April 30, 2011

Conservatives use "language of savagery"

An excellent ICT article analyzes Native stereotypes from the last half of 2010. Let's skip over the actual stereotypes, which you've read about here, and see what these stereotypes tell us about today's politics.

Language of Savagery:  Stop It Now

By Rob CapricciosoThe doctor found himself in a position familiar to many Indians (past and present): prodded to explain himself for the “offense” of being true to his culture. Meanwhile, some of his strongest detractors have failed to answer the key question of why they were so easily offended by contemporary Native American culture and so eager to demean it. In the long aftermath of colonization, Native Americans have grown accustomed to being attacked by words and imagery that is nonchalantly accepted in many parts of contemporary American culture. What other choice did they have? For generations, such harmful sentiments have been part of the fabric of American culture. With a name like “Redskins” for the NFL team that plays in the nation’s capital, who could be shocked that Fox-y Hume found a Native prayer weird?

Some Natives have grown so tired of the disrespect that they simply choose to ignore it. Others, like Rhonda LeValdo, the Acoma Pueblo president of the Native American Journalists Association, take a different tack. She is one of the most proactive warriors combating what she calls the “sad and disrespectful commentary” against Indians; her battles are fought with words—lots and lots of words. She regularly sends e-mails and letters on behalf of the organization when someone in the dominant society does something she thinks is insensitive. In the past year, she has had to send plenty of messages, each loaded with explanations and calls for rectification, but always presented in a respectful manner. Her take on this case is straightforward, “I would never disrespect any other religion based on how they pray and or what ceremonies they do.”

LeValdo says the negative reactions to Gonzales’s prayer are part of a growing number of arrows launched toward Indians from conservatives.
And:Robert Williams, a law professor and director of the Indigenous Peoples Law and Policy Program at the University of Arizona, has come up with a label for the phenomenon: the “language of savagery.” Some conservative commentators have an agenda against Indians, he said, noting that some see any minority as representative of an “us versus them” threat. In his state, some conservatives conflate illegal immigrants and Indians, he said, although the irony there is that all non-Indians are (and were) the illegal immigrants.And:Does this mean that all conservatives hate Indians? Nope. Some of the best friends to Indian country in D.C. have been Republicans (President Richard Nixon, with his strong support for self-determination, is perhaps the most famous example of a strong conservative friend.) So why the vitriol from so much of the conservative media? “Good question,” said Bob Miller, law professor at Lewis & Clark Law School and citizen of the Eastern Shawnee Tribe. “I think it has a lot to do with immigration, ironically. As minorities become the majority, a lot of Americans are very concerned about not being the majority anymore. This is some of the angst behind the Tea Party.” And even though Indians are likely never going to become the majority, they are people with distinct political rights, Miller said, and that can feel dangerous to people who feel they are losing power.

Stephanie Fryberg, an assistant professor of psychology and affiliate faculty in American Indian Studies at the University of Arizona, has concluded that, “Most Americans do not even consider whether the language they use about Natives might be considered discriminatory. In fact, when they think about ‘Native Americans,’ the image that comes to mind is a romanticized, historical image, not a contemporary 21st century Native. The notion that we might feel offended by their language does not even enter their minds.” She said the problem tends to plague Natives more than other minority groups in America because of the age-old cultural practice of “playing Indian”—“Whether playing ‘cowboys and Indians’ or using American Indians as sports team mascots, these cultural practices trigger positive childhood memories of play rather than the historical injustices with which they are factually connected.”
Comment:  For more examples of conservative racism, see Stossel:  Indians Are Biggest Moochers and Fischer:  Indians Were Thieves. For more analyses of what it means, see Whites Feel Like a Minority and The Last Acceptable Racism.

Tim Tingle on Trickster

Author Interview:  Tim Tingle

By Marie PennyTim Tingle is a Choctaw author and storyteller who recently contributed to Trickster: Native American Tales-A Graphic Collection, a 2011 YALSA Great Graphic Novel for Teens book.

I had the pleasure of speaking with this gifted speaker and writer and what follows is his thoughtful response to my questions:

Were you familiar with the graphic novel medium before contributing to Trickster?

Yes. I perform storytelling at schools and know that most middle-school students are excited by graphic novels. Many librarians have shared this with me, how they have seen reluctant readers flock to graphic novels. There is such an instant appeal with graphic novels. I also appreciate narrative-driven games. Some are very well-written, and game imagery often correlates with the imagery found in graphic novels.

What did you think when Matt Dembicki contacted you to contribute to Trickster? (note: Dembicki states in his author’s note that some storytellers were reluctant to contribute due to uncertainty about the book’s intentions.)

I was leap for joy happy! In addition to storytelling, I write books, and trying to pitch a book to a publisher is not always a simple process. So when someone contacts you directly, it is an honor! When I saw the others on board, including figureheads in the storytelling and literary community such as Joe Bruchac, there was no hesitation. Every tribe approaches their stories differently. My mentor, the Choctaw tribal storyteller Charley Jones says, “tell the stories,” but make sure the origin is acknowledged. The Choctaw tribe is very open, you don’t have to be Choctaw to tell the story, but you must respect the tribal origins. Matt Dembicki understood this, as well as the importance of the trickster tale.
Comment:  For more on the subject, see Trickster Nominated for Eisner Award and How Trickster Got Its Cover.

100th anniversary of Ishi's emergence

Ishi events planned Friday, SaturdayThis year is the 100th anniversary of Ishi's emergence into the 20th century, and this week is the 10th annual Ishi Gathering and Seminar.

The Butte County Historical Society event is Friday and Saturday at a number of locations around Oroville. This year it has the theme "The Ishi Story: Myth and Meaning."

Activities begin with a panel discussion of researchers, historians and local American Indians 1-4 p.m. Friday at the Oroville Centennial Cultural Center, Arlin Rhine Drive.

They'll be discussing the different perspectives of the Ishi story, and how it continues to evolve.

Then from 5-6:30 p.m. at the Ehmann Home, 1480 Lincoln St., there'll be a reception with author Richard Burrill introducing his latest book, "Ishi's Untold Story in His First World: A Biography of one of the last Yahi Indians of North America."

Friday's events conclude with the showing of "Reel Injun," a movie on how the movie industry has portrayed American Indians for the past 100 years. That's 7-8:30 p.m. at the Ehmann Home.

Saturday a full day of activities called "A Walk in the Natives' Day" is planned, exploring local Native American culture in pre-contact California.
Comment:  For more on Ishi, see Ideas for Ishi Statue and Brian Wescott, Charlie Hill, and Ishi.

April 29, 2011

Sadistic Indians in Cannibal Holocaust

Movies We Love:  Cannibal Holocaust

By J.L. SosaSynopsis

A small band of American filmmakers departs for the Amazon to document the lives of warring cannibal tribes. Two months after they’ve vanished into the so-called Green Inferno, a rescue team led by anthropologist Harold Monroe (Robert Kerman) discovers the documentary crew died at the hands of the Yanomamo tribe. Monroe retrieves the crew’s footage and brings it back to New York. The found footage depicts an orgy of shocking sadism--perpetrated by both the cannibals and the “civilized” Americans.
Some comments on this movie:Greg

It’s too bad that they used the “Yanomamo” name because there wasn’t anything authentic about the portrayal of them. They really could have incorporated some aspects of Yanomamo culture and given the film another dimension. But basically it’s just a sexed up horror flick. That genre doesn’t accurately represent hotels, funeral homes etc. so this is forgivable.


I always thought that was really unfortunate too. I can’t imagine why they would do that? To lend credence to the film as “reality?” It would have been far better just to create a fake tribal name. I doubt anyone would have noticed, known, or cared. Great comment.

Jorge Sosa

I agree, Greg. I guess I’m so used to insensitive depictions of indigenous people in movies of this ilk that I didn’t really focus on that. Nobody is really portrayed in a positive light, for that matter. Caucasians, Latin Americans, TV execs are all basically bastards in this film.
Comment:  I haven't seen this movie, but Sosa's defense of it is problematical. A small group of anthropologists and filmmakers obviously doesn't represent the entire Caucasian race. Moviegoers have seen millions of other white characters, so they know these characters aren't typical.

Moreover, these characters are far from their "natural habitat." If they're acting horribly, they (and moviegoers) can blame it on the environment. "Jungle fever" is a commonplace excuse for whites who have gone bad.

