Speak Your Piece: Fixing Ourselves
The bottom line, though, is that Indians need to fix ourselves on our own terms. They are the only terms anybody knows.
By Mary Annette Pember
He is sorry.
He cries and he wants to help the Indians.
He has beautiful poignant photos of many folks on Pine Ridge.
He, of course, chose to photograph the poorest, the intoxicated, the gang members and (God help me if I see another Hollywood picture of an angry, young Lakota guy looking attractive on horseback I may gag while ripping my hair out) many Indians on horses. How they love, love to put us, especially Plains Indians, on horses.
This young white journalist, Aaron Huey, comes cloaked in the righteous DIY nation of social media. But he still comes like all the others.
He comes with the assumption that he and other white folks have the tools that we want to help ourselves. He shows white America the plight of the American Indian and asks them to join him in helping us.
I really want to tell Mr. Huey that American Indians have had just about all the help that we can stand from white America.
Before I was under the impression that Huey was going to use his own funds. Maybe the profits from his book of photographs. In that case, I wasn't going to judge his billboard project too harshly. If he wanted to spend his own money that way, fine. It was worth a gamble to see if billboards could raise people's awareness better than other media.
But now Huey is soliciting our funds. That means we need to ask the usual questions, such as how much is going to overhead and how much is going to him. More important, we need ask if this is really the best use of the public's discretionary income. Even if we agree to spend it on the cause of America's raising awareness of Indians.
I think the average billboard costs something like $10,000. For that amount, you could create a lot of websites, social media projects, and homemade videos. You could fund a book, a comic book, some songs or pieces of art, or a short film. You could develop a pilot project for a school educational component.
I wouldn't rule out a billboard as a means of communication, but I wouldn't bet much on it either. As I said and Pember implies, the message below is pretty superficial. Who is the "we" it refers to? The boy or the horse? Is anyone likely to realize the boy is an Indian?
In other words, is this really the best use of $10,000 in donations? Until I see evidence to the contrary, I'd say no. I'd put the money into one of the projects I listed rather than a billboard.
As Pember suggests, there seems to be a lot of hubris here. Huey's feeling that he's discovered something he can fix. His reinventing the wheel rather than working with an existing organization. His belief that his photos are so remarkable they'll cause a breakthrough in awareness. None of these things is necessarily true.
For more on the subject, see Phony Indian Charities, Bea Arthur Gives $100,000 to College Fund, and Native Arts and Culture Foundation.
Below: "For $150, you can have this poster of, yes, an Indian with his horse."