January 24, 2010

White men reenact Illinois Indians

Links to history:  Local men portray Native Americans

By Dave FopayAs he talked in his Charleston home one recent morning, the short hair on most of Baumgartner’s head, except for a long braid in the back, gave a hint of the Mohawk he got and to which he now frequently returns. He’s spent 28 years portraying a Native American during presentations and re-enactments.

His encounter with the long gun settlers, actually other re-enactors portraying a militia at Lincoln Log Cabin State Historic Site, was an example of “the tail end of the time we portray,” he said. Most natives were “pushed out of Illinois” by the mid-1800s era that the historic site uses for its programs, he explained.

“History is written by the winners,” Gary Fuller said.

Joining his longtime friend and fellow re-enactor Baumgartner to talk about what they do and why, the Kansas resident said many people have no idea how Native Americans who lived in Illinois looked and live, often thinking of Chief Illiniwek.

“It’s showing the history of who was here,” Fuller said. “We fight stereotypes all the time.”
And:Baumgartner and Fuller most often portray members of the Kaskaskia tribe, re-enacting the eastern woodland culture on the “cusp” of the woods and plains, as Baumgartner described it.

Fuller showed a deer skin robe he made with images that show a story, one of several pieces he or Baumgartner made themselves. They have arrowheads, tools, pottery, weapons and more items than they say they can count.
Comment:  On the one hand, it's good these reenactors are dispelling the usual Plains Indians stereotypes. The stereotypes reinforced by the University of Illinois's Chief Illiniwek, that is. Amazing that Chief supporters have the gall to claim their dancing clown is educational.

On the other hand, I wonder how authentic their portrayals are. Even if they're authentic, white men portraying Indians isn't a great idea. It encourages people to think that anyone can be an Indian. That being Indian is just a matter of having the right clothing and accouterments.

For more on the subject, see Team Names and Mascots and Indian Wannabes

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