In contrast, moviegoers have seen only a few other Native characters, and those characters probably acted like savages too. So moviegoers have no reason to believe these sadistic cannibals are anything other than the norm. The movie presents no "good Indian" to balance out its bad Indians.

Moreover, these Indians are acting horribly in their natural environment. They haven't been driven to evil, they are evil. It's not evenhanded to say Indians are naturally depraved and whites who live like them become depraved. The underlying message is still a racist one: that Indians are (naturally) savage and uncivilized.

For more on the subject, see Review of Fierce People and The Yanomami Scandal.

Off the Rez is lacking

Nice to see some critical comments about Off the Rez after all the acclaim it's received:

"Off the Rez" Inspires, Though Off the Mark

By Tara Polen[I]t is hard to gloss over what is lacking.

The film takes some its gravitas from the accusation of discrimination against Native Americans. Some of this is legitimate; there are historical references to Ceci’s experiences growing up as an athlete that are doubtless true, that she was discouraged and outright denied opportunities because of her race.

But the notion that Shoni continues to face discrimination as a Native American—that accusation falls short in the film. The only examples given are weak: supposedly biased calls by referees during games, or implied excess physicality from opposing teams, these are not enough to make the point. Any fan of basketball knows that these are regular occurrences in any game anywhere across the country—at all levels of play.
And:[W]here is the explanation for Shoni’s eventual choice of Louisville? While building up the pressure and leading the audience along as Shoni’s college choice becomes more and more of a pressing issue (eventually she remains the last one of the top 100 ranked in her class not to have declared her intended school), the final announcement is anti-climactic.

We are simply told during Shoni’s high school graduation ceremony that she will go to Louisville; there is no elucidation, no further understanding for the viewer.
A more positive review, plus an interesting tidbit about the film's production:

Film Premiere:  Off the Rez Is Hoop Dreams Meets Glory Road

By Aron Phillips“The mother-daughter relationship is so complicated,” says Kelly Ripa, co-host of LIVE! with Regis and Kelly and executive producer of the film. While many people might see Ceci--a former high school basketball star in her own right--living vicariously through her children for the opportunities that weren’t afforded to her, Ripa notes that it becomes evident that her children are actually living through her.

While the basketball highlights are incredible--Shoni finished her senior year averaging 29.8 points, 9.0 rebounds, 7.3 assists and 5.5 steals along with 2,120 points for her career, ranking her sixth on Oregon’s all-time scoring list--it’s the story that keeps you glued to the screen. As so many people before her were said to be “conditioned to fail,” Shoni becomes larger than the game she loves; a symbol for her teammates, her family and Native Americans all over. A modern-day Jackie Robinson.
Comment:  I didn't know Kelly Ripa had any interest in Natives, basketball, or film production. It would be nice if she used her star power to get a few Natives on her show.

For more on the subject, see Hock on Off the Rez and Preview of Off the Rez.

Pembina wannabe charged with fraud

Man duped in tribal scam

By Marcos OrtizA 53-year old man was stopped for speeding and ended up trying to defend his beliefs.

But according to authorities those beliefs are from a bogus group professing to be a Native American Tribe.
And:Along with the questionable license plate, Burns said Cannel had a fake driver’s license.

Cannel claimed to be a member of the Pembina Nation.

The group describes itself as a Native American tribe based in North Dakota.

“Pembina Nation claims to be a sovereign area and claim they don't have to follow the laws of the state,” said Lt. Burns.
And:The Pembina Nation website appears to be legitimate. There's a long history of the tribe and authorities said anyone can join.

"It appears you can be a member for $150 dollars," said Lt. Burns.

But the website also lists a warning about scams artists using the tribe's name. It advises that anyone who is approached for membership should contact law enforcement.

“No they're not (legitimate)," said Lt. Burns. “They're not recognized by the federal government."

But according to his son, Cannell does recognize the Pembina Nation because they're anti-government.

“He doesn't pay taxes here,” said Cannell’s son. “He doesn't have to pay taxes because he has his own way of doing stuff.”
Comment:  "Man duped"? You mean man tried to dupe others, I think.

Cannell is apparently one of many conservative anti-government fanatics. Either he stupidly thought he had found a legal loophole--too bad ignorance of the law is no excuse. Or he stupidly broke the law knowing full well that Indians are subject to all federal and state driving laws.

I'm guessing it's the latter. Even idiots who think Indians get free education and don't pay taxes must realize Indians have to obey the law. There'd be a nationwide outcry if millions of Indians were breaking traffic rules and regulations. The lack of such outcry proves there's no free driving pass for Indians.

As for the "Pembina Nation," they aren't serious if they let anyone join for $150. As with Cannell's attempt to dupe the authorities, the word for that is fraud. You can safely add these wannabes to the long list of so-called tribes whom the federal government will never recognize.

For more on the subject, see Anti-Government Extremists Pose as "Indians."

Commissioner:  Indians should get off the rez

Indian Leaders Condemn Maine Commissioner for Reported Racist Remarks

By Gale Courey ToensingMembers of the Aroostook County business community expected Congdon to talk about economic development in the state and their region of northern Maine, an economically depressed area, MPBN reported. Instead, Congdon said that the country’s economic problems have their roots in the civil rights movement and that higher education has been going downhill ever since blacks were allowed access to American universities and colleges under the affirmative action program. Then he told those in the audience that they could forget about waiting for economic development opportunities to come to Aroostook County, and that if they wanted economic development they needed to “get off the reservation and make it happen,” the report said. He also attributed problems with Aroostoock County young people to having “bad parents.”

“Usually people are a bit more subtle than that,” said Kirk Francis, the chief of the Penobscot Indian Nation. “You have four federally recognized tribes in Maine to whom these comments are extremely insensitive at best and the civil rights affirmative action comments are much more than that. I won’t use the word, but it is what it is.”
Comment:  Here's an example of how context matters. People sometimes use the phrase "off the reservation" in a non-Native context. For instance, "Speaking off the cuff, the general went 'off the reservation' with his remarks." This terminology may say something negative about Indians, but it isn't clear what. The commenter isn't trying to attack Indians, so the offense (if any) is minor.

In contrast, Congdon was using the phrase to attack Indians. He implied they're lazy, good-for-nothing bums if they don't get "off the reservation." Never mind their land's value or their cultural ties to it. Anyone who doesn't move must be a welfare-loving socialist and government cheat.

This use of "off the reservation" is insulting. And it's racist. You never see critics slamming poor white people in Arkansas or West Virginia for not moving where the jobs are. Only Indians get criticized for staying "on the reservation." I.e., for trying to maintain their roots while developing their economic base.

For more on the subject, see "Res-Love" = Abuse and Alcoholism and "Too Many Chiefs" a Major Offense?

Man walks Trail of Tears

Mo. man walks Trail of Tears to preserve history

By Renee JeanHe is a Comanche and a Kiowa, recreating a trail of Cherokee tears, but the names of the tribes are not the important thing, Ron Cooper says. The tears all had the same salt and copper tang, no matter which tribe shed them.

"The Trail of Tears is all part of the same story," Cooper says. "The Cherokee were not the only tribe to walk—and die—along the trail of tears. Many tribes were forced to take this way. Choctaws, Creeks, Seminoles, Chickasaws, and Cherokees."

The Trail of Tears is the story of Indian Removal. And it is, in its way, also the story of one Ron Cooper, a descendant of Kiowa and Comanche tribes, born and raised in Lawton, Oklahoma. He is 1/8 Kiowa and 3/8 Comanche.
Reading Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee at 17 inspired Cooper:"Ever since reading that book, I have been learning whatever I can about all the different tribes, not just Comanche. And just relating it to why I'm walking this, I can relate to all the other tribes who struggled to keep their way of life alive. It didn't matter what part of the country they were in, what tribe they were. We had the same struggle. And so you have a Comanche walking the Cherokee Trail of Tears."

The northern route of the Trail of Tears went through Libertyville, Farmington and Doe Run, then meandered a little bit south of Bismarck on its way to Steelville. The northern route that Cooper is walking covers 835 miles in all.
Comment:  For more on the subject, see Remember the Removal 2010 and Trail of Tears Bike Ride.

