December 31, 2008

Chilkats in The Far Country

The Far Country is one of the classic Jimmy Stewart/Anthony Mann collaborations. Although it's set in Skagway (Alaska) and Dawson (the Yukon territory), it's definitely a Western. It's notable for what it doesn't say about Indians.

The Far Country (1954)
In 1896, Jeff Webster sees the start of the Klondike gold rush as a golden opportunity to make a fortune in beef...and woe betide anyone standing in his way! He drives a cattle herd from Wyoming to Seattle, by ship to Skagway, and (after a delay caused by larcenous town boss Gannon) through the mountains to Dawson. There, he and his partner Ben Tatum get into the gold business themselves. Two lovely women fall for misanthropic Jeff, but he believes in every-man-for-himself, turning his back on growing lawlessness...until it finally strikes home.Comment:  No Indians appear in The Far Country and they get only two mentions. First, when Jeff crosses the border into Canada, he asks where the constable is. Out handling "trouble with Chilkats," he's told. Next, when he needs a route out of Dawson, Jeff says he met an Indian, "a Chilkat," who knows a seldom-used river trail.

I was struck by these references because of my recent posting on Flashback in Twilight Movie, which included an 1895 picture of Chilkat dancers. Just think. While the events of The Far Country were taking place, bands of Chilkat Indians lived nearby. Perhaps they were just around the river bend or over the next mountain.

While white men were staking their claims in Indian territory, officials were herding the Chilkats onto reservations. Banning their traditional dances and ceremonies. Sending missionaries to Christianize them. Forcing them to get jobs or go hungry. Selling them liquor to keep them pliable. And dragging their children away to residential schools.

Nor did the Chilkats fade away and assimilate quietly. A NY Times article dated August 16, 1903, screamed about "CHILKAT INDIANS AT WAR." It hinted of savage horrors: a "reign of terror" and "witchcraft." Which probably meant the Chilkats were struggling to preserve their lives and culture against the white onslaught.

Chilkats missing in action

Funny, but none of this made it into The Far Country. Yet the above was the reality and the movie was the fiction. Once again Hollywood erased Indians from the picture.

One can just imagine how movies like this influenced a generation of viewers. "Indians in the Northwest? What Indians in the Northwest? I was just watching The Far Country and I didn't see any Indians. All I saw were white men struggling to make the empty land into something useful. To extend the blessings of civilization to this remote corner of wilderness."

Anyway, except for its somewhat rushed and predictable ending, The Far Country is a fine Western. Rob's rating: 7.5 of 10.

For more on the subject, see The Best Indian Movies.

The best year for Native movies (so far)

Since the year 2004 or so, Native-themed cinema has expanded significantly. Instead of four or five movies a year, we've seen 10 or 12 or more. No doubt this is due to Native filmmakers taking the reins themselves and making their own movies.

Not surprisingly, 2007 was the previous record holder, but 2008 just surpassed it. Here are the good, the bad, and the ugly Native-themed films that appeared this year:

Frozen River
Comanche Moon
Turok Son of Stone [video]
Older than America
The Ruins
Aztec Rex
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
Moccasin Flats: Redemption
Before Tomorrow
In a World Created by a Drunken God
Beverly Hills Chihuahua
A Quantum of Solace
Justin Time

If you add The Exiles, the 1961 docudrama that was rereleased this year, and the Aboriginal-themed Australia, 2008 looks even better. And with films ranging from Pearl to The Only Good Indian to the five-part We Shall Remain coming up, 2009 should be the best year yet.

For more on the subject, see The Best Indian Movies.

White Fawn’s Devotion recognized

25 classics added to film archivesOne of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s most famous one-liners will be back for generations to come, now that 1984’s “The Terminator” has been selected for preservation in the nation’s film archive.

The low-budget film directed by James Cameron set a new standard for science-fiction and made Schwarzenegger, now California’s governor, a star. The Library of Congress announced Tuesday morning that it’s one of 25 films being added to the National Film Registry.
And:Some films were selected for their historical value, such as “Hallelujah,” the tale of a cotton sharecropper made by MGM as the studio was transitioning from silent to sound films. The 1910 film “White Fawn’s Devotion,” the oldest film selected this year, was made by James Young Deer. He was the first documented American Indian movie director, a member of the Winnebago tribe.Comment:  For a summary of and images from White Fawn's Devotion, see White Fawn’s Devotion: A Play Acted by a Tribe of Red Indians in America (1910). Definitely worth a look.

For last year's Film Registry picks, see Dances with Wolves in Film Registry. For more on the subject in general, see The Best Indian Movies.

Crow is NFL reserve player

Tennessee Titans Have Native PlayerLook for the Titan football player wearing jersey No. 26. That's 25-year-old Chester David Harris. More commonly known as Tuff Harris.

Harris, a member of the Crow Nation of Montana, is a reserve defensive back for the playoff-bound Titans. Tennessee has already clinched home field advantage during the playoffs, meaning once the January playoffs start, the Titans will host all their games except if they make the Super Bowl, which is a neutral field.
Comment:  The photo caption adds:Crow tribe honored Tuff Harris in a traditional ceremony last March in Crow Agency, Mont. Photo by Ben Cloud for CrowNews.netBeing a reserve NFL player is enough to merit a chief's headdress? What do you get if you're an engineer who builds a bridge or power plant? A teacher who sends hundreds of schoolkids to college? A lawyer who helps pass legislation in Congress? A freakin' mint?

Let me know when Harris rescues someone from a flood or fire, starts an anti-diabetes program, or donates his earnings to charity. Then I'll say he's worthy of being a role model and an honoree.

2008's Thanksgiving controversies

Indian Comics Irregular #178:  Dressing Up for Turkey Day

December 30, 2008

The 2008 TV season so far

This has become a good season for Indians on TV. In fact, you could argue that it's one of the best in a long time. Here's a partial list of Indian appearances and mentions--the ones I've seen or heard about:

  • Indian references in the 2008 presidential campaign, at the DNC convention, and in Obama's speeches
  • A mention in The New Adventures of Old Christine
  • Tamara Feldman's guest-starring role in Gossip Girl
  • 4Real episodes set in Peru and Pawnee
  • Sherman Alexie on The Colbert Report
  • Gary Farmer in Easy Money
  • Pseudo-Native Taylor Lautner in My Own Worst Enemy
  • August Schellenberg in Grey's Anatomy
  • References to the Poospatuck tribe, the NMAI, and more in Ugly Betty
  • Pseudo-Native Summer Glau's starring role in Terminator
  • Modoc and Cabeza de Vaca references in Terminator
  • The Evil...and His Brother Ziggy episode of Life
  • Crystle Lightning in Days of Our Lives

  • Better than Beach?

    You could even argue that it's better than last season with Adam Beach as a regular on Law and Order: SVU. Sure, Beach got more face time than all the Indians put together this season. But he referred to his Mohawk background only a couple of times all year. The rest of the time, he was a generic Indian.

    You could argue that the wide diversity of appearances and mentions--of different tribes, at different times, for different reasons--is better than a single set of appearances that ends up going nowhere. Beach hoped his role would be a game-changer...but of course it wasn't. It takes more than one actor to change the game; it takes a village.

    This is what I've been talking about. Sure, it wouldn't hurt to have a few prominent roles played by Indians. But given their small population, Indians don't deserve more than 1% of the time on screen. No one--well, practically no one--expects an Indian series every year or an Indian actor on every show.

    Changing slowly but surely

    Nevertheless, this "drumbeat" of low-level appearances and mentions might just have an effect. The reasoning goes like this:

    We want Hollywood to convey that Indians are an everyday part of life. Not in your face with a stereotypical wing and a prayer--a hawk wing and a spirit prayer, that is. But there in the background, going to school or work. Maintaining their cultures with powwows, museums, and casinos, but also participating in "normal life." And that's what's happening--at least this season.

    I don't know if some guild or committee or group is having an effect on the studios, or if this plethora of appearances is a fluke. But whatever the cause is, keep up the good work, people. The next time I criticize you for screwing up, don't say I never said an encouraging word. <g>

    For more on the subject, see Diversity Lacking in Television.

