Today’s interview is with Ramsey Weeks (Assiniboine/Hidatsa). As one of the museum’s Cultural Interpreters, Weeks leads daily tours and education workshops, offering visitors a chance to see the museum through Native eyes and learn about the museum’s objects from a Native perspective.
His job often involves challenging long-held stereotypes about American Indians—no easy task.
EXCERPT: “I have this wonderful picture of me dressed up in traditional clothing. I like to hold that, “Who is this? Is this person more Native than me?” And most of the kids will look at that traditional clothing and say, “Yep, that person’s more Indian than you.” And then they’re very shocked when I was, “That is me!” It’s a great little learning moment for them to see that clothing doesn’t make a person Native, it doesn’t make a person more or less Native.”
EXCERPT: “There was the stereotype that, as Native people, we should obviously know all of the things that traditional Native people knew, like tanning hides. I have never learned to tan a hide. You throw one down in front of me and tell me to tan it, I’m going to give you a very odd look. This is not something I know.”
It's easy to imagine how this can harm people. If Indians are perceived as "less Native" than they really are, they may receive less recognition and respect. Fewer job offers and government benefits. More criticism and scorn.
Consider what happened to the Cherokee Freedmen, or the unregistered Indian I wrote about recently. Or what happens constantly to Natives affronted by mascots and stereotypes like those in the Station 280 flier. These things happen because people don't realize that Indians are everywhere--because modern Indians don't match their stereotypical notions.
For more on the subject, see Photos Challenge Native Stereotypes, "Take a Picture with a Real Indian," and Modern Indians Anger Museum Goers.