March 31, 2009

Rob shouldn't criticize "redskins"?!

In Wassegijig Doesn't Respect "Redskins," reader Kalisetsi took me to task (again) for criticizing a Native:I often wonder why someone apparently so concerned that Native peoples be treated with proper respect would continually spend so much time writing about issues of Native identity, authenticity, and what we choose to call ourselves.Because they're key issues, obviously. And because they're inextricably entangled with the other issues I address. It would be impossible to write clearly on many Native subjects if I didn't address these issues.
In this case, my issue is not the magazine title "Redskin," but the propriety of you as a non-Native putting down Natives who choose for their own reasons to stand behind that name and use it however they want.Well, my issue is the magazine title "Redskin." Why don't you tell us where you stand on that? If you think it's a good idea, then we'll discuss it. If you don't think it's a good idea, then what's the problem with my agreeing with you?
Clearly, many well-known Natives have associated themselves with Redskin magazineAppearing in the magazine doesn't necessarily mean endorsing the title. As I said before, someone may feel that the good of promoting their art or cause outweighs the bad of appearing in a magazine named "Redskin."
are you really ready to say they are all ignorant?No, and I haven't said that in the past. What little I've said about the people appearing in the magazine includes this:I know all about Irene Bedard and Nathaniel Arcand, since I report on them frequently. Are they "traitors" for appearing in the magazine? "Traitors" isn't the word I'd use, but it's a legitimate question. Should they (and you) tacitly endorse the "Redskin" name and concept by appearing in the magazine?Who can judge "redskins"?And that you, as a non-Native, are a better judge of the word "Redskin" than Native people themselves?Here's where you're sadly mistaken. I must've explained myself half a dozen times, but I'll do it once more so you can't miss it.

The word "redskins" doesn't offend me personally. I have no strong feelings about it. My position reflects only what I've read and heard from thousands of Native sources.

If the Native population were to "reclaim" the word "redskins" and declare that it no longer offended them, I'd be happy to support that outcome. Until that happens, I support the present situation. That position is that most Natives consider "redskins" an ethnic slur.

Repeat: I'm not imposing my belief on Natives. I'm reflecting what most Natives believe. If you disagree with these Natives, go argue with them. Quit wasting your time and mine when Native leaders throughout the country are trying to eliminate team names and mascots they consider offensive.

In short, your assertion that I don't understand or sympathize with what most Natives think and feel is flatly wrong. You may not understand or sympathize with them on this issue, but I do.Do you not see the irony, hypocrisy, and assumed privilege on your part when you talk down to us Natives and try to "enlighten us" as to how our own grandparents were treated?"Talking down" is your opinion only. It isn't worth much when you don't cite and quote what you're talking about.

I don't recall ever saying how anyone's grandparents felt about anything. The only irony I see here is your making up stuff about me and then taking some imaginary high road about it. Nice trick if you can get away with it.

Who speaks for Natives?

Let's note a few more facts. You and Wassegijig come from two widely separated Native cultures. There are thousands of Native cultures in North America that you two don't belong to. As far as I'm concerned, neither of you is qualified to speak for all Natives--to tell me how should I deal with them.

Moreover, "redskins" isn't a term particular to one Native culture. It isn't a matter of private or sensitive cultural lore. It's an ethnic slur applied to Natives in general. When it comes to a question of English word usage, anyone can judge the issue as well as you can.

And I'm not telling people how they should feel. I'm telling people that most Natives consider "redskins" an ethnic slur. You can feel however you want as long as you acknowledge that I've accurately summarized the situation.I'm pretty sure that you've never been called a "tree n*gger" in your life.You're right about that. So...what's your point? I've never said anything about or even heard of the phrase "tree nigger." Is this another of those irony things you mentioned? I've never mentioned something and you're chastising me for it anyway?

If your point is that I've never been called a "redskin" either, you're right about that too. But many Natives have and they object to the word. Since Wassegijig is too afraid to address this issue, feel free to do it for her.

Let's recap: You defend Wassegijig's right to use "redskins" but have yet to say whether it's an ethnic slur. So is it or isn't it...yes or no? Answer that question so we know where you stand on the underlying issue.

Does anyone here want to take the Redskin challenge? If you don't think the word is an ethnic slur, use it in a room full of tribal leaders and elders. Let us know how they feel about being called "redskins."

The best animated Star Trek

As long-time readers know, Kiowa science-fiction writer Russell Bates co-wrote How Sharper Than a Serpent's Tooth, an episode of the animated Star Trek. The Star Trek franchise won its only series Emmy--for children's programming--when this episode was submitted for consideration. It's probably the greatest achievement by a Native on Star Trek and the greatest achievement of Bates's career.

Recently, David Wise, the non-Native co-writer of this episode, responded to an old posting about it:Russell co-wrote an episode that is still remembered and discussed today, 35 years after it first aired. He played a crucial part in the only Emmy the original "Star Trek" ever won.You can follow the link to see what I said about that. But since Bates and Wise keep talking about their achievement, I feel free to offer a reality check.

The viewers at have rated all the animated Trek episodes:

Star Trek: The Animated Series

I'd say they rightly picked Yesteryear and the The Slaver Weapon as the two best episodes. Here's how they rated them all, including the one by Bates and Wise:  1 Yesteryear  9.26
2 The Slaver Weapon 8.38
3 Albatross 8.17
4 The Pirates of Orion 8.03
5 The Practical Joker 7.99
6 The Survivor 7.85
7 The Jihad 7.80
8 Beyond the Farthest Star 7.77
9 The Eye of the Beholder 7.70
10 More Tribbles, More Troubles 7.63
11 The Time Trap 7.62
12 The Counter-Clock Incident 7.56
13 The Terratin Incident 7.49
14 The Ambergris Element 7.49
15 One of Our Planets Is Missing 7.33
16 The Infinite Vulcan 7.10
17 Once Upon a Planet 7.10
18 The Lorelei Signal 7.06
19 How Sharper Than a Serpent's Tooth? 7.06
20 Mudd's Passion 6.98
21 Bem 6.11
22 The Magicks of Megas-Tu 5.98
I'd say this ranking is very accurate. Does anyone want to disagree?

So Bates and Wise wrote a mediocre episode of Trek. Maybe the animated series would've won an Emmy if any episode had been submitted. Or maybe the series won a youth-oriented Emmy precisely because the episode was so simple and childlike.

Below:  Ensign Dawson Walking Bear.

Redundancy in Sheyahshe's book

Michael Sheyahshe (Caddo) reports on a review of his book:

Another Critique of My BookA contributor to livejournal had the following to say about my book, Native Americans in Comic Books:
"The book annoyed me a bit with its critique of Native American comic book characters whose stories are set in the past. Sheyahshe commented that these characters reinforce the notion that Native Americans disappeared in the Old West days. It's a completely legitimate complaint--so the complaint itself I have no problem with...What annoyed me was the fact Sheyahshe brought this up each time he discussed one of these characters. It was very redundant. A few paragraphs at the beginning of the book, to comment on the problem and mention its applicability to all "historical" characters, would have made for a better reading experience."


"Thankfully there are plenty of modern-day Native American comic book characters, so I didn't have to suffer through his redundant complaint too much."


"One omission that surprised me was the lack of commentary on the names that so many Native American comic characters have. The only name Sheyahshe commented on was Tonto's (Spanish for "stupid")."


"Overall, though, I did enjoy reading the book. It made for a nice, nostalgic trip, and it sparked my interest in a comic book called Tribal Force, the creative work of a Tucsonan."
I can certainly see how someone might see parts of the book as repetitive: as an examination of many stereotypes and many comic books, there's bound to be a certain recurring element. Add to this, my use of a very specific set of criteria to evaluate the level of stereotype in each study and you can well imagine how a reader might feel this way, initially.
Comment:  I still haven't read this book. I'm sure I'll find it captivating and engrossing, so I'm waiting until I have some free time.

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

Student competitions at AIHEC

Drawing on history:  Conference features competitions in art, Web design

By JODI RAVE of the MissoulianOn Monday, Nicholas Begay swiftly moved charcoal across white drawing paper, rubbing, drawing and blending the black pigment with skill that captured judges' attention, allowing the art student to nab a first-place finish in a national tribal college drawing competition.