"Surprised Indians use cellphones"

Exchange students–Bozeman and reservation teens learn from each other

By Gail Schontzler"I don't think we get exposed to cultures as much as we should," Chloe Nostrant, 16, a sophomore at Bozeman High, said Wednesday. "We're almost--"

"Isolated," said sophomore Peter Obermeyer, 15, finishing Nostrant's sentence. "It's been valuable just to learn about another culture. ...We learned what life on the reservation is like."
And:Native students said they have to contend with stereotypes people have about Indians. Rider said drinking and gambling are the biggest stereotypes. If she goes outside Montana, she said, people think they live in tepees and wear buckskin dresses and moccasins. They're surprised Indians use cell phones.Comment:  This is another amazing statement of what non-Indians think about Indians. It's why Indians need much more exposure in the news and entertainment media.

For more on the subject, see Comic-Book Characterizations of Natives and 70% Think Indians Are Extinct.

Oak Ridge Boys perform with Cherokee choir

Cherokee National Youth Choir to perform with Oak Ridge Boys

By Brandi BallEarlier this year, they shared a stage with country superstar Vince Gill. This time, the Cherokee National Youth Choir is ready to perform with legends.

Opening for the Oak Ridge Boys on Thursday at The Joint inside Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tulsa, the choir will perform “The Star Spangled Banner” and “Lean on Me.” The groups will share the stage for an encore of “Elvira.”

On Jan. 15, in front of a sold-out crowd at The Joint, the youth choir joined Gill in a rendition of “Go Rest High on That Mountain.”

“It is a great leadership exercise when our youth get the opportunity to perform on stage with such well-known talent, especially when our youth are performing in Cherokee,” Chad Smith, principal chief of the Cherokee Nation, said in a statement. “This is another opportunity for our youth choir to see the production and witness a performance of such great magnitude.”
Comment:  For more on the subject, see Vince Gill Performs with Cherokee Choir.

April 28, 2011

Bradford named Nike N7 Ambassador

Nike Announces Sam Bradford as Nike N7 AmbassadorNike just announced that St. Louis Rams Quarterback Sam Bradford is joining the company as a Nike N7 ambassador. The athletic apparel company launched its N7 campaign targeted at American Indians in 2007. “Inspired by Native American wisdom of Seven Generations,” according to the N7 Facebook page, the N7 brand is Nike’s “commitment to bring sport and all of its benefits to Native American and Aboriginal communities in the USA and Canada.” Through purchases of N7 products, Nike supports the N7 Fund, which provides Native and Aboriginal communities with grants to fund sports and physical fitness programs.

Nike shared the news and Bradford’s new role in Washington, DC, on April 27, when Bradford joined the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to encourage American Indian youth to eat healthy and stay active.

Bradford, an enrolled member of the Cherokee Nation, planted heirloom American Indian crops and indigenous vegetables in a garden, called The Roots of American Agriculture, with more than 30 American Indian students and USDA officials on April 27. Practicing traditional native planting techniques, they celebrated the enormous contributions American Indians have made to the foods eaten regularly across the country and globe. The garden is part of the USDA’s People’s Garden Initiative, which promotes the establishment of school and community gardens.
Agriculture Secretary Vilsack, NFL Quarterback Sam Bradford Urge Native American Youth to Get ActiveAgriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack welcomed St. Louis Rams Quarterback Sam Bradford to the Agriculture Department today and joined him in urging Native American youth to spend the summer pursuing healthy outdoor activities. Bradford, an enrolled member of the Cherokee Nation, participated with over 30 Native American students at USDA's People's Garden in planting a Native American garden, called The Roots of American Agriculture.

"Through programs like 'Fuel Up to Play 60' and Let's Move!, the Obama administration is helping get kids active in order to help them have a healthy future," said Vilsack. "Our partners at the NFL and across the country are key to engaging kids in an exciting way that teaches them that physical activity can be fun, while also important to their health."

Bradford and Vilsack noted that a recent study of four year-old children found that obesity is more than twice as common among American Indian/Alaska Native children than among white or Asian children. In 2002, nearly 15 percent of those receiving care from the United States Indian Health Service (IHS) were estimated to have diabetes.
Comment:  I criticized Bradford before for not helping his Native brethren. For not even acknowledging them. But now he's put himself into the game, to use a sports metaphor. He's walking the walk as well as talking the talk.

For more on the subject, see Bradford Promotes Healthy Lifestyles.

Woods, Bradford to golf with Begay

Notah Begay III Foundation Challenge Teed UpNotah Begay (Navajo/Pueblo) and the Oneida Indian Nation are teaming up for the fourth time in their fight against obesity and to promote youth sports and wellness within American Indian communities. The fourth anual Notah Begay III (NB3) Foundation Challenge is slated for July 5 at Turning Stone Resort’s Atunyote Golf Club.

The event has once again attracted huge stars from both the sports and entertainment worlds, with golf giant Tiger Woods and rising star (and part Navajo) Rickie Fowler teeing off alongside NFL quarterbacks Tony Romo of the Dallas Cowboys and Sam Bradford, Cherokee, of the St. Louis Rams in the two-person team, best ball 18-hole shootout.

Proceeds from the tournament go directly to the Notah Begay II Foundation, which has raised more than $2.4 million in the first three years of the event.
Notah Begay Promotes Healthy Living to American Indian StudentsThis weekend, four-time PGA Tour winner Notah Begay III, who comes from the Navajo, San Felipe Pueblo and Isleta Pueblo tribes, will advocate leading a healthy lifestyle to American Indian youth and draw attention to the growing epidemic of type 2 diabetes in Indian Country.

Begay is returning to his hometown of Albuquerque, New Mexico, where he will lead a series of televised events expected to reach 97 percent of all American Indian students nationwide.

As a guest on Native America Calling from 11 am to noon on April 29, Begay will spread his wellness message to more than 67 tribal and public radio stations. Begay will speak in-studio with high school and college students from the San Manuel Band of Serrano Mission Indians of California, who participate in a leadership development program sponsored by the the NB3 Foundation, the nonprofit organization that Begay created with his father to help fight childhood obesity and diabetes. The students are partaking in a journalism seminar intended to expose them to career opportunities in news and media, such as radio, television, magazine and social media platforms.
Comment:  For more on the subject, see 3rd NB3 Challenge Raises $125 Million and NB3 Foundation Fights Obesity.

Comedian isn't afraid to be racist

Ron White's blue collar comedy tour

By Brian MackeyWhite’s not afraid to work blue, and he’s about as far from politically correct as one can get without inspiring lawsuits or riots. White recalled during a 2005 show that he once said Eskimos were an ugly people. This was during a show in Alaska, he said, and it resulted in a scathing letter from “the head Eskimo, Frosty, or whatever they call him.” The letter boasted, “the Eskimo tribe is one of the purest races on the planet.”

“That’s kind of what I’m talking about,” White said. Ba-dum.
Comment:  Wow, such pure racism. I wonder how many "jokes" he tells about blacks, Latinos, Jews, et al. being ugly and inbred. Or do Natives "win" the Oppression Olympics once again?

For more on the subject, see "Squaw Skank" Joke on Tonight Show and Colbert Satirizes UN Declaration Scare.

Aboriginal Cultural Ambassadors

Province gives out cash for aboriginal cultural tourism

By Jennifer McIntoshTurtle Island Tourism Company will ring in the spring season with some good news thanks to a $20,000 cash infusion from the province.

The company, based in Ottawa’s west end, will be receiving the money for a pilot program called the Aboriginal Cultural Ambassadors (ACA).

ACA is a customized training program that will prepare aboriginal people for careers in aboriginal cultural tourism.
Comment:  For more on the subject, see Native Tourism in Alaska and Tribes Promote Tourism at Berlin Show.

April 27, 2011

On the Ice challenges stereotypes

Answering Back

Andrew Okpeaha MacLean Captures Life on the Ice

By Paulette Beete
All of MacLean's films to date have been set, at least in part, in Barrow and its surrounding landscape. As is true with all hard-to-reach places, the inhabitants of Alaska's North Slope remain a mystery to outsiders, and much of their characterization in popular culture is half-truth verging on caricature. MacLean's filmmaking is a reflection of his desire to let people know what being an Eskimo is really like. "We're in a kind of strange position that everybody in the world has heard of Eskimos. Most people have some kind of strange notions--they rely on stereotypes they've heard….We're like a punch line or something. Nobody really knows us. I want to make art that is reflective of a more genuine aspect of our experience."

