February 28, 2010

Franklin and Indians knew best

In today's partisan political environment, Democrats can't lead and Republicans won't follow. Ben Franklin recommended the Indian model of governance to the squabbling colonies then and he'd probably recommend it to the squabbling parties now.

Benjamin Franklin:  Respect in political discourse is good Native value

By José BarreiroIn 1750, while deliberating thoughts on the “necessary unity of the colonies,” Franklin mocked his fellow colonial leaders, presumably the elite of the promised republic, with the much-published argument: “It would be a very strange thing, if six nations of ignorant savages should be capable of forming a scheme for such an union, and be able to execute it in such a manner, as that it has subsisted ages, and appears indissoluble; and yet that a like union should be impracticable for ten or a dozen English Colonies … who cannot be supposed to want an equal understanding of their interests.” (Letter to James Parker, Philadelphia, March 20, 1750.)

Franklin’s exhortation to gather American political forces is equally relevant today, when the unity of the American Republic appears in peril and in need of re-energized dialogue. The manner of its historically successful undertaking--by the value of careful, diplomatic and deliberate discussion--he attributes to American Indians, of whom he writes that, “having frequent occasions to hold public councils, they have acquired great order and decency in conducting them.”

Wrote Franklin: “He that would speak, rises. The rest observe a profound silence. When he has finished and sits down, they leave him five or six minutes to recollect, that if he has omitted anything he intended to say or has anything to add, he may rise again and deliver it. To interrupt another, even in common conversation is reckoned highly indecent.”

This important observation of an American Indian value, which sustains in most contemporary tribal councils and arguably proposed for American political discourse, is vintage Franklin.
Comment:  Hard to imagine that 150 years ago, Lincoln and Douglas debated for hours without prepared speeches, notes, or teleprompters and people listened. These days it's a major event if Democrats and Republicans sit down together and exchange a few sound bites for the cameras.

I don't know how ironic Franklin intended the phrase "ignorant savages" to be. It's pretty ironic considering the Haudenosaunee tribes were more united than the British colonies. Wasn't that unity one mark of their civilized, stately nature?

For more on the Founding Fathers and Indians, see Fun 4th of July Facts.

Massachusetts towns with bad seals

Looking for seal approval

By George BrennanRight in the backyard of the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe, the town of Mashpee seal features an Indian with a similar arm and sword overhead that Indian leaders said last week they find so offensive on the Massachusetts seal.

"We haven't brought it up to Mashpee, but yes, I would like to see it changed," said Jim Peters, a Mashpee Wampanoag tribe member and resident of the town.

Mashpee and Massachusetts aren't the only ones who use Indian symbols as part of the official seals. Indian symbols are used across the state, including six other towns on Cape Cod that have an Indian references on their official logos—everything from an Indian in a headdress in Eastham to a teepee in Bourne to a group of Indians waiting onshore for a boat in Wellfleet.

Tuesday, the state Commission on Indian Affairs unanimously endorsed legislation that would set up a commission to find an alternate state logo. Peters, executive director of the commission, said his agency urges all communities to review their use of Indian symbols.

"Is it a place of honor or is it to rally the troops?" he said. "They should look at them and teach students what really happened in the formulation of their communities. It isn't always positive."
Comment:  Seeing the Mashpee seal emulate the Massachusetts seal makes me like the sword arm less. Once may be a coincidence, but two or more times starts to send a message.

Wow, these are some lame and stereotypical seals. They say nothing about the towns they supposedly represent. They're all about using Indians to justify the towns' existence.

"Yes, we forced the Indians off their land and killed the ones who resisted," they seem to say. "But look, we have an Indian on our seal. That makes it a seal of approval. We didn't steal the Indians' land, we inherited it. They welcomed us and are glad to see us take their place."

For more on the subject, see The Political Uses of Stereotyping.

Bradford may play for Redskins

Redskins Journal

Native American QB Sam Bradford willing to play for "Redskins"

By Rich CampbellSam Bradford, the University of Oklahoma quarterback who is part Cherokee Indian, will be drafted with one of the first 10 picks in April--as long as his surgically repaired right shoulder is healthy--and many draft analysts believe he'll end up with the Redskins.

Bradford said today at the NFL scouting combine that he has no problem with that, despite how offensive some Native Americans consider the "Redskins" nickname to be.

It would be an interesting match, considering that Bradford is one-sixteenth Native American. One American Indian group appealed to the Supreme Court last year to have the team's trademarks invalidated, but the court declined to take up the case.

Things could become awkward for Bradford if the Redskins draft him because he's viewed as a role model by many Native Americans. That status increased dramatically in 2008 when he became the first Native American to win the Heisman Trophy.
Comment:  Can you imagine what a statement it would make if the Redskins drafted Bradford and he refused to play for them? He could put the mascot debate on the front page of every sports newspaper and website in the country.

Alas, it isn't going to happen.

Coming from a guy who considers himself more of an American than a Cherokee, Bradford's statement isn't surprising. Other than saying he's proud to be a Cherokee, he hasn't shown any interest in his culture or heritage that I'm aware of. He continues to demonstrate that jocks don't make good role models.

For more on the subject, see Bradford's Durability in Question and Bradford the Messiah?

Below:  Two oddly dissimilar "redskins."

Video of my Census meeting

Census Reaches Out to American Indians, But Gaps Remain

By Jacob SimasAt a Feb. 16 meeting hosted by New America Media in Los Angeles, native media and community leaders met with census officials to discuss additional strategies to increase awareness of the 2010 Census among what has traditionally been one of the most undercounted segments of the national populace.

According to census records, the American Indian population increased faster than the total U.S. population between 1990 and 2000, with more than 4 million people identifying themselves as American Indian or Alaskan Native on the 2000 census questionnaire. Yet bureau officials believe the actual number to be much higher, and say a distrust of the government, general apathy toward the census, and an increase in migration from rural reservations to urban centers, has contributed to undercounts of native communities.

“We urgently need the help of American Indian media,” said James T. Christy, regional director for the U.S. Census in Los Angeles. “Through your trusted voices, hopefully our message will be heard and we can achieve an accurate count of your communities.”

With the 2010 census now officially underway, the Census Bureau is hoping to raise awareness of the census throughout California’s native communities, which are culturally diverse, physically fragmented, and due to a lack of dedicated media outlets, not easily reached by traditional media campaigns.

Comment:  This is the Feb. 16 Census meeting I reported on. You can see me in the background (bald head, blue and red shirt) at the 1:19 mark. There's a closeup of me at the 2:58 mark. And you can hear me and see me speak at the 3:46 mark.

Alas, I'm really starting to look like an old man. Oh, well....

For more on the subject, see Census Info Not Reaching Natives.

Inside Out Haudenosaunee

Contemporary Native American artists at new Nazareth gallery in Pittsford

Native American artists blend time periods in work on exhibit at new Nazareth art gallery

By Stuart Low
A pioneering art show at Nazareth College brings age-old Native American designs into the world of iPods and space aliens.

“Inside Out Haudenosaunee” features seven contemporary Iroquois artists with a dual identity. With one foot in tradition and the other in the computer age, they infuse familiar clay and beads with today’s images.

You might find a portrait of a young Mohawk man with a nose ring, headphones and Ozzy Osbourne sunglasses. Another picture will make you ask: Why’s that Seneca woman flying over giant Budweiser billboards in Times Square?

“These 21st-century images reflect who the Seneca are today,” says Cathy Sweet, director of Nazareth College Arts Center’s new gallery. “But the notion of displaying their art in a white, contemporary gallery like ours is new to them.”
Comment:  For more on modern Native art, see Two Views of The Way of the People and Currents at University of Northern Colorado.

Below:  "Black Flint" by Alex Jacobs at Nazareth College's "Inside Out Haudenosaunee" exhibit.