    Hipp to resume boxing?

    Former Heavyweight Contender "Indian" Joe Hipp To Make Comeback Next Year?Back in the early part of this year, this writer had the pleasure of interviewing 90's heavyweight contender Joe Hipp, a member of the Blackfoot Indian tribe (hence his "Indian" nickname.) Hipp, who got as far as challenging for a version of the heavyweight title in 1995, and who had a great and memorable losing battle with Tommy "The Duke" Morrison in 1992, told me how he was planning to fight again in April or May of 2008. Now aged 46 and inactive since August of 2005, the 6'1" southpaw will apparently get his ring return, almost a year later than he had originally planned.

    According to, Hipp, 43-7(29), will box one Corey Williams on March the 7th in Billings, Montana. With something called the CBA heavyweight title on the line, Hipp will be contesting what will be only his fourth fight in almost ten years. Obviously, coming back after such inactivity and at such an advanced age, the likeable fighter will not be rushing things. Williams, a guy who will turn 30 on January 1st next year, is a fighter with a modest 7-9-2(4) record, and as such he will not present Hipp with any overt danger-although at his age and after having been out of action for so long, no fight can be considered a gimme for the 46-year-old veteran.
    More on Hipp:

    Spooner Brings Indian Youth Closer to London OlympicsWith the sparring behind the scenes rivaling the boxing superstars in the ring, Native Voices Foundation's (NVF) "Future Olympian's Day Benefit in Spooner April 16, turned out an uplifting landmark for American Indian youth competing in the London Olympics," according to Olympic skier, Suzy "Chapstick" Chaffee, NVF's organizer.

    Caption: Spooner's Future Olympians Benefit. Photo: Terrell BoetcherWorld Heavyweight Boxing Champion, Joe Hipp (Blackfeet), 2003 Native American Heavyweight Champion Harry Funmaker ("Ho-Chunk Hammer"), and South Dakota Golden Gloves director, Chissie Spencer (Seminole), wowed the region's rising stars with priceless coaching, and fans with exciting sparring at the Northwest Sports Complex.

    "I'm thrilled how the benefit united Indian Country's leading casinos behind developing youth for Vancouver's 2010 and London's 2012 Olympics," said Barry ZeVan, beloved Minneapolis weatherman and original PR Director for Grand Casino Mille Lacs. Chaffee honored ZeVan there for raising her tribal consciousness 15 years ago, and producing "American Indian Homelands," an award-winning eye-opener.
    Comment:  I wonder if some tribal leader gave Hipp permission to wear the headdress, or if he decided to wear it on his own.

    Preview of Harjo's Wings

    From an e-mail sent by Native Voices at the Autry:

    Wings of Night Sky, Wings of Morning Light Takes Flight Next MarchMusic can save you, stories can heal you; in the words and the song, there is an answer. From the imagination of musician, poet, and playwright Joy Harjo (Mvskoke) comes a deeply compelling journey of struggle, displacement, self-discovery, and healing. Embracing life stories, sharing universal truths, and taking back a Native woman's place in the world, Harjo teases out a tale of how poetry, music, art and theater can bring a life full circle.

    Invoking spoken word, storytelling, and song, Harjo channels multiple voices, taking us on a wild musical ride where she tells it like it is with spirit and a mean jazz sax. Joining her for this personal tour-de-force is Grammy Award-winning producer and guitarist Larry Mitchell infusing blues, funk, rock and jazz into an allegorical work of tremendous power.

    We invite you and your family to be swept away to the place where the night meets the dawn at the Autry National Center for this very special limited run.
    Comment:  For more on the subject, see Native Plays and Other Stage Shows.

    Native musicians at the inaugural

    Farmer, Plateros heading to D.C.New Mexico band Levi and the Plateros and musician Gary Farmer are scheduled to perform at the American Indian Inaugural Ball in Washington in January.

    The musicians will be part of an all-star ensemble of Grammy and Native American Music Award winners from throughout the country, including Micki Free, Bill Miller, Keith Secola and other Native American musicians.

    The event—called Native Music Rocks—is scheduled to take place at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Arlington , Va., Jan. 20. It is being sponsored by Hard Rock International and the Seminole Tribe of Florida.
    Comment:  For more on the subject, see Indians in Obama's Inaugural and The 2008 Presidential Campaign.

    December 29, 2008

    Review of Pocahontas Revealed

    Pocahontas Revealed is an excellent Nova documentary on America's "Indian princess." Even though I've read a lot about Pocahontas, I learned things. Telling you things you didn't know, filling the gaps in your knowledge, is a mark of good filmmaking.

    Pocahontas Revealed focuses on the discovery of Werewocomoco, the home of Powhatan and Pocahontas. It explores several mysteries about the site. What was the purpose of two 700-foot-long ditches? Do a few post holes show the location of Powhatan's longhouse? Do the bits of copper found come from Native sources in the Great Lakes or from Great Britain? Can tree rings tell us why the Indians stopped helping Jamestown after seven months of cooperation?

    So the documentary isn't just a laundry list of "this happened, this happened, and this happened," which inevitably gets boring. Rather it presents a series of revelations as the information is uncovered. Moreover, it uses computer graphics and staged recreations to enhance the narrative, making the story fun.

    What I learned

    Here are some of the things I gleaned from Pocahontas Revealed.

  • When Smith and company arrived in Virginia, the Indians attacked them with bows and arrows. They knew about the white man from Roanoke and prior Spanish explorations. Their arrows seemed to be an explicit message: Go're not wanted trespassers allowed.

  • The Englishman set up camp at Jamestown anyway. They ignored the warning and settle in Indian territory without permission. Here's a clear indication of their immoral intent. Regardless of how the Indians felt about it, the Englishmen were going to take what they wanted from them.

  • The Englishmen were all tradesmen and craftsmen. They were there to take resources, shape them into useful products, and ship them home. The only freedom they cared about was the freedom to profit from Indian land.

  • There were no farmers among the English. Their plan was to buy food from the Indians, not grow it themselves. When the Indians refuse to trade, this turned out to be a tragic mistake.

  • Pocahontas's role

  • When Smith first recounted his capture by the Powhatan Indians, he wrote that they feasted him, interviewed him, and sent him to bed. He didn't say anything about Pocahontas rescuing him until 17 years later. As the narrator notes, accounts written closer to the time of an incident are almost always more accurate.

  • In the documentary, Pocahontas is played by 13-year-old granddaughter of the Rappahannock chief. She's cute but not Hollywood beautiful; she looks her age. This makes it harder to imagine a romance between her and Smith.

  • The copper bits found at Werewocomoco are industrial waste from the mills in England. The Englishmen traded this scrap metal with the Indians for food. To the Indians, the gleaming copper probably seemed like gold to us.

  • Left unsaid is the exact nature of the trade. The Englishmen were trading what they considered worthless refuse for valuable foodstuffs. But the Indians may have thought, "Look at this highly processed metal ore. Think how much effort it took to mine it, smelt it, pound it into sheets, and ship it overseas. For this they want a few baskets of food they could easily grow themselves? Suckers!"

    Horn dogs and Englishmen

  • Artifacts showed that Indian women stayed at Jamestown with the settlers. The English said nothing about these women, but they probably had sexual relations with them. In fact, Spanish records suggest that there were some 50 marriages between English men and Indian women at Jamestown.

  • Tree rings indicate there was a drought from 1606 to 1612. Apparently it was drier than any other seven-year stretch in the Chesapeake area in the last 800 years. This may explain why the Indians stopped trading with the Englishmen: They didn't have any surplus food. It may also explain why the Englishman failed so miserably at growing their own crops.

  • Faced with hunger, Smith and the others began burning down villages and killing Indians to get what they wanted. Forget all the talk about disease. The English not only had a genocidal intent, they acted upon it. From the very beginning, their plan was to kill or conquer anyone who got in their way.

  • In short, Pocahontas Revealed is about as good as historical documentaries get. If you have a chance, see it. Rob's rating: 8.5 of 10.

