January 21, 2011

70% think Indians are extinct

Indigenous dancing

By Alana ListoeStudents in area schools enjoyed workshops Wednesday and Thursday with Dancing Earth, an indigenous contemporary dance group based in Santa Fe, N.M., that is currently on tour.

The energy of Dancing Earth evokes a primal force that is said to illuminate cultural and spiritual relevance through their articulate movements choreographed by creator Rulan Tangen.

“For some, this may be the first time they’ve ever met a Native American,” Tangen said. “That might seem like a stretch, but 70 percent of our museum-goers believe that Native Americans are extinct.”

Tangen said the group is a vibrant mix of professional dancers who have a positive outlook for native people.
Comment:  Seventy percent of museum-goers think Indians are extinct? And this is among museum-goers, whom I imagine are more educated than average. What's the percentage in the general public?

In any case, this is a revealing statistic. Even though Indian casinos and events like the tribal summit and the Cobell settlement make the news occasionally, people are still clueless about Indians. They must think modern Indians are fakes. Perhaps casinos hire actors to call themselves Indians. The "real" Indians--you know, the ones with feathers and leathers--are extinct.

We can imagine the consequences of such ignorance. When 70% think Indians are extinct, who's going to push for economic development, health care, or law enforcement for Indians? Who's going to teach about Indians in school, make movies about Indians, or oppose Indian stereotypes? Only 30% of the population at most, and probably only a fraction of that.

It seems clear to me how this lack of knowledge cascades through our culture, affecting every aspect of Indian life. That's why alleviating this ignorance is a fundamental part of the problem. As I said in Educational Value of Blogging and Rob Should Fight Poverty?!, that's why I focus on educating people.

Dancing Earth is educating people too. So are all the Native artists, writers, teachers, and activists. Every museum exhibit, parade float, or TV show reminds people that Indians still exist.

For more on Native dance, see Yup'ik Swan Lake and Cheyenne River Glitter Girls.


Wild One said...

This reminds me of when I was in elementary school, waaaay back in 1982, and the teacher asked the class to name something extinct. I believe the teacher had animals in mind. One student yelled out, "Indians!". All the other students looked to the teacher to see if that was the right answer. I was sitting there wearing a Houma Nation tee shirt. Fortunately, the teacher explained correctly to the class that Indians were indeed not extinct.

Anonymous said...

And it's in New Mexico, too! You can't say anyone in New Mexico shouldn't know better.

Burt said...

So let me get this right, "70% of their museum goers think Indians are extinct", but if you go to a Tea Party Movement event dressed like George Washington, then your rights as an Anglo-American are sovereign and validated?

Whatever happened to the so-called liberal media conservatives like to rant and rave about?

Who has actually been running the media since 1492? Sure doesn't appear that the likes of the Kennedy's, Bill Maher or Keith Olberman have been hypnotizing or capitalizing on the American brain much.