Images often fictionalized, narrow view of Native people
By Sena Christian
Composed of seven major themes, the exhibit highlights the powerful characteristics of the Americana Indian that have been embedded into popular culture and commerce. Baker aims to show how these representations convey a narrow and singular message about Native Americans.
In many ways, these fictionalized, commercial representations erase their identities and mock their cultures, he said.
The collection features more than 100 items such as advertisements, board games, toys, dolls, sports paraphernalia, soda bottles, food packaging and more.
A board game on display, called “Go-Together,” has children match cards by identifying the correct relationship between objects—and in the process, socializes these kids, Baker said.
For instance, one card shows a war-dancing, wild Indian wielding a tomahawk and wearing a feathered headdress. The card it matches? A teepee.
“The Indian is not associated with a bathtub, a school, a worksite,” Baker said.
Advertisements for shoes, cigarettes and nail polish depict Native American squaws or princesses as highly sexualized objects. An Indian War Bonnet Kit shows people how to “play Indian.”
These representations reduce Native people to objects, Baker said. For instance, the exhibit notes how Ishi, the “last wild Indian,” became an object of scientific study and inquiry. After dying from tuberculosis, he was decapitated and his bran removed for examination.