He added that there is an implicit political angle to his filmmaking. "In the Arctic right now, we've got this avalanche of information and narrative and stories that just piles into our lives from the dominant Western culture. Movies, television, Internet, Facebook, music…I want to start answering that back. I want to start making people listen to us for a change. I've seen a million movies about you guys, now here's a movie about us that you have to sit and watch."
Comment:  For more on the subject, see On the Ice Wins in Berlin and Mixed Reviews for On the Ice.

Below:  "Director Andrew Okpeaha MacLean, working on his film On the Ice."

Spencer speaks on Native issues

'Twilight' star uses fame to help others

By Ann Marie Bush"Twilight Saga" film star Chaske Spencer is using his newfound fame to put the spotlight on drugs, alcohol, bullying and suicide.

He also is hoping it will help bring attention to the reservoir at Plum Creek on the Kickapoo reservation near Horton.

"They are in dire need of a water supply," said Spencer, who spent two days in the area to lead workshops for students and their parents.

The actor who plays character Sam Uley, the alpha male leader of the werewolves in the "Twilight Saga" films, made two appearances Monday and Tuesday at the Golden Eagle Casino on the Kickapoo reservation.
Comment:  As I've said before, it's great to see a Native actor use his fame to help his people. It's more than we're seeing from non-Natives Johnny Depp and Taylor Lautner.

For more on the subject, see Spencer to Speak for NA Heritage Month and Shift the Power Launch Party.

Below:  "Chaske Spencer, Twilight Saga actor, poses for a picture with two girls Tuesday at the Kickapoo reservation near Horton."

Choctaw Freedman composed official gospel song

Native American’s composition becomes official gospel song of Oklahoma

By Windsor GenovaThe Oklahoma House of Representatives unanimously passed on Monday a bill making "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" as the state’s official gospel song.

"Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" was composed by Choctaw freedman Wallis Willis in 1862 and was popularized by the African-American a cappella ensemble named Jubilee Singers during a nationwide and Europe tour to raise funds for the bankrupt Fisk University in the 1870s.
Comment:  For a similar example of state recognition, see New Mexico's Official State Necklace.

April 26, 2011

Virginia classified Indians as blacks

White Supremacists from 1920s Still Thwarting Virginia Tribes

By Tanya LeePlecker, registrar of the Virginia Bureau of Vital Statistics from 1912-1946, was instrumental in crafting that state’s law. He argued that there were no full-blooded Indians left in the state by the early 20th century; therefore, all who claimed Indian heritage were part something else, and he decided the best thing to do would be to lump them in with blacks, since, by his mandate as registrar, a person could claim only one of two racial backgrounds in Virginia: Caucasian or “Negro.” People claiming to be Indians, Plecker said, were r­eally blacks trying to move their families into a position where they could “pass,” or claim to be Caucasian.

Virginia’s Racial Integrity Act of 1924 outlawed miscegenation, and its intent, quite simply, was to keep Anglo-Saxon blood pure. Wrote Plecker: “For the purpose of this act, the term ‘white person’ shall apply only to the person who has no trace whatsoever of any blood other than Caucasian.… The [terms] ‘Mixed,’ ‘Issue,’ and perhaps one or two others, will be understood to mean a mixture of white and black r­aces, with the white predominating. That is the class that should be reported with the greatest care, as many of these are on the borderline, and constitute the real danger of race intermixture.”
More about Plecker and the eugenics movement:Plecker was not just the eccentric, lone-wolf evil person he is sometimes portrayed as—though he may have been both eccentric and evil. Among the many advocates of eugenics in America back then were Alexander Graham Bell, Harvard professor Charles B. Davenport, Madison Grant, a founder of the New York Zoological Society, President Theodore Roosevelt, MIT geneticist Frederick Adams Woods and virtually every geneticist in the country, as well as a raft of wealthy patrons who supported the spread of eugenics and paid for research to substantiate its premises. President Calvin Coolidge, who signed the 1924 immigration law, had said when serving as vice president, “America should be kept American.… Biological laws show that Nordics deteriorate when mixed with other races.” Writing for the majority in the Supreme Court’s 1927 ruling in Buck v. Bell, Virginia’s landmark test case on forced sterilization, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. said: “It is better for all the world, if instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind.… Three generations of imbeciles are enough.”

(In 1932, Plecker gave the keynote speech at the Third International Conference on Eugenics in New York at the American Museum of Natural History under the auspices of the International Federation of Eugenics Societies. Ernst Rudin, who had come over from Germany for the conference, was unanimously elected president of the International Federation of Eugenics Societies. A year later, he became one of the architects of the racial policies of Nazi Germany that led to the Holocaust.)
Comment:  The article makes clear some of the obstacles tribes face in getting recognized. Whites defined them out of existence, then set the standards so high the "former Indians" couldn't meet them.

Given Roosevelt's bigoted views on Indians, it's not too surprising that he believed in eugenics. But when a president and a Supreme Court justice believe in their own racial superiority, you know America's deck is stacked against you.

For more on the subject, see Vermont to Apologize for Sterilization? and Sotomayor, Empathy, and Sterilization.

Below:  "Plecker wasn’t a lone wolf with his racial purity notions—eugenics had many supporters."

Billboards to raise awareness of Indians

Broken Treaties: Aaron Huey’s Pine Ridge Billboard Project

By Phil BickerThe Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, home of the Lakota Sioux, is ground zero for Native American Issues. Best known to most Americans as the site of the 1890 Wounded Knee Massacre, where some 300 men, women and children were slaughtered by US soldiers, today Pine Ridge is one of the poorest counties in America. The life expectancy of men is 47-years–the same as for men in Afghanistan and Somalia. The unemployment levels on the reservation are about 90%. Most people are living on just $3,000 a year.

For the past six years, photographer Aaron Huey has trained his camera on these problems. But, he says, it took him five years to understand what the real story was. “When I first went to Pine Ridge,” says Huey, “the focus was on getting pictures of gangs, superficial violence, drugs and extreme circumstances.” It wasn’t until he was asked to present a TED talk that he pieced together the history–For the first time he saw the reality–how the land was stolen from the Lakota through a series of massacres disguised as battles, and the broken treaties that followed. “It was,” says Huey, “a calculated and systematic destruction of a people.”

To spread the message about the broken treaties–and let people know “where the statistics come from,” says Huey–the photographer has devised an ambitious plan. Collaborating with two artists, Ernesto Yerena and Shepard Fairey, (the latter is best known for his portrait for Obama’s “Hope” campaign), Huey is creating a nationwide billboard campaign. And giving the street artists no-holds-barred access to his work to design it. “I told them they can cut them up,” says Huey, “and put them together, however they want.”

He wants to put these collaborations on billboards, subway platforms and buses. “I want to shift people’s attention to outlets for action,” says Huey explaining that the posters direct potential donors to grass roots Native organizations, as well information on standing treaties between tribes and the US government, and details about broken treaties.
An associated video:

The Black Hills Are Not for Sale:  An Interview with Photographer Aaron Huey

Comment:  Watch the video to see examples of Huey's photographs and a couple of posters made from them.

The posters are nice. I'm not sure a poster will catch many people's attention, but a billboard might. At that size, the art may get the public talking.

Huey seems liberal enough, but his mental journey sounds interesting. At first he was taking photos as an ignorant outsider. He seems to have taken the poverty at face value--which means he thought it was the Indians' fault, I suspect. It took him six years to get the idea that maybe the roots of the problem went deeper. That maybe the legacy of broken treaties, massacres, and concentration-camp living might've had something to do with the poor conditions.

Wow. If it took someone who's supposedly a keen observer that long to figure things out, what hope does the public have? It may take decades for Americans to get the message about the Third World conditions on some reservations.

Which means Native activists have their work cut out for them. They have to stick to their guns for as long as it takes. No single protest or documentary or media campaign will do the trick; it may take dozens or hundreds of such efforts.

For more on the subject, see "Res-Love" = Abuse and Alcoholism and Spirit Level Is Low in US.

Wikipedia:  Native journalists aren't notable

What Constitutes Notability in Wikipedia? Twice Deleted Native American Journalists Association Wants to Know

By Terri HansenWikipedia celebrated its 10th anniversary in January of this year.