IndiVisible causes divisions

Indivisible:  Exhibit re-ignites Indian Wars in Boston

By Winchin ChalaLate last year, the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) opened an exhibit “Indivisible.” As with the museum itself, the reaction is mixed. One unexpected result is the animosity and controversy it has created among the Massachusetts tribe, the Chappaquiddick of the Wampanoag Nation.And:There are no longer any full-blooded Chappaquiddick. Among the actual roll of about 200, each member can claim to be Chappaquiddick or part this or that, thus it is impossible to label the Chappaquiddick Tribe as a whole as “African-Native-American” as the exhibit “Indivisible” does. The Sagamore Seawolfe reports, “We embrace all of our members. And we do have some members who we know have African roots, but no one has ever mentioned being African-American-Indian until recently, after the Indivisible exhibit went up. My family and I and many other members of the Chappaquiddick do not have any connection to being African or share in the dual experience of being ‘African-American-Natives.’ Many of us do not know why we are included in the exhibit ‘Indivisible.’ We were never approached about it.”Comment:  For more on the subject, see Native Roots of Hendrix and the Blues and IndiVisible Responds to Freedmen Issue.

Sundance at the Aboriginal Pavilion

Bird Runningwater's Photos--Sundance Native Program at the Olympics

Comment:  After all the talk about the Aboriginal Pavilion at the 2010 Olympics, this is the first I've seen of it from the outside.

As one posting put it, "The Aboriginal Pavilion at the Olympics is not in the Queen Elizabeth Theatre, but rather is a temporary tent in the theatre's parking lot." Now I know what that means.

For more on the subject, see Natives Are Winners at 2010 Olympics and Native Participation in 2010 Olympics.

Below:  "Sterlin Harjo's GOODNIGHT IRENE screening at the Pavilion."

February 27, 2010

Ups and downs of Hollywood Indians

Another review of Reel Injun makes some interesting points:

Reel Injun cuts through clichés

By Craig TakeuchiThe depiction of Native people as the enemy in westerns was so unquestioned that Diamond and other Native children grew up identifying with cowboys. In fact, seeing a Native character being portrayed authentically for the first time had a resounding impact at his brother’s school. “When he was in the residential school, he’d watch these cowboy-and-Indian movies all the time as well. There’s a scene in a film where this Native character comes up over a rise and says this line, and it happened to be in Cree, and a whole bunch of the Cree kids in the school turned to each other and said, ‘Holy shit!’”

What’s interesting is that Hollywood’s initial attempts to portray Natives as heroes bombed at the Depression-era box office. “They [Hollywood] needed to justify what happened in the Wild West,” Diamond theorizes. “They couldn’t really look at their past and feel good about it if they told the real story of what happened in the West, taking over the continent and stuff. So they needed John Wayne to come in and make them all feel good about it.”
Comment:  The first point--that Diamond grew up identifying with cowboys--isn't that interesting. Several Indians have said the same thing. In fact, I don't think I've ever heard an Indian say he grew up identifying with movie Indians.

But the related point--how impressive it was for Cree kids to see one of their own on the screen--is interesting. Even though Diamond doesn't say more about it, you can imagine its having a profound effect on the kids' self-image. In some cases it could be a life-changing event.

Hollywood's ups and downs

The second point is the really interesting one. I haven't studied the history of Hollywood Indians in depth, but it doesn't seem to have gone in a straight line.

For the first couple of decades, Hollywood undertook a lot of stereotypical but sincere efforts to romanticize and ennoble Indians. Some even had real Indians in front of or behind the cameras. They portrayed brave warriors and beautiful maidens who fought for their dignity and honor and died tragically.

For the next few decades, Hollywood produced the classic Westerns associated with John Wayne. No longer were Indians portrayed as noble savages. They were simply savages: predatory beasts who circled the wagon trains and tried to kill everyone.

From the mid-1950s on Hollywood made a gradual transition to portraying Indians as full-fledged human beings. The stereotypes lessened and the complexities grew. This culminated in the breakthrough trio of Dances with Wolves, Pocahontas, and Smoke Signals--the three Native movies that everyone still talks about.

And in the 2000s I'd argue that Native portrayals have plateaued. We're seeing a lot of good work among independent filmmakers such as Atanarjuat, Imprint, and Four Sheet to the Wind. And a lot of high-minded specials such as Dreamkeeper, Into the West, and We Shall Remain.

But we're also seeing a return to the stereotypes of the past in movies such as Apocalypto, Comanche Moon, and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls. And a lot of bogus casting choices such as Johnny Depp, Taylor Lautner, and Lynn Collins.

The early years

Why the ups and downs? Diamond theorizes that positive Native portrayals fell out of favor and stopped making money. Maybe so, but if this happened, why? What's the explanation behind the explanation?

For starters, talking about whether the movies made money seems superficial at best. Hollywood made positive Native movies for 10 or 20 years, then negative Native movies for 20 or 30 years, then somewhat positive Native movies again. Each kind of movie presumably made money for years before it stopped making money. Therefore, something besides the movies themselves caused the shifts in emphasis.

It could be that audiences just got bored, but I bet there was more to it than that. In the early years of the 20th century, Americans were still lamenting the "vanishing Indians." (The ones we caused to "vanish" by killing them.) Wild West shows continued to be popular throughout this period. Geronimo became a folk hero. Professional and college teams chose Indians as mascots.

So what changed? Well, the heyday of classic Westerns corresponded with the rise of the USSR, the Depression, Nazism and World War II, and the Cold War. In other words, America was going through a bad period. Perhaps we felt so insecure that we needed someone to lash out against. Someone we could beat and kill to make us feel good about ourselves.

Killing Commies, Nazis, and Japs wasn't enough, so we gratified ourselves with killing fictional redskins. One faceless horde of barbaric savages substituted for another. War heroes and Western heroes, such as those John Wayne played, became interchangeable examples of American greatness.

Into the modern era

Similarly, we could chart the last half of the 20th century:

  • Mid-1950 through 1970s => social activism => better Native movies.
  • 1980s => Reagan era => fewer good Native movies.
  • 1990s => Clinton era => Dances with Wolves, Pocahontas, and Smoke Signals.
  • 2000s => Bush era => Mix of good and bad movies.

  • Even that's probably way too simplistic. We should look for more specific triggers. For instance, the Reagan era may have coincided with a backlash against Alcatraz, Wounded Knee II, and other instances of Native activism.

    The Bush era definitely coincided with the expansion of Indian gaming and the backlash against it. You didn't see it in the decade's movies, but many Native-themed TV shows featured gaming-related plots. And those that didn't often featured business-related corruption, a similar idea.

    It's impossible to prove, but I suspect this backlash has had an effect on movies too. In the 1960s and '70s, Indians were oppressed underdogs. In the 2000s, they were greedy casino owners. That had to affect people's thinking.

    Studio execs surely felt the same way as Americans overall. So in the first era, they greenlighted Little Big Man and Billy Jack. In the second era, they greenlighted Pirates of the Caribbean and The Ruins. Each era's movies would be inconceivable in the other era.

    Same with comic books or any other popular medium. In the first era, Wyatt Wingfoot, the X-Men and New Mutants, and Alpha Flight. In the second era, THE FOURTH HORSEMAN, STREETS OF GLORY, and SCALPED.


    I don't know if this analysis is totally right, but it isn't totally wrong. I'd say it shows the complex interplay between political, social, and cultural forces. Between Native lives, Native entertainment, and Native stereotypes.

    That's why I laugh when Russell Bates ignoramuses say movies don't have messages. What happens when people get sick of George W. Bush and his pro-war, pro-business, anti-environment, anti-science mentality? They create, produce, and flock to a movie such as Avatar. Culture shapes entertainment which in turn shapes culture.

    With Obama as president and change in the air, it should be a good decade for Native-themed entertainment. Let's hope so.

    For more on the subject, see The Best Indian Movies.