“I had fun,” said Begay, a junior at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, N.M. “I walked around and watched everybody work. I usually get my inspiration from other artists. I enjoyed the whole atmosphere of everybody doing art.”

Begay is among some 900 tribal college instructors, staff and students attending the American Indian Higher Education Consortium conference at Missoula's Hilton Garden Inn. The three-day event, which ends Tuesday night with an award banquet, is bringing students together from tribal colleges across the country to compete in science, speech, Web design, art, business planning, drama, hand games and critical inquiry competitions.

“We came with a busload of students, approximately 40, and they've been participating in the knowledge bowl,” said Lois Red Elk, a drama instructor at Fort Peck Community College in Wolf Point. “In preparing for these competitions, we're making sure our students are learning culture and reading contemporary books on history and Native life. The importance of it all is so that our traditions are utilized in what we're teaching and learning today in contemporary society.”
Comment:  I bet I would've done well in the critical inquiry competition. <g>

For more on Indians drawing quickly, see Bunky Paints Live!

Below:  "Joseph Old Elk, center, Nicholas Begay, left, and Bryar Flansburg, right, work on their art during a quick draw contest at the American Indian Higher Education Consortium conference in Missoula on Monday. Old Elk, a sophomore in environmental science at Little Big Horn College in Crow Agency, said he based his piece on a drawing he's made for years." (Photo by Tom Bauer/Missoulian)

March 30, 2009

Mohawks question Frozen River

'Frozen River' Draws Mixed ReactionShe said many [Mohawks] remarked on the misrepresentation of certain well-known Akwesasne sites, such as the Tribal Council Community Building and the Mohawk Bingo Palace, which are both large, bright structures, not the small, dingy buildings depicted in the film.

Shannon Burns, editor of the Indian Time newspaper on the Mohawk territory, said she interviewed Hunt in 2004, when the director was researching a short feature on the reservation, but could not get her questions answered or telephone calls returned once the full-length movie was out.

"The premise of the film isn't good for Akwesasne," Burns said in a February editorial. "Camp-dwellers who smuggle humans across the river? It's not that anyone here thinks we don't have crime, but don't we have enough real crime and a bad enough reputation without films that give an entirely false impression of the Mohawk community?"

Doug George-Kanentiio, former editor of Akwesasne Notes and co-founder of the Native American Journalists Association, said "Frozen River" is flawed.

"The reservation is perceived as a place to be feared, the Mohawks grim and dangerous," he said in a recent editorial piece. "There is nothing appealing about reservation life--no mention of our schools, ceremonies, health centers or arena.

"We remain a vague people, distrustful of the outside world, even as we seek to use our status as an indigenous community for profit and without any consideration for those we exploit along the way," George-Kanetiio said.

"I hope this movie will result in a better one told from our perspective--someday, perhaps."
Comment:  As you may recall, I interviewed Courtney Hunt for the article I wrote on Frozen River. A couple of relevant points:

1) She had to film in Plattsburgh, a town 80 miles away, for technical reasons. But for some reason, I assumed they used the actual tribal council building and bingo palace. I guess not.

2) Hunt got permission from the tribe to film the story. But it wasn't clear exactly who gave her permission. There were the American Mohawks vs. the Canadian Mohawks, the modern government vs. the traditional elders, and so forth. The approval wasn't unanimous, so some Mohawks undoubtedly continued to disapprove.

The white characters (Melissa Leo and her family) fared a little better in Frozen River--perhaps because they were the stars and the Mohawks were secondary characters. The movie did show a few positive Mohawk scenes, but overall the impression was of people struggling to get by. For an economically depressed region like upstate New York, I don't know if that's negative or just realistic.

I'm not totally surprised at Hunt's unresponsiveness. She was talkative in our interview, but didn't respond to followup questions via e-mail. I hope her minor celebrity status isn't going to her head.

For more thoughts on this article, see the Frozen River thread on Facebook.

1923 letter to Indians

Wanda Lord has posted a 1923 letter from the Department of the Interior's Office of Indian Affairs to Indians. It begins:TO ALL INDIANS:

Not long ago I held a meeting of all Superintendants, Missionaries and Indians, at which the feeling of those present was strong against Indian dances.
I didn't realize missionaries were US officials in 1923. I must've missed the missionary branch of government when I read the Constitution.

What problem is the Commissioner concerned about?I feel that something must be done to stop the neglect of stock, crops, gardens, and home interests caused by these dances or by celebrations, pow-wows, and gatherings of any kind that take the time of the Indians for many days.

Now, what I want you to think about very seriously is that you must first of all try to make your own living, which you cannot do unless you work faithfully and take care of what comes from your labor.
Don't think Indians are merely goofing off, either. It's much worse than that.No good comes from your "give-away" custom at dances and it should be stopped. It is not right to torture your bodies or to handle poisonous snakes in your ceremonies.Shocking! Who knew Indians were so depraved? Giving things away as if this were Communist Russia and not the good ol' US of A, where acquiring things is the default religion.

And torturing themselves and handling poisonous snakes...shades of Abu Ghraib! Let's hope they learn safe 'n' sane Judeo-Christian practices such as cutting babies and eating Jesus.

The Commissioner notes that he's merely asking Indians to stop, but if they don't comply within a year, he'll have to take action. He knows best, so these Indians had better listen to him.

Unfortunately, you'll have to register with Facebook to see the original letter. But since Facebook is becoming the new AOL or Google, you probably should do that anyway.

For more on Natives and Christianity, see such postings as:

Native spirituality is "demonic"?
"Spiritual terrorism" against Indians
Native truth vs. Christian lies
Why Natives aren't Christians
Give Christianity a chance?
Jesus didn't save Indians

For more quotes such as those in this letter, see Uncivilized Indians.

Different views of medical care

Docs' new guidelines

College wants grads to be more sensitive to aboriginalsThe organization that sets national standards for medical specialists and surgeons wants all graduating physicians to become "culturally sensitive" to aboriginal patients, whose attitudes toward medicine can differ profoundly from mainstream Canada.

The Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada recently unveiled new education "modules" for medical residents in obstetrics, gynecology, psychiatry and family medicine. They introduce doctor trainees to the basics of indigenous culture.

"Many First Nations, Inuit and Metis people have had negative experiences with the mainstream health-care system, often because of cultural differences between the patient or client and the health-care provider," says the curriculum briefing book.
And: How traditional aboriginal culture and mainstream western culture differ:


- Community is foremost value
- Knowledge is transmitted orally
- The world is understood mythically
- Goals are met with patience
- Eye contact is thought overly assertive
- A handshake is soft, signalling no threat
- A faith in harmony with nature


- Individualism is foremost value
- Tradition of printing and literacy
- The world is understood scientifically
- Goals are met with aggressive effort
- Eye contact is part of conversation
- A handshake is firm, assertive
- A faith in scientific control of nature

Source: Aboriginal Human Resources Council
Comment:  For Stephen's sake, let me point out that these are generalizations. They don't apply to many Indians, especially those who live off the rez in cities.

For more on the subject, see The Basic Indian Stereotypes.

Below:  A non-Native attempt to control nature.

"Michigamua Exposed"

Student groups blast Michigamua

Student groups aim to eliminate secret society from the campus through open confrontationIn a bid to stymie the recruitment of the secret society Michigamua, the Native American Student Association and Latino fraternity Lambda Theta Phi sponsored an event aimed at exposing shortcomings of Michigamua yesterday.

Named “Michigamua Exposed,” the event was held in the Chemistry Building and attempted to reveal the racist nature of Michigamua by detailing the secret society’s replication of ritualistic Native American ceremonies.
and:These past controversies and others were explained at the presentation that began with a documentary shown for the first time to the public that captured members of Michigamua—a group whose name in itself is a play on a Native American name—dressed up as Native Americans in red brick paint. The movies were taken presumably from the 1950s and showed, among other things, members of Michigamua tearing each other’s clothes off and covering each other in red paint.

