April 26, 2013

Tonto vs. Wendigo

A 20-minute excerpt of The Lone Ranger suggests Natives will find even more to dislike in the movie:

Preview: 20 Minutes Of 'Lone Ranger' Features Giant Trains, Possessed Rabbits And Palpable Chemistry

By Drew TaylorWhen John goes outside, Dan is there with his crew. He tells John that they're going to go round up whoever was responsible for whatever happened on the train (again–it was a little hard to tell what, exactly, was going on). Dan tosses John a badge and deputizes him a Texas Ranger. John looks down in disbelief–the badge was their father's. They go riding off in search of villains. The other members of the team make fun of John's dandy attire and oversized hat. At one point they spot a lone white horse on a butte. Dan explains that the horse is known for shuttling spirits between this world and the next (he's taken up some Native American spirituality, as is evidenced by the chain around his neck). John scoffs at the superstition.

There's then a cut (again) and we see John wake up. This is a scene that has been teased endlessly in the trailers–he's caked in some kind of ceremonial mud, and awakens on a huge platform high above the earth. When he gets down from the platform, he's greeted by Tonto, who says that John came back from the dead after his brother and their posse were murdered–that same white horse has identified John as a "spirit walker," one who cannot be killed by conventional weapons. He bemoans the fact that Dan wasn't the one who came back and proposes that the two of them ride off in search of his brother's killer, who was also responsible for the death of Tonto's family.

What's interesting is, after initial claims that "The Lone Ranger" contained supernatural elements and staunch denials by Disney, it looks like the supernatural stuff is still a part of the movie, at least tangentially. Tonto explains that the man they're out for isn't simply a man but rather a "wendigo," a Native American monster. The monster disrupts the aura of those around them and turns them into similarly horrendous creatures, as is evident by the group of monster bunnies that surround their campfire. (The visual effects weren't finished but the image of a peaceful bunny opening its mouth to reveal giant fangs was pretty startling nonetheless.)

The Comanche Tonto confronts a northern woodlands Wendigo...because all Indians are, you know, the same.

From what we've heard so far, I expect Depp to give us a generic "mystical Indian." I'd be surprised if there's anything more culturally specific than "wendigo"--which is from the wrong culture.

Adrienne Keene reposted on the Native Appropriations Facebook page, leading to these comments:It's genocidal. It's racist on every level and is [a] direct assault on our identity and culture. Johnny Depp is one of the worst racists of our time because so many natives worship a man who is committing genocide against them.

In a word: Disney.

The wendigo must've wandered down there...

This is some tired bullshit. Witikow is definitely part of Northern traditions.

Not to mention that Tonto is a Potawatomi word and was, in the story, originally of that group. To me it seems that this is more a case of people thinking the old west consisted of the desert southwest. When most of the famous stories were in places like Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma or Montana...not Texas and Arizona.

Not only is it a Woodlands concept, but they aren't even using it correctly! Aside from the word itself, the entire concept is wrong...

I once read about an incident where a white doctor was unable to communicate with an elderly Navajo patient who did not speak English. He asked a Native nurse to translate, but she explained that she was Pueblo, and did not speak Navajo. The doctor replied 'surely you all speak Indian, don't you?' I think the script writers have the same attitude--they're all Indians aren't they?

I wasn't aware the Comanche believed in any Ojibwe/Cree concepts like the Wendigo. Must not matter when you are bent on using stereotype, panindianism and fictional depictions to make your lame movie. Sad part is, I'd there is going to be a whole new crop of Pretendians after this comes out.

I've tried to type something coherent about this use of northern woodlands concepts in southern friggin' Utah. About five times, I've erased it as I just gaped into the distance. Aside from the Wendigo being completely misrepresented, it simply doesn't make any SENSE there. Even if all you did was listen to a single story about the Wendigo, you'd know that. There is a reason the concept exists where it does.

The Wendigo is not "generic North American monster!" There is a purpose and a meaning. It is not "monster that makes monster bunnies." A person transformed by greed, who can never be satisfied, who devours those around him and yet starves? Sounds more like the filmmakers to me.

Yes, Ojibway (Anishinaabe) and I believe there is similar version in Cree. In the Ojibway version the Windigo was a bad spirit that materialized in the winter and would turn the starving Anishnaabe into cannibals, or so one version goes, the story was used to teach young children a lesson about greed, not too take too much during times of plenty but to store away some for the long winters, least not you would starve from your summertime gluttony and become a Windigo during the winter and resort to cannibalism in order to survive.

This 20 minute preview showcases one of Native America's hardest working negative stereotypes. One we constantly have to speak to. 1 language/1 culture/1 tribe. This is a movie that carries the flame for past Disney movies that work hard to reinforce this lie of the beautiful and diverse people we are. In the wonderful world of Disney, Indigenous peoples are caricatures, enrolled citizens in the Tribe of 'Indian', where we all speak 'Indian', dress in 'Indian clothes' that can be found in the costume section during Halloween at Walmart. Our primitive 'Indian' culture is a mix of the images of our first oppression.

I assume it's that white "melting pot" idea. All tribes are actually just one group of people, and we all know each other, right?
We know some filming took place in Monument Valley. We'll see if the movie explains why a Texas Ranger and a Comanche are facing a northern woodlands Wendigo in southern Utah's Navajoland.

For more on Johnny Depp, see Hammer Says Indians Love Depp and Little Criticism of Depp's Tonto?!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm pretty sure a wendigo is just a tall, skinny to the point of wasting away humanoid too. The hunger is a major part of the windigo mythos (and corresponding psychosis).