    Below:  Progressive era:

    Regressive era:

    Racism in Heinlein's Friday

    I recently read the sci-fi classic Friday. Here's the story:

    FridayFriday is a 1982 science fiction novel by Robert A. Heinlein. It is the story of a female "artificial person," the titular character, genetically engineered to be stronger, faster, smarter, and generally better than normal humans. Artificial humans are widely resented, and much of the story deals with Friday's struggle both against prejudice and to conceal her enhanced attributes from other humans. The story is set in a Balkanized world, in which the nations of the North American continent have been split up into a number of smaller states.One scene in this novel is worth mentioning.

    The story is set in the mid-21st century. Friday, going by the name Marjorie, has joined a free-love sort of family in New Zealand. Since they're uninhibited about sexuality, Friday doesn't expect them to have other hangups.

    The family includes Anita, who's in charge; Vickie; and Anita's daughter Ellen. Ellen has done something disgraceful and Marj (Friday) asks Vickie what she did:"Vickie, what is this about Ellen's husband? Does he have two heads or what?"

    "Uh, he's a Tongan. Or did you know?"

    "Certainly I knew. But 'Tongan' is not a disease. And it's Ellen's business. Her problem, if it is one. I can't see that it is."

    "Uh, Anita has handled it badly. Once it's done, the only thing to do is to put the best face on it possible. But a mixed marriage is always unfortunate, I think—especially if the girl is the one marrying below herself, as in Ellen's case."

    "'Below herself!' All I've been told is that he's a Tongan. Tongans are tall, handsome, hospitable, and about as brown as I am. In appearance they can't be distinguished from Maori. What if this young man had been Maori . . . of good family, from an early canoe . . . and lots of land?"

    "Truly, I don't think Anita would have liked it, Marj—but she would have gone to the wedding and given the reception. Intermarriage with Maori has long precedent behind it; one must accept it. But one need not like it. Mixing the races is always a bad idea."

    (Vickie, Vickie, do you know of a better idea for getting the world out of the mess it is in?) "So? Vickie, this built-in suntan of mine—you know where I got it?"

    "Certainly, you told us. Amerindian. Uh, Cherokee, you said. Marj! Did I hurt your feelings? Oh, dear! It's not like that at all! Everybody knows that Amerindians are— Well, just like white people. Every bit as good."

    (Oh, sure, sure! And "some of my best friends are Jews." But I'm not Cherokee, so far as I know. Dear little Vickie, what would you think if I told you that I am an AP? I'm tempted to . . . but I must not shock you.)

    "No, because I considered the source. You don't know any better. You've never been anywhere and you probably soaked up racism with your mother's milk."

    Vickie turned red. "That's most unfair! Marj, when you were up for membership in the family I stuck up for you. I voted for you."

    "I was under the impression that everyone had. Or I would not have joined. Do I understand that my Cherokee blood was an issue in that discussion?"

    "Well . . . it was mentioned."

    "By whom and to what effect?"

    "Uh— Marjie, those are executive sessions, they have to be. I can't talk about them."
    Without spoiling the story, let's say Friday doesn't agree with this irrational racism and pays for it.

    It's not clear why Friday told the family she was Cherokee if she didn't think she was. But her boss later confirms that she is part Indian:"Before your records were destroyed, I once scratched my curiosity by listing the sources that went into creating you. As near as I can recall they are:

    "Finnish, Polynesian, Amerindian, Inuit, Danish, red Irish, Swazi, Korean, German, Hindu, English--and bits and pieces from elsewhere since none of the above are pure."
    Rob's reactions

    A few thoughts on this:

  • Two of Friday's top four ethnic groups are Native and another one (Polynesian) is indigenous. I'd say she counts as an indigenous or Native person. As much as one can when one's cells were mixed and grown in a test tube, that is.

  • Did Heinlein really think the world's people would overcome their prejudice against promiscuity and homosexuality in a mere 50-75 years? If so, he must've been high on something. It'll take much longer than that.

  • Racial and sexual prejudices often go together. Really, the enlightened people of New Zealand have 22nd-century attitudes toward sex but 19th-century attitudes toward race? How did their racial attitudes lurch so far backward that they'd embarrass Archie Bunker?

    Alas, this subplot is interesting but unrealistic. It's like a textbook that gives you a case study of racism without any of the flesh-and-blood messiness.

  • The publisher who authorized the cover must not have read the book. Friday looks like a pure Aryan or Scandinavian type. The Finnish, Danish, red Irish, German, and English strains are evident, but not the Polynesian, Amerindian, Inuit, Swazi, Korean, or Hindu strains. I guess the publisher figured a blond beauty would sell better than a brown-skinned beauty.

  • As for the rest of the book, Heinlein has some interesting ideas about the future, but his view of women is misogynist. Moreover, as two Amazon.com critics put it, "the secret-agent intrigue peters out partway through" and "the main story meanders around pointlessly for over half the book." Rob's rating:  7.5 of 10.

    For more on the subject, see No Natives in Science Fiction? and The Best Indian Books.

    Below:  Friday the brown-skinned Cherokee...

    ...and the Tongans she supposedly resembles.

    Will Olympics make things better?

    Olympic legacy leaves First Nations confident, but some worry of social costs

    By Terri TheodoreVancouver organizers have committed to more than a dozen programs they promise will leave a lasting social, environmental or economic legacy in Vancouver.

    "We've taken it as one of our goals and one of our responsibilities, frankly, in staging the Games to make sure that we were always considering what we could do to help those who are less advantaged here in the city," Renee Smith-Valade, chief spokeswoman for the committee, known as VANOC, has said.

    "So we put together a comprehensive plan under our sustainability program that looked at not only our sustainability from the platforms that perhaps more people are used to, environmental and cultural, but also social sustainability."

    Everything from homelessness to the environment is on the Olympic agenda for these Games—sometimes providing a lightning rod for critics who say Olympic organizers have failed to meet those goals or have even made things worse.
    And:Harsha Walia, an human rights and homeless advocate, believes the legacy of Vancouver's Olympics will be benefits for a few and a lot of misery and suffering for the majority.

    "You know the IOC will be gone, VANOC will be disbanded, but all of us will be left with a massive debt, a security legacy and increased police presence and more people still on the street."

    John Rennie Short, professor of public policy at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, has followed the legacies of several Olympic Games.

    Short said it's hard to say if the Games will be good or bad for the city because cost-benefit studies are "in the realm of fiction" and have only been done by people who want to promote the Games.
    Comment:  It may be a mistake to expect Olympics-related social programs to make a big difference. I'd think in broader terms if I were a British Columbian Native. You've raised awareness of your history, culture, and art through the Olympics. Now build on that. Use this Olympics awareness to ask for more of everything.

    And not just more money. More places at national and international negotiations. More discussion of how climate change affects you. More educational curricula and entertainment programming about you. Etc.

    These things, in turn, will lead to more tangible benefits. Because businesses and government agencies are more aware of you, they'll include you in their thinking and planning. That will generate more jobs, schools, and health-care clinics.

    Blacks provide an example

    For a related example, consider the Civil Rights movement. Blacks didn't march to integrate particular drinking fountains and diner counters one by one. They marched to raise the public's awareness of their inferior status--of the laws and traditions making them second-class citizens.

    That's why people like Jesse Owens, Jackie Robinson, and Rosa Parks were so important: for their symbolic value. They proved that blacks could demand and do as much as whites. They caused whites to see them in a new light.

    Once blacks raised awareness of their plight, people started challenging the laws and traditions. Eventually the drinking fountains or diner counters--and a million other things, too--became integrated. So blacks succeeded by tackling America's cultural mindset first. Once that started shifting, it rippled through society as a myriad of small changes.

    For more on the subject, see Natives Are Winners at 2010 Olympics and Native Buzz at 2010 Olympics.

    Native films on Turner Classic Movies

    Natives and Films on TNTThis May, the Peabody Award-winning Turner Classic Movies (TCM) will present the fifth in its ongoing RACE AND HOLLYWOOD festivals, which explore Hollywood’s portrayal of different minority groups. Each Tuesday and Thursday throughout the month, TCM will dedicate its primetime and overnight schedule to NATIVE AMERICAN IMAGES ON FILM.