Three speakers, Mellissa Pope, Jujan Buford and Stehney, talked after the movie screening. Pope and Buford were both involved in the 2000 Tower takeover, when members of the Student of Color Coalition—an organization that aimed to remedy problems facing the minority community—occupied the tower in the Michigan Union where Michigamua had its headquarters.

In the process, they claimed they found Native American artifacts that they said Michigamua used in mock ritual practices.
Comment:  A 1950s-era movie and artifacts allegedly used in 2000 aren't the best evidence. The ideal would be knowing what Michigamua does today.

For my previous postings on the subject, see:

LaDuke, Ford, and Pocahontas
Gerald Ford and Michigamua
Gerald Ford's Secret Society

Don't blame indigenous bankers

Blue Eyed Greed?

By Maureen DowdAs international lunacy goes, it was hard to beat the pope saying that condoms spread AIDS.

But Brazil’s president, known simply as Lula, gave it his best shot.

At a press conference Thursday in Brasilia with Prime Minister Gordon Brown of Britain—who has a talent for getting himself into dicey spots—Lula started off coughing from some cheese bread he’d wolfed down. Then he suddenly turned accusatory.

“This crisis was caused by the irrational behavior of white people with blue eyes, who before the crisis appeared to know everything and now demonstrate that they know nothing,” charged the brown-eyed, bearded socialist president.

As the brown-eyed Brown grew a whiter shade of pale, Lula hammered the obvious point that the poor of the world were suffering in the global crash because of the misdeeds of the rich.

“I do not know any black or indigenous bankers,” said Lula.
Comment:  Before Stephen tells us that not all bankers have blue eyes, I'll say it for him. This is a generalization and not a very accurate one. Most of the West's financial leaders--like most Westerners--have brown eyes. And I suspect the brown-eyed financial leaders in Asia didn't help matters any.

Ironically, it used to be brown-eyed Jews who were stereotyped as money-lenders. Now it's all the fault of those Northern European types.

But we understand Luna's point even if he made it poorly. The world's industrial countries, primarily the US, are responsible for the global economic crisis. The developing countries, where most brown-skinned, brown-eyed people live, aren't. The crisis is a failure of the West's capitalist credo--its pseudo-religious faith in free markets.

Tomahawk actors in brownface

Tim Giago:  Chocolate Spray Paint and the Hollywood IndiansOne year, I believe it was 1951; my brother and my cousins, “Red Tapio” and Sonny Torres were cast in a movie that was shooting up in the Black Hills. The movie was called “Tomahawk,” and it starred Van Heflin, Rock Hudson, and Susan Ball. Of course Tony, Red and Sonny were the Indians.

Sonny said that the director told all of the Indian actors that they had to be sprayed with chocolate colored paint because it would make them more photogenic. “One morning they rushed me into a tent and told me to take my shirt off and they started to spray me with the chocolate paint and we heard a shriek and some terrible cussing and discovered that we were in Susan Ball’s tent and she was hysterical that they would have the nerve to paint me in her tent,” Sonny said.
Comment:  I presume the spray was only chocolate-colored, not chocolate-flavored. Otherwise, the sun would've melted it and the actors would've licked it off.

So Hollywood used Native actors to play Indians but made them darker. It also used white actors to play Indians but didn't make them darker. Sounds mixed up to me.

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

Catching up with Cashing In

Indian Comics Irregular #181:  Rolling the Dice with Cashing In

March 29, 2009

"Sambo" waiter = Indian mascot

Comics critic Greg Burgas looks at a racist depiction in an old Batman comic:

Oh, DC Comics in the 1940s--whatever shall we do with you?[W]hile I’m reading the fourth story in Batman #13 (October-November 1942), which is called “Destination Unknown” and is actually a pretty gripping murder mystery set on board a cross-country train that inexplicably totally falls apart at the end, I come across this panel.

Okay, it’s the 1940s, and I get it. But here’s my question: Does anyone have any idea why Bob Kane (who’s credited as penciller) would draw black people like this? Was he just an unrepentant racist who saw black people as sub-human? I have to assume he had actually seen black people, as he lived in New York. So he knew that in real life, black people didn’t look like this. Plus, he was Jewish, so he knew how Jews had been depicted in popular culture, in a ridiculous and racist fashion. Plus, there are plenty of caricatures in these comics (some drawn by Kane, some not), but even the buffoons are recognizably human. Was this depiction so ingrained in Americana that Kane couldn’t overcome it? Was there any pressure on him to depict blacks this way? I don’t understand how anyone could ever actually see a black person and think this was an okay way to draw them.
Some reader responses:Cass
March 28, 2009 at 11:53 am

I don’t understand why this is so difficult to believe or understand. He probably didn’t like black people and wanted to portray them negatively. Creators do the same thing now, except now it’s not with racial groups, it’s with cultural, political, and religious groups.

March 28, 2009 at 12:33 pm

I don’t think the conversation should be about whether or not to exculpate Bob Kane. Yes, racist caricatures have a long, storied history in comics, and yes, Kane probably knew exactly what he was doing when he drew these sleeping-car workers as grotesque “sambo” figures, and yes, this was the norm in the U.S. and Europe (see Tintin, the jazz singer, etc) and yes, it marks ideologies of white supremacy and the very material conditions of exploitation and exclusion in which Black people found themselves even as they or their sons/brothers/husbands went off to die for their country in segregated regiments.

It’s not as if Gunnar Myrdal’s An American Dilemma banished all racist representations from comics though. The Mandarin was some straight up Fu Manchu yellow peril orientalism, racist depictions of blacks, latinos, and asians persist in the present. (”Sweet christmas” indeed.) So while I do think this is a particularly galling example of outmoded racial stereotypes, I think a broader conversation about race and graphic narrative needs to involve a more developed historical frame.

March 28, 2009 at 1:32 pm

>Hmmm. So I wonder what we’re doing today that people will find inexplicable (and probably justly so) 70 years from now?

“So, back in the day there was only a two or three gay characters. I remember this one, Extraño, who was actually depicted as completely flamboyant… Then, we found out this was because he was “diseased” and then he was “cured” from it. Seriously. If you´re gay comic character you´re most likely in a supporting role, bound to die of AIDS sooner or later for shock value. And no, of course, they never showed two gay super-heroes kissing. I´m talking about a time when gay marriage was not even legal!”

Greg Burgas
March 28, 2009 at 1:42 pm

I should point out that I also recently got the second volume of (the golden age) Sheena stories, and the black people in those stories were not drawn stereotypically at all. They look like people. There is some stereotypical writing about the Africans, but not as much as you might expect. They’re definitely black people (not “colored” white people), but they look like human beings. So this isn’t necessarily “just the way it was done.”

Adam Weisman
March 28, 2009 at 1:49 pm

Oh, we’re certainly more progressive and enlightened today…

we’d never accept such offensive imagery.

Why you’d never see an image like this

in popular culture…

Da Fug
March 28, 2009 at 8:50 pm

I’ll just throw in some support for Adam here in that it ASTOUNDS me that people can’t see the Indian sports logos as racist! And I bet it would take one freaking press conference with the current president for it to change. Just have Obama hold up a Cleveland Indians logo in one hand and a cartoon similar to the ones above in the other and the issue would be eminently clear.

Brad Curran
March 28, 2009 at 8:54 pm

It’s always amazed me that the Redskins can get away with having a name that’s a racial slur solely on tradition. Although Cowboys vs. Non Descript Native American/American Indian Tribes just doesn’t have the same ring to it, I have to say.

comb & razor
March 28, 2009 at 10:29 pm

What goes through the mind of the artists who draw this? I don’t know… Probably not too much. Even if the artist lived in New York City and saw black people everyday, I don’t think it would have had that much effect on his employment of these conventions because most comic artists didn’t really draw from life in those days (or these days, for that matter).

Think about the way the human body is rendered in comics… Before you had someone like Neal Adams coming with a more naturalistic depiction of anatomy, most comic artists just thoughtlessly copied what they saw in other comics–-hence you get those lumpy muscles and outsize pecs and all kinds of stuff you know they probably don’t see around them in real life, but they just draw them that what because… well, that’s how you draw comics.