That was the same month Wikipedia administrators deleted the entry for the Native American Journalists Association—for the second time.

Wikipedia is the popular online encyclopedia that uses the unique wiki platform—wiki is a Hawaiian word meaning fast—that any user with a basic knowledge of its language can edit.

Wikipedia lists 76 organizations under the category, “American journalism organizations.” It includes boxing, soccer and baseball writers associations. It includes the associations of Asian American journalists, black journalists, Hispanic journalists, Korean American journalists, lesbian and gay journalists, and UNITY: Journalists of Color, of which NAJA is a member. But unlike their journalism cohorts, they’re non-existent to Wikipedia.

It’s not for a lack of effort on the part of journalists who also act as Wikipedia authors.

According to Wikipedia’s documented history on the matter, a Wikipedia administrator who goes by NawlinWiki deleted the NAJA entry in January 2010 due to what Wikipedia terms its lack of notability.
Comment:  This sounds like a variation on the commonplace idea that modern Indians basically don't exist. That their presence is so insignificant that they're not worth mentioning. In other words, out of sight, out of mind.

Or perhaps it's the idea that Indians are so "savage" and "uncivilized" that they can't be professional journalists. A bunch of dropouts, drunks, and criminals, Wikipedia's editors might think. Have any of them even gone to college or held a white-collar job? How could they do anything these days worth a Wikipedia entry?

In other words, it sounds like racism to me. Once again, Indians "win" the Oppression Olympics. They're the only minority journalists deemed unworthy of a Wikipedia entry.

For more on Native journalism, see Amnesty International Honors Native Reports and Native Journalists = Foreigners?

Below:  Rhonda LeValdo, NAJA president.

The Red Road Home program

Minn. program uses American Indian culture to target prison recidivism

By Tom RobertsonIn a purification ritual, eight men in a garage huddle around a drum, as a haze of burnt sage hangs in the air. The drummers, all of whom have done time in prison, sing a song that honors the pipe and tobacco used in traditional ceremonies.

The group is part of Red Road Home, a pilot program based in Bemidji that aims to help former inmates from the White Earth, Red Lake and Leech Lake reservations stay out of prison.

American Indians make up less than 2 percent of Minnesota's total population, but they account for more than 8 percent of adult offenders in the state's prison system. In January, 789 of 9,429 state inmates were American Indians. Indians are also more likely to reoffend and get sent back to prison.

The Red Road Home program in northern Minnesota aims to slow down the revolving door, through American Indian cultural and spiritual practices. There are early signs of success, but the program may soon run out of funding.
Comment:  For more on the subject, see Prison "Medicine Man" Ad Canceled and Art Empowers Native Prisoners.

Below:  "Drummers sing a traditional song in a garage on the White Earth Indian Reservation in northwestern Minnesota. All of the men are ex-offenders participating in the Red Road home, a program designed to lower recidivism rates among American Indians. The program focuses on teaching traditional Indian values through culture and spiritual tradition." (MPR Photo/Tom Robertson)

Twilight tribe seeks fans' help

U.S. Tribe Cites Tsunami, 'Twilight' In Bid To Expand

By Tom BanseAn Indian tribe in Washington state wants to move its village to higher ground, citing concerns over a possible tsunami from earthquakes around the Pacific Ocean.

But it takes an act of Congress to expand a reservation. So the Quileute tribe is hoping to get the word out—in part by relying on its newfound popularity as a tourist site for fans of the Twilight series of books and movies. In those stories, the Quileute lands are teeming with werewolves.
Restating the point in a bit more detail:Only Congress can adjust the boundaries of a national park. And it's done that before—in December, lawmakers gave the nearby Hoh Indian Tribe a sliver of Olympic park land. That tribe is now planning its move out of the tsunami zone.

But the Quileutes are asking for much more land: about 785 acres of the national park, some of it designated wilderness. And to help its cause, the tribe is seeking to enlist an unusual ally: the huge fan base of the Twilight vampire saga.
Comment:  Other than doing what it's already done--communicating via its website and YouTube--it's not clear how the tribe plans to enlist Twilight fans. Ask them to write letters or e-mails? The article should've discussed this point since it was in the headline.

For more on the subject, see Quileute Exhibit Says "We're Not Werewolves" and Fans Still Ignorant About Quileutes.

April 25, 2011

AIM vs. Fort Laramie

War and Consequences:  The American Indian Movement Vs. The National Park Service at Fort Laramie

By Richard West SellarsI arrived at the entrance to the park just after opening time on a mild mid-January day and encountered a grim, tense park official with a high-powered rifle and holstered pistol—the fort was locked down! Guarding the closed entrance gate, he informed me that the American Indian Movement (AIM) had threatened to burn down Fort Laramie. Alarmed by their threat, the superintendent had closed the fort for the day as federal law-enforcement officers rushed to the park from duty stations in the general area. He alerted the Wyoming Highway Patrol and the Service’s regional office in Omaha, and ordered that park rangers fire no shots unless in a life-threatening situation. I recall that, aside from my presence in an official capacity, the only visitor allowed in the fort that day was a lone German tourist.

One of the Service’s primary westward expansion parks, Fort Laramie dates from the 1830s and 1840s, when many promoted America’s conquest of the West as the nation’s “Manifest Destiny,” ordained by Providence. The fort is located along the Laramie River, near where it joins a much larger river, the North Platte—waters that flow through parts of a vast area known as the Northern Plains: high, open grasslands stretching from about northeastern Colorado and northwestern Kansas all the way into Canada.

And here I was, just out of graduate school, intent on a quiet scholarly career—when suddenly I found myself out on the Northern Plains, threatened by an Indian attack. It seemed strange that a high-profile, activist organization like AIM had targeted this isolated historic military post. I spent the day with distracted park staff, taking a close look at the fort’s historic buildings, parade ground and other features, while warily surveying the surrounding area, where serious trouble could suddenly appear.

Provoked by the long history of federal policies destructive of Indian rights, AIM had made its threat by phone the night before. The park’s defensive response was not without justification, as AIM had recently participated in the Indian occupation of Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay. In the late summer of 1972, it had joined a coalition of Indian groups in an auto-caravan along The Trail of Broken Treaties, from the West Coast to Washington, D.C. There, only two months before threatening Fort Laramie, AIM led the takeover of the Bureau of Indian Affairs headquarters.

Earlier, it had confronted the National Park Service itself, demonstrating at Mount Rushmore National Memorial in South Dakota’s Black Hills, where it viewed the memorial’s fame gigantic, sculpted presidential heads as symbols of pernicious government policies, past and present. The government’s violation of agreements made at Fort Laramie in the late 1860s constituted a primary motive behind AIM’s protests.
Sellars explains why AIM's protest of Fort Laramie was justified:The various officers' and enlisted men’s quarters, the bakery, trading store and bar—even two guard houses and the ruins of a latrine—all tell the story of daily army life. And a tour of the fort brings one in repeated contact with rooms (eight of them in the lieutenant colonel’s quarters alone, and approximately double that number in Old Bedlam) where army life is interpreted primarily through middle-class Victorian furnishings.

But to me, these domestic spaces draw attention away from the military’s purpose in maintaining a base of operations near the Laramie and North Platte rivers, how it went about achieving that purpose, and the resulting impacts on Indian life and culture. Instead, they focus the visitors’ attention on the soldiers, their families, and domestic comforts at Fort Laramie. A little nostalgia may be all right, but it should not be the main course. But with restorations such as Old Bedlam and the captain’s and lieutenant colonel’s quarters, the National Park Service has transformed this once-abandoned fort into a showcase of domestic life at a Northern Plains military post.

Surely, though, beyond Park Service interpretation, it was the very existence of Fort Laramie that provoked AIM’s anger: the old fort, preserved and proudly displayed by yet another arm of the United States government—a reminder of broken treaties and the Indians’ disastrous loss of their traditional life-ways, tied closely to seasonal movement of the buffalo. But had AIM leaders actually shown up and bothered to take the ranger-led tour of the fort, they would have been even more irritated. As just one example, visitors who take the current tour that winds through the buildings, along the parade ground and past various interpretive signs will encounter comments about the army’s installation of birdbaths and indoor plumbing in the 1880s, but no mention is made of the army’s impact on Indian life-ways, on their tribal culture and independence. At the very least, AIM’s threats signaled that not every American was pleased with Fort Laramie. But was the National Park Service paying attention?