    Joining TCM host Robert Osborne in presenting the films will be Professor Hanay Geiogamah, director of the American Indian Studies Center at UCLA. The films and introductions will explore a different topic each night, including the evolution of Native American depictions by director John Ford (May 4), non-Indians in Indian roles (May 6), Indians as enemies (May 11), white men living among Indians (May 13), Indians as “noble savages” (May 18), Native Americans facing racism (May 20), Native American actors and filmmakers (May 25) and images from outside Hollywood (May 27).

    Among the notable works featured during the NATIVE AMERICAN IMAGES ON FILM collection are Best Picture Oscar winners One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) and Dances with Wolves (1990); John Ford’s Stagecoach (1939) and The Searchers (1956); the acclaimed independent films Smoke Signals (1998), Powwow Highway (1989) and Black Robe (1991); Michael Apted’s Thunderheart (1992) and his thematically linked documentary Incident at Oglala (1992); and the groundbreaking silent documentary Nanook of the North (1922).
    Comment:  Wow. Three or four Native-themed movies a night for eight nights. About 30 movies total including many of the key ones in film history.

    Set your VCRs and TiVos, people, and I'll do the same. This should be an excellent way to educate ourselves about Natives in Hollywood.

    For more on the subject, see The Best Indian Movies.

    Avatar/Pocahontas mashup

    Comment:  Not that anyone thinks Avatar is unoriginal, but....

    For more on the subject, see Avatar/Dances with Wolves Mashup and Avatar/Ferngully Mashup.

    February 26, 2010

    Census info not reaching Natives

    Census Under Fire Over Ad Dollars

    By Alexandra MoeA congressional subcommittee wants to know if the Census Bureau’s multi-million dollar advertising campaign is reaching communities that can be the hardest to count.

    At a meeting Wednesday night on Capitol Hill of the House Information Policy, Census, and National Archives Subcommittee, a parade of congress people worried that the Census has not done enough to engage local and ethnic media, which Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) called “the bibles of certain communities.”

    Over $340 million has been allocated to the Census Bureau for a promotion and advertising campaign to avoid an undercount, part of an overall Census budget of $15 billion, triple the bureau's 2000 budget.

    But with just five weeks to go before the April 1 deadline for mailing back Census questionnaires, lawmakers wondered if that money was being targeted effectively. They were quick to criticize Census officials for a culture of “unresponsiveness,” and for a campaign that often seemed to rely on “big talent” rather than local voices.
    Examples of good and bad Census ads:Close cited one targeting the Native American community where a woman in jeans walks across an open plain, towards three tepees.

    “These ads were created for a Native American community that is nowhere near the plains and who do not live in tepees,” said Close. “They were offensive, and the media didn’t use them.”

    Another ad was brought to the overhead screen, created by the Hoopa tribe of Northern California for the Two Rivers Tribune. Across a local landscape the ad read, “Save our Water, Save Our Way of Life--Stand Up and Be Counted! Census 2010.”

    That kind of unique messaging will “move the needle those extra percentage points that will pay off in hundreds of millions of dollars,” said Close.
    Comment:  As you may recall, I attended a California Indian Census meeting in Los Angeles a couple weeks ago. It's safe to say the Census people didn't have a full-fledged plan for reaching Native populations on or off the reservation. They seemed eager if not desperate to hear our ideas.

    In particular, they didn't seem to have any plans for using the Internet. No central website for information, no e-mail distribution, no social media. I found this nothing short of astounding. To contact hard-to-reach populations when you don't have much time or money, the Internet would be the first thing I'd try, not the last thing.

    My position was that the Bureau should be creating a slew of these local, Hoopa-style messages. And then disseminating them through every available means. Especially the Internet.

    Progress report

    Since the meeting, I've been pushing for an Internet-based strategy. I'm glad to say we finally have a 2010 California Indian Census website, Facebook page, and Twitter account. Check 'em out and feel free to sign up!

    NativeBiz.com gets credit for building the website, and Naqmayam Communications gets credit for creating and disseminating much of the information. But I'll take credit for the Facebook and Twitter components and for making the website happen. I'm not sure it would've happened if I hadn't urged it.

    Of course, I don't know what's happening with other Indian communities and regions around the country. Maybe they're doing a better job than California is. Judging by the lack of Census info on the news sites (PECHANGA.net, Indianz.com, and Indian Country Today) and on Facebook, though, they may be doing worse.

    Anyway, stay tuned for more coverage of the 2010 Census for Indians. The key question is this: After ten years of preparation, will the Census undercount Indians again? At this point it seems a distinct possibility.

    For more on the subject, see Census Totem Pole and Census vs. Tribal Sovereignty.

    Below:  "NNPA's Danny Bakewell and James Winston, head of the National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters testified at the hearing." (Roy Lewis/NNPA)

    Finding Native actors at auditions

    In response to Alan Eaglewolf on Jonah Hex, correspondent Jet once again tried to explain how films are made. Referring to the auditions for Winter in the Blood, Jet implied it's impossible to find decent actors that way. My response:

    Having hundreds of "actors" show up may not prove my point, but it doesn't disprove it either.

    In Winter in the Blood's case, 100 people applied in the first hour alone. If the numbers held up, that would mean 800 people in eight hours.

    I don't think just anyone can act. I think if you audition several hundred people, you'll find a few "naturals" in the crowd. I.e., people who can do the job without any more hand-holding than the average pro.

    My reasons for thinking this are sound. Every year dozens of movies feature unknowns with little or no acting experience. It may not be commonplace, but it's far from unheard of.

    If you've seen "pros" who can't do the job, that proves my point, not yours. In that scenario, you might as well hire a semi-pro or an amateur. Unless every pro is noticeably better than every non-pro, hiring non-pros may be a good strategy.

    Once again, the fallacy

    All this talk refers to the supporting roles and extras, you know, not the lead roles. For those, you can go to Hollywood and hire one of the hundreds of Natives who have an agent, a SAG card, and experience. You don't need a non-Native actor like Johnny Depp or Taylor Lautner.

    I've already discussed the fallacy of needing a big-name actor attached to a project at length. See Indians Hold Steady at 0.3% for the latest example. No one has come close to touching my claims.

    You can keep repeating that that's the way things are. And I'll keep repeating that the evidence proves this argument wrong. That the people who believe this argument--investors, studio execs, and distributors--are irrational and arguably racist.

    Re a Native-themed movie that tribes could've invested in, Hollywood has already produced two examples. As I've said several times recently, they're called Twilight: New Moon and Avatar. These films may not have sent exactly the right message, but they surely made money and opened the door for more Native-themed movies.

    For more on the subject, see Roscoe Pond or a Big-Name Actor? and Producer Says No to Pond.

    P.S. You might tell us your real name, Jet. Or at least your first name and gender. As with everyone else on this blog, posting your comments anonymously doesn't help your credibility. For all we know, you could be a wannabe who has never actually produced a movie.

    Below:  The best argument so far for producing Native-themed films with no-name (Native) actors.

    Kidnapping children for Jesus

    The Missionary Impulse

    By Timothy EganSilsby and her live-in nanny, Charisa Coulter, are still in a Haitian jail, where they have denied charges of child kidnapping. A judge there has agreed to release the two this week, but the case shows once again how easy it is to manipulate people in the name of an all-loving God.

    “Kidnapping for Jesus” is what many, including outraged Idahoans, have called it in reader response to newspaper stories about the missionaries. Silsby says it’s all a misunderstanding, and her intentions were good.

    At the least, the curious case of Laura Silsby raises questions about cultural imperialism: what makes a scofflaw from nearly all-white Idaho with no experience in adoption or rescue services think she has a right to bring religion and relief to a country with its own cultural, racial and spiritual heritage?