March 29, 2009 at 10:23 am

People didn’t flip from being racist to being non-racist in 20 years (if you insist on the election depending on that kind of change taking place). We simply spent our lives thinking the same 10 seconds of thought over and over until enough of us were forced to break that loop to make a change. And when we give ourselves only 10 seconds to think about something like ethnicity, we typically think what everyone else thinks. Racism persists because the challenge of protesting racism is in getting people to think further than the same 10 seconds over and over.

It’s the same with homosexuality. Into my 20s, I never spent more than 10 seconds thinking about gay rights, and I thought what everyone else thought: that marriage was what the churches said it was. Then I heard how the company that sued Rosie O’Donnell arbitrary submitted email exchanges between her and her partner as evidence, to shame her into capitulating. Because gay relationships aren’t protected by the 5th amendment right, gays are vulnerable to corporate blackmail. So having thought further than 10 seconds on the subject, I have to side with allowing gay marriage.
Comment:  These people see that racist and stereotypical depictions of minorities--blacks, gays, Indians--are linked. In particular, that the blackface portrayals in minstrel shows 100 years ago are analogous to today's Indian mascots. In short, they get it. Do you?

I think the Obama suggestion is right on. As you may recall, I proposed a mascot question for the candidates to answer in the video forum they held. If Obama or any major figure (e.g., Oprah Winfrey, Bill Gates, Tiger Woods, Angelina Jolie) got on a soapbox and denounced Indian mascots, it would move the debate to a whole new level. No longer would racist mascot supporters be able to hide behind their fallacious arguments.

For more on the relation between black and Indian stereotypes, see:

Chinks, Sambos, and Redskins
"Redmen" = Sambo
Wahoo = Sambo

Below:  The black equivalent of an Indian mascot.

Comic about THE AMAZON

Amazon (2009 Dark Horse) 1 comic bookTHE AMAZON #1 (of 3) Steven T. Seagle (W), Tim Sale (A), and Matt Hollingsworth (C). Twenty years to the month after its original Comico publication, Dark Horse is proud to re-present The Amazon, some of the earliest work from acclaimed writer Steven T. Seagle and superstar artist Tim Sale! The Amazon Jungle is among the most ancient and biologically diverse places on earth, but it's being plundered for its resources and destroyed at a rate of thousands of acres a day. Reporter Malcolm Hillard travels to this remote land of mystery to investigate the disappearance of an American worker and sabotage at a timber site. Locals tell him it is the work of spirits of the Amazon, but Malcolm doesn't believe in anything like that--until he sees something he can't explain deep in the jungle. This remastered edition has been scanned from Tim Sale's original artwork and recolored by Matt Hollingsworth, with a new cover by Sale and Dave Stewart!The Amazon #2 of 3Dark Horse's superior twentieth anniversary re-presentation of acclaimed writer Steven T. Seagle and superstar artist Tim Sale's eco-series of man, machine, magic, and Mother Nature continues!

Reporter Malcolm Hillard's journey into the Amazon Jungle takes him deeper into the mystery of a missing American worker and the sabotage of a timber company that followed. The clues lead him to the Jatapu tribe, whose belief in a powerful Amazon spirit may hold the key to the mystery. Drugged and alone in the jungle, Malcolm comes face to face with the answers, but they aren't the ones he expects.
Comic Review: The Amazon #1

Posted by Steve Duin, The OregonianIn an interview at the back of the book, Seagle concedes that The Amazon--in which magazine reporter Malcolm C. Hilliard heads up river in pursuit of a missing American timber worker and a book deal--generated precious little in the way of royalties or a radical shift in Brazil's environmental ethic.

Twenty years later, they're still chopping the rain forest off at the knees, Seagle notes, clear-cutting a chunk of the jungle "roughly the size of the state of Rhode Island" in the last five months of 2008: "I don't know if it's that the reach of comics is too small, the execution is not good enough to have a real rhetorical impact, or if the mindset of comics readers is such that they don't want that kind of social critique in their escapism, though I do think that plays some part," Seagle says:

"I just don't see comics as agents of change."

If change is what you're after, a fully realized--and inspired--story is what you need, and Seagle doesn't get off to a memorable start in the first issue of this miniseries. That American worker has gone missing (or native) even as the sabotage at the timber camp has begun, and the coincidence is clumsy, at best, when Hilliard sees the American disabling a crane as soon as he reaches the camp. Seagle is equally heavy handed with his lampooning of the local Christian missionaries: "The missionaries believe that what they are doing is right--spreading Christianity to the uninformed. But in actuality, it's just more strip-mining. In this case, though, it is not timber or malachite. It's tribal religion values--and culture."
Comment:  I glanced at this comic at my local shop Friday but didn't get it. It looked mildly interesting, but not enough seemed to be happening in the story to grab me.

A comic has to be really special these days to get my attention. I'm hardly buying any single issues anymore because they're too expensive.

Changing the world

Interesting question about comics as an agent of change. That's what I hoped for my PEACE PARTY comics too. But I never thought it would be easy.

To have an effect, I suspect a comic book (or any popular work of art) has to have several components.

1) The comic has to hit a "sweet spot" between entertainment and message. The best comics do this.

For instance, Seagle could've presented the same message about missionaries more artfully. "While the timber harvesters cleared acre after acre, the missionaries did their own cutting and trimming. They carved out a bloody ceremony here, whittled down a heathen idol there. Soon the rough Indian bark was nothing but bits and shavings on the ground. What was left was the white, pulpy core of a man ready to be shaped."

(Okay, you still may not like this. But does anyone think Seagle's version is more entertaining than my version?)

2) The comic has to become popular enough to enter the mainstream culture in various forms. If it isn't made into a movie, a TV series, a toy line, etc., you can't expect it to reach many people.

3) You have to be committed to getting out the message beyond the immediate publication of the comic. Raising awareness of the Amazon is more like a lifetime project than a one-shot deal.

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

Below:  Awesome cover. If the interior was a series of paintings like this one, I might've bought it.

What would ET do?

I came across a debate in the American History forum of Most of it was the usual nonsense. E.g., it was okay for us to kill Indians because they killed people too--the immoral "two wrongs make a right" argument.

But someone raised the interesting of what extraterrestrials would do if they visited us. Is conquest such a cultural and biological imperative that we can expect only a War of the Worlds scenario?

Was America Founded By Genocide?Primo Rodriguez Perez says:

if we ever come into contact with extraterrestial life most probably all humans will become targets of a genocide. big fish eat little fish that's nature. we just think we're above it all because we can reason, but we don't want to admit that life is all there is.

C. R. C. says:

"if we ever come into contact with extraterrestrial life most probably all humans will become targets of a genocide. big fish eat little fish thats nature."

Really? You can't envision any other way? So why did we stop Saddam from gobbling up Kuwait?

What's interesting is that we KNOW there's another way--and we think extraterrestrial life is most probably sufficiently evolved to adopt it. That's how we represent them in popular culture: Take the movie 'Contact' for example. The extraterrestrials send us earthlings the blueprints for a radical new form of energy in order for us to be able visit them. They don't SELL it to us, they GIVE it AWAY to us--so they're obviously not capitalists!

In Independence Day, earth is attacked by a vastly superior military force from outer space. One of the heroes of the movie is a guy who flies a suicide mission into the enemies mothership--a suicide bomber, in other words. But we roundly condemn suicide bombing as a strategy when used on earth against superior military force, don't we? See that disconnect between what WE'D do if our backs were against the wall versus what we think OTHERS should do in the same predicament.
Comment:  See my comments near the end of the thread.

Excellent point about the suicide run in Independence Day. It applies to any attack by humans against alien invaders. For instance, Spielberg's War of the Worlds.

Did we stop to think whether the invading ships might've held innocent alien colonists--the equivalent of civilian women and children--on board? No, we didn't. We did our best to kill the invaders before they killed us. In war, sometimes you don't have the luxury of taking your time to distinguish between military and civilian targets.

Of course, you have to try to assess the situation if you can. Did we have time to pursue other options besides firebombing Germany, nuking Japan, and invading Iraq? Yes, yes, and yes. Did we have time to prevent the collateral deaths of civilians during the D-Day invasion at Normandy? No, probably not.