    For more on the subject, see Native Documentaries and News.

    Redskins in Random Lunacy

    I just watched an odd 2007 documentary called Random Lunacy. Here's a summary of it from Netflix:The Flying Neutrino family decided years ago to drop out of society and live without the burden of jobs, a home or commitments, making a living instead as traveling musicians and documenting their adventures in this amazing collection of home movies. Poppa Neutrino, his wife and an extended family including five children travel through Mexico, study jazz in New Orleans and build an improbably durable raft from scraps and garbage in New York.Comment:  This documentary has an unexpected Indian connection. Besides launching a Mexican circus and building a seaworthy raft, the other "great" achievement in Poppa Neutrino's life is inventing a football play. The idea is that a receiver chooses one of three patterns to run during the play based on a signal from the quarterback. Since no one knows where the receiver will run in advance--not even the receiver--it's difficult to defend in theory.

    For some reason, Neutrino drives and walks through the Navajo reservation to Red Mesa, Arizona, to test his play. He says something about small, out-of-the-way schools being more willing to try new things. That may be true, but there's also a hint of exoticism here. Neutrino may have been thinking something like, "What do Indians know about playing football? They're so naive and unsophisticated that my new play may 'wow' them."

    Fortunately for Neutrino, the Red Mesa coach is an innovator and gives the play a try. We see it succeed once or twice but don't get any sense that it's a game-changer. In a bonus film clip, Neutrino also teaches a team member how to kick field goals.

    I believe I drove through Red Mesa on my 2007 trip to Colorado and back. As I noted in passing, the Red Mesa's team name is the Redskins. Their logo is a Plains Indian chief.

    This is a case where Indians have reappropriated the word "redskin." If they want to use it in their isolated part of the world, wear it as a badge of honor, I won't complain. Presumably their community supports them and they aren't inflicting the name on people who would find it offensive. But if they asked me what I thought of the name and logo, I'd say they were stereotypical.

    Weighing the documentary

    A lot of questions go unanswered in Random Lunacy. The Neutrinos didn't have a job, but how many hours a day did they have to spend singing and dancing for food? What did they do if one of them had a medical problem? What happened to Poppa Neutrino's first three marriages, and why does he travel so often alone? Where were his fourth wife and children during his solo jaunts?

    The filmmakers interview the children as adults. They're matter-of-fact about the strange lifestyle they experienced, but none of them has chosen to emulate it. They don't address what seems to me the most obvious questions: Were you happy growing up the way you did? Would you recommend it to others? Would you raise your own children that way?

    Random Lunacy would've been an interesting 10- or 15-minute segment on a news magazine, but as an hour-plus feature film, it's long. It's good on the benefits of the homeless lifestyle but not on the drawbacks. Rob's rating: 6.0 of 10.

    For more on the subject, see Native Documentaries and News.

    Magical negroes and Indians

    A Republican politician has demonstrated his party's ineptitude by distributing the "Barack the Magic Negro" parody song on CD. With that in mind, it's worth considering exactly what a "magical negro" is.

    Magical negroThe magical negro (sometimes called the mystical negro or magic negro) is a supporting, often mystical stock character in fiction who, by use of special insight or powers, helps the white protagonist get out of trouble. The word negro, now considered by many as archaic and offensive, is used intentionally to suggest that the archetype is a racist throwback, an update of the "Sambo" and "savage other" stereotypes. Spike Lee popularized the term, deriding the archetype of the "super-duper magical negro" in 2001 while discussing films with students at Washington State University and at Yale University.

    The magical negro in fiction

    The magical negro is typically but not always "in some way outwardly or inwardly disabled, either by discrimination, disability or social constraint," often a janitor or prisoner. He has no past; he simply appears one day to help the white protagonist. He sometimes fits the black stereotype, "prone to criminality and laziness." To counterbalance this, he has some sort of magical power, "rather vaguely defined but not the sort of thing one typically encounters." He is patient and wise, often dispensing various words of wisdom, and is "closer to the earth."

    The magical negro serves as a plot device to help the protagonist get out of trouble, typically through helping the white character recognize his own faults and overcome them. Although he has magical powers, his "magic is ostensibly directed toward helping and enlightening a white male character." It is this feature of the magical negro that some people find most troubling. Although from a certain perspective the character may seem to be showing African-Americans in a positive light, he is still ultimately subordinate to European-Americans. He is also regarded as an exception, allowing white America to "like individual black people but not black culture."

    To save the white protagonist, however, he would do anything, including sacrificing himself, as Sidney Poitier portrays in The Defiant Ones, the prototypical magical Negro movie.
    Comment: Needless to say, this applies almost word for word to Euro-American portrayals of Indians. All you have to is change "janitor or prisoner" to something like "half-breed or military veteran" (or both).

    The Native equivalent of the "magic negro" is the wise elder or shaman or faithful Indian companion. This includes Tonto, the Quileute werewolves in Twilight, and countless comic-book Indians. It also includes characters played in movies and on TV by Chief Dan George, Ned Romero, Floyd Westerman, Russell Means, Graham Greene, Gordon Tootoosis, August Schellenberg, et al.

    About the only difference is this: While "magical negroes" appear occasionally in the media, many fictional African Americans are fully developed protagonists in their own right. For instance, the characters played by Will Smith or Denzel Washington. But most fictional Indians exist to rub their mystical wisdom and might onto the nearby white protagonists. Few can stand on their own as characters.

    Magical Indian mascots

    This point about fictional Indians applies to Indian mascots also. They're supposed to transfer their bravery and ferocity (i.e., their savagery) to mascot-worshiping athletes. In fact, we might compare Chief Illiniwek's dance to a Satanic, black magic, or voodoo ritual.

    Odd that so many God-fearing Christians believe in the dark power of their pseudo-Indian talismans. Have they read what the Bible says about bowing down to and worshiping idols? These people love their mascots as if they were prophets or deities.

    Below:  "Great Spirit, I implore you! Succor my friends and smite my enemies!"

    The Only Good Indian trailer

    Comment:  The story appears to go like this:

    Native boy gets lassoed and taken to boarding school. Is forced to work but not to cut his hair. Runs away to return home. Is pursued by Wes Studi the bounty hunter.

    But when a white gunslinger tries to kill the boy, Studi turns and defends him. Gets in touch with his Native roots, which he's ignored. Gunslinger chases Studi and boy, leading to a final showdown between the two men. Someone dies.

    Offhand, I'd say The Only Good Indian looks good but not great. We'll see how it plays eventually.

    For more on the subject, see Great Film in the Making? and Filming The Only Good Indian.

    Native makes ketchup commercial

    Roscoe Pond alerts us to a ketchup commercial made by first-time director Jennifer Villalobos:Jennifer had entered this into a Heinz Commercial Contest. The Native performers in this spot are Quetzal Guerrero--of Native, Mexican and Brazilian descent. Plus, Hannah Ward--who is from the Torrez Martinez Reservation here in California.

    Comment:  This seems like a typical commercial to me. Which presumably was Villalobos's intent. It's not bad, especially for a first-time effort.

    For more on the subject, see TV Shows Featuring Indians.

    Frank Lloyd Wright's Maya house

    The best houses of all time in L.A.

    We asked an expert panel for its top 10 picks of the best Southern California homes.3. Ennis House Frank Lloyd Wright Los Feliz, 1924

    The largest and loudest of Wright's four concrete-block houses in L.A., the Ennis House suggests what the greatest of Modernists would have done with a commission from the Maya Empire 700 years earlier. A heavy, elongated mass constructed of 16-by-16-inch concrete blocks (most textured with an ornate pattern) and sited majestically on a hilltop overlooking Griffith Park, the building appears to be more than a house--an elegant fortification, perhaps, or a temple.

    December 28, 2008

    Accuracy in Mad Men

    The ninth episode of Mad Men's first season (titled Shoot) includes a couple brief references to Indians.

    1) When ad executive Jim Hobart tries to lure Don Draper away from Sterling Cooper, part of his pitch goes like this:Television? Oh, you could be in that in a bigger way. You know that.