    Imagine if a voodoo minister from Haiti had shown up in Boise after an earthquake, looking for children in poor neighborhoods and offering “opportunities for adoption” back to Haiti. He could say, as those who followed Silsby explained on a Web site, that “the unsaved world needs to hear” from the saved.
    And:Of course, no one moved by genuine concern should ever be discouraged from acting. And in Haiti, we’ve seen some of the best impulses of the human heart at work in life-saving triage.

    Still, the damage by zealous amateurs has been done to legitimate adoption services, and to relief agencies with long and noble histories of helping the desperate, the poor, the unloved. Blame it on the missionary impulse, a lingering personality disorder of Western culture.

    Most Native American tribes have three basic stories: a creation myth, a trail of tears out of the homeland and indignities suffered at the hands of Christian missionaries.

    Some of the worst damage was done, the tribes will tell you, long after the Indian wars were over, when missionaries moved in. They broke up families, shipping children off to boarding schools where they were shorn of their language, their hair and their culture. They banned tribal customs like the potlatch—where Indians compete to give away gifts—and spirit rituals that had been passed on for centuries.

    Edward Curtis, the photographer of American Indians, was so happy to find native people in the far north of Alaska whose lives had not been overturned by outside do-gooders that he wrote, “should any misguided missionary start for this island I trust the sea will do its duty.”
    Comment:  For more on Haiti and Indians, see Blame Indians and Haitians for Problems? and Haitians and Indians Cursed? For more on missionaries, see Whites Show Indians the Way? and Missionaries Considered Indians Animals.

    Below:  "Laura Silsby has been held in a Haitian prison since January after she and others attempted to remove children from the country for adoption."

    Before There Were Parks

    I recently watched this half-hour documentary, which aired on my local PBS station February 1.

    Before There Were Parks:  Yellowstone and Glacier Through Native EyesFor more than 12,000 years, the intermountain West's native peoples have called the lands known as Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks "home." This program explores modern indigenous perspectives on these great wilderness areas and explores both the cultural divide that separates modern times from the not-so-distant past and recent efforts by the National Park Service and native peoples to bring these disparate visions into greater harmony.

    An Indigenous Perspective

    From time immemorial the lands we now call Yellowstone and Glacier have been regarded by Native Americans as significant and sacred. Today nearly 30 tribal nations maintain official ties to these National Parks, and on-going Native involvement in these areas is considered necessary to the long-term health of America's endangered indigenous cultures by many tribal leaders.

    In this unique film, more than a dozen of these leaders and experts from all across the region offer a respectful introduction to the knowledge that tribal people have passed down here for at least the past 12,000 years. Viewers will discover why Glacier and Yellowstone are so important to American Indians--for reasons far beyond their recent status as National Parks.
    Comment:  The phrase "respectful introduction" is accurate. The speakers don't delve deeply into their tribal cultures or the parks' history. And they skirt anything too negative or controversial. The result is a feel-good film about the Indians' spiritual connection to the land.

    I can't tell for sure, but everyone who speaks in the program may have been an Indian. If that isn't a first, it's probably pretty rare. On the other hand, having ordinary folks speak isn't always the best way to go. A good writer can craft a narration that works better than your average speaker.

    I wouldn't suggest watching Before There Were Parks instead of The Scripture of Nature and The Empire of Grandeur. These two episodes of Ken Burns's National Parks dealt with Yellowstone and Glacier in more depth. But Before There Were Parks is a decent supplement to them.

    For more on the subject, see Native America Speaks at Glacier and Native Documentaries and News.

    Below:  "St. Mary's Lake is one of the sources of the Blackfeet's sacred Beaver Bundle."

    Chinese spaceman Indian toy

    Correspondent DMarks sent me this item:I saw this, this morning, on the last page of the latest Consumer Reports.

    The authors of the piece forgot to point out one part of the wrongness of the whole thing: the logo font is a popular one called Algerian.
    Comment:  Right-click on the image to view it full-size.

    I think the caption does a good job describing the problems with this toy. But I'd call it the figure a spaceman, not a robot.

    Naturally, this demonstrates what the world thinks of Indians. You have a chief, a maiden, a totem pole, and some Native designs and fringe. But these aren't even important enough to match to the toy. The words and images are only a bait-and-switch gimmick.

    The main question is: What the heck were the Chinese thinking? The only thing I can imagine is they think Indians live in a sci-fi fantasy land. You know, with pirates, fairies, Smurfs, and aliens. Thus it's okay to switch from one fantasy figure (an Indian) to another (a spaceman). Because they're all part of the same fictional universe.

    For more on the subject, see "Cowboys and Indians" Images.

    Native designs on Dutch uniforms

    Native artist brightens up Team Netherlands

    Snowboarders honoured by City Hall, patriotic poet to perform at bookstore

    By Kelly Sinoski
    First nations artist Alano Edzerza has made his mark on the Olympics with his designs appearing on the uniforms of Team Netherlands for the Olympics and at Canada Hockey Place.

    Edzerza, who is well-known for working in a variety of media, created an "artful and spiritual interpretation of the Eagle's wings" on the sleeves of the uniforms to bring the team luck. The Dutch had snagged six medals by Wednesday morning, including three golds.
    Comment:  For related subjects, see Sho-Ban Artist Designs Helmet and Musqueam Design on Team Canada Jerseys.

    February 25, 2010

    Husker "Indians" taunt Sooner fans

    Cultural sensitivity called into action

    By Leslie ReedLucas LaRose just wanted to check the score.

    The University of Nebraska-Lincoln senior had to miss the Nov. 7 Nebraska-Oklahoma football game to attend his aunt’s wedding.

    What he saw after he turned on the TV made him question whether he ever truly had been a part of Husker Nation.

    There were several young men rooting for the Huskers, cavorting in front of the cameras, wearing face paint and American Indian headdresses. They carried a sign that said “We Want Our Land Back.”

    LaRose is a member of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe who grew up on the Winnebago Indian reservation in northeast Nebraska. He is one of approximately 130 Native American students who attend the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

    “I grew up in Nebraska; I am proud of this state,” he said in an interview Wednesday. “I was proud to come to UNL, the flagship institution, where I was repeatedly told as a freshman that this is a place that fosters multicultural sensitivity. And in my senior year, I see this happening on TV, and everyone else can see it. It’s disheartening, and it’s disappointing.”

    Even more disturbing than the fans’ behavior, LaRose said, has been UNL’s slowness to disavow the incident and take steps to prevent it from happening again.

    In fact, fans wore Native American costumes to the Kansas State game two weeks after the game with the Sooners.

    The costumed fans, whose names have not been made public, broke no UNL rules with their attire.

    Four of the offending fans offered a public apology for their actions during an open forum Wednesday that was part of a student government meeting.

    All upperclassmen, they described themselves as die-hard Husker fans who dress up for every home game. They’ve worn kilts and togas before, they said.

    They thought wearing Native American garb would be a good way to needle Oklahoma for its “Boomer Sooner” heritage, they said.
    ASUN passes bill calling for cultural sensitivity

    By Kim Buckley
    Clay Lomneth
    It took about two and a half hours, but the Association of Students of the University of Nebraska senate passed Senate Bill 15 in a roll call vote 14-11-4.

    This bill was one of two proposed bills the group debated last night. The University of Nebraska Inter-Tribal Exchange (UNITE) voiced concerns about UNL students dressing up in Native American headdress and war-paint at the Nov. 7 football game against the Oklahoma Sooners and again Nov. 21 at the game against Kansas. ASUN senators drafted the two bills in response.
    And:On behalf of the six students who dressed up, three stood before the senate and student body while one read a joint apology. The student who read the apology declined to give his name.

    The students met with UNITE after reading the apology to the senate to get a chance to “clear the air.” Three of the students—Richard, Drew and Chance—agreed to comment. Their intent was not to single out a group of people, they said. The choice to dress up was just an expression against the Sooners.
    Comment:  The articles don't include pictures of the Husker fans, but we can imagine what they look like.

