November 07, 2006

Tonto taught us

Tim Giago:  Few roles for Indians in HollywoodI need not go into the horrific, erroneous, hideous, nonsensical and racist movies about Native Americans that have sprouted in this magic kingdom and left such an onerous stench across Indian country because they have been enumerated countless times amongst the Indian people themselves.

We are all products of our times. Jay Silver Heels, the infamous Tonto of the Lone Ranger films, fought to make changes in the movie industry at a time when Indians were considered no more important than ornaments that decorate the movie set. He went along to get along and his “pidgin English” pronunciations to the “Masked Crusader” soon became synonymous with all Indians. “Me makeum smoke signals to Great White Father, Ugh” was the kind of language any aspiring Indian actor had to master before he could be cast in the early Grade “B” Westerns. White kids playing Indians in the perennial game of Cowboys and Indians were soon spouting this “Tontonese” with expert clarity. In the 1930s and 1940s, Indian children attending classes at the Indian boarding schools went so far as to emulate the linguistics of Mr. Silver Heels. Even in the movie Key Largo, a movie in which Silver Heels plays the part of a Seminole Indian, he continues to speak in his “pidgin English” voice.

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