Group presents Native culture with fake fires and tipis, phony tribal ID
By Stephanie Woodard
Indeed, the “Absentee Shawnee of Ohio” appear not to exist there or elsewhere, except perhaps in the mind of the clan mother and her acolytes, though the name closely tracks that of a federally recognized tribe in Oklahoma.
The card was duplicated onto copies of a letter passed out during a 2009 board meeting of an Iowa American Indian community organization, Native American Coalition of the Quad Cities. The letter included the cardholder’s request to demonstrate “the Native way of the Sweat Loge [sic]” to the group and described her credentials: Life on the “Tuba City Navaho Reservation [sic],” where her Apache adoptive father taught her “the ways of the pipe and the sweat loge [sic].” Eventually, she became a “gifted pipe carrier” of the Navajo, her adoptive mother’s people, and the Shawnee.
Apala-Cuevas: There have been many offenses to our peoples and cultures, and these are yet more. The desire to show us how to run a sweat lodge is an example of non-Natives feeling they can present Indian life better than the Indians. These people promulgate a mishmash of misinformation gleaned from Hollywood movies and similar sources. Believe me, being an Indian is the hardest thing anyone can do, and they are not up to it.
ICT: What about the letter’s culturally related errors?
Apala-Cuevas: A Pueblo professor from the University of Illinois wrote to NACQC after watching one of the hobbyist group’s members describing to a thrilled audience his school, church, and boy scout demonstrations, which included an electric fire and tipi. She told us she shuddered at the thought of the fake fire and tipi and the stereotypical Indian imagery he affirmed.
ICT: The imitation Indians claim to be well-meaning.
Apala-Cuevas: As the professor wrote in her letter, we’ve suffered under centuries of good intentions. People who play Indian are a problem countrywide. I see it as mental illness--a mass hysteria. An elder told me they have genetic memory of the genocide, so they carry fear within them and claim these relationships and this knowledge to alleviate the stress. Wilma Mankiller once sat next to Bill Clinton at a lunch, and the first thing he said to her was that he was part Cherokee. So you see, it’s from the president on down.
These people don't just practice their beliefs and customs among themselves. They want to share their phony "culture" with others. They want the appreciation and acclaim from naive school, church, and boy scout groups. "Oh, you're a genuine Indian?" they hope audiences will say. "How brave and noble your people are! You've suffered so much, yet you're still here, still trying to reach out to us. Let us make a generous donation to your tribe."
For more examples of wannabes, see Anti-Government Extremists Pose as "Indians" and Self-Proclaimed "Indian" Secedes from City. For more on the overall problem, see The Myth of the Cherokee Princess and Fraudulent "Cherokee" Organizations. For a history of Americans "playing Indian," see The Political Uses of Stereotyping.