Apparently not. In 1987, roughly 14 years after AIM’s initial threat, the park completed its last, and one of its most ambitious, restoration and refurnishing efforts, affecting about half of the two-story, 273-foot-long enlisted men’s cavalry barracks. It is this structure that most symbolizes the military’s final, determined drive to subdue the Indians—in current lingo, its “shock and awe” against Northern Plains tribes. The army built the barracks in 1873-1874 to accommodate a hundred or more additional cavalrymen, thereby strengthening its mounted forces to strike the enemy: those Indians who refused to accept confinement on their reservation or abandonment of traditional hunting areas.

But what one sees today in the barracks, refurnished to its 1876 appearance, is mainly where the soldiers ate and slept. The south half of the barracks building is restored downstairs as a mess hall, kitchen, and related rooms—and upstairs as sleeping quarters (long dormitory bays) with about 50 reproduction nineteenth-century iron army bunks in precisely aligned rows that can be viewed through a clear Plexiglas barrier. At the foot of the bunks are wooden military footlockers, with overcoats and horse tack hanging on walls nearby, and rifles in “arms racks” close at hand. Except for historic army heating stoves, probably once used at the fort, all furnishings are modern reproductions. (The north half of the barracks building, where more cavalry troops were quartered, accommodates the park’s library, museum collections, and other functions.)

The ultimate purpose of the 1870s cavalry barracks—to house reinforcements for the final suppression of Northern Plains Indians to make way for white occupation—is only implied. Instead, the interpretation features the furnishings, in addition to commentary (and even a song) about unappetizing meals fed to the soldiers. Overall, the messages conveyed by Fort Laramie’s restored buildings, and most notably at the cavalry barracks, fall into the category of "American Innocence," in that they reveal no substantive connection with consequences of the army’s military actions on the plains. National innocence is a conceit with which AIM and most other Indians likely have never agreed.
Comment:  Unfortunately, this problem is common throughout America. Not only at our national parks and monuments, but everywhere. We omit Indians and our history of killing them in the media and the public discourse. Or we sanitize this history by "honoring" Indians on logos and packages and in pageants and parades.

You can almost feel the attempt to whitewash our collective responsibility. "Look at the noble Indian!" the stereotypical images seem to be saying. "Think how mighty and brave he was, not how we cheated and robbed him. Remember the good times and forget the bad. Otherwise we might have to do something about the problems we created, and we can't have that."

Of course, you should never threaten to burn down historic buildings. At least for philosophical reasons. AIM should've tried a long-term publicity campaign rather than a one-time threat. The threat apparently didn't change anything; it was so ineffectual that no one even remembers it.

For more on Indians and national parks, see Tribal Perspectives in Glacier Exhibit, Before There Were Parks, and Democracy in Burns's National Parks.

Below:  "'Old Bedlam,' the officers quarters at Fort Laramie National Historic Site, has been beautifully restored, but how well does it interpret history?" (Kurt Repanshek)

"Res-love" = abuse and alcoholism

An article provides revealing glimpses into life on a troubled reservation:

Native American student shares struggle, dispels stereotypes

By John LonsdaleMurdo is a convergence of checkered white and Native American land in Jones County, S.D.

A town just a half-hour outside of White River, S.D., and 23 miles north of the Rosebud Indian Reservation in Todd County, Murdo is a place where the most common last name isn't Smith but is White Buffalo, Stands And Looks Back or Black Bear.

Renelle White Buffalo, senior in integrated studio arts, was raised by her grandmother and grandfather in this area.
And:Her grandfather moved to a nursing home, and White Buffalo was forced to move in with her alcoholic mother, two brothers and two sisters.

"When I was in high school and middle school, I didn't want to be Native American," White Buffalo said. "I was so bitter about my mom and the bums drinking on the street and all of the bad things that I saw."
And:White Buffalo took over the household—paying the bills and getting her siblings ready for school every day.

"It felt like I was trying to please [my mom] so much," White Buffalo said.
And:Her youngest sister and mother started sending her Happy Birthday cards with hateful messages inside.

"They would say, 'Hey, happy birthday. I hope you...,'" she said, laughing.

White Buffalo and her brother William are the closest. They didn't speak for a year because of their mother, but they are in contact now. Her other brother is upset about how his life has turned out, and neither he nor her younger sister will speak to her.
And:"Res-love" is the term used when women on a reservation have "hickies" and bruises all over their bodies. It's one of the main issues White Buffalo works toward raising awareness for as the only member of the Native American Club this semester.

"People just say, 'That's res-love,'" White Buffalo said. "People make fun of it in order to deal with it and in order to cope. I think that's a huge problem."

It isn't just res-love that was infecting her reservation, though.

"American Indians, as a general rule, live in what contemporary scholars call enforced poverty," Larson said.

Larson, director of American Indian Studies for 11 years, continued.

"They are made to live in greatly diminished circumstances creating the stereotype of the dysfunctional and the savage," he said.

Larson said there is an alcohol problem in many tribal communities, but under the circumstances, any cultural group would most likely medicate itself pretty heavily.

"It's not as simple as they're just all alcoholics," he said. "It's like the stereotype [of American] Indian students getting to go to college for free. It's just not that simple."
Comment:  White Buffalo was a straight-A student so she managed to go to college, to escape. But look at what she had to endure to get there. An alcoholic mother. Running the household as a teenager. Hate from her siblings. An environment where domestic violence is so common it's laughed at.

White Buffalo had the intelligence to get away from her dysfunctional family. Yet her upbringing was enough to fill her with self-loathing at being an Indian.

Now imagine if she had been a straight-C rather than straight-A student. Or if a parent had abused her. Or if her mother had died and she was sent to a foster home. It wouldn't take much to tip her precarious life from the "win" to the "lose" column.

This is what many young rez Indians endure. It's part of what drives them to alcohol, drugs, crime, depression, and suicide. The problem isn't that they're not trying, or that they're "different" from us. It's that they're facing harsh circumstances that most middle-class Americans can't imagine.

To suggest that rez conditions are the "fault" of Indians like White Buffalo is tantamount to racism. Yes, her mother could've gotten help if help was available. But the four White Buffalo children couldn't do much about their circumstances. And so it goes in general. For every adult who may be able to exercise responsibility, there are children, elders, and others who can't. It's not their fault so blaming them is wrong.

Blame system, not victim

The problem is the environment as a whole...the lack of jobs and healthcare...the "enforced poverty." It's the intergenerational trauma stemming from broken treaties, boarding schools, and other forms of cultural extermination. White Buffalo is only a generation or two away from someone who may have been tortured for thinking and acting like an Indian.

Her case seems typical to me. Alcoholic and abusive parents pass their dysfunctionality to their children. One or two may survive while the rest succumb. Outsiders blame the victim without understanding the problem.

This also suggests why Indians cling to reservations and perpetuate the cycle. For mediocre students who have been abused and lack self-esteem, venturing to a college or city is almost unthinkable. To them this is alien territory, not the natural progression it is for many Americans.

It would be like my going to Russia to change my life. In theory I could do it, but I'd be likely to fail and I'd be too scared to try. I don't have the knowledge or tools to succeed in Russia any more than a troubled Indian teen has what it takes to succeed off the reservation.

The teen could do it with help and training too, of course. But not with platitudes such as "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" or "try harder." That isn't "help," it's the opposite. It's America's rugged individualism aka social Darwinism: Survive on your own or die.

For more on the subject, see Spirit Level Is Low in US, Poverty Makes People Sick, and Intergenerational Trauma = PTSD.

Below:  "Renelle White Buffalo, senior in integrated studio arts, works on her drawings at her apartment. She said her art is influenced by her mother, as her mother had a monster just like everyone else, and alcohol fueled her monster and it eventually took over." (Karuna Ang/Iowa State Daily)

Depp's "dilemma" over playing Mexican

Hollywood’s Latino snub:  Depp shows character by refusing prime role in Villa movie

By Ruben NavaretteThe latest insult was the casting of Depp to play Francisco “Pancho” Villa, the iconic Mexican revolutionary, in an upcoming film by Serbian director Emir Kusturica. The film—“Seven Friends of Pancho Villa and the Woman with Seven Fingers”—will co-star Salma Hayek, and it is set to begin production later this year.

There’s only one problem: There is no leading man. Depp has dropped out of the project. The exit was probably a bit sticky, given the late notice and the fact that he and Kusturica are said to be friends.

The explanation, for public consumption, is that Depp had too many other commitments. But, if you want to know the real reason, just listen to what the actor said a couple of weeks earlier. At a news conference promoting his new film, “Rango,” Depp was asked about the possibility that he might play Villa. He said that the project was “up in the air” and that he was facing a “dilemma” because, as he put it:

“I feel like it should be played by a Mexican,” he told the assembled media. “Not some mutt from Kentucky. ... I still feel very strongly about that.”
Comment:  This would be amazingly high-minded of Depp...except his Tonto role is exactly what he said he wouldn't do in the Villa movie. Namely, playing an ethnic person he's not.

"I feel like it [Tonto] should be played by an Indian," he could've told some assembled media but didn't. "Not some mutt from Kentucky. ... I still feel very strongly about that." Unless Disney asks politely and offers a big paycheck, he might've added. In which case he'll toss his alleged scruples out the window. And take the job from a perfectly good Native actor who could've become a star from the role.

Note that Depp calls himself a "mutt"--i.e., a person of mixed blood--not a Cherokee or an Indian. So let's not have any talk about how he is a Cherokee or an Indian. His self-identification as a mutt is enough to disqualify him from playing Tonto.

In reality, he's more qualified to play a Mexican than he is to play an Indian. As I said in What's the Difference Between Indian and Latino? the two ethnic groups are different culturally, not biologically. Physically speaking, Depp is indistinguishable from Latinos who are part Indian but mostly Caucasian.

So he isn't willing to play a Latino role, but is willing to play an Indian one? Perhaps he has a good explanation for this apparent hypocrisy, but I haven't heard it.

I'm afraid the explanation is a bad one. That it's something on the order of, "I agreed to play Tonto because I didn't think there were any Native actors who could do the job." His plan to "go Native" also suggests he doesn't think many Indians exist outside traditional reservations preserved as living museums.

Brownface and redface

The article concludes with a discussion of the problems facing Latino actors. These problems also apply to Native actors--almost word for word:Esparza said on a panel that we were both on recently that he didn’t start getting the respect of his peers until he started making films about non-Latinos. Up to that point, I would imagine, he was seen—unfairly—by the Hollywood establishment as less of an artist and more of an activist.

Now the CEO of Maya Cinemas, a theater chain that caters to Latinos in the United States, Esparza casts himself in both roles. The artist appreciates, as he told me, “the potential of what human beings are capable of doing” in playing someone of a different race or ethnicity. But the activist sees things like boneheaded casting decisions in the context of what has been Hollywood’s ugly history with Latinos. After all, for much of the 20th century, Latinos were depicted on film as either Latin lovers or border bandits.

“They made a whole series of movies where white people played Mexicans,” Esparza recalled. “And they were generally evil characters.”

It’s this history that makes what the filmmaker calls “brown face”—the practice of non-Latinos playing Latinos—so very troubling.
For more on the subject, see Johnny Depp's Track Record, Marty Two Bulls on Johnny Depp, and Depp Goes Native for Tonto.

Hock on Off the Rez

An interview about the new documentary Off the Rez makes some interesting points about rez life:

New Movie:  Off the Rez

Another great hoops documentary from the creator of Through the Fire.

By Sam Riches
SLAM:  Did you see similarities in the social and economic challenges faced by Shoni and her family in comparison to the issues faced by Sebastian Telfair and his family in Through the Fire?

JH:  I think our society as a whole is set up in a way to keep the people oppressed on the reservation and in the inner city ghettos. Geographically, psychologically, economically, the system that we operate under is set up to keep those people there while the people with the resources and the power keep what they have. In recent decades, people in the hood have been able to break out of the invisible walls that enclose the ghettos, though the odds against them are still huge. On the reservation, the invisible wall that separates them from the outside world is even more impenetrable. So to try to break out of the psychological and economic confines of the reservation is so difficult, especially if you want to do it on your own terms, without compromising who you are or what you represent. That’s what Shoni’s family was trying to do, and it was very inspiring to watch.

SLAM:  How important is basketball for the youth on the reservations?

JH:  On the rez, they talk about basketball as a way to battle for their tribe’s dignity. To take your best five and travel to another reservation or take on some team from the outside, that’s a tremendous source of pride for them. And it makes the game matter so much.

SLAM:  Why did you want to tell this story?

JH:  Partly, I wanted to shine a light on the forgotten hood. The reservation is just another manifestation of the hood in America, only it exists so far out of the light of the mainstream that people don’t know about it. I didn’t know much about it, but I was curious, and I found a family that believed in something and was trying to accomplish something I could relate to. So I just stayed with it and now, two and a half years later, we have the movie.
Comment:  For more on the subject, see Preview of Off the Rez and "Superstar" Native Basketball Player.

Bradford promotes healthy lifestyles

Sam Bradford to promote healthy lifestyles in USDA visitSam Bradford, a member of the Cherokee Nation who plays for the St. Louis Rams, will promote healthy lifestyles for Indian youth during a visit to the Department of Agriculture on Wednesday.

Along with Secretary Tom Vilsack, Bradford and more than 30 Indian students will plant a garden with vegetable seeds that are indigenous to the Americas. The garden, called "The Roots of American Agriculture," is part of the People's Garden at USDA headquarters in Washington, D.C.
Comment:  For more on Bradford, see Bradford Is Rookie of the Year and Bradford Talks the Talk at Ceremony.

April 24, 2011

Generic statue represents ghostly Kickapoo

LeRoy statue ode to Native American spirit

By Bill KempIn the center of LeRoy’s Kiwanis Park stands a nearly 100-year-old statue honoring a Kickapoo chief called Wausaneta. Although few know it today, this statue embodies LeRoy’s longtime ties to spiritualism, the belief that the dead have the means and inclination to communicate with the living.

The idea for such a statue came from local resident and ardent spiritualist Simeon H. West, and he foot the bill to purchase, ship and install the pre-cast metal Native American and its elaborate pedestal. West claimed that on more than one occasion he communed with a deceased Kickapoo named Wausaneta, and he erected this statue as a tribute to the chief and his people.
Adding a twist to this story, the statue was mass-produced and goes under many names:Although the story of West and Wausaneta is one of a kind, the statue itself is not. The sculpture and pedestal (which includes two drinking fountains) were cast from an existing mold at the J.L. Mott Iron Works of Trenton, N.J. It appears that the origin of this statue dates to about 1860, when a woodcarver created a generic Native American chief for William Demuth, who sold cigar store Indians. In fact, the statue is listed as “No. 53 Indian Chief” in an 1872 Demuth catalog. A short time later, Mott purchased this design from Demuth.

Today, one can find “No. 53 Indian Chief” scattered across the nation and beyond, including Cincinnati, Ohio (where it’s named for Native American leader Tecumseh, a Shawnee); Calhoun, Ga. (this one carries the name Sequoyah, a famous Cherokee); Ishpeming, Mich. (“Old Ish,” an Ojibwe); Schenectady, N.Y. (a Mohawk called “Lawrence”); and even Cusco, Peru.
Comment:  It's hard to say which aspect of this story is more bizarre. That someone raised a statue of an imaginary Indian he supposedly saw in a seance. Or that people would raise a generic statue and name it after Indians from different tribes.

Obviously, the Kickapoo, Shawnee, Cherokee, Ojibwe, and Mohawk tribes aren't the same thing. That people would assume a generic statue is good enough shows our stereotyping thinking toward Indians. It proves that we know little or nothing about the huge diversity of tribes across the land.

At least the statue isn't of a Plains chief. That really would be insulting.

The Indian appears to be wearing buckskins and a cloak over his bare chest. He looks more like a traveler than a warrior or chief. As art, therefore, "No. 53 Indian Chief" fails because it's blandly generic, not because it's terribly stereotypical.

For more on the subject, see Generic Oh Great Spirit Statue and Is The American Worth It?

Payday loans violate Native values

Applying Traditional Values in Today’s Economy

By Tanya FiddlerIt is important to arm our people with the knowledge to combat predatory lenders. It is common for predatory lenders, those with outrageous fees and extraordinarily high interest rates, to operate in border towns of reservations where they prey on the desperate monetary needs of low-income people. However, a Native-owned online lending organization located on the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation, apparently, was providing loans with interest rates of up to 300 percent not only to our own community members but also to out-of-state residents. Now, the Colorado Attorney General has filed a lawsuit against this lender for making unlicensed high-interest loans to consumers in his state.