    What, you want to sell corn? We do a show about Indians.
    2) Later, Don's wife is reminiscing at the psychiatrist's office about how Don romanced her:Then three weeks later, the coat arrived at my apartment. Who knows what kind of Indian trading he had to do to get it?The first instance is one of Mad Men's few moments of inauthenticity. Who called a Western "a show about Indians" in 1960? Who'd assume that such a show would sell a lot of corn? Who even knew about the Indian connection to corn? The answer to all three questions is no one, basically.

    This reference smacks of "political correctness" to me. I.e., "Let's have the actors mention Indians to show how much more aware we are today than people were in 1960." In reality, 1960's people probably went years without mentioning Indians in any context other than "cowboys 'n' Indians."

    DVD featurette

    Speaking of authenticity, perhaps the most interesting part of this DVD is the "Establishing Mad Men" featurette. The creators explain how they achieved the authenticity that has made the show a hit. Below is a key sequence of comments:Accuracy to the period is, like, of paramount importance to all of us. Because, you know, if it’s wrong, it’s embarrassing. And, you know, it looks unprofessional. And it compromises the ability for people to suspend their disbelief.

    Scott Hornbacher, producer
    For Matt Weiner, authenticity is the sort of penultimate thing in this show. And he has images in his mind that he constantly tries to convey to us so that we don’t go in a direction that he feels is wrong for the period.

    Amy Wells, set director
    I was very reality-oriented, and I kept pulling people back. I’m like, they’re like, this is Don’s car, a 1959 Cadillac, the most beautiful car ever made. 1960 Cadillac. I’m like, guys...I know, but no. You know, I don’t wanna do that. I want it to be like what I grew up with.

    Matthew Weiner, executive producer
    Matt, at one point, had asked that we put an Etch-a-Sketch, the toy, for a bunch of kids to play with in the back of the car. And when I did my research, I found out, even though our show takes place in April of 1960, the toy wasn’t released until the summer of 1960. And Matt wanted to keep true to the period, so we cut out the Etch-a-Sketch.

    We do it for ourselves. It just allows us to be true to the time period, and the environment where we’re working in. Keeping the historical accuracy allows the characters to develop the way Matt wants.

    Scott Buckwald, prop master
    Comment:  It amazes me that I keep having to explain this to those who apologize for Native mistakes and stereotypes. You know, the people who say Apocalypto or Comanche Moon or Twilight is just a movie? Were these people raised on a desert island under a rock by a pack of wolves? Did no one ever explain the concept of verisimilitude to them? How dumb do they have to be not to understand why Hollywood strives for historical accuracy?

    The creators of most reality-based dramas say they want their shows to be accurate. And many of them--such as the Mad Men staff--go to great lengths to achieve it. Why would they do this if doesn't matter? Have the studios entrusted millions of dollars to these creators even though they're obsessive-compulsive idiots? Or do these creators understand something about filmmaking that their "it's just a [blank]" critics don't?

    What the apologists mean

    Although the apologists can't or won't say it, we can guess what they're thinking. It goes something like this:Sure, I'd be upset if you portrayed me, my family, and my friends as drunks, savages, or animals. But we're real. People like the Quileute Indians in Twilight are different. They're just fictional characters. Who cares if a movie distorts or bastardizes their lives or cultures? Unlike me and mine, they don't matter.For anyone who remains unconvinced, here's what often happens when you strive for historical accuracy in movies and TV shows:

    Mad MenMad Men has received wide critical acclaim, particularly for its historical authenticity and visual style, and has won numerous awards, including two Golden Globes and six Emmys. It is the second cable series to win the Emmy Award for Outstanding Drama Series and the first basic cable series to do so.For more on the subject, see Why People Believe Movies and Educating Russ About Historical Accuracy.

    P.S. If authenticity is the penultimate goal, I presume good storytelling is the ultimate goal.

    Americana in JACK OF FABLES

    In the Americana story arc of JACK OF FABLES, Jack, Raven, and friends enter the mythical land of Americana to find--once again--the lost city of gold. Wikipedia gives us an idea what this place is like:Another land of interest is Americana, the Fable version of America, appearing mainly in the Jack of Fables series.

    Large areas in Americana include:

    * The Colonies--The state of New England.
    * Antebellum--The South.
    * Lone Star--The state of Texas.
    * Steamboat--The Mississippi River area.
    * Gangland--The Chicago area during the 1920s.
    * The Frontier--covering Kansas, Nebraska, and the Dakotas.
    * Idyll--The Appalachian Mountains area during the 1950s.
    * The West--covering the Rocky Mountains area.
    * The Great White North--Canada and The Arctic.
    The Indian aspects

    Other than Raven himself, Americana touches upon Indians two or three times:

    1) Natty "Hawkeye" Bumppo, the "Deerslayer" from The Last of the Mohicans, is a bounty hunter who pursues Jack and company. In James Fenimore Cooper's books, Bumppo was a friend to good Indians such as Chingachgook and Uncas. But here, he's more of a lawman or enforcer than a frontiersman.

    This odd bit of "casting" doesn't make much sense. I guess the character is supposed to represent the relentless pursuit of wrongdoers. A mythical version of Wyatt Earp, Eliot Ness, or John Wayne would've fit the role better than Bumppo.

    2) In the Lone Star region, Jack and company are briefly surrounded by Indians. And not just any Indians. Every one of them sports a chief's headdress, warpaint, and a tomahawk. I don't know if writer Bill Willingham intended this, but it's a super-stereotypical version of an Indian attack.

    Since Americana is supposed to be a land of American myths, I can't argue with this. This is the way Indians appear to most Americans. Since Jack's team includes Raven the trickster, I presume that Willingham knows Indians didn't and don't match this stereotypical vision.

    3) The unnamed city of gold looks similar to Cibola in National Treasure 2: a Classic Maya city a la Chichén Itzá. The major difference is that it has giant statues of animal-gods. These briefly come to life and attack Jack.

    Again, I don't know if Willingham intended this. But again, this probably corresponds to the stereotypical view of most Americans. They accept that Mesoamerican ruins are full of malevolent spirits and mechanical death-traps. The animated stone figures are like a combination of the two.

    Myth vs. reality

    Americana's depiction of Indians has an upside and a downside.

    The upside is that Willingham has captured three prominent myths about Indians in a few deft strokes. The faithful Indian companion (Tonto or Raven), the savage attack, and the haunted ruins. Other than that, Indians are invisible to most Americans.

    The downside is that Willingham has shown us only Indians in a mythical context. There are no broken treaties, massacres, reservations, or poverty. And no Indian doctors, lawyers, entertainers, or politicians either.

    The presence of mythical Indians and absence of real Indians makes you wonder. Is Willingham telling us that Indians exist only in the imagination for most Americans? Or do Indians exist only in the imagination for Willingham as well? I don't know, but it's an interesting question.

    For more on the subject, see Comic Books Featuring Indians.

    Hutchins vs. Newcomb on sovereignty

    Hutchins:  How to fix U.S. tribal policyThe 2008 campaigns of John McCain and Barack Obama finessed hard questions relating to tribes, for example endorsing tribal “sovereignty” while ignoring whether this meant supra-Constitutional inviolability or merely municipal-style local autonomy. But the results of the election have certainly made more imaginable a new approach to tribal issues. A revised tribal paradigm cannot become law any time soon. Numerous binding agreements remain in force, some of them treaties hundreds of years old, and other contracts negotiated within the past few years, including many for tax-exempt casinos. Goals can nonetheless be identified. Starting where President Washington left off, and reviving the Constitution’s functional, non-racial approach to separating responsibility for “Indian” regulation between states and the federal government, could set a course acceptable to tribes and wholly within the parameters of our still-evolving Constitution, the indispensable basis of a national community including all Americans on a basis of full legal equality.Newcomb:  How not to fix U.S. Indian policyAfter presenting the reader with his version of history, Mr. Hutchins says that the result of the 2008 election makes “more imaginable a new approach to tribal issues.” The approach he has in mind is “a revised tribal paradigm” that, he acknowledges, “cannot become law anytime soon.”

