August 01, 2006

Battling through the arts

Native American Spirit Survives Through Centuries of Struggle, Strickland SaysDespite the significant role of law in the Indians’ struggle, Strickland said the most significant battles happen outside the courtroom. “Many of these Indian battles are about stereotypes—false conceptions or false misconceptions.” Such stereotypes have a long history. He noted that one account from early European explorers tells of Indians eating “smoked unicorn,” while another claimed jewels grew from female Indians’ navels.

As a result of continuing misconceptions, “Indian children are struggling for their identity.” The first Native American Grammy winner, Navajo flautist Raymond Nakai, faced rejection after he, band teachers from his school, and tribe members wrote Julliard on his behalf. Julliard officials wrote that although his GPA and test scores were good, he would find it difficult to survive in music school because Native Americans do not have a significant music culture. “I need to show people that my culture is important,” Nakai said in response. On the flip side, in 1959 Native American artist Oscar Howe’s submission to an Indian art show was rejected because it was deemed “non-Indian.” Howe retorted, “Indian art can compete with any art in the world, but not as suppressed art.”

“The arts are vital weapons on this shifting battlefield,” Strickland said. “Art and literature, music and dance, theater and film attack the false image through beauty and majesty, satire and pathos, in real and imagined situations.”

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