What would Kirk do?

Anyway, if you concede that the Star Trek approach to first contact--i.e., the Prime Directive requiring no interference--is valid, then you must concede the Euro-American approach to subjugating the Western Hemisphere was wrong. Right?

If you were wise, you'd not only concede that it was wrong, but that the people doing the subjugating knew it was wrong. It's not that we've gotten smarter in 500 years, it's that we've gotten better at listening to the voices of dissent.

For more on the subject, see Genocide by Any Other Name....

P.S. I fixed a few minor mistakes in these postings. Learn how to spell "extraterrestrials," people!

Below:  A colonizing ship with innocent female and young settlers aboard?

Tribalism in Dreams from My Father

In Dreams from My Father, Obama makes some questionable comments about tribalism. It's further evidence of how much (or little) he respects Indian tribes.

On pg. 348 he writes:Even Jane or Zeituni could say things that surprised me. "The Luo are intelligent but lazy," they would say. Or "The Kikuyu are money-grubbing but industrious." Or "The Kalenjins--well, you can see what's happened to the country since they took over."

Hearing my aunts traffic in such stereotypes, I would try to explain to them the error of their ways. "It's thinking like that that holds us back," I would say. "We're all part of one tribe. The black tribe. The human tribe. Look what tribalism has done to places like Nigeria or Liberia."
Is this just a comment about African tribes that has no relevance for American tribes? No. On pg. 350 he explicitly compares one African tribe to Indian tribes:[E]ven as treaties had been broken and the Masai had been restricted to reservations, the tribe had become mythologized in its defeat, like the Cherokee or Apache, the noble savage of picture postcards and coffee table books.Let's recap: Judging by Obama's comments about the Masai, Kenya's tribes are in a position similar to America's Indian tribes. Obama thinks tribalism is hurting black Kenyans and they should abandon their tribal "thinking." Why wouldn't he say something similar about similar tribes in America? Same tribal thinking, same problem, right?

This tends to prove my claim and disprove Steve Russell's claim. Obama wasn't just talking about a few tribal bad apples in his Inaugural Address. He's opposed to tribalism and tribes in general. Indians may think organizing themselves into tribes is a good idea, but Obama doesn't.

Of course, Obama's views may have changed over the years. And perhaps he didn't mean to imply the conclusion I've inferred. But perhaps his views haven't changed, and he did.

For more on the subject, see Natives Criticize Obama's Speech and Settling the West in the Inaugural Address.

Below:  Never mind the differences. "We're all part of one tribe. ... The human tribe."

Alexie on enrollment, genocide

Sherman Alexie rails at CornellFew people or issues are spared Alexie’s wit and sharp tongue--including fellow Indians. “The people who’ve done the most damage to me are other Indians. We Indians can be as imperialistic, self-serving, and self-righteous as the next group. … Right now, I’m soooo mad at my own tribe.”

Alexie, who is Spokane/Couer d’Alene alluded to enrollment practices and being unable to enroll his own children in either his wife’s tribe or his own. He said his two boys are a combination of about five or six different tribes, with some German, and other European blood thrown in for good measure.

When asked if he finds tribal enrollment practices to be archaic and whether they should be changed to suit contemporary needs, he replied, “We all know that tribes’ enrollment practices are problematic. The lust for casino money has become a huge factor in enrollment policies. Tribal enrollment and membership are now really business decisions, and with any business decision, the process must be transparent and held up to close scrutiny.”

Overall, Alexie suggests Indian country look inward and take personal responsibility for its problems. “But neither should we let the white folks off the hook; we also have to hold the outside world accountable.”

He demanded an acknowledgment of the genocide that wiped out entire tribes of people. “Where is our roomful of moccasins?” asked Alexie, referring to the Holocaust Museum’s powerful room full of shoes that illustrates the thousands of lives lost in Nazi extermination camps. “We need our own Holocaust Museum. Nobody calls it genocide, what happened to the Indians; we just let it all go.”

Later, he was asked if given the opportunity to do his own exhibit at the National Museum of the American Indian, what it would feature. Without hesitation, he said, “The genocide. The story has not been told.”
Comment:  We call it genocide here at Newspaper Rock, Sherman. ;-)

The NMAI was supposedly light on the negative aspects of Native history when it opened. I don't know if that's changed.

For more on the subject, see All About Sherman Alexie.

Wampanoag POV in We Shall Remain

Neither nobles nor savages

In the five-part series 'We Shall Remain,' WGBH aims to put Native Americans at the center of the American experienceActors playing Pilgrims, bearing the heat beneath thick woolen coats, milled about a table set with berries and nuts. Native Americans in traditional garb lounged near a rental truck, waiting to be called into action.

Their task: to re-create the first Thanksgiving for "American Experience," the public-television history series produced by WGBH. But this retelling--part of the upcoming series "We Shall Remain"--would be different from other Thanksgiving stories. It would be told from the point of view of Massasoit, the Wampanoag leader who made the risky choice to forge an alliance with the British colonists of Plymouth.

And it would end with a pointed question about whether Massasoit might have regretted his decision, since the trust he built with the colonists wouldn't last to the next generation. Among the props on the set was a model of a human head: Massasoit's son, King Philip, which the colonists would later impale on a stick.
A few examples of how using actual Indians led to greater authenticity:Spears started out as an extra for the film, alongside his son, but took on a larger role after he started critiquing the details on the set. On the Salem shoot, he adjusted the size of the native's feather pieces, and clarified how Massasoit would have shaken the pilgrims' hands, grasping their wrists, not their palms.

Nipmuc tribe member David White, 36, a Brimfield resident and electrician by trade, was the episode's language adviser, reviewing the scripts for both dialect and meaning. (In real life, White does his part to keep the Nipmuc language alive, teaching it to small groups of Native Americans in their homes, and sharing Nipmuc culture with schools and Cub Scout troops.)

In a scene in which a gravely ill Massasoit gets a visit from Pilgrim leader Edward Winslow, White asked producers to cut a line in which Massasoit said "My friend, I'll never see you again." Native Americans don't see death as an end, White said, but as part of a life cycle.
Comment:  For more on the subject, see Massasoit Statue in Utah and The Best Indian Movies.

March 28, 2009

"Go Native" at the Visionary Village

A message sent by Mark Anquoe, AIM West, to various media outlets:

Obscene Racist Event:  Burning Man's 'Go Native'Brothers and Sisters,

Yesterday I was informed about an obscene racist event that will be hosted by a Burning Man crew. On Saturday, March 28th, an organization calling itself "Visionary Village" will put on a dance party called "Go Native" where participants are being asked to come in "native costume." They advertise that the event will raise funds for "neurofeedback research" in Native American Church members. THIS IS A LIE. Real NAC members would never consent to being "studied" during our most sacred ceremonies! Furthermore, their "theme rooms," as scheduled, will make a mockery of Native cultures, including the Anasazi and "Pueblo" cultures (as if there was a single, generic "Pueblo" culture).

In addition, they proudly advertise that their dance party will be held "in a bordello complex" built on top of an ancient Ohlone site! Adding desecration to this insult is outrageous!

The event organizers have been contacted by *many* people in the community, and in addition to being completely insensitive to the Native people who have contacted them, they have also been unable to establish any connection between their "fundraising event" and *any* Native American Church group or individual.
Go Native Ads, Offend Native PeoplesWe feel that any person looking at the various flyers and advertisements for this event would reasonably assume that the tag line, "GO NATIVE," is in reference to dressing as Native American people. These assumptions would rightfully be conceived due to the alleged collaboration with the Native American Church, and especially through the theming of rooms of the four elements, and representing those elements with Native/Indigenous peoples. The four people(s) (Maori, Anasazi, Shipibo, and Pueblo) that are called out do not in fact have any direct relationship with Peyoteism or the NAC per se, nor should their respective practices be conflated with the practices of the church. It has also been made clear that the organizers of this event did not intend that people dress as the Maori, Anasazi, Shipibo, and Pueblo, but this does not negate their responsibility in making the event advertisements more clear with respect to their use of the terms, "go native." For us and many others, "Go Native" implies reverting to a primal nature commonly and wrongly associated with Indigenous people. Even if, as the organizers of this event have claimed, "go native" is meant to imply "a heavy hunter-gatherer mindset" theme so as to rightfully adapt to an ecosystem, such statements associating Native Americans and other indigenous people as inherently "hunter-gathering" people plays upon a long and thriving discursive legacy in which our communities are cast as lesser beings in social evolutionist terms.

