November 24, 2010

Modern Indians are less Native?

StoryCorps Interview with NMAI's Ramsey Weeks (Assiniboine/Hidatsa)This week the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian is sharing the stories of five Native staffers as part of American Indian Heritage Day and the StoryCorps' 2010 National Day of Listening, a holiday started by the nonprofit organization StoryCorps in 2008. Both holidays fall on the same day this year—Friday, Nov. 26.

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.
And:On using objects and photographs to dispel myths during tours:

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.”
And:On working at a “Living History” museum:

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.”
Comment:  I especially like the point in the second section. People think Indians are less Native, or not Native at all, if they don't fit our mental maps of them. This shows how powerful our stereotypical perceptions are.

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.


Burt said...

I believe it is a sign of the times across the country where it is popular and more acceptable to be ignorant or just plain stupid, bear with me on this Rob.
If we take a look at the popular trends and fads the younger generation and those in our 40s, we find less and less people geared towards the sciences; environmental causes or intellectual discussions. Look at our last president and how popular he still remains across the country. President Obama does not appeal to those that seek to keep America anti-intellectual and regress to old world society values, yet anything proper or progressive and righteous is considered “gay”, and I am not speaking of sexuality here.
In other words, it is not just about Americans ignorance of the American Indian and our plight, it is about a complete ignorance of American history and its lessons altogether that make for a real change forward. If Americans do not know their own history, how can they be held accountable for their knowledge, or lack thereof, of the indigenous peoples that inhabited this land for more than a millennium before them?
What I find fascinating is that other countries around the world have a surprising grasp of American history over Americans themselves, have a fascination for natives here and, read carefully; think we are extinct, if Goebbels could see us now?
Reminds me of a film I saw called, “Idiocracy” by Mike Judge where in the future, people with high IQs cannot populate but the stupid are breeding like rats. Society is turned upside down with machines doing all the thinking while the stupid push all the buttons. See it, you’ll see where today’s conservative movement wants to be and it is not so different from where we are now.

dmarks said...

"See it, you’ll see where today’s conservative movement wants to be and it is not so different from where we are now."

Looks a lot like more where the liberals want us to be, and 2008 is a good example where the "ignorant or just plain stupid" were bamboozled by a successful campaign of "never mind that we have worse ideas, we have a great public speaker!" The anti-intellectual mantra of "hope and change" instead of sound ideas.

Rob said...

Are you seriously arguing that McCain had better ideas than Obama, DMarks? Why don't you list some of these great ideas for us?

Healthcare reform, financial regulation, middle-class tax cuts, and troop reductions in Iraq are better ideas than anything Bush gave us.

For more on the subject, see: