was libel coming from Yeagley himself, or perhaps a Yeagley supporter, that caused Blackburn to drop the most likely, experienced, and highly recommended candidate, Davids, in favor of Yeagley. Blackburn has now entirely changed his story, and claims that Davids was dropped because he had no experience scoring films. Yet Davids has extensive experience, over two dozen film scores and eighteen years of experience, while Yeagley is an amateur who had absolutely no experience in film scoring. Blackburn had previously highly praised Davids’ proposal and partial scoring of the film as “a great job” and “highly professional,” indicating he had not only seen it and listened to it, but given it long and serious consideration.

    Sheyahshe interviews Alvitre

    Michael Sheyahshe (Caddo), author of the upcoming Native Americans in Comics, interviews comic-book artist/illustrator Weshoyot Alvitre (Tongva/Gaelic/Scotish):

    IPI: Indigenous Peeps in the Industry--01MS: What are some comics with Native American characters in them that stand out to you?

    WA: I have to say I really enjoyed David Mack's ECHO character that he created. I think it had a great deal to do with how he created a solid character with emotions and reactions to situation and the fact she was Native was secondary. It wasn't forced down your throat in an insincere way. He did research what he did and I feel he made a very genuine effort to do justice to her character. I borrowed Comanche Moon from a friend recently but haven't had time to read it yet...I'd really be interested if someone did a book based on mythos and creation stories and somehow modernized it to make something new, that's not been introduced to the market yet.

    MS: What is your opinion about Indigenous characters in comics? Do you feel we [are] portrayed properly?

    WA: I feel like there are not a lot of Native characters or creators I am familiar with, in dealing with Native people in comics. But with anything that is associated with Native people, I think there's still that stereotype in a lot of the work that does come out, and I think it's partially to blame because history books and the American history curriculum treats Native people as either a mythical creature that is extinct...like unicorns or the Tasmanian tiger...or dives right into the auto response people now seem to have in regards to the casino bands of Native people, and the resentment that seems to accompany that.
    Comment:  For more on the subject, see Comic Books Featuring Indians.

    Another sexy Indian calendar

    Baker Twins break stereotypes with native American women’s calendarCocreators Shannon and Shauna Baker, better known as the The Baker Twins, put it together as a way of celebrating the beauty and talent (hence BT Girls) of First Nations women across Canada and Washington State.

    The calendar is a personal reflection of the twins’ own history and background as aboriginal women who have built successful modelling and acting careers. According to a media release, the girls were quoted as wanting to put an end to the westernized view of First Nations people.

    “Many people do not know that many First Nations people are successful doctors, lawyers, teachers, actors, welders, nurses, singers, models, etc.” Shannon said. “In the media, there is almost no portrayal of First Nations people living in the present day. The world needs to stop stereotyping First Nations people and start showing this through the media, and that is what we are doing with this calendar.”
    Comment: I'm going to go out on a limb and guess the calendar features more Native actors, singers, and models than it does doctors, lawyers, teachers, welders, and nurses.

    I'm glad the Baker twins are busting the 500-year-old stereotype of Native women as objects of beauty, romance, and lust. But I'm a little unclear on how a calendar portraying Native women as objects of beauty, romance, and lust will counteract this stereotype.

    For a debate over a similar product, see The Rez Dog Calendar: Role Models or Sex Objects?

    First Chamber of Commerce on the rez

    First Native American Reservation Chamber of CommerceThe Business Community of San Carlos Apache Reservation has formally established the first Native American Reservation Based Chamber of Commerce in the United States.

    San Carlos business leaders met Monday, June 16, to discuss issues facing trade and commerce on the San Carlos Apache Reservation.

    With gasoline prices at record highs, many reservation residents can not afford to travel long distances for needed goods and services; nor can some afford to commute to jobs off the reservation.

    This fact creates great opportunity for certain businesses to open and flourish in the San Carlos area.

    Tohono O’odham film workshop

    UA-Led Workshop to Teach Filmmaking to American Indian YouthTohono O’odham youth are going to be taught how films are produced and have the chance to make their own as part of a new workshop a University of Arizona institute is launching on the reservation.

    The UA’s Jack and Vivian Hanson Arizona Film Institute is holding its six-day Native Youth Filmmaking Workshop on the Tohono O’odham Nation next month, teaching about 14 students between the ages of 14 and 19.
    Comment:  For more on the subject, see The Best Indian Movies.

    June 23, 2008

    Sexy Alliquippa?

    Stereotypes in AAA's magazineJust as I was about to discard the May/June 2008 issue of Going Places: The Magazine for Today’s Traveler, a publication of AAA, a stereotypical image caught my eye, part of a pitch for Going Places’ interactive website, "Making Tracks for Kids." Looking further, I read this: "Meet Allaquippa, an Iroquois maiden named after the famous queen! Tell a tall tale, build a family tree, play a game and learn about Native American life and the history of Pittsburgh." See Meet Alliquippa.

    If you make tracks to the May/June 2008 issue of Making Tracks, an interactive website of games and activities for kids,” to “Meet Alliquippa, an Iroquois maiden,” you will not find anything new. Instead, you will encounter the usual stereotypes about American Indians.

    The Alliquippa cartoon image, like mascots and other caricatures, masks the actual history and contemporary status of Native people. This particular fictional “maiden” sports black hair hanging in two pig tails, wears feathers (the main one, green with red and white accents), and is decked out in a short top and slit skirt with generic Indian designs. Posed in a stereotypical stance, Aliquippa stands with her arms folded under a fringed wrap against a backdrop recognizable as a Plains star quilt design.
    (Excerpted from Debbie Reese's American Indians in Children's Literature, 6/20/08.)

    Comment:  The only problem is, the cartoon figure isn't that bad. Here are some comments I posted to Debbie Reese's blog:

    Interesting, but Molin's description of the cartoon Alliquippa isn't quite accurate. She's wearing what appears to be a full-length dress, not a "short top and slit skirt." The slit is a minor indentation at her ankle.

    A belt cinches her dress at the waist. Its coloring may have fooled Molin into thinking we're seeing the girl's bare belly. But the belt's faint markings prove that isn't the case.

    A shawl draped over one shoulder further hides the girl's upper body. It also obscures her arms, so we can't be sure they're folded. She could have her left hand on her right shoulder and her right arm at her side.

    All in all, this isn't a "sexy maiden" outfit, as Molin seems to imply. It's a modest, conservative dress--especially for someone who's supposed to be a modern Seneca girl. These days, I imagine most Seneca girls dress more flamboyantly, in t-shirts or tank tops and shorts or jeans.

    Molin's other points are more valid.

    I wonder if the writer avoided the word "Confederacy" because he or she considered it "too big." The piece seems to be written for grade-schoolers who might not understand it.

    You can read about the real Queen Alliquippa in Wikipedia.