The reading of the event as a Native American theme party is further implied because of the graphics chosen for the flyers which are present all over the internet on social networking sites Facebook, MySpace, and through the Visionary Villages website, as well as the email media that is being sent out. The graphics chosen include a buffalo skull, a prominent Native American tool of ceremony, and the notation that the location of the event is “built in front of the ancient Ohlone Indian gathering ground in Oakland.” This has most egregious implications, then, for the advertisement’s request that people dress in "Native costume,” as it perpetuates damaging, misleading, and deeply offensive stereotypes. It also perpetuates the idea that anyone (mostly non-Native as burning man is predominantly attended by non-Native people) can espouse a certain cultural aesthetic with disregard to the peoples whom identify and live by that culture. It is disrespectful of Native American ceremonial rituals and regalia to ask the general public to don their own aberrations of what they think Native attire might be.

The elemental naming of the rooms is not in contention, it is your weak justification for showcasing A.I.N.A.N.H.P.I. (American Indian, Native Alaskan, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander) tribes as examples of environmental adaptability which strengthen the association of the word "Native" to A.I.N.A.N.H.P.I. peoples. In addition, you claim the event is about "exobiogenesis movement," "Aliens and starseeds, not Apache and Sioux," but the interpretation of your advertisements is completely different. Why, then, does the theme lack any references to your "belief that as life evolves to travel between planets, each planet should be revered as a native home"? Instead of your claimed planetary theme, why are your rooms themed with different tribes and why is there a "Giant Dream Catcher" that hangs between balconies at your event.
The outcome, according to another e-mail from Mark Anquoe:Brothers and Sisters,

Tonight, March 27th at the IFH Women's Day event, Visionary Village organizer Caapi and "Go Native" flyer designer Byron Pope stood before the gathered elders and community members. They respectfully listened while person after person publicly spoke to them about the injury inflicted on our community and the anger their "Go Native" event and promotion aroused. Speakers ranged in age from 8 to 80. When asked what could be done to rectify the situation, the gathered community unanimously demanded that the event be canceled.

In front of the assembled community members and recorded on video, Visionary Village organizer Caapi and artist Bryan Pope both signed an agreement that read as follows (spelling corrected):

"Visionary Village members Caapi and Byron have agreed to cancel the event at the Bordello on Sat, 3.28.09."

The paper was signed and dated by both men.

They also verbally agreed to and acknowledged the following:

1. They will be at the venue to turn away event attendees and explain the agreement reached.

2. There will be no DJs/music played at the venue, and no impromptu gathering of any kind.

3. Members of the Native American community will be present at the venue with them to ensure that their word is kept.

4. Members of the Native American community will still gather as planned for the protest to further ensure that they keep to their word. Should the agreement be perceived to be broken, the Native American community will move to stop the event.
Comment:  Another victory for Native activism. I trust the online efforts (e-mail blasts, Facebook postings, etc.) were part of the reason the organizers backed down.

Incidentally, this kind of event doesn't necessarily outrage me. As a non-Native, I don't take it personally or get upset by it. I simply note it for what it is.

But I don't tell Natives how they should feel about it. If they're outraged enough to take action and demand change, I'm glad. But if they responded with cool intellectualism like me, that would be okay too.

About the only response I don't consider okay is denying that incidents like this are a problem. That's because the research shows that stereotyping minorities is a problem. So the people who deny the harm of stereotypes are denying facts and evidence. That's pretty much always wrong.

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

El Viejo del Monte in Terminator

To the Lighthouse, the 3/27/09 episode of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, opens with another Native-themed voiceover:

Episode RecapAs Sarah continues packing to leave their temporary home, she begins to reminisce about John's early years, when the legends of the jungle were his fairy tales. His favorite story was about El Viejo del Monte, The Old Man of the Forest, a merciless killer of animals, who left them to rot in the soil. The Gods turned him into a half-animal-half-man, condemned to defend the jungle for all eternity. In her memory, she recalls a trek through a Central American jungle with John, part of his training. El Viejo's curse, his punishment, was to be forever vigilant, to forever protect, a role Sarah, too, has for her son.Apparently Sarah and John were in Nicaragua at the time, because that's where the legend originated:

More Fairy TalesYour last bedtime story is El Viejo del Monte. This story originated in the Solentiname Archipelago in Lake Colcibolca (Lake Nicaragua). There was a hunter who mercilessly killed any animal that crossed his path. Worse, he didn't eat these animals and just left their carcasses to rot. Because of this disrespect, the gods decided to teach him a lesson and turned him into an half man/half ape creature and made him keeper of the wildlife. He protects the birds, reptiles, and mammals of the islands from poachers and disrespectful hunters.I couldn't find much information on this legend. I presume it's mostly indigenous, although it may be partly Spanish.

Another "indigenous" bit

Soon we see John Henry, the reconstituted Terminator robot, building an island out of Lego toys. "Engaging in imaginative play helps my development," he says. "This is Mount Valmai, hiding place of the Mask of Life. The Toa protect the Mask from the Dark Hunters."

This sounds like something out of the South Seas--maybe New Zealand or Fiji or Easter Island. But no--it comes from the pseudo-Polynesian legends of the Bionicle set of toys.

Anyway, with the 2008-2009 television season almost over, Terminator has taken the lead in terms of including indigenous content. At this point it'll be tough for another show to catch it.

Previous Native references in the show:

"Indian country" in Terminator
Coyote in Terminator
Native souls in Terminator
Cabeza de Vaca in Terminator
Modoc War in Terminator

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

El Viejo del Monte:

The origin of Jonah Hex

If I ever read the origin of Jonah Hex, the DC Comics Western hero, I don't recall it. Someone mentioned it to me so I decided to look it up.

Alas, it seems to encompass a lot of negative Native stereotypes. This doesn't bode well for the upcoming Jonah Hex movie.

Significant dates in Jonah's lifeJuly, 1851: Jonah's father, a physically abusive alcoholic, sells him into slavery to the Apache in exchange for either a pile of pelts (JH V1, #7) or safe passage through Indian land (JH V2, #14). The two Jonah Hex series have different explanations, and it is unclear which is the correct version of the story.

1853: At the age of fifteen, Jonah saves the tribe's chief from a puma. The chief expresses his gratitude by adopting Jonah as his second son. Jonah eventually exceeds the chief's son, Noh-Tante, in the chief's eyes. (JH V1, #7)

1854: Jonah & Noh-Tante, in a tribal ritual of manhood, raid a nearby Kiowa village to steal ponies. Noh-Tante ambushes Jonah and leaves him to the Kiowas and tells the chief that Jonah is dead. Jonah is either 'rescued' by scalphunters who slaughter the Kiowas and shoot Jonah, leaving him for dead before a trapper finds him and nurses him back to health (JH V1, #7), or Jonah manages to defeat the Kiowas but does not return to the Apache village. (JH V2, #14) Once again, the records are conflicting.

1859: Jonah is engaged to Cassie Wainwright but she is killed by Indians the day before their wedding. (JH V1, #65)

1866: Jonah locates his old tribe and tells the chief how Noh-Tante betrayed him years before. The chief decrees that this must be settled by a tomahawk battle. Noh-Tante secretly sabotages Jonah's tomahawk so that the handle will break. In an act of desperation during the fight, Jonah pulls a knife and kills Noh-Tante. As punishment for breaking the rules, Jonah is bound and the chief presses a heated tomahawk to the right side of Jonah's face giving him "The Mark of the Demon." The tribe then banishes Jonah. (JH V1, #8)

1874: While tracking down the kidnapping of Laura Vanden, Jonah once again comes in contact with the Apache chief and is captured. The chief admits to taking Laura and announces that he will kill Hex at sunrise. Jonah is rescued by White Fawn, his former girlfriend and widow of Noh-Tante. The chief kills White Fawn and Jonah kills the chief before he rescues Laura Vanden. (JH V1, #8)
Comment:  I don't know enough about Apache lore to say this couldn't have happened, but it sounds like a lot of stereotypical fighting and killing. The white guy who becomes a better Indian than the Indians and rises to be the chief's substitute son is certainly an old clich;eacute;. Moreover, I don't think the Apache used tomahawks in actual or ritual battles.