    The alternative political framework that Mr. Hutchins advocates is one in which Indian nations (which he refers to as “tribes” and “groups”) become further subject to both state and federal regulation. His ideal scenario is one in which state-federal arrangements are made that separate “responsibility for ‘Indian’ regulation between states and the federal government.”

    Such regulatory arrangements ought to be constructed, Mr. Hutchins suggests, “within the parameters of our still-evolving Constitution, the indispensable basis of a national community including all Americans on a basis of legal equality.” In this last sentence, we find the familiar phrasing and rhetoric of the Anti-Indian movement, one that claims that Indian rights must be the same as individual civil rights in order to be “equal.” The way he phrases this argument is by saying that Indian people ought to learn to exist as “Americans” on “a basis of legal equality.” Mr. Hutchins’ refusal to acknowledge the collective rights of Indian nations is an old Anti-Indian “melting pot” position that he is proposing as a new “fix.”
    Comment:  That Hutchins puts the word "sovereignty" in quotes is a good indicator of his position.

    Regarding Hutchins's artificial dichotomy--"supra-Constitutional inviolability or merely municipal-style local autonomy"--I'd say tribal sovereignty isn't either. It definitely isn't "supra-Constitutional," since its basis is in the Constitution. It's inviolable in theory, but it's already been violated so often that inviolability is no longer an issue. Yet it remains much more than "merely municipal-style local autonomy."

    Needless to say, the Indian wins another debate over the white man. For more on the subject, see Indian Rights = Special Rights.

    Lifelike mannequins in Pequot museum

    Connecticut museum a Native treasureThe museum was built in 1998 at a cost of nearly $200 million and takes visitors on a chronological journey, beginning with an ice age display featuring an escalator descending through a faux glacier and chilled air into exhibit space with a floor scraped and gouged as if by retreating ice masses.

    The entire facility is an eye-opening experience, from a 185-foot glass-and-stone tower offering spectacular views of the heavily wooded hilly area to the re-created 16th-century Pequot village, eerily accurate down to the pores in the skin of the lifelike mannequins populating it.

    In one display you'll find a huge mastodon replica, giant beavers, and dire wolves. A 50-foot diorama depicts a tribal family on a caribou hunt. Nearby another exhibit details the natural habitat of Connecticut, and there are 23 interactive computer stations around the museum.

    The centerpiece is the Pequot village, a place you could easily spend hours staring into the extraordinarily lifelike eyes of its members to convince yourself they are not real.
    Inuit Art Comes To Mashantucket MuseumIf James Houston were alive today, he would love the display of Inuit art at the Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center.

    "He would say, 'It's gorgeous,'" said Alice Houston of Stonington. Her husband, who was 83 when he died in 2005, was a master designer at the Steuben Glass Co. and lived among the Inuits for 14 years. He set up an artists' cooperative on Cape Dorset on Baffin Island and helped expose Inuit art to the rest of the world.

    "He'd be very pleased that a traveling exhibition would show the extraordinary cleverness of the Inuit people," she said Saturday during the opening of "Arctic Spirit." The show includes about 125 sculptures, textiles, prints and drawings from 30 different villages in Canada. The objects span 2,250 years of artistic creativity, beginning as early as 250 B.C. to the present.
    Comment:  Some people have compared this museum to a Disneyland ride. I haven't seen the museum, but it sounds like a great way to present Indian history and culture to me. If people love a good Disney ride, why not make museum exhibits that fun and engaging? Who says learning has to be staid and stuffy?

    Some people also have used this museum to justify portraying a casino with animatronic Indians. That's simply wrong. An educational museum display has nothing to do with a fictional casino display.

    For more on the subject, see The Feel-Good National Museum:  Reviews of the National Museum of the American Indian.

    Rule-breaking coach a role model?

    Kelvin Sampson a Role Model Despite Himself

    By Dalton WalkerI've had my eye on Kelvin Sampson for years since I learned he had Native blood. Sampson, a Lumbee Native from North Carolina, is a current assistant coach for the NBA's Milwaukee Bucks.

    His coaching career stretches back to 1981 when he got his start at Montana Tech. He coached Washington State, Oklahoma and Indiana, all schools known for solid basketball programs. He was easily the only Native coach at a Division 1 level.

    He resigned his post from Indiana in 2008, less than two years after he was hired. Actually, he was forced to resign amid controversy that seemed to follow him from his prior days at OU in Norman, Okla.

    Indiana got its hand slapped last month with three-years probation. The controversy was based on illegal telephone recruiting by Sampson.
    Comment:  Walker suggests that Sampson is a role model because of his excellent coaching record. And that we should give Sampson another chance.

    I'm glad to give him another chance. But I'd say there are many Indians who haven't broken the rules who would be better role models.

    Let Sampson serve his penance and rehabilitate himself. Then we can consider whether he deserves "role model" status.

    For more on the subject, see Jocks Aren't Good Role Models.

    Manitoba reads April Raintree

    Manitoba Reads:  In Search of April RaintreeWritten by Beatrice Culleton Mosionier, In Search of April Raintree is the book chosen for "On The Same Page: Manitoba Reads"--a literacy project whose goal is to have 12,000 people (1% of the population of Manitoba) read the selected book between October 2008 through April 2009.

    According to a review in CM: Canadian Review of Materials, it is widely used in junior and senior high schools, and university courses, too.
    (Excerpted from Debbie Reese's American Indians in Children's Literature, 12/22/08.)

    Comment:  For more on the subject, see The Best Indian Books.

    Happy birthday, Lakotah!

    It's been a year since Russell Means and company established the Republic of Lakotah. How has the newest "Indian nation" fared?

    On the one hand, Means hasn't been arrested or jailed for flouting US laws. He's still free to proclaim his Lakotah beliefs. I expected him to be on trial by now, so that's something.

    On the other hand, Means hasn't achieved anything. Tellingly, he downplayed his gambit when he ran for the presidency of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, claiming the OST is Lakotah. Nobody is talking about Lakotah and everyone has forgotten about it (except Newspaper Rock's readers, natch).

    December 27, 2008

    Raven in JACK OF FABLES

    Unlike FABLES, the spin-off series JACK OF FABLES has included some Indians and Indian lore. Here's the scoop on Jack:Jack Horner is a fictional character in the comic book series Fables by Bill Willingham. His first appearance was in issue #1 of Fables and continued as a regular character of the series until leaving the series for his own title, Jack of Fables. The character is based on various nursery rhymes and fables with characters named Jack including Little Jack Horner, Jack and the Beanstalk, Jack and Jill, Jack Be Nimble, Jack Frost, Jack O'Lantern, and Jack the Giant Killer and others.In JACK OF FABLES #15, an Indian named Raven shows up and introduces himself as the "faithful Indian compadre" of Wicked John, Jack's doppelganger. Raven is your typical tall, dark, handsome Indian hunk with long black locks. He's dressed Crocodile Dundee-style with a cowboy hat and vest-like shirt.

    Raven provides a little information and then joins the team of misfits for their next adventure, which is chronicled in the Americana trade paperback.

    Here Raven dresses in a black t-shirt. He's gruff, likes women, and cheats at chess and cards. Eventually, he transforms into a giant raven to save the others, revealing himself to be the mythical Indian trickster.

    Zero of a hero

    Other than this, Raven is a complete non-entity...a big zero...a waste of space. I'm not even sure why writer Bill Willingham included him. Maybe he thought Jack needed an Indian companion as he traveled through the West. I get the impression that Willingham hasn't thought or doesn't care about the role of Indians in American lore.

    Raven is a bit of an odd choice for an Indian who first appears in the Grand Canyon. A Coyote figure would've been a more natural choice for the location. And the creative team could've given him a more imaginative name and appearance (think of the Marvel hero Black Crow). There must be a couple dozen comic-book characters with a variation of the name "Raven."

    Unless it happens in a future issue I haven't read yet, JACK OF FABLES has missed a great opportunity. Jack is supposed to be the ultimate trickster figure in the FABLES universe. A character named Raven should've been his equivalent from the Native universe. Jack the Anglo-Saxon trickster and Raven the Native trickster could've waged an epic battle of wits, with Jack losing in the end as he always does.

