August 27, 2009

"I thought John Wayne killed you all"

Righting the wrongs:  Hundreds honor CSKT attorney for work on behalf of Indian children

By Vince DevlinThe case involved four special-needs children taken from their parents, one an enrolled member of the CSKT, by New York authorities. Stevenson had already contacted the attorney for the state and explained all the ways New York had violated the Indian Child Welfare Act when it removed the children from their home, starting with the fact that Salish and Kootenai officials had never been notified that it was happening.

The man's response, according to Stevenson?

"Indians? There are still Indians? I thought John Wayne killed you all."
Comment:  Another excellent example of what many Americans think.

Recall that this is an educated New York lawyer speaking. His city has the largest number of Indians living off-reservation, I believe. Yet he's complete ignorant of Indian country today.

Instead of saying something intelligent, he regurgitates the stereotypical notion he's learned from a thousand old Westerns. Namely, that John Wayne (i.e., cowboys, the Army, Anglo-Americans) defeated and killed the Indians. That Indians are a "breed" that vanished more than a century ago.

Here we have a textbook example of how stereotypes influence real-world behavior. A lawyer thinks Indians no longer exist. Therefore, he has no idea there's such a thing as the Indian Child Welfare Act. Because of his ignorance, he allows authorities to remove Indian children from homes.

This is why we keep discussing Indians in the media: because the media is central in shaping our understanding of them. We could trace most Indian problems to non-Indians' misunderstanding of Native history and culture. The results would be similar to those seen here: "Indians are more or less gone, so their concerns and issues don't matter."

I'm amazed that some people still don't get this. If you have any doubts on the subject, educate yourself. Read The Harm of Native Stereotyping:  Facts and Evidence and learn what the experts say.

For more on the subject, see Westerns Are Hostile to Indians and The Influence of Movies.

Below:  "I did what needed doing, pilgrim."

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