For more on the subject, see The Best Indian Movies and Comic Books Featuring Indians.

The New Mutants return

NYCC:  A New Start For "New Mutants"Reunions can be tricky things. For every soft-spoken, tear-filled get together with old friends, there are a dozen cases where reconnecting lets old conflicts boil back to the surface. Considering that, fans may have a bumpy ride in store when the students of Marvel's classic "New Mutants" series reunite for a new, May-launching ongoing helmed by writer Zeb Wells and artist Diogenes Neves as announced this weekend at the 2009 New York Comic-Con.

Making their original appearance in a self-titled 1982's Marvel Graphic Novel, the New Mutants were created by writer Chris Claremont and artist Bob McLeod and served as the first major expansion to Professor Charles Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters since the All-New X-Men years before. Over their original 100 issue run (which also featured the artistic hand of creators from Bill Sienkiewicz to Rob Liefeld), the core team including Cannonball, Dani Moonstar and Magma amongst others confronted both growing up as mutants and facing down supervillains for the first time. The new series (which will replace the soon-to-wrap "Young X-Men"), promises to feature the majority of the original book's core cast after graduation in a much more dangerous world for mutantkind than they once faced.
Comment:  As far as I know, Moonstar still has no mutant powers. I suspect she'll get her powers back in the new series.

Another blogger recently wrote about the confusing changes in Moonstar's powers. This is the key problem with Moonstar that I mentioned before.

I'm not sure how well the new NEW MUTANTS book will work, either. The problem is that Marvel has created too many X-teams: the X-Men, X-Factor, Excalibur, X-Force, Generation X, the New X-Men, the Young X-Men, et al. There are so many overlapping teams that few of them have a clear raison d'être. Since the eldest X-Men never grow old or leave, the newer mutants have nowhere to go except to irrelevant side teams.

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

Chickasaw at London College of Fashion

Chickasaw pursuing fashion dreamsMaya Stewart had big dreams as a Chickasaw/Creek girl growing up in the small town of Washington, Okla. She dreamed of a career in the fashion industry, living in Los Angeles, studying in London and exploring the world.

Many of those dreams have become reality for Stewart, who is an honors student of accessory design at the London College of Fashion.

Stewart was among the handful of students recently accepted into the honors program after two years of diligent study at the prestigious school.
And:As a child, she loved watching her mother and aunts making quilts and clothes based on Native American designs.

Her mother, Jimmie Carole Stewart, who is Creek, developed a design line with her sisters. It is known as the Fife collection, based on the family name of Maya’s uncle Bill Fife, who has served as principal Chief of the Creek Nation.
And:Once she completes her education, she hopes to develop her own line of fashion accessories.

“My goal is to have my own line,” said Stewart. “I would like a line featuring only Native American designs, but with a modern twist.”
Comment:  For more on the subject, see Native Designers at Fashion Week and Native Fashions and Models.

Writing about the Wolf Pack

In a move full of irony, Indian Country Today has asked me to write an article about the Native actors hired to be the Wolf Pack in the Twilight sequel New Moon.

This raises a couple of interesting questions:

1) Can I write a fair and balanced article about the Wolf Pack despite my previous criticism of the Twilight franchise?

2) Will I be able to write the article from a pseudo-Native perspective even though I'm not Native? Will anyone be able to distinguish my non-Native perspective from the Native perspectives usually published in Indian Country Today?

I presume the answers to these questions are 1) yes, 2a) yes, and 2b) no. But you can see and judge for yourself, of course.

Meanwhile, here's your chance to sound off on the subject. What do you think--good or bad--about the hiring of these Native actors to play Quileute werewolves? Feel free to post comments that I can use in the article.

Note:  If you're someone I don't know, please identify yourself with your full name and Native heritage, if any. No doubt ICT will wish to avoid anonymous opinions if possible.

Stephen vs. Kalisetsi on Native resistance

Stephen, meet reader Kalisetsi. Kalisetsi believes I oppose Native efforts to resist Euro-Americans. She thinks I dismiss Indian acts of fighting and killing as worthless--literally not worth counting.

Kalisetsi, meet reader Stephen. Stephen believes I support the wanton Native killing of Euro-Americans. He calls this "genocide" by Indians against non-Indians.

You two have polar opposite views of me--views that are so completely contradictory there's no point of commonality. So at least one of you is badly, horribly wrong. I suggest you debate the issue among yourselves and decide which of you it is. Come up with a single, unified take on my position and get back to us with it.

When you've reconciled your mutually exclusive views of me, then I'll let you know which of you has misread and mischaracterized my position. We'll have a big laugh together over your folly. Hint: It could be both of you, so watch out.

While we're waiting for Stephen and Kalisetsi to figure out what I believe, the rest of us can debate the issue. Resolved: That Indian resistance to Euro-American conquest sometimes justified killing civilians as a last resort. Any takers for the "pro" or "con" side?

For more on the subject, see Diplomacy Works, Violence Doesn't.

March 27, 2009

"Indians" dance in Shriner Circus

Letters, 3/26:  Native act disappointsThe Shriners are great people volunteering to do great things.

That being said, I was very upset to see a Native act in the Shrine Circus this year. The scene is a man on a horse in a costume and war bonnet and some women dancing to some very mocking Native music.

After talking with several local Shriners after the show, I realized they did not see the harm in this act.If you ask my children, they will say it is demeaning without a second thought.

I don’t think the Lincoln Shriners knowingly engaged in racism. After pointing some of these concerns out, they did agree to remove the headdress the man on the horse was wearing in the rest of the shows in Lincoln. Baby steps, I guess.

Items of great spiritual significance to many Native people, such as feathers found in the headdress, are trivialized when improperly used by non-Native people for secular purposes. We would all agree that a man in a priest costume running around sprinkling holy water on the crowd and tossing wafers would be offensive.
As usual, racist and ignorant (same thing?) readers denied the harm of stereotyping and cried "PC":Don wrote on March 26, 2009 3:16 am:

People need to just lighten up and enjoy the humor and fun at circuses. The U.S. has gone way overboard in their political correctness and in being offended at every little thing.

To K. Ross wrote on March 26, 2009 7:26 am:

Every time I read some scathing letter overreacting to cultural differences it makes me take a step back and want to stay away for fear of offending someone. Distancing ourselves doesn't bring on understanding, just paranoia and distrust. I didn't see the act, but have been to the Shriners circus many times where my own sex is wearing shiny and skimpy attire. I have never complained to anyone that it promotes stereotypes. I don't dress like that, but I would imagine that the circus is for fun, suspending belief for a few hours for the purpose of entertainment? Did your ticket read "documentary?"

From everything I have read and the famous artwork, natives did wear headdresses, and the scottish wore kilts what's your point?

Ed H wrote on March 26, 2009 8:34 am:

Actually Scotious i believe Don is saying this is entertainment. Not a historical re-enactment. If we demanded everything we view as entertainment be historically/culturally accurate then it wouldn't be entertainment. Also people realize what they view as entertainment is not representative of a people.

Bill part Chippewa says wrote on March 26, 2009 8:39 am:

....with respect to kris ross.....get over it. The political correctness is amazingly going overboard in this country. I played with Indian costumes, Indian figurines with cowboys, pounded a drum while doing an Indian rain dance and I seem to be just fine today. I didn't even think of this until you brought it up.
Comment:  Not only do the stereotypes sound bad--dancing, mocking music--but look at the context. "Indians" in a circus act! A historical curiosity out of a Wild West show. Parading and performing like trained animals.

Explaining the obvious to these conscious or unconscious racists, I posted a couple of rejoinders:

People have documented the harm of Native stereotypes over and over. Denying the harm because of ignorance doesn't change the evidence that proves the harm.

