The Tribal Hunter is a skilled, wise and noble tracker who is at one with the wilderness. He lives off the land, his only possessions a hand-made bow and quiver (though some say he also has an MP3 player hidden somewhere, and that he’s secretly a great dancer). There is no better hunter alive, but he does not hunt to eat–instead, he prefers to prove his skill in a most unusual way.
If an animal is famous for being difficult to sneak up on, you can bet that the Tribal Hunter can be found creeping silently toward it, his bare feet making not a sound on the dry autumn leaves, until he suddenly jumps out to surprise the unsuspecting creature with a friendly poke. Fortunately, he is also a very fast runner, because most of the time he ends up getting chased by something with very big teeth and a very short temper. But that’s all just part of being the best hunter around!
But don't worry all you helicopter parents concerned about the amount of violence to which your child is exposed! This "hunter" doesn't hunt/kill to eat animals (god forbid). He tickles them. If that isn't infantilizing Natives, I don't know what is. I just picture this clown-like Indian jumping out of the bushes with a lopsided grin and poking a buffalo with a maniacal laugh.
If you go to the Lego page, you can see along the side the other "characters"--there are some occupations, like deep sea diver and nurse, but most are things like Ninja, Caveman, Robot, Zombie, etc. Just like I mentioned in my post about headdresses at Yale Class Day, Indians are placed as a fantasy character, pretend, not a real group of people.
But as I remind everyone, when you got that questionnaire from the government a few months ago, tell me, was there a box to check off with the word pirate next to it? How about ninja or cowboy?
Well, there is a box on the U.S. Census for American Indian. That's the difference!
Note also that he's wearing warpaint even though he's only hunting. It couldn't be clearer that people aren't trying to replicate or "honor" actual Native traditions. What they're doing is treating Indians as a collection of superficial costume elements--just like the circus clown.
Someone else makes another good point:
A "defense" of Lego
Correspondent Michael Cooke offered a predictable defense of Lego: that all the figures are stupid and stereotypical, so why single out the Indian?
You almost had me worried that you might have a valid point, Mike. But as usual, you don't.
All the characters are yellow-skinned, so there's no white guy or Mexican. The wrestler is specifically not labeled a Mexican or Latino, so you're flatly wrong there. The only figure that has a clear ethnic identity is the Tribal Hunter (Indian).
The Cowboy has a notable set of skills and the Spaceman has an array of high-tech equipment. In contrast, the Indian supposedly tickles his quarry into submission. In short, the only reason to comment on the other figures would be to emphasize how much more stereotypical the Indian is.
For more on Native-themed toys, see Mormon Action Figures and Indian Toys and Games. For more on Indians as fantasy figures, see Natives = "Pirates" and "Outlaws" and Indians, Smurfs, and Fairies.