    Anyway, the JACK OF FABLES series is lighter and less substantial than its FABLES forebear. Read FABLES first and then pick up JACK if you want more.

    For more on the subject, see Comic Books Featuring Indians.

    Online videos on Minn. statehood

    Responses to Statehood provides venue for Native perspectives

    Written by Aimee LoiselleWaziyatawin (Angela Wilson), Ph.D., a Dakota scholar and activist, and the Minnesota Humanities Center in Saint Paul have collaborated to create Responses to Statehood, an online video project that showcases Dakota and Ojibwe perspectives on Minnesota statehood and the sesquicentennial. The project began airing in November when the Humanities Center began launching new videos weekly.And:"This has made for powerful and life-changing experiences for those who attend." After learning of the Sesquicentennial Commission's limited opportunities for Native perspectives, the center hired Mona Smith (Sisseton-Wahpeton Dakota) to film some of the teacher-training workshops. The project eventually expanded to include interviews with Native people from throughout the state. Smith is currently producing the online videos. She is a filmmaker and co-founder of Allies: media/art, an award-winning, Dakota-owned media production company. "The work I do is focused on expanding the listening range of Native, and especially Dakota, voices," she said.And:The collaboration between Waziyatawin and the Humanities Center has its roots in a spring 2007 meeting with the Sesquicentennial Commission. Secretary of State Mark Ritchie and Commission Director Jane Leonard invited Dr. Waziyatawin and Matthew Brandt to a meeting with other community members. The commission said it wanted to get the Dakota perspective on the sesquicentennial. Waziyatawin presented her ideas, assuming the commission members would change their plans and include Native points of view. However, she says the members ignored her after the meeting.

    One man even asked another member about playing golf. "I had just finished giving a presentation about genocide and land theft," she said, "and he was talking about golf." After the meeting, Brandt asked to speak with Waziyatawin and said the Humanities Center wanted to provide opportunities to share Dakota and Ojibwe perspectives. "They are essential if Minnesotans are going to truly understand the history, culture, and living experience of Native people in the state," said Brandt. "The videos highlight many untold aspects of our state history from uncompromising, indigenous points of view. We are hopeful people will leave with a desire to learn more, even if the material might be difficult to listen to."
    Comment:  As the article says, to see the videos and blog, go to: For more on the subject, see Natives Protest Minn. Sesquicentennial.

    A film not in their own words

    Discovery’s ‘America’s First Nations’ sparks debateThe Discovery Channel’s documentary film about the Haudenosaunee has sparked a controversy over historical accuracy, racial stereotyping, tone and intent.

    The film was aired twice over the Dec. 6 weekend under the title “America’s First Nations” and has generated a long string of comments at Discovery’s forums Web site at

    Originally called “First Nations: In Their Own Words,” the name change reflected the new direction the film took after the original production was turned in, said a Mohawk writer who was hired as the technical consultant for the film.

    “The final version is not a film in our ‘own words,’” said Doug George-Kanentiio.
    And:The executive who had backed the project and funded it with almost $50 million was fired, and a new production company, Half Yard Productions, and a non-Native writer were brought in to re-edit the film.

    “And they wanted to take it from what our understanding and vision was and make it into an action film for Discovery’s new target audience–18- to 30-year-old males,” George-Kanentiio said.

    He was appalled at the final version.

    “Of the 43 minutes [of the film’s length], 38 minutes were violence. They were showing cannibalism and beheadings. It was almost all fight scenes and little or nothing about the characters. We had included an oblique reference to cannibalism because it is part of the story, but it was more to emphasize the change that took place in the human beings. It wasn’t central and they made it central and it obscured everything else,” George-Kanentiio said.
    Comment:  For more on the subject, see Native Documentaries and News.

    "The American Indian in Stamps"

    Post office delivers a tiny timeline of Native AmericaStamps have carried art portraying Native Americans all over the world, and now they’re circling the globe again in a cyberspace exhibition.

    The modest scale of this art–usually less than 2 square inches–is no barrier to the Smithsonian National Postal Museum, which has launched an online exhibition, “The American Indian in Stamps: Profiles in Leadership, Accomplishment and Cultural Celebration.” And for the first time the National Postal Museum turned to another museum, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, for help in adding history and cultural context to one of its exhibitions.

    “We have about six million objects and a small space so we can’t display most of them,” said Thomas Lera, who is the Winton M. Blount Research Chair at the National Postal Museum. “That’s why we have decided to digitize our collection. It’s a great tool for people, like kids who want to do a report. They can go on the website. It’s American history in the mail.”

    “The American Indian in Stamps” can only be viewed at It features colorful images of 40 of the approximately 70 stamps that the U.S. Postal Service has issued featuring Native Americans since 1875.
    Comment:  I used to collect stamps (along with coins) as a boy. I liked the idea of owing a little piece of history and art.

    For more on the subject, see Stamps Honor Indians.

    Crows to honor one of their own

    Indian participation in Obama’s inauguration takes shapeRobert Old Horn, executive assistant to the Crow Nation Chairman Carl Venne, said that tribal members had long been interested in being part of the parade, especially after the Crow’s adopted Obama into the tribe when he visited the reservation on May 19. During that campaign visit, he was given a Crow name, which translates to “One who helps people throughout the land.” Members of the family that adopted Obama were special guests of his at the DNC.

    Old Horn said that Crow Nation parade participants will ride painted horses single file, while wearing special traditional regalia.

    “We want to celebrate and support not only the President of the United States of America, but also celebrate with one of our own,” Old Horn said. “We feel very humbled, but also proud that we will be able to come forward with our support.”
    Comment:  For more on the subject, see The 2008 Presidential Campaign.

    Totem poles at Tulalip casino

    Tulalip artist creates cultural icon to grace casino hotelJust inside the new Tulalip Resort Casino hotel lobby are three soaring house poles, each carved from the same 1,000-year-old red cedar tree. The poles, carved by a group of Tulalip artists, honor tribal tradition, but one pole is distinctly modern, with blown glass and metalwork incorporated into the carved totems.

    “I put all my blood, sweat and tears into that pole,” said Tulalip artist James Madison. “It is very important to me because it displays our culture.”

    “One thing we do in preserving our culture is to show it is not petrified but still alive,” Madison said. “By me putting glass and bronze on there, it shows we are not petrified.”
    Comment:  For more on the subject, see The Facts About Indian Gaming.

    Shawanda the big winner

    Crystal Shawanda the biggest winner at Canadian Aboriginal Music AwardsShawanda, who was born in Ontario on the Wikwemikong First Nation on Manitoulin Island, was the biggest winner at this year’s Canadian Aboriginal Music Awards.

    The 26-year-old won all five awards that she was nominated for at the ceremony, held at Toronto’s Rogers Centre Nov. 28.

    Shawanda, who has lived in Nashville for the past seven years, won awards for Best Female Artist, Best Single, Best Video, Best Country Album and Album of the Year.
    Comment:  For more on Shawanda, see The Wikwemikong Loretta Lynn and Fast-Rising Ojibwe Singer.

    December 26, 2008

    No discrimination if Indians happy?

    In the comments section of White Vampire Yes, Indian Werewolf No, Anonymous wrote:Rob. Slow down for a minute and stop being such a jerk. If you would take a moment to read the series, you would see that Stephenie Meyer is definitely NOT trying to descriminate against Native Americans. In the book, Jacob is described a fun-loving and sweet, Bella's personal sun.My response:

    So Meyer wasn't trying to discriminate, but she did it anyway? Is that what you're trying to tell us?

    I think you're confusing conscious discrimination with unconscious racism. They aren't the same thing. In fact, I'm not even sure they're connected. I think one can discriminate without being a racist and be a racist without discriminating.

    Do you think discriminating is the same as being negative and hurtful? Because it isn't. Many TV shows and movies have depicted sweet, loving Indians who ended up happily. For instance, The Lone Ranger and Tonto, The Go-Go Gophers, Paw Paws, Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, Pocahontas, The Education of Little Tree, The Road to El Dorado, Shanghai Noon, End of the Spear, and The Emperor's New School--to name a few.

