Palermo: Native America is being defined by others
The story of contemporary American Indians is also being told by non-Indians. That is why tribes today are perceived not as culturally rich, sovereign nations, but as wealthy “groups” of Native American descendants formed why? Well, to operate casinos, of course.
“More than any other people, we have been defined by others,” Kevin Gover, director of the National Museum of the American Indian, told an audience at RES09, the economic conference recently held in Las Vegas. “Thus, the Americas were wilderness, awaiting the industrious hands and minds of Europeans to make it productive. Indians were just bands of nomads, wandering the woods and prairies, picking berries and hunting deer.
“In this narrative, civilization arrived with the Europeans,” said Gover, a Pawnee/Comanche. “This insult, this tragic lie, became the justification for the enslavement and murder of Indians, for the appropriation of their lands and resources, for the wanton destruction of their cultural materials.”
Gover is right, of course. Native America is not speaking for itself. It is allowing non-Indian media and policymakers to craft a false image of indigenous peoples.
Tribes and tribal associations are doing a miserable job educating the public about Native America and confronting false perceptions that result in damaging court rulings and harmful congressional action.
If Gover believes Native America needs to speak for itself, transcripts of his speeches must be sent to the tribal press and Web sites. Most important, his words need to be rewritten as opinion page articles and mailed to every newspaper in the country, particularly the non-Indian press.
If you ask me, Palermo--as an experienced journalist who knows more about media matters than most--is right. And anyone who disagrees with his message is wrong. On this point, I don't mind chiming in and advising Indians to communicate more.
"Confronting false perceptions" is what I'm doing here, of course. Are any Native writers or thinkers making the same points and doing a better job of it? Point me to them and I'll concede my efforts aren't necessary. I'll gladly retire to a well-deserved life of leisure.
Until then, I think I'll keep doing what I'm doing. While tribes concentrate on such issues as economic development and healthcare, I'll help out by confronting the false perceptions that hurt so much.
For more on the subject, see the The Harm of Native Stereotyping: Facts and Evidence and Stereotype of the Month contest.
Below: A savage who has no use for programs that provide jobs or medicine.