April 13, 2010

"Redskins" in Mardi Gras costume

A Mardi Gras "Indian" costume nicely shows what the revelers really think of Indians.

On the bottom of the costume is a Plains chief with dark red skin. He's wearing what looks like a tuxedo or another kind of formal wear. Whatever he's wearing, he's a pure stereotype. The chief's headdress and red skin have nothing to do with Louisiana's Indians.

In the middle of the costume is a grotesque Indian caricature with bright red skin and a huge hooked nose. I can't tell what he's wearing...prison stripes? Whatever he's wearing, the stereotypes are even worse. Again, they have nothing to do with Louisiana's Indians.

So...honoring the local Indians with common Native stereotypes from around the country? "Thanks but no thanks," these Indians might respond. "We don't consider stupid stereotypes a la Chief Wahoo and Chief Illiniwek an honor."

For more on the subject, see Mardi Gras Indians in Treme and Exploitation Upsets Mardi Gras Exploiters.


John said...

You say what Indians "might" think of these Mardi Gras Indians, but I've yet to see any substantial negative response from Native circles, aside from some valid points raised by Blackface Tribe in the replies here.

Again, it really seems you're really reaching to try and come to a "DAMN THOSE RACISTS!" conclusion. "In this really rough image of an Indian on a single outfit, with an already-limited color palette, the Indians' faces are red, and that is RED... SKIN, and some people use the term redskin as offensive slang to describe Indians, and some of these people really hate Indians when they say it, so that means this is conclusive proof of what ALL Mardi Gras Indians really think of ALL Indians! They must all be racist and hate Indians!"

Kiowa Man said...

"HATE" is too easy of a term to apply to these Mardi Gras Indians. Misunderstood and/or ignorant seems better fitting and why Louisiana where you have a small tribe like the Alabama’s or Coushatta’s in nearby north of Houston, Texas?

It just seems that these African American’s have become the local tokens for an illegitimate practice of “playing Indian”. Do they have annual dances and ceremonies that are indigenous and predate the state and federal government?

It appears this “celebration” is more for exhibitionism and exploitation, no different than mascots or Hollywood Indians. One might expect this from whites or even “HOBBYIST” that try to adopt Indian culture. I hear there are even “tribes” in Germany that have American Indian pow-wows and set-up tee-pees.

It does not take a whole tribe, band or nation to protest the Mardi Gras for it to be illegitimate or challenged, the participants themselves know how much indigenous culture they lack to be real.

There are many elements in American culture that are not Native American and there have been some great American Indians that have succeeded in the so-called “white-world”. Will Rogers, Cher, Jim Thorpe, Robbie Robertson, Jesse Ed Davis, N. Scott Mammedaty, Ira Hayes, etc., to name a few, and most of these natives knew their indigenous culture before and after national notoriety.

Mardi Gras simply extends and perpetuates the stereotypes and worse, possibly without knowing or intent, keeps the rest of America clueless and ignorant about the living, breathing Indians we do have in our society.

During the early part of the century, many Latino and Mexican Americans were prejudiced against Indians and ashamed while denying their indigenous culture, but since the so-called “uprisings” of the late 1960’s to mid 70’s in Indian country, being Indian became popular as the Aztec movement began in the Hispanic communities and all of a sudden, many Mexicans and Latinos claim to be Aztec.

There were alliances of African Americans with tribes throughout American history, especially during the Civil War era. The most famous in the early 1860’s, being the Lumbee and African slaves whom rebelled against the Confederacy because they used natives as slaves to build Fort Fisher in North Carolina.

The American Indian is the most exploited and marketed living being on the face of the planet and yet he is also the most impoverished and under-represented race socially, politically and culturally. Everything from coins, statues, novels, liquor, automobiles, military arms, sports teams and mascots, roads, states and geographical points are all named after a tribe or individuals, how can we not expect such behavior and acceptance from these people in Louisiana?

When I was going to college at the University of Oklahoma here some years back, the professor, who was a doctorate, taught a “Cultural Geography” class that the words “squaw, teepee, wampum and chief” were a few of the words Native Americans “contributed” to the English language. I was insulted and amazed at how this professor could not see that he was continuing the age-old ignorance that the American Indian has never made contributions to our daily lives. I approached this “professor” after class and asked, “With all the names of rivers, trails, states and other inanimate items we use on a daily basis, why did you use the words squaw and teepee as the only examples of so-called “Indian” words? To his surprise and taken aback he replied, “Well, I am not familiar with American Indian studies, my specialty is Mexico!”

Are there not indigenous cultures still in Mexico?

John said...

A very worthwhile read, Kiowa Man. I wasn't saying that the phenomenom of the Mardi Gras Indian is necessarily right, just that I felt a more nuanced explanation for how exactly it was wrong was required. And I think you've gone a good way towards providing that with your commentary here.

Unknown said...

This type of display isn't isolated to New Orleans'Mardi Gras. The "Indian" is found to varying degrees of display in the West Indian Day Parades, Brazil's Carnival and other island pageantry. Because of this I have always wondered about the symbolism behind their presence rather than the definition of "Indian" it may have implied. In no way did I ever consider the displays a disrespectful homage to Indians but rather a romanticizing of the stereotypical concept of people who were still with us. And there is where the problem may be; Indians are still here and the carnival representation has yet to deter far enough away from the stereotypes that come to mind for most for the displays not to be associated, compared and constrasted to a people that continue to define themselves in current time.