    That doesn't mean these works weren't based on racist assumptions. Or that they were devoid of mistakes and stereotypes. Negative portrayals are only the most obvious sign of discrimination or racism. They aren't the only sign.

    Have you heard of minstrel shows? Amos 'n' Andy? The Song of the South? Aunt Jemima? These sweet, fun-loving portrayals of blacks had little or nothing to do with reality. They were discriminatory and racist.

    Yet their creators would've said they didn't intend to discriminate against blacks. And their fans would've defended the portrayals to the hilt. Which is roughly the position you and Meyer have taken on Twilight's Indians. Get the picture?

    Below:  "I'm a sweet, fun-loving stereotype!"

    Girl chief in Lady GaGa video

    Roscoe Pond alerts us to a stereotypical video:

    Pond adds:I was told through a friend who is on the Dance Scene here in Los Angeles, that the girl wearing the Warbonnet in this video, "Just Dance," is part Native American.

    I was also told that Lady GaGa likes the Native American experience. The video is so much fun.
    Comment:  The video shows several shots of a young woman cavorting in a chief's warbonnet. Because the woman is part Native and Lady GaGa likes Natives, Pond thinks that excuses the stunt.

    Well, I don't. Traditionally, women aren't supposed to wear feather bonnets. No one is supposed to wear them unless they've earned them. It makes a mockery of the solemn duties of a chief. It implies anyone can become an Indian or a chief by donning the correct attire.

    In other words, dancing like a member of the Village People doesn't honor or respect Indians. It diminishes them. It makes them look like Mardi Gras revelers, circus clowns, or mascots.

    Here's the difference between my blog and Pond's in a nutshell. He goes ga-ga over things like this Lady GaGa video. I don't.

    For more on the subject, see Tricking or Treating Indians and the Stereotype of the Month contest.

    Below:  Another girl who violated any number of Indian cultural practices.

    The plot to preserve Native cultures

    The Debate:  Aboriginal Identities at a Crossroads?1.2 million strong and growing, but with more than half of Canada's First Nations now living off-reserve, can the traditional way of life be maintained?

    Comment:  This is an hour-long show on the issue of assimilation. It's based on the book Disrobing the Aboriginal Industry: The Deception Behind Indigenous Cultural Preservation. The book argues that unscrupulous lawyers are manipulating Indians into cling to traditions that they'd be better off giving up.

    The show starts with the lawyers' role, but quickly segues into the core issue. Namely, whether Indians are better off with a traditional or modern lifestyle or some combination thereof.

    In my Stereotype of the Month contest, I've refuted arguments like the authors' many times. No doubt they have a point about tribes resisting change, but their basic premise is false. No one is suggesting that Indians choose traditional knowledge or training over a college education, for instance. These days Indians can participate in the global economy and in their local traditions.

    Worth watching

    In the show, the authors of Disrobing debate with representatives of the First Nations community. It's a pretty lively affair--certainly better than this year's presidential debates. The parties engage each other's arguments and moderator Steve Paikin keeps them focused. (By giving everyone a chance to speak, asking followup questions, and interrupting people if necessary, Paikin does a superb job of moderating. Every debate should be this well moderated.)

    Overall, I'd say the video is worth listening to. I listened to it in the background while I worked on other computer tasks.

    Art exhibit on Minn. statehood

    Art:  History lesson

    Minnesota's 150th birthday is viewed through American Indian eyes in a show at Ancient Traders Gallery.What:  Paintings, drawings and other art on themes of Minnesota history by more than a dozen contemporary American Indian artists.

    Review:  Inspired by the 150th anniversary of Minnesota statehood, "States" asserts the primacy of Indians in Minnesota, recalls broken treaties and the bitter hanging of 38 Indians at Mankato in 1862. A valuable counterpoint to official sesquicentennial celebrations, the show is more educational than confrontational, with flashes of ironic humor and quiet dignity.
    Below:  Jonathan Thunder's "Every Day is a New Day."

    I presume this is an example of the nonconfrontational art. The execution is okay, but it's the concept that stands out: a Native in traditional clothing set a modern setting. The message is the perennial one that Indians are still here and they've brought their beliefs and traditions with them. In other words, that they're part of two worlds.

    For more on the subject, see Natives Protest Minn. Sesquicentennial.

    No Indians in FABLES

    The FABLES comic-book series from DC's Vertigo features such characters as Snow White, Prince Charming, and the Big Bad Wolf. I've been wondering how it would depict Indians: as real people today or as mythical people of the past.

    Here's the premise of FABLES:The series deals with various characters from fairy tales and folklore--referring to themselves as "Fables"--who have been forced out of their Homelands by a mysterious enemy known as the Adversary. They have traveled to our world and formed a clandestine community in New York City known as Fabletown. Fables who are unable to blend in with human society (such as monsters and anthropomorphic animals) live at "the Farm" in upstate New York.I'm glad to say FABLES hasn't included any Indians among its myths. I believe one issue showed an Indian in the background of one panel, but that's it. That's about as it should be.

    In any case, FABLES is a great series that has won many Eisner awards. I'd say every comics fan should give it a try.

    For more on the subject, see Comic Books Featuring Indians.

    Offensive "Indian" in Bedtime Stories

    Sandler and no script make this a nightmareAdam Sandler plays a hotel handyman who discovers that elements of the bedtime stories he tells his niece and nephew are coming true the following day, and decides to use this gift to get his dream job.

    Director Adam Shankman should stick to musicals like Hairspray, a format that allows him to take the action over the top without looking stupid. But Shankman didn't make this mess on his own. Sandler, for example, makes room in the movie for buddy Rob Schneider, whose portrayal of a American Indian is the most offensive since F Troop was on the air in the 1960s.
    Comment:  For more on the subject, see The Best Indian Movies.

    Mascot video answers mascot video

    End Native American Stereotypes and Mascots

    Comment:  This three-minute video is a decent appraisal of the mascot issue. It's notable because the creator has billed it as a response to my mascot video. Check it out to see what I apparently inspired.

    December 25, 2008

    What my nephews and nieces got

    My four nephews and nieces are typical American kids. The boys like video games and action figures. The girls like horses and dolls. Their exposure to Indians is probably limited to Thanksgiving lessons in school and the Pocahontas and National Treasure 2 DVDs.

    I always try to give them presents that will educate as well as entertain them. Books are my first choice, but the boys don't seem to be readers. Fortunately, the girls are; little Lucy is already through the Harry Potter and Narnia books.

    Anyway, here are some of the presents I got them this year:

    Andrew (age 9):  Life After People DVD.

    Lucy (age 8):  The Arrow over the Door by Joseph Bruchac.

    Thomas (age 7):  Arctic Tale DVD.

    Alice (age 6):  Jewelry box with Navajo sandpainting on lid; Alicia of Acoma Pueblo. (Alice...Alicia...get it?)

    I also got Lucy the chess set she asked for. Now I can teach her how to play. I'm betting she'll be the biggest scholar among the bunch. In ten years, she'll be like, "Horses and dolls...what was I thinking?"

    Meanwhile, I got the third SCALPED trade paperback for myself. We'll see if the series has gone from stereotypical to a "masterpiece" and "comic of the year" (according to one critic).

    P.S. This year's Christmas postings:

    Kwakwaka'wakw holiday lessons
    An Indian Christmas Carol
    The Navajo Santa

    "Redskin" predates Columbus?

    Another debate with my Mohawk correspondent on the origin of "redskin":White, black, yellow and red. The colors represent the different races. I trust you can decide which race goes which which color.The Iroquois didn't know about the white, black, or yellow races until after Columbus arrived. The European contacts probably influenced their choice of color. No doubt the Iroquois heard Europeans calling them "red men" and adopted that color as theirs.

    If you disagree, show me the evidence that the Iroquois knew of the four races before Columbus. Good luck.

    But this color claim is irrelevant to my argument. I haven't condemned every use of the word "red" as applied to Indians. I've condemned only the word "redskin," which most Native people consider an ethnic slur. You're wasting time defending the color red when I'm talking about the specific word "redskin."