Actually, Ed, your statement that "people realize what they view as entertainment is not representative" is basically false. Most people think Indians dressed like Plains chiefs, were primitive savages, and barely exist today. They think this because the only "Indians" they see are phony ones like these Shriners.

A few more comments

Some comments I didn't post:

Does "To K. Ross" think no one has ever criticized women in skimpy costumes? That's just plain dumb.

A few Natives did wear headresses. Most didn't then and don't now. The point is that this attire isn't representative of most Indians; it's stereotypical.

"Bill part Chippewa" grew up emulating stupid stereotypes and now is so brainwashed that he doesn't even recognized them. But he thinks he's okay. If ignorance is bliss, Bill must be happy.

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

Tribes aren't educating people

Freelance writer Dave Palermo follows up on his assertion that tribes need better PR:

Palermo:  Native America is being defined by othersThe history of Native America was not written by American Indians. That is why the public believes the Americas before European contact were a largely uninhabited wilderness.

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.”
Palermo blames Indians as well as non-Indians for this lack of information:Both speeches were well-received by conference attendees, drawing long, deserved ovations. But Garcia’s words extended no farther than the walls of a Las Vegas conference hall and Gover’s speech was handwritten. He was unable to share copies with those who approached him as he left the hall.

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.
Comment:  Here you have an excellent example of a white man telling Indians what to do. Does anyone want to say that Palermo is wrong about the need for better PR? Or that Gover was right not to have copies of his speech available? If so, go ahead and make your case.

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.

Historical truth helps minorities

What John Hope Franklin could teach Ward ChurchillFranklin understood that social justice demanded rigorous attention to historical fact, detail and logic. To fight American racism, which was built upon fantasy and deception, minorities needed to keep a steady grip on their only real weapon: the truth. And that's precisely the lesson that seems to have eluded Ward Churchill.

Last week, as his tragic-comic lawsuit unfolded in a Denver courtroom, most of the attention focused on Churchill's admission that he ghost-wrote a book for another scholar and then cited it in support of his own work. That's unusual and probably unethical, but it's not nearly as bad as Churchill's real sin: pawning off rumors as facts.

Most notoriously, Churchill wrote that the U.S. Army intentionally spread smallpox among the Mandan tribe of Native Americans by distributing infected blankets from a St. Louis infirmary. His account was "self-evident," Churchill blithely told a university investigative committee. "Such stories have been integral to native oral histories for centuries," Churchill explained. "I've heard them all my life."

So that makes them true? Consider the steady stream of lies that has plagued racial minorities, all of them equally "self-evident" to the people who repeat them.
And: Churchill says he was fired because of an essay he wrote after the 9/11 attacks, describing the victims as "little Eichmanns." Maybe he's right. But he's wrong about the Mandan Indians and about history itself, which shouldn't be fabricated to fit our present-day political whims. That echoes the worst excesses of white supremacists, who distorted the past to prop up their own power.

And by replacing their falsehoods with a new set of myths, we injure America's ongoing struggle for racial equality. If an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind, to quote Gandhi, a lie for a lie makes us all into cynics. You can't speak truth to power if nothing is true.

No matter what happens to Ward Churchill, then, let's make sure we set the historical record straight. And let's tip our hats to John Hope Franklin, who reminded us why it matters. For America's least fortunate citizens, indeed, the truth is often all that they have.
Comment:  Some people agree with Churchill that we shouldn't scrutinize Native beliefs and claims. Naturally, I disagree. Whether it's that the Army distributed smallpox-laden blankets, the Chumash weren't "fluffy kittens," or "redsksins" isn't a slur, I say, "Show me the evidence."

Don't just expect us to swallow your claims as if you're some sort of holy figure. I.e., a Ward Churchill type who thinks he's God's gift to Indians. If you're going to assert something, do your best to prove it.

For more on the subject, see Educating Russ About Historical Accuracy.

Below:  "I'm an Indian and I'm right because I said so."

NIGA 2009 coming up

Indian gaming:  How to stay up in a down economy

NIGA’s Trade Show and Convention set for April 13–16 in PhoenixThe convention usually attracts thousands of tribal leaders, tribal delegates, gaming industry professionals and gaming-related businesses. Bringing together this community is crucial to success, said NIGA Chairman Ernie Stevens Jr.

He says Indian gaming has grown up over the years.

“Early on people described Indian gaming as exploding onto the scene. We feel we have grown and matured into a very responsible industry, including everything from regulations to marketing to the operations area, to the hotel and restaurant offshoot industries. I think to that extent, Indian country has now become the expert in the industry. Indian country has come into its own and we’re pretty good at this and we’re going to continue to work hard and get better at it.”

The four-day event kicks off with three golf tournaments at different area courses.

Stevens will host the Chairman’s Welcome Reception at the Hyatt Regency Hotel next to the convention center that Sunday night. Crystal Shawanda, a rising First Nations country star, will provide entertainment.

On Tuesday, April 14, Gila River Wild Horse Pass Resort and Casino will host the ever-popular “Jam on the Rez” with entertainment by R & B legend Gladys Knight.

The tradeshow will open Wednesday, April 15, while workshops and NIGA membership meetings continue. The American Indian Business Network will hold a reception, hosted by AGEM–-the Association of Gaming Equipment Manufacturers.

Clinton Pattea, president of the Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation, will be honored at the Wendell Chino Humanitarian Award Banquet in the convention center ballroom, after which the Beach Boys will play.
Comment:  I'll be in Phoenix to man the booth and take pictures with my new digital camera. If I have to see Gladys Knight and the Beach Boys, it's all part of the job. <g>

To counter stereotypes, read

Russell:  Advice to myselfI’ve heard people say they didn’t know they were poor. That’s the case unless somebody tells you, and plenty of people let me know. It did not take me long to figure out that most of the other kids did not have commodities and they lived in houses with light switches on the wall rather than a bulb dangling in the center of the room and several cords running away from that one connection so the wires were often hot to the touch.

There’s never any shortage of adults who want to tell you what to do, right? Do they still show you Indians in the textbooks that were either savage or stupid? I hope not. If so, I hope your folks give you stuff like the book I had about Will Rogers, an Indian who was smart and funny. They tell you your life is over if you can’t finish school, even though school is one teenage horror after another.
Steve Russell explains the alternative to finishing school:If you are smart, you are interested in how the world works, and if the school won’t teach you the things you need you will have to teach yourself. Whether your schools work for you is something you probably understand better than the adults in your life. Since you are me, the schools are not working for you, so I have one word that will save your life: read.

I seldom got caught skipping school because the last place they would look for a truant was the public library. I read books by the shelf rather than by author or topic. It was a small library.
Comment:  Some useful points here. One is how negative media messages can affect Indian children. Two is how reading and absorbing information can counteract these messages.

This is why reading Newspaper Rock is good for you. It doesn't necessarily matter if you agree with my points. You're thinking about things that 99% of the population doesn't think about, which puts you ahead of them.

For Russell's previous thought-provoking column, see Dumbest Discourse Since "Niggardly"?

"Indian country" in Terminator

In Last Voyage of the Jimmy Carter, the 3/20/09 episode of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, a "flash forward" shows a submarine in the year 2027. The crew is human but the captain is a robot reprogrammed to help them.

As the sub heads through robot-controlled waters to pick up a package, crewman Dietz objects to taking orders from "metal":You think those things work for us? Look around you. We work for them.

Hauling ass through the worst of Indian country? And for what? To take a damn box back to Serrano?
Referring to enemies as Indians is stereotypical, of course. And an American Indian crew member might well object: "As far as I'm concerned, Indian country is the only place that isn't enemy territory."

But the crew members are mainly Euro-American soldiers. And the term accurately reflects a US military mentality. By showing that some soldiers think stereotypically, at least it's honest.

True, it would be better if someone had contradicted this politically incorrect usage. Leaving the notion that Indians = robots unchallenged isn't nice. But at least Terminator's writers are still thinking of Indians.

Previous Native references in the show:

Coyote in Terminator
Native souls in Terminator
Cabeza de Vaca in Terminator
Modoc War in Terminator

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