October 19, 2010

Andrew Cuomo's "Native American proverb"

Adrienne Keene reports on another example of stereotyping in her Native Appropriations blog:

Andrew Cuomo "Paraphrases" a "Native American Proverb"

His comment in a gubernatorial debate:"The Native Americans have a proverb, which if I can paraphrase, is 'we don't inherit the earth from our parents, we're loaned the earth by our children.' so, to be good public stewards of the environment, I think, is paramount for the government."And Adrienne's deconstruction of it:Can you imagine if he started out his answer with "The African Americans have a proverb, which if I can paraphrase..." or "The Asian Americans have a proverb..." or "The Latinos have a proverb..." or even better, "The White Americans have a proverb..."--there would be outrage. Everyone would give him the side-eye and an eyebrow raise and be thinking "WTF? really?" But apparently it's a-ok with Natives, since all 565+ tribes and communities are exactly the same, just like all African Americans, Latinos, and Asian Americans are the same. Right?

But then, on top of the lumping of all the distinct tribes and communities into one generic "Native American," we of course have the fabulous stereotyping of all Natives as being the perfect environmentalists. Crying a single tear for Mother Earth (I could actually write an entire post on that commercial alone). There is just as much harm in romanticizing Native peoples (the Noble Savage) as there is in vilifying. Either end of the spectrum creates absolutes, and erases the nuance and reality of an extremely heterogeneous, diverse, and huge group of people. We are not all warring savages, we are not all peaceful environmentalists, we are people. Real, living people, who believe in different things and act like individuals. How ridiculous is it that I even have to type that out?
Comment:  Good job, Adrienne!

For the standard view of Natives' appreciation of nature, see Climate-Change Conference in Bolivia and Natives Understand Nature's Value. For a contradictory example, see Real Conflict in Everybody Loves Whales.

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