By Sharon Weatherall
“It is demeaning and stereotyping to portray a First Nations person to be very unintelligent,” says Chief Roly Monague, commenting on a controversial cartoon character being used to teach safety to children in materials that were approved by Ontario First Nations Technical Services Corporation (OFNTSC). “Little kids will be reading this and we have been stereotyped enough in our lives. This kind of stuff in this day and age is not well received.”
Chief and council support the stance of Fire Chief Allan J. Manitowabi–who says the caricature has no cultural significance–and have asked OFNTSC to have the Hamhawk Hazard name and character changed.
“I was shocked and surprised to see this material had been sent out to Tribal Councils,” says Manitowabi, who began his fight to change the depiction after he first saw it in an electrical booklet that was published in 2010. “At the time I inquired by phone to see where this had come from and found it had been OFNTSC approved.”
The OFNTSC Fire Program provides First Nation Fire Prevention Officers with technical advisory services for fire prevention, code interpretation, emergency service vehicles, and community fire prevention issues. Manitowabi says the corporation has overseen the creation and distribution of numerous fire prevention materials and brochures using Hamhawk Hazard without consultation and approval by First Nations fire services personnel.
“Speaking with Elders from our community, they feel the material is scary for kids and is putting constraints on how we see ourselves,” says the fire chief. “They say the picture is derived from negative portrayals through caricature and is misleading of the culture of First Nations–it presents flawed imagery of Native people.”
Let's see...the headband and feather are stereotypical. The braids are borderline stereotypical, although a few Natives wear their hair that way. The "Hamhawk Hazard" name is somewhere between comical and stereotypical.
It sounds like the character's behavior is the worst problem.
Even if the material is intended for Natives, does it really need a Native cartoon character to work? Why not use a generic boy and girl? Make their ethnicity vague so anyone can relate to them. See Dick start a fire and Jane electrocute herself...that sort of thing.