    The fans' "protest" was historically accurate, since the Oklahoma Sooners did take Indian land during their land rush. If Indians in regular attire had held a sign saying "We Want Our Land Back," we'd be having a different conversation. Same if the students had held a sign saying "Indians Want Their Land Back" without dressing up in costumes.

    As it is, you can see the mockery inherent in the stunt. The sign conveyed a legitimate Indian claim, but the costumes conveyed illegitimate stereotypes. "Look at us," the costumes seemed to say. "We're a spectacle. We bear the same relationship to Indians that clowns do to non-Indians."

    Whether it's intended or not, that's mockery.

    The outcome

    The outcome of this controversy seems a good one. People discussed the issue and took steps to prevent it from happening again.

    But note that 11 people voted against Senate Bill 15 and four abstained. So 15 of 29 people, a majority, couldn't bring themselves to vote for the resolution.

    And you gotta love the thoughtless students and their apology. The most they've done in the past is dress up in "kilts and togas." They've never singled out an oppressed minority before.

    So they've never dressed as stereotypical blacks or Asians or Jews. They singled out Indians for their first (and only?) ethnic stunt. But they claim they didn't mean to "single out a group of people."

    "Well, yes, we singled you out, but we didn't mean to do it. We didn't know there were any Indians left to get offended. Honest Injun!"

    For more on the subject, see Tricking or Treating Indians and Indian Wannabes.

    Below:  Chief Illiniwek, a similar example of mockery.

    Okay to stereotype in noir comics?

    In his review of SCALPED #34, Greg Burgas wrote:At some point, I want to address Rob Schmidt's objections to Scalped. I think that would be fun. I certainly agree with him that it doesn't portray Indians positively. However, as I've pointed out, it's a noir title. It doesn't portray anyone positively. From Scalped, we can assume that all white FBI agents are racist assholes, and that all black people are shifty con men. From Criminal, we can assume that all white people are, well, criminals. And sluts. Schmidt has pointed out that Aaron claims this is "how things are" on the rez, and he has a point there, too. That's why I want to address it some other time, because he has a lot of interesting objections to Scalped. But I still think it's fantastic.Here's my response to this:

    Everyone is bad in SCALPED, but 90% of them are Indians. It's fundamentally false to portray a whole society as bad. The Sopranos didn't do that, and it's the gold standard Aaron is aiming for. Who says a noir comic can't portray a substantial number of people as decent and wholesome--like the friends and families of the Sopranos clan?

    CRIMINAL and other comics may present white people as bad, but there are several hundred other comics to balance them out. To give the public a range of views of white folks. No one's looking at CRIMINAL rather than SUPERMAN, BATMAN, or SPIDER-MAN to understand whites.

    There's no counterbalance in the market to SCALPED. It's the sole representation of Indians most comics readers will get. To me that implies a social or ethical burden to get it right, not to do what you please.

    Otherwise, you're just doing what a thousand creators have done before you: stereotyping Indians as criminals, thugs, and lowlifes because you feel like it. Because savage Indians have sold ever since Wild West shows and Western movies became popular. Because you want to earn fame and fortune by exploiting people.

    Let's reiterate this point. Aaron isn't just doing his own thing. Indians in outer space or in a life raft would be his own thing--a creative vision that was uniquely his own. In SCALPED he's doing the same old thing: portraying Indians as modern-day savages. As people wallowing in their own poverty, filth, and despair. That isn't new or creative, it's old and offensive.

    Why SCALPED "works"

    Take a step back and ask why Aaron set a noir comic on a crime-ridden reservation. And why this is getting praise rather than scorn from critics.

    Would you buy a blood-drenched crime comic set in a quaint English village with tea cozies? At a Buddhist monastery in the Himalayas? At the Strawberry Fields Forever daycare center? I'm guessing not.

    But you have little or no problem believing in crime and corruption on the rez. Why is that? Because you associate Indians (like Italians before them) with crime and corruption. Because this feels natural and "right" to you and other readers.

    To sum it up, Aaron is using negative stereotypes, you're buying them, and you're perpetuating them by praising SCALPED. Do you disagree? Because I don't see any way around this point.

    You mentioned other minorities. I suspect any comic that portrayed 90% of blacks, Latinos, or Asians as miscreants would get the same criticism. And rightly so. The only comic that wouldn't deserve this criticism is a white noir comic like CRIMINAL. Again, because there are alternatives to it but not to black, Latino, or Asian noir comics.

    Rights and wrongs

    Whether he intends to or not, Aaron is helping to shape the public's perception of Indians. He'll do more if SCALPED becomes a TV show. He can take responsibility for this or he can deny it, but he's still doing it.

    To me that's the issue here. Not his freedom to do whatever he wants, but the effects of that freedom on others. Not his rights, but his responsibilities.

    I'm sure the makers of minstrel shows, Birth of a Nation, and old Westerns said they were pursuing their artistic vision too. Does that mean it was okay for them to stereotype blacks and Indians? Most people today would say no. These things were perfectly legal, but they weren't right.

    If you ask me, the right to be free of racism and stereotyping is just as important as the right to express oneself. That's why we criticize things even when they're legal, widespread, even "traditional." So school X has the right to choose an Indian mascot. Band Y has the right to dress up as Indians and dance. Store Z has the right to sell "drunk Indian" t-shirts. And we have the right to say these things are wrong.

    For more on the subject, see "Cool" Moments in SCALPED and SCALPED = Comic of the Year? For more on the subject in general, see Comic Books Featuring Indians.

    Below:  A fairly standard scene in a SCALPED comic: whores, a gunman, and dead bodies in a pool of blood.

    Easier to do "victim stories"

    Film tells success story of native ballerina

    By Adrian ChamberlainIn the world of independent documentaries, the fight against stereotyped views of indigenous people continues, says a native American filmmaker from Seattle.

    "We're still in a struggle, a battle, really," said Sandy Sunrising Osawa, who shot a documentary on ballerina Maria Tallchief set to screen in Victoria on Monday.

    As an indy filmmaker, she says it is easier to get funding for documentaries about the social issues Native Americans grapple with--such as poverty--than films about those who excel in a given field.

    As well, U.S. public television and film festivals appear to favour social-problem documentaries.

    "Again and again, the same victim story seems to be selected for prime time ... There's still some work to be done," Osawa said.

    The veteran filmmaker--a Makah tribal member--travels to the University of Victoria for a free showing of Maria Tallchief: America's Prima Ballerina (2007). Osawa will give a talk about her documentary, which chronicles the journey of a native American who, in the 1940s and '50s, became a globally celebrated ballerina.
    Comment:  I haven't seen the Tallchief documentary, so I don't know if it's any good. But I agree there are too many Native "victim stories" in documentaries and dramatic films. Not to mention other forms of fiction.

    Unless you have a unique or innovative story to tell, give your money to someone else. We need less tragedy and more comedy, romance, and adventure.

    For more on the subject, see Sherman Alexie on Stereotypes and Hollywood Loves Dying Indians.

    Below:  "Documentary maker Sandra Sunrising Osawa made a film about aboriginal ballerina Maria Tallchief. In this photo, Tallchief dances in Orpheus."

    Stereotypes in Indian in the Cupboard

    From Oyate's review of The Indian in the Cupboard:

    The Indian in the Cupboard, The Return of the Indian

    Book to AvoidThe setting is England. On his birthday, Omri is given a small, white cupboard. When, for lack of a better idea, he puts a plastic "Indian" in it, the little figure comes to life, still tiny, but very much a human being. Omri's life becomes centered around the needs and wants of "Little Bear." The object here was not to draw an authentic Native person, but to create an arresting literary device. Although the little "Indian" is called Iroquois, no attempt has been made, either in text or illustrations, to have him look or behave appropriately. For example, he is dressed as a Plains Indian, and is given a tipi and a horse.

    This is how he talks: "I help... I go... Big hole. I go through... Want fire. Want make dance. Call spirits." Et cetera. There are characteristic speech patterns for those who are also Native speakers, but nobody in the history of the world ever spoke this way.

