February 20, 2007

They're dead or they're strange

“Mom, Look!  It’s George, and He’s a TV Indian!”Because of where we lived and with whom we interacted, all concerned held fairly accurate images in their minds about Native American people.

Now, however, I am a doctoral student at the University of Illinois, in an area of the state with a very low Native population, and things are very different for my young daughter. Soon after moving to this area, we realized that children and adults have inaccurate or romantic ideas about who Native American people are. For the most part, children of Elizabeth’s age see stereotypes of Native Americans that lead them to believe either that Indians don’t exist anymore, or that Indians are very exotic people who wear feathers and live in ways vastly different from their own.

We can’t really blame the children for these ideas. They see stereotypes in series books their well-meaning parents buy at grocery and department stores. For example, in Clifford’s Halloween, Clifford is shown wearing a full headdress; in Berenstain Bears Go to Camp, Grizzly Box wears a headdress and buckskin as he tells a story to the scouts gathered around a campfire. In the popular children’s television program “Muppet Babies,” there is an episode in which the character called Animal dons feathers, rides a pony, and says “How!”

No comments: