December 31, 2009

Minorities = children in Avatar

More on race and racialism in AvatarWhile the Na'vi may be blue, the people who played them are not. Consider:

1. Neytiri
2. Tsu'tey
3. Eytukan
4. Moat
5. Horse Clan Leader

It could be the case that all the other models for the Na'vi are white, but it seems clear to me that Cameron chose these actors for the central Na'vi characters according to racialized criteria; i.e. while he didn't necessarily choose them because they weren't white, his vision of a primitive, native culture didn't include white people. The representatives of humanity, however, were not only overwhelmingly white, even the exceptions played to stereotype: Dileep Rao played an Indian scientist and Michelle Rodriguez played a Latina tough. My point in my previous Avatar post about the film indulging in the white fantasy of becoming the proverbial other is, then, made literal by Cameron's casting decisions: Sam Worthington, Sigourney Weaver and Joel Moore play three white characters who inhabit bodies otherwise occupied only by actors of color. I'm not normally one to invest much of anything argumentative based on what happens on a casting couch, but in this case, Cameron tipped his hand with all the subtlety of an overconfident drunk: the purpose of the avatars is to place white brains in blue bodies that would otherwise be inhabited by black ones.
And: Moreover, within the narrative, the bodies [the humans] were being stuffed into were utterly infantilized: the Na'vi don't think for themselves, as even animal husbandry is beyond them. They require a direct neural connection in order to domesticate an animal.

That they teach humans to be similarly dependent upon a necessarily benevolent planet is, I understand, the point—but it is a terrible one if, as many claim, Cameron wanted to press a message of ecological interdependence. The Na'vi possess all the agency of a leukocyte: they may respond individually, but they are not, properly speaking, individuals.
Patrick Barkman, who brought this item to my attention, adds:A good post from Lawyers, Guns & Money about a fairly obvious point that had not occurred to me: Avatar is a literal representation of the white fantasy of “going native.” Can it be that the brain-swapping technology is the science fiction equivalent of all those earnest, sincere white people who form their own fictional tribes (which are almost always Cherokee, for some reason)?Comment:  The connection between infantilized Natives and Indian wannabes isn't quite clear, but I think I can make it clear.

Roughly speaking, Americans have three views of Indians and other indigenous people. Conservatives think they're savages--a negative value judgment. Moderates think they're primitives--a neutral judgment with negative aspects. And liberals think they're flower children--a positive judgment with negative aspects.

James Cameron has taken the "flower children" approach. His natives are connected to nature--literally. Other than the ability to make a few basic items, they have no science or technology.

This is basically what New Age Indian wannabes seek: a return to the simple, child-like life they imagine Indians lived. They want to rip off their clothes and experience the great outdoors. They want to throw away their gizmos and gadgets and rely on their own two hands. Through mystical rites and ceremonies, they want to restore a sense of supernatural wonder.

In other words, your typical wannabes want to return to childhood. They want a lifestyle with no cares, no obligations, no responsibilities. They're essentially playing a child's dress-up game with themselves as the dolls. "You be Indian brave Ken and I'll be Indian maiden Barbie," one might say to the other.

Being Indian isn't a game

What this misses is that Indians had cares, obligations, and responsibilities. They had to hunt or farm their food or they starved. They had to manufacture clothing and shelter warm enough to survive the winter. They had to learn a complex set of rules, relationships, and religious teachings to fit into their tribe and environment.

All this might take a decade or two to master, and there was the constant threat of failure and death. It wasn't something people did on the weekend to "heal" themselves before returning to a comfortable home and job. They weren't putting on their costumes or avatars and playing Indians. They were Indians, with all that entails.

When I criticized the Russian Orthodox Wannabe League, I pointed out how they weren't interested in Indians in general. They weren't interested in present-day Indians or any Indians except the stereotypical Indians of the past. As I cleverly wrote at the time:If you're so in tune with Indians, why are you emulating the Lakota rather than the Abenaki or Muskogee or Ojibway or Gila River or Yurok or Tlingit? How is it that your affinity just happens to be with the tribe everyone thinks represents Indian culture?

Indians don't live in tipis or hunt buffalo anymore. If you come up with a justification for emulating only the Lakota Indians, your next task is to explain why you don't want to emulate them the way they are now. Pretending that the bucolic world of tipis and buffalo represents Indian culture now is again a stereotype.

If you "wannabe" like the Lakota of the 19th you also emulate the periods of starvation and freezing weather? The warfare with the US government...or with other tribes? The plagues and massacres? Because Lakota life wasn't a happy fantasyland. It was a real world with all the pain and suffering of any culture.
In Avatar, James Cameron has put his natives into a happy fantasyland. It's a child's storybook version of indigenous life. If Captain Hook, Peter Pan, and Tinkerbell showed up, I wouldn't be surprised.

For more on the subject, see Noble Savages in Avatar and White Guilt in Avatar.

Below:  Jake Sully as the ultimate Indian wannabe.

Frankenstein's monster = Eskimo

Inuit Diasporas:  Frankenstein and the Inuit in England

By Karen PiperSummary:

The essay presents an examination of the historical context of Mary Shelley's novel "Frankenstein," and its depiction of the social fears of the Inuit Native Americans in English society. The author suggests that the monster of the story is a manifestation of the English cultural fear and fascination of the primitive man, and explores many aspects of this portrayal through the historical interactions between British society and the Indians of the North Pole.
From the article's body, Piper notes Shelley's interest in Arctic exploration:Mary Shelley, an avid reader of the Quarterly Review between 1816 and 1820, followed speculations surrounding these journeys in preparation for writing Frankenstein. Frankenstein, in fact, could be said to capitalize on the suspense and widely popular appeal of these journeys. Perhaps not coincidentally, the release of her novel appeared to be timed to coincide with the advent of these infamous expeditions to the North. Besides being captivated by the expeditions themselves, the English public had long been fascinated by Greenlandic Inuits and Eskimos. I would argue that, in Frankenstein, the creature himself came to represent these inhabitants of the North, as well as the threat of their arrival in England if increased communication were to occur.How Piper concludes that the monster represents Eskimos, who aren't present in the book:The first description of the creature in Frankenstein comes from Walton, who claims that he saw something that looked like 'a savage inhabitant of some undiscovered island' while his ship as trapped in the ice.' The creature was heading north on a sledge, at the time, demonstrating his superior preparation and ability to navigate through the ice. His physical appearance is described in detail later in the novel: 'His yellow skin scarcely covered the work of muscles and arteries beneath; his hair was of a lustrous black, and flowing; his teeth of a pearly whiteness; but these luxuriances only formed a more horrid contrast with his watery eyes, his shriveled complexion and straight black lips' (Shelley, 58). This description is hauntingly similar to the way that explorers described the Inuit Diasporas inhabitants of Greenland in Pinkerton's Collection.Piper explains the significance of the missing Eskimos:In May Be Some Time: Ice in the English Imagination, the Arctic historian Francis Spufford wrote: 'The European perception of polar travel as an activity wholly separate--in mood and technique, aims and expertise--from the Inuit experience of inhabiting the Arctic, also indicates that the spectacle of the Inuit, living their domestic lives in a place Europeans considered heroic for reaching, aroused a degree of tension'." If the Inuit is necessary for survival in Arctic, he/she must also be erased from the narrative in order for it to remain 'heroic'--it is precisely the domesticity of the indigenous inhabitant that must be eliminated in order to preserve that polarization between the domestic 'tranquility' of the European home and the dangerous realm heroically confronted by the Arctic explorer.Another posting notes how the monster himself relates to Natives:

Native America & Speculative Fiction:  Interview with Amy H. SturgisIn Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818), perhaps the leading contender for being the first modern work of science fiction, Frankenstein’s creature is out in the wild, living on his own and educating himself by eavesdropping on a family living out in the woods. When he hears about the plight of the American Indians, Shelley emphasizes that Frankenstein’s shunned, isolated, and mistreated creature—surely miserable in his own right—weeps for them.Based on the descriptions in Frankenstein, makeup artist DerrickT created a model of what he thinks the monster would've looked like. Others noted its resemblance to an Indian:In time for Columbus Day, I find he has a bit of a decomposed "Indian" appearance as well as the intended true-to-Shelley Frankenstein's monster.

Immediately connection with an Indian too!

Comment:  For more on the subject, see:

Review of The Terror
Charles Dickens on "Esquimaux"
The "Other" and The Terror
The doomed Franklin expedition

Indians in The Morning of Creation

In October I posted an overview of Ken Burns's documentary National Parks: America's Best Idea. Here are my postings on the first five episodes:

The Scripture of Nature
The Last Refuge
The Empire of Grandeur
Going Home
Great Nature

The sixth episode, The Morning of Creation, gives us only a few Native tidbits:

Stewart Udall and the Expansion of the ParksIn West Texas, Udall oversaw the creation of Guadalupe Mountains National Park in an area that had once been the home of grizzly bears, wolves, and buffalo–as well as the Mescalero Apaches before they, too, were driven out.Alaska: America's Last FrontierAfter Alaska was granted statehood in 1959, a federal law was passed to settle the claims of Alaska's native peoples, including the Inupiaq and the Tlingit, the Aleut and the Athabascan.

The land was to be divided up: some for the state to open for development if it wished; some for the tribes; and a portion to be withheld in the "national interest" for all Americans. As the discovery of vast oil deposits and the construction of the Trans-Alaska pipeline demonstrated, the stakes were enormous.

The fight over what to do with the federal lands would quickly become a national battle. Powerful commercial and industrial groups allied themselves against the Alaska Coalition, a collection of fifty environmental groups that ultimately represented 10 million Americans. It was the largest grassroots conservation effort in U.S. history.
And:Mount McKinley National Park, which had been in existence since 1917, was nearly tripled in size. The park was officially designated a wilderness, granting increased protection to the land and wildlife, and its name was changed to Denali, the Athabaskan Indian name for the tall mountain at its center.A Shift in FocusIn the last decades of the 20th century, more historic sites were saved–including reminders of painful episodes in American history, set aside on the belief that a great nation could openly acknowledge them. These new national historic sites included:

Sand Creek and Washita on the Great Plains, where peaceful Cheyenne villagers were massacred by American soldiers in the 1860s.
Comment:  The interesting thing about the Alaska story is the ending, which the website doesn't address.

Alaskans complained about the taking of their land to create national parks and monuments. They bitched and moaned about what a terrible burden, loss, and tragedy it would be.

As usual, the conservative naysayers turned out to be wrong. They were wrong about anti-trust and labor laws, Social Security and Medicare, and civil rights, and they were wrong about preserving Alaska's natural heritage, too.

In fact, the boom in tourism made the parks and monuments a big financial success. Finally, the anti-government crybabies had to admit the feds knew what they were doing.

Back to the series as a whole. Once again we see that Ken Burns and company are better at remembering our tragic past than explaining our conflicted present. You have to read between the lines to infer that Indians are still a presence in the parks and in America.

Who has been at the forefront of commemorating Washita and Sand Creek...incorporating a Native perspective at parks such as Yosemite and Mt. Rushmore...and protecting parks such as the Grand Canyon and the Everglades from exploitation? Yes, Indians.

For more on the subject, see Review of Burns's National Parks and Burns on Our National Parks.

Below:  "Mt. McKinley above Wonder Lake, evening, Denali National Park, Q.T. Luong photograph."

The 2009 TV season so far

In the 2009-2010 TV season, I've watched more network shows than I have in a long time. The ones I follow regularly include:

The Simpsons
Family Guy
Gossip Girl
Lie to Me
The Good Wife
The New Adventures of Old Christine
Modern Family
Cougar Town
Law & Order: SVU
Parks and Recreation
Grey's Anatomy
Ugly Betty
The Mentalist
Saturday Night Live
The Tonight Show
At the Movies

I also watched the canceled Defying Gravity and King of the Hill and a couple episodes of The Vampire Dairies.

No doubt I missed some Native appearances and references. This is still only a sampling of all the TV shows on CBS, NBC, ABC, Fox, and the CW. But from what I've seen, 2009 sucked--and not in a vampire sort of way.

Looking back over the year--which mainly includes shows from the summer on but also a few stragglers from the spring 2008-2009 season--here's my tally:

  • A handful of references on Parks and Recreation, all stereotypical.
  • A few jokes on Jay Leno, David Letterman, and Jimmy Fallon.
  • San Manuel's series of public-awareness commercials.
  • Indian outtakes and the Billy Smith skit on Saturday Night Live.
  • Comanche Sue in Glee.

  • Compared to this hit-and-miss record, the only highlight worth mentioning is almost a dozen references to Indians or Indian lore on The Tonight Show. Many of these were inconsequential if not bad, but I give The Tonight Show credit for the sheer volume of references. The show's staff is clearly making an effort to include Indians.

    2008 was better

    Compare this to the 2008 season and you'll find there's no comparison. In 2008 we saw shows about Indians, shows guest-starring Indians, and shows mentioning Indians. It was arguably better than 2007 season, which gave us Adam Beach in Law & Order: SVU, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, and Comanche Moon--none of which were an unalloyed blessing--and not much else.

    The only bright spot in 2009 was the wealth of programming on PBS: We Shall Remain, Ken Burns's National Parks, Time Team America, NOVA, History Detectives, bits in the Wallander and Miss Marple series, and more.

    2009 was a good if not great year if you count PBS as well as cable shows and Canada's APTN. But these don't count when we're surveying the major US networks. As far as the networks go, 2009 was a significant comedown from 2007 and 2008.

    Nor was it a great year for diversity as a whole. True, most shows have a minority character in the 4th, 5th, or 6th cast slots. There's been a small increase in Latino and Asian (including Asian Indian) characters. But there are basically no shows that feature minorities in leading roles. Network TV continues to be about the adventures of white people.

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

    Intersection of Fantasy & Native America

    Intersection of Fantasy & Native America
    From H.P. Lovecraft to Leslie Marmon Silko

    Edited by Amy H. Sturgis and David D. Oberhelman
    A number of contemporary Native American authors incorporate elements of fantasy into their fiction, while several non-Native fantasy authors utilize elements of Native America in their storytelling. Nevertheless, few experts on fantasy consider American Indian works, and few experts on Native American studies explore the fantastic in literature. Now an international, multi-ethnic, and cross-disciplinary group of scholars investigates the meaningful ways in which fantasy and Native America intersect, examining classics by American Indian authors such as Louise Erdrich, Gerald Vizenor, and Leslie Marmon Silko, as well as non-Native fantasists such as H.P. Lovecraft, J.R.R. Tolkien, and J.K. Rowling. Thus these essayists pioneer new ways of thinking about fantasy texts by Native and non-Native authors, and challenge other academics, writers, and readers to do the same.

    Praise for Intersection of Fantasy and Native America

    The essays in Sturgis and Oberhelman’s The Intersection of Fantasy and Native America open our eyes to the kinship between families of literature hitherto seen as separate--fantasy and Native American fiction--showing their interconnections in subject matter, in techniques of dream and trance and magical realism and post-modern meta-narrative, and most importantly, in their ability to penetrate appearances in search of underlying truths. The result is that we see each in light of the other and both as parts of the larger, so-called “mainstream,” and as essential to our understanding of literature, its writers and readers, in the 21st century.

    —Verlyn Flieger, Professor of English, University of Maryland at College Park, Author of Interrupted Music, A Question of Time, and Splintered Light

    With excellent and accessible scholarship, this book opens wide the door of Native American mythology and fantasy by connecting it with the fantasy many of us already know and love.

    —Travis Prinzi, Author of Harry Potter and Imagination and editor of Hog’s Head Conversations
    Comment:  People may see these genres as separate, but creators have often used Natives and Native lore in fantasy fiction. Examples range from Peter Pan to Indiana Jones-style movies to any number of horror stories. The latest examples include Twilight and Avatar, of course. In fact, the association is so commonplace that most people believe Indian legends are like Paul Bunyan stories, not religious texts a la the Bible.

    For more on the subject, see No Natives in Science Fiction? and The Best Indian Books.

    Below:  Tiger Lily in Peter Pan--an early example of Natives in fantasy fiction.

    Goin' Native on Showtime

    Former Omak man appears on Showtime New Year’s Eve show

    By Sheila CorsonVaughn EagleBear will have his first national comedy performance aired at 10 p.m. tonight, Dec. 31, on Showtime--“Goin' Native: The American Indian Comedy Slam.”More on EagleBear and the show:He was always interested in stand-up comedy as a child, and used to mimic Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder, throwing in his own "Indian versions," he said.

    After moving to Spokane in 2000, EagleBear said he walked by an open-mike comedy place and thought he could do it. So he tried, and started practicing and doing more. Then he got paid gigs and started working in casinos.

    EagleBear said the jobs kept getting bigger and bigger until he landed the Showtime performance, which was filmed in February.

    EagleBear said it was an honor to work with Charlie Hill, one of the seven American Indian comedians in the special. Hill is possibly the first American Indian to get a national stage, appearing on Jay Leno and David Letterman’s shows, EagleBear said.

    Others in the show are Larry Omaha, J.R. Redwater, Jim Ruel, Marc Yaffee and Howie Miller.
    Comment:  For more on the subject, see Native Plays and Other Stage Shows.

    Summing up James Arthur Ray

    Indian Comics Irregular #188:  The New Age Death Lodge

    December 30, 2009

    Educating Tony about genocide

    In Levi's Celebrates Manifest Destiny, I noted how American pioneers succeeded mainly by stealing Indian land. Searching for background information led me to Manvotional: Pioneers! O Pioneers! by Walt Whitman in the Art of Manliness blog.

    In the comments section, someone named Tony put up a spirited defense of America's genocidal actions. I've debated people like this hundreds of times, so I shouldn't bother, but I got carried away and did it again.

    Go to the original posting to see all the arguments in context. I've picked a few of Tony's most egregious claims to rebut:Here it is true that the pioneers settled in the west, and that they also settled the wildness of the west--yes Native Americans were there, but it was still a wild place.There's a difference between settling the West and settling in the West. Pioneers could've done the latter even if the Indians were present, but not the former. The phrase "settling the West," which most Americans use, is incorrect.

    If you think pioneers settled the "wildness" of the West, you're perpetuating the myth that Indians were savages without culture or civilization. That they were little more than from wild animals. That's the same argument as before, so the distinction you're making--settling the West vs. settling the West's "wildness"--is immaterial.

    The fact is that the Indians had already settled Americas when the Europeans arrived. No amount of semantic games can change this fact.

    Later in your argument, you yourself tell us how Indians weren't idealistic tree-huggers--how they altered the landscape by cutting trees, burning brush, etc. News flash, buddy: These are the activities involved in "settling" the land. So you implicit admit what you've tried to deny: that the land wasn't "wild" and didn't need "taming" or "settling."The truth is that Native Americans were displacing and conquering each other long before the white man came to this land.The truth is that only moral midgets think two wrongs make a right. Using this asinine "logic," Al Qaeda was justified in attacking us because we attacked the Indians.The truth is that Native Americans warred with each other and conquered each other.Many tribes were predominantly peaceful, so this is a misleading stereotype. European nations fought much bigger and longer wars. In any case, nothing justifies the hemisphere-wide genocide against Indians, which goes far beyond anything Indians did to each other.

    Disease killed most Indians...really?These diseases were not spread will ill intent. If I have swine flu and I give it to someone else and they die, did I murder them?If you knowingly exposed someone to a fatal disease, as the Europeans did...yes, you'd be guilty of some crime. I'm not sure of the charge, but manslaughter, perhaps.

    And so what if disease killed 90% of the Indians and warfare killed only 10%? Ten percent of several million people is still mass murder and it still constitutes genocide.

    FYI, the intent to exterminate Indian peoples and cultures is what matters, not the results. Similarly, we call the Holocaust an act of genocide even though many Jews survived it.

    You gotta it when genocide defenders point out that disease killed the majority of Indians. As if that's some stunning revelation. As if Indians and liberal ("revisionist") historians didn't realize it until a few conservative soothsayers pointed it out. Thanks for that deep insight, pal.There was never any systematic policy in place to wipe the Native Americans out. Disease is not a system--it just happened. War was not waged against the Indian to kill him, but simply to move him off his land (still unconscionable, but not genocide), and starvation (the killing of buffalo) was also not used to kill the Indians but to force them onto reservations."Unconscionable"...but you're defending it as conscionable. No "systematic policy"...but a bunch of unsystematic policies and decisions that had the same effect. Too bad the definition of genocide doesn't require the extermination to be systematic.

    FYI, forced relocation and cultural destruction are part of the official definition of genocide. If you "kill the Indian to save the man," you've committed an act of genocide even if the victim lives. For more on the subject, see Genocide by Any Other Name....

    And war is always waged to kill people, bright boy. That's inherent in the definition of war. If a war has other motivations, that doesn't change the fact of the deadly intent.

    Again, by your logic, the 9/11 terrorists didn't intend to kill the people in the World Trade Center. They wanted to send us a message about getting out of the Middle East and innocent victims just happened to get in the way. Unconscionable, yes, but not mass murder according to you.

    No alternative to being savage?But [Indians] lived like that not from choice, but from a lack of an alternative. They lacked written language which kept them from record keeping, which kept them from property ownership, which kept them from a formal economy and so on. There is no virtue where there is no choice.Actually, Indians were free to build cities such as Cahokia or Tenochtitlán, which some did. They were also free to reject this urban lifestyle in favor of a more agrarian one, which many did.

    Among the things Indians could've done but didn't were: 1) Wallow in unsanitary conditions without bathing. 2) Demand obedience to a hierarchical church and state with "divine" authorities. 3) Devote their lives to gathering material goods and titles. Which explains why people the Indians captured almost always wanted to stay with the Indians.

    Your pseudo-socialist fantasies notwithstanding, many if not most Indians understood the concepts of personal property and territorial rights (e.g., hunting grounds). Again, you don't need written records if you're not prone to lying and cheating, as Euro-Americans were. "You stay on your side of the river and we'll stay on ours"...simple.

    Have you heard of the fur trade? Many tribes had extensive trade economies. Whether these economies were "formal" or not is irrelevant. And keeping trade records doesn't necessarily require a written language. Drawings, notches, beads, or memories can substitute for written tallies.

    Here's a good example of the Indians' informal economy:

    Ancient Miwok harvested salt

    For trade according to new report

    By Don Baumgart
    Ten families could have harvested the salt from the 300 plus basins, Diggles estimates. “But, those people wouldn’t have time to do anything else.” He estimates it took a minimum of 40 Miwok families to support the salt makers.

    “The site is the most impressive prehistoric saltworks yet discovered in North America,” Diggles and Moore said in their report, “and represents a unique departure from traditional hunter-gatherer activities to that of manufacturing.”

    The grinding of so many basins in granite could not have been done without the labor of a concentrated population.
    So the Miwoks had a small salt-making business with a few dozen employees. Several other small businesses provided food, clothing, shelter, security, and so forth to support them. That's basically the economy you'd find in any community of a couple hundred people.

    In short, thanks for sharing your stereotypical "history" with us. You're doing a great job of regurgitating your grade-school textbooks. I'm so glad to hear that the first racist settlers were correct and Indians really were primitive "savages."

    Western culture is superior?Relativism is silly--some cultures are superior to other cultures. A superior culture came to this land and the results were incredibly unfortunate. But it also brought progress.Respondent Nik addressed this when he wrote:As for the sophistication of the Native American civilization, it all depends on what you value: technological advancement and material wealth or sustainable culture built on respect for community and for nature. I think the Native American belief and property system were far more sophisticated than the Western ones that replaced them.Your pro-genocide comments are the only silly thing I see here, Tony. Indian cultures would've evolved through cultural exchange even if we hadn't conquered them. They'd be using computers the same way the Chinese and Russians are using computers though we didn't conquer them. You're comparing apples to oranges when you compare today's Western cultures to pre-Columbian Indian cultures.

    What do you base your ridiculous claim on? Euro-Americans "won" primarily because of their inadvertent germ warfare, which you admitted. They also won because of their propensity to break their own vows and laws after signing treaties. Even with these unanticipated and immoral advantages, Native defeat wasn't inevitable. So where exactly is the cultural superiority?

    If you define "cultural superiority" as military supremacy, then it's easy to determine the greatest culture in the modern world. The US defeated Britain, Germany, Italy, Japan, and the USSR...and Vietnam defeated the US. Vietnam is Earth's greatest culture.

    If you define "cultural superiority" as economic supremacy, you have about a decade before China overtakes the US (and Vietnam) as Earth's greatest culture. Then what? You'll be reduced to weak, qualitative arguments such as "the US is the freest country on Earth" even though other countries have more income per capita, less crime, longer life expectancies, etc., etc. In other words, you'll become a cultural relativist.

    Have you read Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel? If you have, you must've missed its message. The message is that the West succeeded because of the luck of the draw, not because of any innate superiority. For more on the subject, see The Myth of Western Superiority.

    Are you really saying "progress" is such a virtue that it was worth the death of millions of Indians? Please answer yes or no. Yes, the progress was worth with it or no, it wasn't. Let's see exactly how much or little you value Indian lives.

    "Might makes right" better than Zinn?It’s important to look beyond what you read from Howard Zinn or what your college professor told you to get a full understanding of history.At least others are citing 20th-century sources. You need to look beyond your 19th-century racist justifications for genocide. You're using the same arguments the Indian killers used and you sound about as immoral as they did.

    For more on the subject, see Europeans Taught Natives "Discipline, Order"?, Europeans and Indians Equally Evil?, and No Colonization, No United States?

    Below:  Our superior Western culture.

    Indians in Great Nature

    In October I posted an overview of Ken Burns's documentary National Parks: America's Best Idea. Here are my postings on the first four episodes:

    The Scripture of Nature
    The Last Refuge
    The Empire of Grandeur
    Going Home

    The fifth episode, Great Nature, begins with the series' last significant Indian story. As Peter Coyote narrates:In July of 1929, a 90-year-old woman returned to the Yosemite Valley in California. She was called Maria Labrado, but 78 years earlier, as a young girl, she had been known by her real name: To-tu-ya, the granddaughter of Chief Tenaya, leader of the Ahwahneechees, an Indian tribe who for centuries had called the valley their home, until in 1851, a battallion of white men had driven them out at bayonet point.

    To-tu-ya was the sole remaining survivor of that sad moment. This was her first time back. Half a generation after the Ahwahneechees’ expulsion, the federal government had preserved the beautiful valley permanently as a national park. Still, everywhere she looked, To-tu-ya was reminded of how much things had changed.

    In a broken mixture of English, Spanish, and her own ancient language, she told her escorts that the valley floor was now more wooded and brushy than in her day. Her people had regularly set grass fires to keep the meadows open and the trees and shrubs at bay.

    Then, she looked up at the rock walls of the valley. The great monoliths and the majestic waterfalls stood unchanged. Turning toward Half Dome, the cleft rock she knew as Tis-sa-ack, she stretched out her arms and raised her voice in a strong, clear, high-pitched call that echoed off the granite walls. It was, she explained, the call her grandfather Tenaya had once used to summon his people together. Until that moment, she had been the last one to hear it.
    I gather that the ululation that follows, and the anecdote as a whole, are supposed to be a farewell to Indians. By the time of the Great Depression, their role in our national parks was over--at least according to National Parks and its website.

    The episode offers one more noteworthy bit--this time about the Everglades:Because of its trackless impenetrability, the Everglades became something of a sanctuary for people too. In the 1800s, when the Seminole Indians were driven out of Florida, small groups escaped, and found refuge deep in the cypress trees and sawgrass, along with the Miccosukee tribe and hundreds of runaway slaves.Indians ignored on website

    Once again, however, the PBS website glosses over this history. In its historical overview, it doesn't mention Florida's Indians. It offers only a couple Native notes:

    George Melendez Wright and the Balance of NatureWright also supported the call to establish South Florida's Everglades as a national park, warning that if action was not taken soon all the wildlife there would become extinct. Thanks to the efforts of landscape architect Ernest Coe and journalist Marjory Stoneman Douglas, as well as the support of Horace Albright, Everglades National Park would become the first national park to be created solely for the preservation of animals and plants and the environment that sustains them.Roosevelt Expands the ParksHe created Isle Royale National Park in the northwestern corner of Lake Superior, and used his authority as president to create numerous national monuments that would eventually be elevated to park status. Among them:

    Capitol Reef in Utah, where the 100-mile Waterpocket Fold exposes a panoply of differently colored rock formations that the Navajo Indians called the "Land of the Sleeping Rainbow."
    The Battle for Olympic National ParkIn 1937, Franklin Roosevelt and Harold Ickes entered into a park controversy that had been raging for 30 years. On the Olympic peninsula west of Seattle, verdant rain forests contained the largest specimens of Douglas fir, red cedar, western hemlock and Sitka spruce in the world. For centuries, the area was the homeland of native tribes like the Makah and the Quinault, the Hoh and Skokomish.Comment:  The overall theme of National Parks regarding Indians is now clear. Indians once owned and occupied the land. In a few unfortunate cases we had to remove them from "our" parks, but mostly they just disappeared. Now all that's left is their colorful names and history.

    What could National Parks have said? Well, Indians are still involved in Yosemite, Everglades, and Olympic National Parks today. In fact, several articles about Indians and each of these parks appeared in 2009.

    Instead of sentimental stories about couples spending their lives visiting the parks, tell us the parks' recent history. With all the controversies over the years, hold the feel-good stories about how the parks made people happy. Clearly the parks didn't do much for the Indians expelled from them.

    For more on the subject, see Review of Burns's National Parks and Burns on Our National Parks.

    Below:  "Seminole Indians with dugout canoes, Everglades National Park, 1921." From a separate section on the Everglades, not from the series overview.

    "Lighthearted" and "humorous" stereotypes

    What should you say when somebody tells you stereotypes are "lighthearted," "humorous," "not meant to be taken seriously," or "just a joke"? The Racialicious blog offers a good answer.

    The issue came up when Latoya Peterson "talked about Chris Mottes, CEO of Deadline Games, and his defense of racism in his title Chili Con Carnage." She wrote:

    Ching Chong Beautiful Exposes Racism in Video Game DesignEmploying Mexican-American voice actors? Great job! Promoting underground Mexican bands? Even better. I was so impressed by Mottes’ initiative, I was completely blindsided by his next statement.

    However, in reviews, forums, and blogs following the releases of both games, some people slammed Deadline for being bigoted towards Mexicans. While we did employ stereotypes we considered lighthearted and humorous, our intent was most certainly not to cast Mexican individuals in a derogatory light…But despite our best efforts, critics still slammed us for being racists.
    Why, Chris, why? Why would you throw away all your hard work for a couple cheap, race based humor shots?

    The reality is that no stereotype can be considered light-hearted and humorous. A stereotype is defined as “an often oversimplified or biased mental picture held to characterize the typical individual of a group.” Stereotypes are negative. Even “positive” stereotypes are ultimately detrimental to the groups that struggle to find a sense of self within the narrow parameters of society’s vision.

    I was blown away. The tone of Mottes’ piece is unmistakably clear–this is how game designers think. This is how they justify their characters. It is as if the thought never crossed their minds that maybe, just maybe, the industry is sending a very powerful message out to minorities by saying that we do not exist outside of our stereotypical roles. If there were five or ten games with a multi-faceted, modern latino protagonist, maybe slipping in a few “light-hearted” stereotypes in one third person shooter would not be such a huge deal. It is still ill-advised, but you would have enough positive images on the market to balance out the negative images broadcast into the homes of every person who purchased this one game.

    However, there is no balance. Stereotype after stereotype abound in the virtually crafted console world, with very few characters of color to provide an alternate perspective. Mottes argues that “most games with racist characters do not reflect the mindset of their developers.” I would argue that they do. It reflects the developer’s mindset in dealing with the world and in dealing with minorities. If the developer was not holding on to this mindset that minorities can be categorized with one or two main characteristics, we would have multi-faceted characters of color to play.
    Comment:  Excellent response, Latoya. Needless to say, it applies to other entertainment fields besides video games and to other minorities besides Mexicans.

    A few more thoughts on the subject:

  • As always, what matters is the effect on viewers, not the intent of the creators. Especially young viewers, who are ill-equipped to discern stereotypes in materials aimed at them--e.g., comic books, cartoons, and video games. Psychologists have documented the harm of stereotyping and I don't think they've made an exception for "lighthearted" or "humorous" stereotypes.

  • Psychologists also understand how people use humor to disguise or soften an angry or mean-spirited attack. If you're ignorant about the concept of using humor as a weapon, you have no business making a joke. While you're educating yourself, spare us your ridiculous claim that humor is "harmless."

  • For more on the subject, see "Joke" About Indian Shooting the Bull and Racist "Jokes" Are No Jokes.

    Non-Indians complain about "inequalities"

    The following is a good primer on tribal sovereignty. In particular it addresses non-Indians' complaints about perceived "inequalities." I.e., the notion that Indians unfairly enjoy "special rights" such as not paying taxes and getting government handouts.

    Read the whole article, but I'll highlight a few key passages:

    Thoughts on tribal sovereignty

    Written by Brett LarsonWhen looking at those inequalities, we should keep in mind all the other inequalities that exist in our society. Kids in rural and inner city communities don't have access to the same quality of education as those in the suburbs. Isle people live under a different set of laws than Onamia people, and the same goes for Minnesota vs. Wisconsin. People who inherit wealth or a certain name (Bush, Gore) have benefits that others don't have. We think that's okay, but inherited benefits due to race are not. We give lip service to that sentiment—that all should be equal when it comes to race—but we often fail to acknowledge that up until the last 50 years, white skin gave people privileges that others did not receive, and those privileges led to the accumulation of wealth, power, education, and status that many (not all!) white people still benefit from.

    We in the non-native community often seem to expect things of tribes that we would not ask of ourselves or our own government. "Why don't they just give up some of the benefits the law allows them to capitalize on?" How many of us would sacrifice the advantages we were born with or born into (money, skin color, education, etc.) for the sake of "fairness"? People in other countries think it's unfair that we Americans consume more than our share of the earth's limited resources, yet if someone demanded that we give up those benefits, we'd think they were crazy.

    I believe that all Americans should recognize the devastating impact that invasions, massacres, wars, alcohol, disease, broken treaties, forced assimilation, forced relocation, boarding schools, etc. have had on tribal cultures and individual tribal members. Cultures were destroyed by force and by accident, and a cycle of dysfunctional behaviors and relationships resulted and is still with us today. Our federal and state governments over the last several decades have attempted to acknowledge past sins in part through strengthening tribal sovereignty. The results have been mixed, but that doesn't mean the recognition of sovereignty is necessarily wrong.
    Larson's conclusion:Unfairness abounds in life and in America. The unfairness many perceive regarding tribal matters is based on treaties, history, federal law and federal court decisions. Those inequalities have little effect on most Americans' daily lives, and even when you take those inequalities into account, most Americans have been dealt a better hand in life (in terms of economic opportunity, social stability, and security, anyway) than our tribal neighbors.

    Majority complaints about "special treatment" of minorities strike me as misdirected aggression. If you're poor and unhappy, the Indians are the least of your problems.

    Especially in times and regions of economic trouble, people tend to scapegoat minorities or "others" as the cause of their problems. It seems to me that we'd all be better served by fighting some of the more significant causes of inequality in our country—laws that favor the wealthy few over the middle and lower class majority, a ruling class that is subservient to corporations rather than voters, wars that drain our national treasure at the expense of investments in our own country, etc.
    Comment:  As always, if Americans don't like the hand they dealt themselves, there's a simple remedy. Give back all the land you took and we'll cancel the government's obligation toward Indians. Deal?

    For more on the subject, see Tribal Sovereignty = "Special Privilege"? and Hutchins vs. Newcomb on Sovereignty.

    The "cool down" defense

    What should you say when somebody tells you to stop being angry and "cool down" in a debate on racism? The Racialicious blog offers a good answer.

    The issue came up when a magazine gave a positive review to a video game called Ching Chong Beautiful. The game had a stereotypical "Chinese" name and used stereotypical Japanese words and images. When "SaintWaldo" pointed out the problems--starting with using a Chinese slur for a Japanese-based game--someone told him to "cool down."

    Ching Chong Beautiful Exposes Racism in Video Game DesignHK_01:

    Cool down, man.

    No. I won’t “cool down,” mainly because I’M not the uncool one.

    It’s a racial slur, it offends me, and I’m going to say so. Calmly. I’m also offended that you seem to read any disagreement as “not cool.” I’m rational and presenting coherent arguments that this is a racist title and should not be on the front page of an international magazine on a major holiday. What isn’t cool is being told to not voice your objections to racism. So, concern taken for what it is, but, please, don’t tell me how I should be expressing my genuine disagreement with promoting this title. I don’t tell you anything of the sort.
    Comment:  In these situations, I usually add:

    I'm not angry. I'm merely pointing out the error of your ways. It's no more upsetting to me than pointing out a child's arithmetic mistake. 2 + 2 doesn't equal 5 and "Ching Chong" doesn't equal Japanese, youngster.

    More to the point, I couldn't care less what you think of my motivations. Stop trying to change the subject and start addressing the issues I raised. I explained why the mistake or stereotype is wrong. Either admit I'm right or say why I'm not.

    Or give up and run away with your tail between your legs. It doesn't particularly matter to me. By posting this response, I hope I've educated anyone who reads it. Compared to that, who cares if one person gets it or not?

    For more on the subject, see Why Does Rob Keep Criticizing?

    Below:  "Cool down, man. It's just a racist stereotype. It's not the end of the world."

    The Exiles in film registry

    'Thriller,' Muppets join classic film registry

    By Brett ZongkerMichael Jackson's "Thriller" video, with that unforgettable graveyard dance, will rest among the nation's treasures in the world's largest archive of film, TV and sound recordings.

    The 1983 music video directed by John Landis, though still the subject of lawsuits over profits, was one of 25 films to be inducted Wednesday for preservation in the 2009 National Film Registry of the Library of Congress.
    And:Congress established the registry in 1989, which now totals 525 films. They are selected not as the "best" American films but instead for their enduring importance to U.S. culture.

    The library selects films that are "culturally, historically or aesthetically" significant after reviewing hundreds of titles nominated by the public and consulting with the National Film Preservation Board.
    The Library of Congress's description of The Exiles (1961):Released nearly 48 years ago, "The Exiles" remains one of the few non-stereotypical films that honestly depict Native Americans. With the perspective of a true outsider, filmmaker Kent MacKenzie captures the raw essence of a group of 20-something Native Americans who left reservation life in the 1950s to live among the decayed Victorian mansions of Los Angeles’ Bunker Hill district. MacKenzie’s day-in-the-life narrative pieces together interviews that allow the people in his film to tell their own stories without ascribing artificial sentimentality.Comment:  For more on the subject, see Dances with Wolves in Film Registry and The Best Indian Movies.

    December 29, 2009

    Levi's celebrates Manifest Destiny

    Levi’s urges youth to conquer Native Americans again

    By William EasterlyLevi’s has a new ad campaign that suggests American liberty is still a work in progress. One of its new videos has a voiceover reciting the Walt Whitman poem “O Pioneers” with youths dancing around a fire wearing Levi’s. The recitation includes lines like

    Pioneers! (America) O Pioneers!
    Come my tan-faced children,
    Follow well in order, get your weapons ready,
    Have you your pistols? Have you your sharp-edged axes?
    Pioneers! O pioneers!

    For we cannot tarry here,
    We must march my darlings, we must bear the brunt of danger,
    We the youthful sinewy races, all the rest on us depend,
    Pioneers! O pioneers!

    O you youths, Western youths,
    So impatient, full of action, full of manly pride and friendship,
    Plain I see you Western youths, see you tramping with the foremost,
    Pioneers! O pioneers!

    We debouch upon a newer mightier world, varied world,
    Ample, fresh, and strong the world we seize,
    Pioneers! O pioneers!

    Against whom are our weapons supposed to be used? Whose world are we seizing? Any 3rd grader could tell you: Whitman is referring to the war against Native Americans by westward-bound settlers and the US army.

    Does Levi’s want to celebrate that? Well, try to see it from Levi’s point of view: their company wouldn’t even exist if we hadn’t wiped out the Indians.
    Levi's Jeans Controversial Ad Campaign: O Pioneers--Go Forth

    By amyellensodenLevi's Jeans is currently running a lengthy ad campaign that is being considered by many to be controversial. The ad, currently running as part of the previews in many movie theatres throughout North America, is thought to be carrying a conflicted message of racism.

    The ad features a reading of Walt Whitman's poem "O Pioneers" and flashes through many different images of youth wearing Levi's Jeans. The message is controversial due to the connotation that the "O Pioneers" poem suggests. Whitman's poem is about the war against Native-Americans by the US army and settlers.

    Another critic likes this ad campaign better:

    Walt Whitman Thinks You Need New Jeans

    A stirring new ad campaign from Levi's.

    By Seth Stevenson
    In December 2008, Levi's ditched its old ad agency and signed on with Wieden + Kennedy (the talented ad makers responsible for creating many of Nike's epic, stirring, one-minute anthems). The spots that W+K came up with—this new campaign is labeled "Go Forth"—have been running since the summer in movie theaters and, increasingly, on television. From the moment we see that "America" sign half-sunk in inky water, we know we're watching something new. The campaign inhabits a different universe from the one depicted in "Live Unbuttoned."

    For one thing, it's a universe in which the ever-present soundtrack is Walt Whitman poetry. This spot uses a wax cylinder recording believed to be audio of Whitman himself reading from his poem "America." The second spot in the campaign employs a recording of an actor reading Whitman's "Pioneers! O Pioneers!"

    Whitman is an involuntary spokes-celebrity here, and perhaps you deem this ad a desecration of all he stood for. I can't say I blame you. But were you forced to choose a clothing line for our favorite barbaric yawper to rep, you might choose this one. Levi's is the rare American brand that was actually around when Whitman was alive. And there's logic to this match between a quintessentially American poet and a quintessentially American product. Whitman's verse allows Levi's to evoke not only its proud history but a forward-looking present—the pioneering, American mindset that Whitman captured and that Levi's hopes to embody.
    Comment:  "Pioneering" evidently means "Running away to a new country because I couldn't make it in the old country. Give me land, water, and other free goodies because I don't want to pay for them."

    There's no need to be vague about the nature of the "pioneering American mindset." Whitman's contemporaries made it clear what that meant. Here are two examples from A Shining City on a Hill:  What Americans Believe:It is only the warlike power of a civilized people that can give peace to the world....[T]hat the barbarians recede or are conquered, with the attendant fact that peace follows their retrogression or conquest is due solely to the power of the mighty civilized races which have not lost the fighting instinct, and which by their expansion are gradually bringing peace to the red wastes where the barbarian peoples of this world hold sway.
    Theodore Roosevelt, Expansion and Peace, The Independent, December 21, 1899

    God has not been preparing the English-speaking and Teutonic peoples for a thousand years for nothing hut vain and idle self-contemplation and self-admiration. No! He has made us the master organizers of the world to establish system where chaos reigns. He has given its the spirit of progress to overwhelm the forces of reaction throughout the earth. He has made us adepts in government that we may administer government among savage and senile peoples. Were it not for such a force as this the world would relapse into barbarism and night. And of all our race He has marked the American people as His chosen nation to finally lead in the regeneration of the world. This is the divine mission of America, and it holds for us all the profit, all the glory, all the happiness possible to man. We are trustees of the world's progress, guardians of its righteous peace. The judgment of the Master is upon us: "Ye have been faithful over a few things; I will make you ruler over many things."
    Senator Albert J. Beveridge, Congressional Record, January 9, 1900
    Nice of Beveridge to make clear the linkage between the US and Germany under Bismarck and then Hitler. Yep, he sure nailed the tendency of Anglo-Saxons to "establish system where chaos reigns" via conquest, subjugation, and genocide.

    For more on the subject, see Manifest Destiny = America's Pathology and The Myth of American Self-Reliance.

    Below:  "Go Pioneers! O Pioneers!"

    Indians in Going Home

    In October I posted an overview of Ken Burns's documentary National Parks: America's Best Idea. Here are my postings on the first three episodes:

    The Scripture of Nature
    The Last Refuge
    The Empire of Grandeur

    The fourth episode, Going Home, mentions Indians only in the context of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Once again it's instructive to compare the episode with the PBS website.

    Here's the narration from the episode:More than 5,500 people, mostly whites and Cherokees, lived within the borders of the proposed park. They too would have to leave, willingly or not. Some happily sold their land. Others refused, fought and lost in court, and eventually had to sell under condemnation proceedings.

    Many were offered leases for up to two years as the park took shape, becoming tenants on the land they had once owned. As the isolated cabins and their small communities—Web’s Creek, Ravensford and Smokemont, Cataluchee and Cade's Cove—emptied one by one, Horace Albright, now in charge of the Park Service, assured the people that they would always be allowed to maintain the cemeteries near their now-vacant churches. It provided small comfort against the bitterness of removal. Their hearts were broken, one resident remembered, and most of them left crying.
    And comments by historian William Cronon that indirectly addresses the controversy:I think the paradox of local resistance to the creation of national parks is a deep, deep paradox in American ideas of democracy. Because on the one hand, one of our visions is that people in a local place are the ones who best understand that place—are the ones who have its interests most at heart. And who really, ideally, ought to be the ones who vote about what should happen to that land, just as on a local school board.

    And yet it is also true that these national parks are not in the local place that they are in. They are in the nation. They stand for the nation. And so, by that understanding, the democratic institutions that should defend them are not at the local level, but at the level of the nation. And this tension between federal control of our democracy, and local control of our democracy, is hard-wired into what we think democracy is.
    And here's what the PBS website says:

    The Race to Save the SmokiesHorace Kephart first came to the Smoky Mountains of North Carolina and Tennessee in 1904, and soon started campaigning to save the forests that were being systematically stripped away by lumber companies. He was joined in his efforts to create a national park by George Masa, a Japanese immigrant who spent his time photographing the Great Smokies.

    Stephen Mather supported their cause and in 1926, Congress authorized the creation of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. There was one catch: Congress insisted that money to buy the land come entirely from the states or private donations. Local people--churchgoers, hotel bellhops, children raiding their piggybanks--rallied to the cause, but it was uncertain whether the required $10 million could be raised before the Great Smokies were completely logged.

    John D. Rockefeller Jr. came to the rescue when he offered the remaining $5 million that was desperately being sought. But with the Great Depression devastating the country, people were unable to fulfill many of the pledges they had made to create the park. Inspired by the contributions of ordinary people, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt decided to intervene, allocating $1.5 million in scarce federal funds to complete the land purchases. On June 15, 1934, the park was officially established. It was the first time in history that the United States government had spent its own money to buy land for a national park.
    Summing it up: Heartwarming stories about children raiding their piggybanks, good. Heartwrenching stories about Cherokees getting kicked off their land, bad.

    The only time the website mentions Indians is in a photo caption in this section:

    The Ranger SystemAnother of Mather's critical tasks was to hire competent people to run the parks. In the past, political patronage had determined who got jobs, with some poor results. A well-connected employee at Glacier National Park was so inept that his patrols were restricted to following the railroad tracks to keep him from getting lost. The son-in-law of a Mesa Verde superintendent was caught looting precious artifacts from the cliff dwellings.

    To remedy the situation, Mather began hand-picking new superintendents. He put Jesse Nusbaum, a professional archaeologist, in charge of Mesa Verde.

    "Superintendent Jesse Nusbaum with Native Americans, Mesa Verde National Park, 1927."

    Comment:  Nice of those Indians to disappear so we don't have to think about them (and what we did to them) anymore!

    For more on the subject, see Review of Burns's National Parks and Burns on Our National Parks.

    Courting death in Ray's sweat lodges

    Docs in fatal sweat lodge case show past problems

    By Felicia FonsecaDocuments released in the investigation of a fatal sweat lodge ceremony show that people lost consciousness and others suffered broken bones at past events led by self-help guru James Arthur Ray, but Ray largely ignored the medical problems that arose.

    Three people died after an Oct. 8 sweat lodge ceremony that was the highlight of Ray's five-day "Spiritual Warrior" event at a retreat he rented near Sedona. The Yavapai County sheriff's office has focused a homicide investigation on Ray, who has made millions of dollars by convincing people his words will lead them to spiritual and financial wealth.

    In documents released Monday, a man Ray hired to build the sweat lodge told investigators that he was hesitant to assist with the ceremony for a third year because participants previously had emerged in medical distress, and emergency help wasn't summoned. Theodore Mercer said the latest ceremony was hotter than in years past, but Ray repeatedly told participants, "You are not going to die. You might think you are, but you're not going to die."

    Mercer's wife, Debra, told investigators that one man emerged from the sweat lodge halfway through the October ceremony believing he was having a heart attack and would die. She said that instead of summoning medical aid, Ray said "It's a good day to die," according to a search warrant affidavit.
    And:Others who were interviewed by investigators described suffering broken bones at other Ray-led events after being instructed to break bricks with their hands. Others said they vomited and slipped into altered states of consciousness.

    Mickey Reynolds, who attended Ray's 2005 "Spiritual Warrior" event said it was implied the sweat lodge was safe since Ray had done the ceremonies before. Reynolds told investigators there was no discussion of safety procedures or a plan if something went wrong.

    The owner of the Sedona retreat, Amayra Hamilton, said she told Ray in 2005 that he would have to change his ceremonies after a man became severely ill and she saw improvements the following year.

    Richard Wright said he took part in the latest sweat lodge as a test of courage, enduring seven of eight 15-minute rounds. The Fort Lauderdale, Fla., resident told The Associated Press participants never were asked to provide emergency contacts or answer questions about their health, and they never were given a clear picture of the effects of a sweat lodge.

    Instead, they took Ray's word that vomiting and passing out were normal, he said.

    "We all chose what we did," Wright said. "But again, if you make a choice with only having half the story, have you really made a choice?"
    Comment:  Taking the word of a New Age huckster. These people might as well have worn signs that said, "Fleece me!"

    It looks increasingly likely that Ray is going to prison. The only question is what the courts will find him guilty of: negligence, manslaughter, or homicide.

    For more on the subject, see Natives Scorn Ray's Sweat Lodge and Inside the Death Lodge.

    Below:  James Arthur Ray.

    SCALPED = comic of the year?

    'Scalped' is year's top series, & The Rez is history

    By Jerome Maida[I]n a year in which there were more quality titles on shelves than ever, and in which the sophistication of storytelling reached a new peak on the majority of them, the choice for Series of the Year was easy to make.

    Nothing else comes close to "Scalped."

    Writer of the Year Jason Aaron also penned some fine tales featuring Wolverine and Ghost Rider, but he would have won easily just due to his work on "Scalped."

    Aaron uses the Prairie Rose Indian Reservation--a.k.a. "The Rez"--as a unique, fertile ground to tell fresh stories that are unmistakably his own.

    He depicts those on "The Rez" as the defiant descendants of a once-proud people, who have survived more than a century of mistreatment by the American government, which put Indian tribes on the least desirable pieces of land and then, to paraphrase one character, forgot about them except when there was a John Wayne movie to film or a war to fight.

    One man who is determined to overcome the odds of living on The Rez and not only survive but thrive is Chief Red Crow, the crime boss around whom everything in the book revolves. Seeing what "legitimate" institutions have done for his people, Red Crow is determined to use his power, money and influence to open a brand new casino that he bets will not only allow him to achieve the American Dream, but improve the lives of everyone on "The Rez."
    Apparently the main character is still a murderer:Near the end of the year, this explosive set of personalities seemed ready to blow--and then Red Crow put gasoline on the fire by shooting an unarmed soldier of rival crime boss Johnny Tongue--who had helped Red Crow finance the casino.Comment:  These days tribal leaders can't get away with tax evasion, much less murder. If there were a hint of a tribal chairman's being a killer, the FBI would swarm over the tribe's government and probably shut it down.

    So SCALPED's basic premise continues to be unrealistic and stereotypical. Indians as "savage" criminals, thugs, and lowlifes...ho hum.

    Other than that, the writing and art may be swell. From what I've seen of them, they're both above average.

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

    Ponca actress has entertainment epiphany

    Okla. actress always puts family first

    By Christina Good VoiceCamp-Horinek’s acting roots began in Tulsa when she was a member of the American Indian Theater Company, and she even got her sons involved by urging them to audition for parts in the company’s production of “Black Elk Speaks.”

    While she and her two sons landed small roles in the production, non-Indian actor David Carradine played the role of Black Elk. It was then that Camp-Horinek had an epiphany. She realized how underrepresented Native Americans were in the theater and movies, even in productions about their own people. And further more, she realized that avenue could be a medium for activism.

    “It was a light bulb moment,” she said. “There were hundreds of people seeing ‘Black Elk Speaks’ at the PAC (Performing Arts Center,)” she said. “I was seeing these people impacted by entertainment and getting it--our holocaust. I thought, ‘Oh my goodness, this was a remarkable tool for educating the public.’”

    Now, Native actors still only make up a sliver of a racial statistic pie graph compared to Caucasians, Hispanics, blacks and Asians, but they’re out there, she said.

    “The struggles that people have gone through over the past 20 years to teach non-Natives that we are multidimensional, that’s paying off,” Camp-Horinek said. “We’re getting lead roles, but believe me, it isn’t enough if you look at the entire movie, TV and video industry. They show you the slices of the pie…Native Americans are a hairline.”

    Now, years later after the veterans of theater and the movie industry like Will Sampson, Graham Greene, Wes Studi and Camp-Horinek paved the way, young Native actors are landing key roles in large productions such as the wildly popular Twilight Saga and primetime TV dramas.

    Camp-Horinek’s been an actress for more than 25 years, with titles including “Lakota Moon,” “Geronimo,” “Lakota Woman: Siege at Wounded Knee” and “DreamKeeper” under her belt. She also appeared in “Goodnight Irene” and “Share the Wealth” and was one of the leads in the 2009 movie “Barking Water.” Her performance in “Barking Water” earned her the Best Actress award at the 2009 American Indian Film Festival in San Francisco.
    Comment:  Native in primetime TV dramas? I must've missed all those performances. I'm watching more TV than ever and I've seen fewer Natives than ever.

    I guess my epiphany was similar to Camp-Horinek's. Namely, my idea of using comic books and other forms of entertainment, and reporting on them, as my route to activism. For someone with no Native credentials, it's worked out pretty well.

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

    Below:  "Casey Camp-Horinek, foreground, plays Irene in Barking Water, directed by Seminole and Muscogee (Creek) director Sterlin Harjo."

    Seminoles vs. panthers

    Panther Trapped Between a Hard Rock and a Hard Place

    The Seminole Indians want to destroy 200 acres of Florida panther habitat

    By Todd Wright
    Haven't politicians gambled enough with the possible extinction of the Florida Panther?

    Now, plans from the good-natured, gambling people of the Seminole Indian Tribe may strip away valuable wetlands and habitat that likely houses a few of the remaining big cats native to South Florida.

    The Seminoles want to destroy 200 acres of wetland on the Big Cypress Reservation in Broward to improve some dangerous stretches of road, according to the Sun-Sentinel. That same land has been known to be prowled by the mysterious and elusive panther.

    "The panther is getting squeezed," conservationist Matthew Schwartz told the Sun-Sentinel. "Each development may not be the final nail in the coffin, but it's the cumulative impact."
    Comment:  For more on the subject, see Seminoles Have Gaming "Disease."

    Brings Plenty in Rose Parade

    Moses Brings Plenty in the Tournament of Roses, Jan. 1stMoses Brings Plenty (, Oglala Lakota, will be participating in the Pasadena Tournament of Roses Parade. He will be dressed in traditional regalia, riding bareback on horse and carrying an eagle staff. Moses will be riding in front of the All American Cowgirl Tricks ( entry along side the King of Cowboy Tricks, JW Stoker (, a legend in trick riding and roping and an inductee into the Cowboy and Estern Heritage Hall of Fame. The message that Moses and JW will be sharing is that cowboys and Indians can, regardless of the history, ride together in UNITY.Comment:  For more on the subject, see Alaskan Float in Rose Parade and Stereotypes in Rose Parade.

    December 28, 2009

    Indians in The Empire of Grandeur

    In October I posted an overview of Ken Burns's documentary National Parks: America's Best Idea. The first and second episodes, The Scripture of Nature and The Last Refuge, included segments on Indians. So did the third, The Empire of Grandeur.

    A segment on Glacier National Park begins with a Blackfeet Indian legend:Napi, the old man, came down from his home in the sun to help his people, the Blackfeet. When his work was done, he went up into the mountains, where he came to two lakes. There he said to himself, "I believe I will go up on that highest mountain and change myself into stone." In the crevice in the mountain, he lay down, with just his face peeking out, and turned himself into a rock. He is still there, watching for people to come looking for him.Peter Coyote's narration continues:On the border of Montana and Canada, in the northern reaches of the Rockies, where glaciers could still be found sculpting and polishing mountains rising 10,000 feet into the sky, and alpine cascades tumbled down to form more than 650 lakes, was Glacier National Park, established by Congress in 1910. For centuries the Blackfeet Indians had claimed the land as their own, but during a mining boom that brought in swarms of prospectors, they had been pressured into signing a new treaty, giving up the mountain portion of their reservation.

    "The mountains have been my last refuge. Chief Mountain is my head. Now my head is cut off."

    --White Calf
    Mt. Rushmore superintendent Gerard Baker (Hidatsa-Mandan) gives us a Native perspective:When you walk into any natural national park, you're walking into somebody's homeland. You're walking into somebody's house. You're walking into somebody's church. You're walking into somebody's place where they lived since the time the Creator made it for them. And so you're walking into some place that has been utilized for generations upon generations in every form you could imagine. This was their homeland.Good stuff. Curiously, the PBS website doesn't mention any of it. According to PBS, The Empire of Grandeur is all about expanding the park system and making it accessible to the public. There's enough room on the website to tell about two brothers who helped publicize the Grand Canyon with their photographs, but not about the Blackfeet's plight.

    The Blackfeet story

    Another article tells us what the PBS website doesn't:

    Book, exhibit highlight human stories in Glacier Park centennial

    By Dan ElliottGlacier's centennial committee published a book, "A View Inside Glacier National Park: 100 Years, 100 Stories," with recollections from visitors, residents, park employees and others. The Montana Historical Society Museum in Helena, about 130 miles south, has an exhibit called "Land of Many Stories: The People & Histories of Glacier National Park."

    Some of the park's stories are ugly. In 1895, under pressure from miners hoping to find copper and gold, the federal government pressed the Blackfeet into selling the government thousands of acres, land that would later become the east side of the park.

    "They forced a sale upon us," said Jack Gladstone, a Blackfeet Indian singer/songwriter who specializes in Native American myth, legend and history.

    But the land grab had a silver lining, he said. Had the area remained under Indian control, it might have been "sliced and diced and sold off" when federal law allowed tribal members to sell their individual land allotments. Instead, when no valuable minerals were found, it was kept intact.

    "What was in the short-term a curse and really a debacle turned into probably about as good as it could have been because of the enhanced protection afforded by Glacier as a national park, a national treasure," he said.
    Below:  "President Franklin D. Roosevelt and first lady Eleanor Roosevelt were inducted into the Blackfeet Tribe near Glacier National Park’s Two Medicine Chalet on Aug. 5." (Photo by Associated Press)

    What PBS considers important

    To its credit, The Empire of Grandeur notes the Indian origins of Acadia, McKinley (Denali), and Grand Canyon National Parks. But only the following notes made it onto the PBS website:

    The Railways, the National Parks and the "See America First" CampaignOn every Great Northern Railway brochure and billboard were three words: "See America First." The slogan was part of a promotional campaign aimed at upper-middle-class white Americans from the East Coast who were collectively spending $500 million each year visiting Europe. The Great Northern promoted Glacier National Park as "America's Switzerland."

    When World War I broke out in 1914, closing off overseas travel, the railroads saw their chance to promote "See America First" as never before. As a publicity stunt, the Great Northern arranged for a group of Blackfeet Indians to tour the East, performing war dances. They attracted huge crowds and wherever they went, the press referred to them as "the Indians of Glacier National Park."
    Albright and the Creation of Zion National ParkDuring the war, Albright traveled to southern Utah to view a beautiful canyon of sandstone cliffs that had been set aside as Mukuntuweap National Monument in 1909, and ignored by the federal government ever since.

    For Albright, it was love at first sight. He was so impressed with the "towering rock walls, splashed with brilliant hues of tans and reds interspersed with whites," that he wanted it to be expanded into a national park. He felt that the name Mukuntuweap, from a Paiute word for "canyon" was too hard to remember; he suggested that it be changed to Zion, the name the local Mormons used for it. Albright's enthusiasm persuaded President Wilson and at the end of 1919, Congress created Zion National Park.
    Comment:  Although it isn't blatant in the episode itself, the website gives us some insight into the thinking of Ken Burns and company. They're more into the positive, rah-rah aspects of the park system than its dark, destructive side. Gerard Baker discusses the parks' essential wrongness and Burns uses his comments, but there's no follow-up. Tourists are stomping all over the Indians' sacred land--oh, well...on with the story.

    For photographs of my visit to Zion, see Colorado Trip Pix--Day 1 and Colorado Trip Pix--Day 2. For more on the series, see Review of Burns's National Parks and Burns on Our National Parks.

    Below:  "Blackfeet Indians on promotional tour for Glacier National Park, 1924."

    Stereotypes in Call of Juarez: Bound by Blood

    In Indians in Call of Juarez: Bound by Blood I presented the basic plot of this video game. Now here's more on the game's Indian subplot.

    The McCall brothers are seeking a lost Aztec treasure. The Apaches have a medallion that reveals how to find it. The McCalls arrange to trade rifles for the medallion.

    After a double-cross or two, the chief's son agrees to help the McCalls. As Wikipedia notes:Seeing Farther reveals that he will help them find the medallion, explaining that his motivation for doing this is to prevent his tribe from going to war. Seeing Farther then goes with Ray and Thomas into Navajo territory and they recover the medallion, but not before tainting their sacred ground with bloodshed.It's not clear how the medallion went from being in Apache possession to missing in Navajo territory, but never mind. The video below is labeled Navajo Gameplay. It shows us the all-out "cowboys vs. Indians" action that follows--namely:Fight through Navajo territory, complete with canoe-fighting action and a bow and arrow!

    Apparently the video's POV is that of Thomas McCall, the younger brother. He's supposedly an expert with a hunting bow as well as a rifle. So the shooter attacking Indians with a bow and arrow isn't another Indian, it's a white man.

    How wrong is this?

    How many mistakes and stereotypes does this segment contain? Let's see:

  • The scene is set in what I'd call "high country"--a landscape with mountains and forests. It looks more like the Rockies or the Appalachians than anything near the Mexican border.

    While you might be able find locations like this in Navajo territory, I doubt you'd find Navajos settled there. It's too cold to be a permanent settlement.

  • Navajos generally didn't live in camps or villages. They lived in family units in isolated hogans.

  • One of the first "kills" is an Indian--presumably a Navajo--in a canoe. Wrong.

  • The Indian encampment consists of tipis. Wrong.

  • The tipis are enclosed by a half-finished wooden palisade. If this is supposed to be the remnants of an Army fort, the US generally didn't build forts in the cold high country.

    If it's supposed to be an Indian construction, it's really wrong. Indians used tipis as temporary abodes, not permanent ones. The idea of building a permanent wall around a temporary camp is self-contradicting.

  • The encampment has a couple totem poles. Incredibly wrong.

  • While the rest of the scenery looks real and authentic, the Indian portion is a stereotypical shambles. I guess the game-makers didn't know much about Indians, or care. After all, Indians are all 1) the same, and 2) dead, so who cares if the game mixes Navajos with Plains tipis and Northwest totem poles?

    Genocidal fun

    So we have white men killing Indians because the Indians have a key to a lost treasure. In other words, for no good reason except greed. One could call this a metaphor for American history, but I don't think the game is sending that message. Rather, it's treating Indians like outlaws and wild animals: as just another dangerous obstacle to overcome.

    Note how the Indians explode in a spray of blood when they're shot. Isn't that nice? Upset at how the brown-skins are taking over our country and socializing our medicine? Get even with them in Call of Juarez: Bound by Blood.

    Later Barnsby, the colonel chasing the McCalls, "destroys the Indian village leaving only the chief and his son (Seeing Farther) alive." Wow. Does that happen off-screen? Or do we get to be Barnsby and commit genocide against the innocent Indian tribe?

    What fun to kill an entire village of "redskins" and watch their bloody bodies explode! Call of Juarez: Bound by Blood must be the feel-good game of the year!

    For more on the subject, see Video Games Featuring Indians.

    Below:  A typical Navajo village near the Mexican border? Or a typical Lakota village near the Canadian border?

    Note the totem pole to the right of the hide-drying racks. Right-click on the image to view it full-size.