    What one reviewer describes as "some lively battle scenes" are among the most graphic war scenes in modern children's literature. As a whole, the book is brutal, and the Indians are horrifying:

    He saw an Indian making straight for him. His face, in the torchlight, was twisted with fury. For a second, Omri saw, under the shaven scalplock, the mindless destructive face of a skinhead just before he lashed out... .The Algonquin licked his lips, snarling like a dog... .Their headdresses... even their movements... were alien. Their faces, too—their faces! They were wild, distorted, terrifying masks of hatred and rage.
    Comment:  For more on the subject, see Images in Indian in the Cupboard and Thoughts on Indian in the Cupboard.

    Bea Arthur gives $100,000 to College Fund

    American Indian College Fund to Match Bea Arthur's Estate Gift of $100,000 for New Donations Up to $100,000The late actress Bea Arthur left $100,000 to the American Indian College Fund for the Bea Arthur Scholarship Fund as part of her legacy. Known for her roles as Maude in the television show Maude and Dorothy in Golden Girls, Arthur was even more passionate about her role in helping others, according to her sons, Matthew and Daniel Saks.

    "Throughout her life, Mom volunteered her time and gave generously to help those in need to get on their feet. She believed that education was the key to empowering people to have faith in themselves and to overcome the hardships and injustices in their lives," said Matthew Saks in a letter. "We are so proud of her. And we'll be so grateful to you for making a contribution that will double her gift and honor her legacy to give others a chance to achieve their full potential."

    "Thanks to Bea Arthur and her vision, American Indians across America will have the opportunity to earn a college education, giving them, their families, and their communities hope for a better future," said Richard B. Williams, president and CEO of the American Indian College Fund. "To honor Ms. Arthur's vision which is empowering American Indian students, the American Indian College Fund will match Bea Arthur's estate gift up to $100,000 for all new donations."
    Comment:  For more on the American Indian College Fund, see "Think Indian" College Campaign and "X" Cap Benefits College Fund. For a similar subject, see Gary Cooper's Native Scholarship.

    Natives are winners at 2010 Olympics

    Canadian aboriginal tribes want benefits to extend beyond Olympics

    By Dennis MooreFinancial rewards are big.

    Each of the First Nations received $20 million worth of programs, services and venue construction from governments.

    Approximately 100 aboriginal businesses have earned more than $57 million in contracts for Games-related activities ranging from helping to construct the Callaghan Valley ski center in Whistler to selling crafts.

    But all involved play up intangible rewards: "Showing the world who we really are rather than being stereotyped," says Leonard Andrew, chief of the Lil'wat.
    And:An average of 14,000 people a day have visited the aboriginal center, Wade says. "We didn't want to be seen as just wearing beads and headdresses."

    One-third of royalties of merchandise sold at the Aboriginal Pavilion Trading Post is donated to the Youth Legacy Fund.

    There's more shopping at the Aboriginal Artisan Village.

    All of the attention differs greatly from past treatment.
    Comment:  I'll say again that presenting Natives in a popular, media-friendly format such as the Olympics is worth a lot of documentaries, textbooks, and blog postings. That's why it's important to get Natives into movies such as Avatar and Twilight, TV shows, comic books, video games, and so forth and so on.

    For more on the subject, see Native Buzz at 2010 Olympics and Olympics Broadcast in Native Languages.

    February 24, 2010

    Lucky Brand sells "White Lightning" t-shirt

    Another "drunk Indian" product, another controversy:

    Lucky Brand Jeans--TAKE THE SHIRT DOWN--better yet BURN it--I am very disturbed by this T-shirt. As a mother, and a Native American woman, I have had to deal with the stereotype of "the drunken Indian" my whole life, and now with that of my children. I am appalled that your company has decided to make profit out of it. What does Social Responsibility mean to you? What is your company trying to say by your actions? Can you imagine what this says to my children?

    These are the reasons why I am a proud member of the American Indian Movement. Because if we don't stand up and speak on these issues, companies like yours will continue to try to profit in perpetuating negative and racially charged stereotypes. Do the right thing and take down the shirt--wait, don't just take it down, BURN IT.

    Corine Fairbanks
    American Indian Movement Santa Barbara, CA
    And:re: White Lightning T-Shirt

    A friend of mine just recently walked into your Santa Barbara store and saw this degrading tshirt in the window display. She contacted the Store's Manager and attempted to educate them as to why it is highly offensive and why it should be removed. The Store Manager refused and informed my friend that those types of decisions are to be made by the corporate office.

    And that leads to the purpose of this email.

    The Santa Barbara Chapter of the American Indian Movement has made it a priority to address issues regarding the degradation of Native American people in regards to offensive marketing tactics and the use of Native American images as mascots. From the time of European contact and the introduction of alcohol to the indigenous people of the occupied territories now referred to as the United States, there has been a horrific effect on the health and well being of our people. The statistics of Native people who have died and are dying in our communities is terrible. This is not something to be celebrated, much less be used as a marketing gimmick.

    In reviewing your website, I found a section you have listed in reference to "Social Responsibility." How more socially irresponsible can you get??!!! I urge you to forward this email to the "powers that be" within your Corporation as this is not just about taking the tshirt out of the Santa Barbara storefront, but discontinuing the sale of this product on a national level. As well, you should be a little more socially conscious about what you choose to market with your name brand attached. And as I understand it, Gene Montesano of Santa Barbara is the Co-founder of Lucky Brand and has several other businesses and investments within our city.

    If this is not resolved at your level, I will assure that it will be addressed at all other associations within our city and made known Nationally as this is not something we will continue to overlook.

    Roberta Weighill
    Community Liaison & AIM TV Host
    American Indian Movement--Santa Barbara Chapter
    And:Dear Lucky Brand Corporation,

    My name is Carla Alvarado, I am a Chumash Indian as well as a member of the American Indian Movement of Santa Barbara, Ca.

    It has come to our attention that in your store located on State Street here in Santa Barbara that you currently have a t-shirt with an image of a Native American chief with the words "White Lightning Watering Hole Our Booze made by Mohave Distiller Co." As well as the phrase "may see miracles and spiritual wonders" to the left of the image of the Native American chief. This t-shirt that you are selling is stereotypical, racist and completely offensive to the Native American community.

    Alcoholism has affected the American Indian people in a most tragic and self destructive way. Unfortunately it has become one of the leading causes of death. Lucky Brand Corporation even allowing this shirt to be made shows the lack of respect your business holds towards the Native American community; the first inhabitants of this continent.

    I am writing this letter to tell Lucky Brand that this racist and vulgar image you are depicting of our people is beyond inappropriate and will not be tolerated. This t-shirt should be pulled from the racks in all of your stores and discontinued and an apology be made to the Native American people for the lack of respect that has been shown as well as the lack of sensitivity.

    Carla Alvarado.
    Asst. Community Liaison
    The outcome:

    Victory? Lucky Brand says they are taking it down!Lucky Brand on facebook--

    At Lucky Brand, we have the utmost respect for cultural diversity and offer a heartfelt apology for the unintentional disrespect. We hold Native American culture in the highest regard, and we are immediately removing the shirt in question from LuckyBrand.com and from our store shelves. Thank you.

    I think we are going to have to check on that in the next few days to see if they actually stick to what they are going to say!

    It is amazing what we can accomplish as a collected effort!

    Wopila Tanka!
    Comment:  It's possible this was an illustration for an actual business: Mohave Distiller Co. But that doesn't change the nature of the offense much, if at all.

    For more "drunk Indian" products, see "Drunk Indian" T-Shirts Aren't Stereotypical?, Wine Holders Still for Sale, and Duluth Shop Sells "Drunk Indian" T-Shirts.

    Below:  What these products are implying.

    Preview of Unbound Captives

    Unbound CaptivesUnbound Captives is an upcoming independent western film starring Robert Pattinson, Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz. The film is the directorial debut of Madeleine Stowe.