    What the evidence says...while some people may cringe at the sight and sound of the word "redskin", others not so much.Here are some quotes from my Redskins page:Among the mountain of evidence considered by the trademark judges over the first seven years of litigation were examples of the way the R-word was used in newspaper headlines, showing no difference between 20th century sports headlines and 19th century news headlines.

    "Redskins Start Bloodletting Today," "More Cuts Likely to Follow Full-Scale Redskin Warfare," "Redskins Ambushed," "Redskins Back on the Warpath" and "Giants Massacre Redskins: General Custer Avenged" were sports headlines in the 20th century.

    Nineteenth-century news headlines were "Custer's Men Lured Into Trap by Wily Redskins," "On the Warpath ... Redskins Attack," "Redskins Sent to the Happy Hunting Ground" and "Ready for Battle ... The Rebellious Redskins."
    And:"I did a search in Google Groups," wrote Nunberg, "and found a number of citations that demonstrate that the word is still widely used in its pejorative sense. I attach these; the names of the relevant discussion groups are in parens. These are all from the last ten years or so:"

    — "Hey Redskin: Go back to the Indian Reservation and make some illegal booze." (

    — "These redskin c***sucks up at the reservation are now claiming that THEY own the portion of Nebraska that pertains to Whiteclay....Times like this make me wish Custer had access to air support and a couple of tactical nukes." (alt.tasteless)

    — "Hop down to Any Boat store. Don't you know how to read? I bet your one of the redskin, indian whoop de do's who object to seeing sports teams demeaning native americans and bitch about everything." (alt.scooter)

    — "I am getting f***ing tired of these damn redskins belly aching about how the paleface came and stole their land. Why don't they get off their lazy, reservation living-asses and start working?" (alt.discrimination)

    — "As I said the white Europeans had 'firesticks' for CENTURIES before the redskin savages even HEARD about them! The redskin savages didn't even have the incredibly complex machine known as 'the wheel' until CENTURIES after other races had it! They were a VERY backwards people!" (alt.atheism)

    — "Those indian savages instead opted for much more equisite forms of torture and methods of creating intense pain in their redskin neighbor victims." (Thread, "Indians Are Sleaze Merchants,"

    — "I stopped into a New York club and found an American Indian bar-tending. I ordered a Manhattan and the redskin f***er charged me twenty-four dollars!" (3do.bad-attitude)
    And my conclusion:Note the mention of the "voluminous evidence about the meaning and use of the R-word and how most Native Americans despise it." This evidence convinced three judges to unanimously rule the name "Redskins" was offensive and therefore not protected by patent and trademark law.

    Unless you've reviewed this voluminous evidence and can rebut it, I'd say it stands as the definitive word on how most Native Americans feel about "Redskins." Without further input, I'll go with the judges who have reviewed the voluminous evidence over a columnist who hasn't.
    "Red" isn't "redskin"My people, six nations people are more offended by "indian giver" and "wagonburner" than "redskin", because in "My" culture Natives are identified on our medicine wheel as "red".Why do you think the Iroquois chose this color? Because they have red skins? Because red is the color of blood and warfare? Because it's the color of the creator in Haudenosaunee myth? Because it looks good in interior decorating and fashion designs? Because the Iroquois lived in communes and communists are "red"? Because they were big fans of Red Ryder, Red Skelton, or the Red Sox? Because the other races choose white, black, and yellow and red was the only good color left?

    I could go on, but I trust you see my point. There's no necessary connection between the color red and the Indians' skin color. Your people probably adopted red for a reason other than the one you're suggesting: that they consider themselves "redskins."

    Whatever the origins of the color, "red" and "redskin" are two different words today. It's like the difference between "cock" (as in rooster) and "cocksucker." They both contain the word "cock," but the differences and the context make one an insult.

    Sticking it to the manI stand for any other Natives trying to STICK it to the MAN!The purveyors of Redskin magazine are sticking it to their fellow Natives with their magazine title. If they changed the title, I'd be willing to help them stick it to the MAN.Any parent knows that if you say something to a child long enough, and depending how you say it will hurt them. It is the context that is important.That's my point, not yours. Natives have heard "redskins" used against them as a slur for a couple of centuries, at least. If it wasn't offensive early on, it's become offensive through repeated use as a slur.Are you offended by honkie, ghost, etc...?Not really. But then, no one has ever called me these names. They certainly haven't applied them to me and my people consistently for hundreds of years.

    I don't get offended, in general. I'm not criticizing Redskin magazine because it hurt my feelings. I'm passing on what I've learned about Native feelings toward the word "redskin." It offends many of them and I'm reporting that.


    Below:  A Mohawk Indian? Or another devilish "redskin"?

    Indians don't care about Depp?

    Someone e-mailed me about Johnny Depp as Tonto controversy. Her basic claim was that Indians don't care about it. Some thoughts about this position:

    Several Indians have commented on my postings and agreed with me. Only a couple have disagreed with me. Although my blog isn't a scientific poll, the "cares" outnumber the "don't cares" so far.

    Of course, 99.99% of Indians aren't thinking about this issue. But that doesn't tell us much. No one of any ethnicity cares much about the arts. They definitely don't care much about analyzing the hidden messages in the arts.

    Fortunately they have me to do the analyzing for them. And once they think about it, they find the subject interesting. Which is why they keep coming back for more.

    My analyses include the hidden messages in casting decisions. In this case, Hollywood is telling us it doesn't care about Indians. Anyone can get a tan, don a wig, and become an Indian.

    That Depp has a fraction of Indian blood is a bonus. If he didn't but expressed an interest in the role, they might've cast him anyway. No one knew Taylor Lautner has Indian blood until after they cast him in Twilight, for instance.

    Grassroots is better?

    Perhaps Indians are too busy with their grassroots arts to worry about mainstream "crap" like a Tonto movie. If so, I'm happy for them. I'm in favor of grassroots efforts, which is why I post about them often. I believe they can have a long-term cumulative effect.

    But alas, they're aren't likely to change things quickly or easily. If most of the mainstream efforts are "crap," so are most of the grassroots efforts. Being sincere or "real" isn't the same as being talented.

    The mass media is where things tend to happen. Whether it's Shakespeare's plays, Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel, Mozart's symphonies, Citizen Kane, Beatles records, or WATCHMEN comics, mainstream artists have produced much of the world's great art. They've done it by working within the "system," using its resources, and catering to its tastes.

    How many people have seen the Fritz Scholder exhibit or heard the all-indigenous orchestra--to use two recent examples? And how many have read the Twilight books or seen Indian mascots on sports broadcasts? The latter outnumber the former by something like 1,000 or 10,000 to 1, at least. Their influence on the public is equally large.

    Tonto too lame to matter?

    Perhaps some Indians don't care because Tonto is simply too lame to care about? I'd say Tonto is lame only because non-Natives have written and directed--i.e., controlled--the character. They've made him lame. A Native actor who brings his background to the role has a chance to make Tonto better. To make him an authentic Indian, not a stereotypical caricature.

    If anyone thinks Depp will do Tonto "well" because he's a great actor, where's the evidence? His portrayal of Captain Jack Sparrow in Pirates? As I explained before, that's an argument against Depp's portraying an Indian, not for it. If Disney wants a Pirates-style "interpretation" of an Indian, it should hire Chief Illiniwek.

    Even if some Indians disagree, my opinion stands. Other things being equal, I'd say the closer an actor is to the role he's playing, the better. For a full-blooded Apache role like Tonto, a Native is better than a non-Native, an Apache is better than an Eastern Cherokee, and a full-blood is better than a 1/16th blood.

    Similarly, I wouldn't cast Summer Glau or Lynn Collins to play Deer Woman or Sacagawea. And I wouldn't cast Taylor Lautner or Danny Trejo to play Hiawatha or Squanto. I wouldn't put predominantly white actors in blackface and I wouldn't put them in "redface" either.

    For more on the subject, see The Best Indian Movies.

    Below:  A "pirate," an "Indian," and a "black man."