January 25, 2010

Modern Indians anger museum goers

Gover addresses 'White Man's Indian' in Canby lectureGover said that Indians are damaged by allowing others to define them, which continues to this day.

"It puts us in a box," Gover said. "I'm stunned by the number of people who are angry when they come to the museum and see it is about Indians who are still here, rather than Indians who used to be. They think modern Indians aren't real Indians because we're not like we were when Columbus set foot here."

Gover uses artists as an example.

"Any Native artist using modern media for their work is criticized," Gover said. "People say, 'That's not Indian art.' Even though it's an Indian making a statement about Indians. The media the artist chooses to use becomes disqualifying. It's crazy, and it's insulting.

"It's like saying it isn't legitimate unless it is the same way you were doing things in 1492," he said. "They wouldn't ask it of anyone else. They wouldn't say, 'You can't be a White man unless you're wearing knickers and tails. It's unique to Indians."

Being defined by others extends to sports mascots, where Indians are "honored" for their bravery.

"Why don't they honor us for being smart, creative, for all kinds of different things?" Gover asks. "Why choose the one? It tells us that you're stereotyping. You can't be Indian unless you're brave, whatever that means. It's ridiculous. It's just a tiny part of what Indians were and are."
Comment:  The most interesting point here is the first one: how attendees get mad when the NMAI doesn't fulfill their expectations of stereotypical Indians. I suspect this anger plays a larger role than we realize.

For instance, when you tell people their Indian mascots are stereotypical, what do they do? Do they actually think about it, do some historical research, try to justify the stereotypes somehow? No, they lash out. They tell you they're "honoring" Indians, that you're being too "sensitive," that it's just "harmless fun."

In other words, they don't engage in the actual issues. They turn an intellectual question into an emotional one. "We love our mascot! We've had it forever! You're not taking it away from us!"

Essentially they're reacting like little children when you tell them they can't have a toy or a pet. The typical spoiled brat doesn't take it calmly; he screams and throws a tantrum. Whatever "reason" the whiner comes up with is illogical and insufficient. It amounts to nothing more than "I want it!"

For more on the subject, see Team Names and Mascots.

Below:  Kevin Gover, an example of a modern Indian who angers non-Indians.


Anonymous said...

What a schzoid, snotty column/blog. You range too far in your "discussion" about stereotypes.

I'm part Native American and worked at the NMAI for a few years. IMO, Gover wasn't the best choice for director after R. West.

Aside from that... what I read here is a bunch of crud. You bundle all "white" folk just as many non Native Americans bundle Native peoples. Furthermore, not all non Natives express what you ascribe to them here. Horsefeathers. Ignorance knows no color or culture or language. It's across the board.

What I want to see at the NMAI is a mix of old and new. The Heye collection comprises approx. one million artifacts that were kept in a warehouse in NY for years. Why not exhibit them? If anything, ALL people get to see the connection from past to present so they can appreciate both and also imagine the future. The NMAI is a central cultural treasure for LEARNING. Museums educate, enlighten, and entertain people. They inspire people to think, imagine.

I know one of the people involved with the Redskins-Patent Office litigation re nicknames. Recently it was all dismissed. I hope someone comes to their senses and does the right thing because if I tell you something is painful to me, believe it. You need not understand it - just accept it. This issue is more a case of $$$ than "white" stereotyping Native peoples.

Rob said...

Whether Kevin Gover is the ideal person to run the NMAI is irrelevant to this posting. He doesn't have to be a great administrator to observe and assess the NMAI's visitors.

No, I didn't bundle "all white folks" in this posting. I was commenting only on museum goers and mascot lovers who get angry when their stereotypical beliefs are challenged.

Apparently you don't understand generalizations any better than reader Stephen does. Do I need to explain the difference between "many" and "all" white people to you too?

If you think I referred to "all" whites in this posting, quote me on it. Either that or admit your response "ranged too far." Put up or shut up, friend.

The next time I generalize about Americans or white people, I'll be glad to discuss why my generalizations are accurate. This time I didn't go beyond the two subgroups mentioned above. Therefore, your criticism fails.

Finally, my style is what makes my blog popular. if you don't like it, you're welcome to leave. I'm sure you can find some sappy-sweet blogs that are more to your liking.

P.S. I posted something on the Heye collection in Infinity of Nations at NMAI. And everyone knows I follow Redskins-related issues closely.