    After his father is killed, a child is kidnapped at the age of four in 1859 with his sister and raised by the Comanche tribe. After being rescued by a frontiersman, their mother spends years searching for them and eventually finds them, but they do not remember her or anything about their previous life.


    The script was written by Stowe under the pseudonym O.C. Humphrey and her husband, Brian Benben in the early 1990s. The film never began production after Stowe declined a $5 million deal in 2003 because she wanted to star as the lead female role instead of only being the writer. Ridley Scott was originally intended to direct the film and star Russell Crowe as the role Hugh Jackman will play.
    Robert Pattinson Talks 'Breaking Dawn' & 'Unbound Captives'The young heartthrob revealed that it's tentatively scheduled to begin shooting in early 2010, and he sounds enthusiastic for a role that'll be miles away from Edward Cullen. "I'm playing a kid who is kidnapped by Comanches when he was four years old, and he is brought up by them. His mother spends her entire life trying to find me and my sister. When she finds us, we can't remember who she is and can't remember anything about the Western culture she grew up in. I speak Comanche the whole movie. You can't really speak more differently from Edward."Unbound Captives like a thinly veiled version of Cynthia Ann Parker's story:

    The Story of Cynthia Ann ParkerThe Parker family, originally from Virginia, moved from Kentucky to Texas in the early 1830s and established Parker's Fort on the fringes of the Comanche frontier. On May 19, 1836, the Comanche and Kiowa attacked the fort killing most of the residents and capturing several women and children.

    The captives were Mrs. Rachel Plummer, her fifteen-month-old son James, Mrs. Elizabeth Kellogg and the Parker children, Cynthia Ann, nine-years old and John, children of Silas Parker. The captives were scattered among the various bands of the two tribes. Later, the two women and the Plummer child were ransomed to friendly Indians and returned them to their families.

    The Quohada band of Comanche who were the most war-like of all the Comanche bands took the two Parker children. In 1840, a trader named Col. Len Williams with another trader named Stoal and a Delaware Indian scout named Jack Henry came upon a Comanche camp on the Canadian River. They noticed a captive white girl and proposed a trade for her, which the Comanche flatly refused but gave Williams permission to speak to her.

    The girl refused to speak to the trader either because she was afraid, had forgotten her mother tongue or did not care to talk. Williams believed that she was the Parker girl as she had blond hair and blue eyes and was about thirteen years old.

    An interesting sidelight of this story is what became of Cynthia's younger brother John. John Parker adapted well to the wild Comanche life where one was free to roam the Llano Estacado from the Wichitas to Mexico. John became a Comanche through and through and went on many raids into Mexico. On one of these raids, John contracted smallpox. The Comanche so dreaded this disease that is set the entire band into a panic. The Comanche raiders abandoned John and left a Mexican captive girl to take care of him. John eventually recovered from the disease and returned to Mexico with the girl whom he later married.
    With Rachel Weisz (formerly Madelaine Stowe) in the Cynthia Ann Parker role, Robert Pattinson in the John Parker, and Hugh Jackman as the noble white man who tries to save them from the Indians.

    This could be a good Native-themed movie or a bad one, but I'm already seeing a number of red flags:

  • It seems Unbound Captives will be the umpteenth example of seeing a Native culture through white eyes.

  • Madelaine Stowe is a first-time screenwriter who has no known Native expertise except appearing in The Deerslayer and The Last of the Mohicans.

  • Stowe and company are putting their money into star salaries rather than production. Outside of Wolverine and Twilight, Jackman and Pattinson are no guarantees of success.

  • IMDB.com doesn't list any Native roles or actors in the movie.

  • No one's talking about using Comanche cultural or language experts. Supposedly the film starts shooting in early 2010--i.e., any day now.

  • The Comanches sound like a bunch of murdering savages. There's no hint of their humanity.

  • Perhaps the only positive note is that the captives end up thinking of themselves as Comanche and wanting to stay. But the movie could spin that as a negative result of cult-like brainwashing. In a story like this, people "torn between two worlds" usually die tragically. They rarely go on to live happily ever after.

    For more on the subject, see The Best Indian Movies.

    Below:  The stars...

    ...and someone who looks like a hardened Western woman (Cynthia Ann Parker) rather than a pampered actress.

    Indians protest Massachusetts seal

    Indians object to state seal

    By George BrennanWhile Peters, a member of the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe, said it's an "appropriate honoring" of Indians to have them as part of the seal, it's the arm and sword at the very top of the seal that Indians find offensive.

    Gill Solomon, a member of the Massachuseuk tribe for which the state is named, called on lawmakers to remove the arm and sword completely.

    "The seal of Massachusetts represents a conqueror," he said. "That's our objection."

    The armored hand symbolizes leadership and the sword stands for military honor and justice, according to various military Web sites.

    But regular folks who look at the seal see a sword over an Indian's head, said Rep. Byron Rushing, D-Roxbury, who is the sponsor of the bill to change it.

    Peters said the objections go beyond the arm and sword. The Indian depicted in the seal is dressed in regalia of a Montana tribe and doesn't properly represent the Native Americans of Massachusetts, he said.
    What the seal allegedly means:
  • The Indian represents the native people of Massachusetts for which the state is named.

  • The arrow is pointed downward to indicate the Indian is peaceful.

  • The star indicates Massachusetts is one of the original 13 states.

  • The sword illustrates the Latin motto written in gold on a blue ribbon on the bottom of the shield, which is translated to mean: "By the sword we seek peace, but peace only under liberty."
  • Comment:  "The sword over the Indian's head is horrific," said Executive Director Jim Peters. If you say so. Looks to me like a coincidental placement not intended to send a harsh message.

    Sure, the sword symbolizes killing people, mainly Indians, to secure the peace. It's possible to read the seal's message as "sword arm...conquering...peaceful Indian." So yes, I'd update it to bring it into the 19th or 20th century. But I'd consider this a low-priority task at best.

    As for the so-called "regalia," looks to me like the Indian is wearing generic buckskin clothes. You'd be hard-pressed to say he comes from the Plains or anywhere else. Sure, the state could give him a Massachusetts-specific outfit, but again, I'd deem it a low priority.

    For a related subject, see Town Seal of Massapoisett, Mass., Features Plains-Style Chief.

    PSA for Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe

    Publicist Jackie Jacobs writes: "Chaske Spencer, Alex Meraz, Boo Boo Stewart, Julia Jones, Gil Birmingham, Q'orianka, Noah Hunt and other artists....BE THE SHIFT!!!"

    Shift the Power to the PeopleMISSION STATEMENT

    To Empower people to create sustainable, lasting change in their communities and countries through:

  • Creating Awareness of the current issues and conditions
  • Creating Alternatives that promote Dignity, Justice, Unity, and Accountability
  • Taking Action that supports the creation of these alternatives


    What's happening right now:

    South Dakota's Lakota Sioux--Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe 2010 Crisis

  • February 1st, 2010 Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe has declared state of emergency after severe ice storm devastates reservation
  • Storm topples more than 3000 power poles
  • 13,000 people without power, heat and water

  • Comment:  I hit the Shift key on my computer. Does that count? <g>

    Nice to see Natives get together for a worthy cause. This is probably more than the We Are the World for Natives project will ever accomplish.

    The call to help the storm-damaged reservation is good. But I'm not clear what the second half of the message means:You can make the difference--To create a LASTING solution beyond the immediate crisis. It will only take you a few minutes and you can impact generations to come. Please click here for more details: BE THE SHIFT.We're supposed to take a few minutes to contact elected officials...and ask them to help the reservation. And what else? Pass a healthcare reform bill...or oppose it? Escalate the wars we started...or end them? Spend more money on Indian services...or cut taxes and reduce the size of government?

    Anyone can call for the government to act. The key question is what you want the government to do. If you can't specify that, you aren't necessarily saying much.

    For more on the subject, see Olbermann Raises $250,000 for Sioux and Olbermann Seeks Aid for Reservations.