The lender’s response: State laws do not apply to tribal members operating within the confines of their own reservation. Come to find out, this lender is not the only one hiding behind the veil of tribal sovereignty. Internet-based payday lenders in several states are fighting legal battles with similar defense tactics—they are immune to state laws and regulation because they are “tribal enterprises.” It seems as though the tribes are being used as fronts for these lenders to skirt consumer protection laws. Now, that puts an interesting twist on the predatory lending debate.

Let’s assume for argument’s sake that the defense of this lender from Cheyenne River is valid. Even if it is legally protected by our sovereign nation, it is contradicting the very essence of our Lakota culture. I have been persevering alongside many other talented and dedicated Indians in the United States to help develop private enterprise in Native communities for the past 15 years. The major difference between the Indian business model and the mainstream business model is that we carry our cultural beliefs into our business dealings. A Lakota who honors her culture would never charge a 149 percent interest rate or collect $300 in fees on a $500 loan because it violates the value of respect, or waohola.
Comment:  For more on the subject, see Western Sky Financial Commercial and Rocky Boy Payday Loan Company.

Happy Easter 2011!

Today we celebrate the brown-skinned, anti-war socialist who gave away free healthcare.

Some info on the indigenous (European) roots of Easter:The modern English term Easter developed from the Old English word Ēastre or Ēostre (IPA: [ˈæːɑstre, ˈeːostre]), which itself developed prior to 899. The name refers to Eostur-monath (Old English "Ēostre month"), a month of the Germanic calendar attested by Bede, who writes that the month is named after the goddess Ēostre of Anglo-Saxon paganism. Bede notes that Ēostur-monath was the equivalent to the month of April, yet that feasts held in her honor during Ēostur-monath had gone out of use by the time of his writing and had been replaced with the Christian custom of "Paschal season."

Using comparative linguistic evidence from continental Germanic sources, the 19th century scholar Jacob Grimm proposed the existence of a cognate form of Ēostre among the pre-Christian beliefs of the continental Germanic peoples, whose name he reconstructed as *Ostara.

Since Grimm's time, linguists have identified the goddess as a Germanic form of the reconstructed Proto-Indo-European goddess of the dawn, *Hausos, and theories connecting Ēostre with records of Germanic Easter customs (including hares and eggs) have been proposed.

Anti-immigration law has failed

SB 1070 has been a costly failureA year later, SB 1070 looks like a big, expensive con. It brought us boycotts, lost business, a sullied reputation, another court battle and a betrayal of Arizona's heritage.

Oh, yes. And it did nothing to make the border safer or reduce illegal immigration.

The national spotlight made Arizona look like a place where extremism is the norm. International media lapped up each outrageous statement from SB 1070 supporters. Comedians ripped a hole in the state's dignity bigger than the Grand Canyon.
Comment:  For more on the subject, see Arizona Is the New Alabama, Keep Arizona Safe...from Indians, and Natives Lead Arizona Law Protest.

April 23, 2011

Skywalk has quadrupled visitors

Majestic Views, Ancient Culture and a Profit Fight

By Marc LaceyBefore the Skywalk opened in 2007, 150,000 visitors in a good year would peer over the canyon edge on Hualapai land or raft down the tribe’s portion of the Colorado. Last year, the number had more than quadrupled, with many of the visitors paying as much as $73 to slip on booties and edge their way out onto the horseshoe-shaped walkway of glass.

Canyon-side commercialism now abounds on Hualapai land. Helicopter tours begin at $129. At the fully stocked gift shop, arrows cost $20 and full-length Indian headdresses $2,000. A 90-minute horseback ride along the canyon rim costs $75. Revenues are in the millions of dollars, although exactly how much money is in dispute.

In exchange for the $30 million that Mr. Jin, who is Chinese-born and based in Las Vegas, spent to build the Skywalk, he was to get a portion of the Skywalk profits over 25 years and a cut-rate price for the many tourists he brings to the site from all over Asia. He accuses the Hualapai of shortchanging him and has gone to court—both the tribal court in the tribal capital of Peach Springs, Ariz., and United States District Court in Phoenix—to press the matter.

The Hualapai accuse him of not fulfilling his end of the bargain by leaving ancillary parts of the project unfinished.

The sparring, fueled by public relations consultants and prominent lawyers enlisted by each side, has largely been out of view of canyon visitors. They throw their hands in the air and pretend to be falling from the Skywalk as official photographers snap official shots. They tour a faux Indian village and watch performances by Hualapai elders, including Robert Tree Cody, an adopted son of Iron Eyes Cody, the non-Indian who portrayed one as an actor and shed a tear to lament the destruction of the natural world in an iconic 1970s TV commercial.

There was sadness among some Hualapai traditionalists when construction began at the edge of the canyon, which has long carried spiritual significance to those who live there. But that debate is now past, and plans are on the drawing board for even more bricks and mortar, including a major resort and a clubhouse for a planned canyon-side golf course.
Comment:  For more on the subject, see Skywalk Developer Sues Hualapai Tribe and Hualapai Tourism Center in Kingman.

Birmingham, Spencer to host NAIIA

NAIIA Ceremony Coming to Hard Rock Albuquerque on April 29On Friday, April 29, the 2011 North American Indigenous Image Awards event will rock the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino on the Isleta Pueblo Reservation in Albuquerque, New Mexico. This second edition of the event, which first occurred in 2009, will honor the best indigenous performers from the United States and Canada. This year’s award categories include Film, TV, Music, Magazine, Comedy and Calendar.

Presenters this year will include Gil Birmingham and Chaske Spencer, both of whom are nominated for Best Actor awards for their work in Twilight films. Other notable presenters are casting director Rene Haynes and five-time Nammy Award winner Micki Free.

The other Best Actor award nominees are Gary Farmer for Good Neighbors, Zahn McClarnon for Medium and Noah Watts for Search for the World’s Best Indian Taco. Nominated for the Best Actress award are Kaniehtiio Horn for Mohawk Girls, Crystle Lightning for Search for the World’s Best Indian Taco and Georgina Lightning for Older Than America.

Other award categories will honor names and work familiar to all who follow the indigenous arts and entertainment scene. Musicians include Victoria Blackie, Gabriel Ayala, Chase Manhattan, the Jir Project Band, and Leanne Goose, all of whom will be in town to play Stage 49 at the Gathering of Nations Powwow. Barking Water, written and directed by Sterlin Harjo, Older Than America, written and directed by Georgina Lightning, and Pearl, produced by David Rennke and the Chickasaw Nation, will vie for the Outstanding Feature Film award, while The Last Explorer, Reel Injun, and Two Spirits are the films nominated for Outstanding Documentary.
Comment:  For more on the subject, see 2009 NAIIA Nominees and Indigenous Image Awards.

Below:  "Runway Beauty Calendar Models, NAIIA 2009 Calendar of the Year nominees." (Mihio Manus)

Houser exhibit at Denver Botanic Gardens

Sculpture by Allan Houser on Display in Denver

By Carol BerryAllan Houser, Chiricahua Apache Tribe, Warm Springs Band, was a prominent Native sculptor born to parents who had been held as prisoners of war by the U.S. for 27 years. During his long career, he produced nearly 1,000 sculptures that combined Native realism with abstract modernism. His works are being featured in a presentation of modern, contemporary and traditional American Indian art, “Native Roots/Modern Form: Plants, Peoples and the Art of Allan Houser,” at Denver Botanic Gardens May 1 through Nov. 13.And:In addition to the focus on Houser’s work, other contemporary artists will discuss issues facing American Indian artists and communities. Allan Houser’s son, Phillip Mangas Haozous, also a sculptor, will describe the influence his father’s art had on his work. Daniel Wildcat, Muscogee, professor of American Indian Studies at Haskell Indian Nations University, will discuss his recent book, Red Alert! Saving the Planet with Indigenous Knowledge, and Truman Lowe, Ho-Chunk, a prominent artist and the first curator of contemporary art at the National Museum of the American Indian, will talk about Native Modernism.Comment:  For more on the subject, see Allan Houser's Art and Review of Unconquered: Allan Houser.