By Lawrence Sampson
A greater awareness of Indian people and Indian traditions brought the snake oil sales men and women who saw social change as financial opportunity. The exploitation and selling of Indian traditions or what were falsely called Indian traditions exploded in the aftermath of Dances. If you had the means you could and can still buy an Indian name or even participate in “real” Indian ceremonies. The leaders of these affairs may not be Indian, but they were after all “taught by an Indian” or through some nebulous means, got in touch with some claimed Indian ancestors. After having land and resources stolen for centuries, it seems the last vestige of our survival, our spirituality, would even be stolen. That legitimate Indian ceremonial leaders do not sell ceremony comes as a shock to many. While travelling abroad I have been approached countless times and asked to do everything from giving the venerable “Indian name,” to impregnate women with an Indian baby, to conduct traditional Indian marriage ceremonies. Being accepted into society comes with a price, it seems. Sometimes I wonder if it was better to be unknown and despised.
But if this is even partly true, it's a profound testament to the power of the media. A single work of fiction shifting our view of Indians from negative to positive? Wow.
For more on Dances with Wolves, see Costner Wins in Sculpture Suit and Blake to Script Winnetou Movie.