September 19, 2011

"Bella Coola, makes us hula!"

Adrienne Keene notes how racist the Y-Indian Guides still are in her Native Appropriations blog:

Hoya Hoya, Cultural Appropriation!  Or Why Suburban White Folks Shouldn't Play Indian

The video starts with a "roll call" of all of the "tribes" in attendance--by an MC in a full "buckskin" and a headdress. The "tribes" include real tribal names, like "Sioux," "Yurok," or even "Bella Coola," mixed with stereotypical Indian names like "soaring eagle" and "wolf." They each have a "cheer"--wait until you get to the "Bella Coola" (a small First Nations community): "Bella Coola, makes us hula!!" Then they pass the mic to the "Chief" who calls up a boy from the "Soaring Eagle" tribe, asking him "what's your Indian name?" As the boy hesitates, the crowd jokes that his name is "Sticky Bun!!" but he answers with "Little Surfing Fox." It's his birthday, so the whole crowd sings Happy Birthday, accented with "Hoya Hoya!" of course.

This video is one of those things that is so blatantly racist, the stereotypes are so deep and egregious, that I don't even know what to say. The part that gets me is that this was in 2007. This was not in the '70s. This is after Indian Guides supposedly "reformed" their ways. The scary part is these are my neighbors, my mom's students, the folks I see at the grocery store and at the beach. I am a member of a community that supports this.

So when I'm walking around wearing my powwow shirts, or driving my car with a big feather sticker on the back, my neighbors are conjuring images of these "tribes." That scares me.

People often argue that there is nothing wrong with playing Indian--that dressing up or donning headdresses does no harm. I find it hard to imagine that someone could watch that video and think that a young Native child encountering that scene would walk away unscathed.
Comment:  Besides the problems noted, the people do war whoops and wolf howls. Every "tribe" has a sing-song chant that serves to belittle and trivialize the original Indians.

Also note the general environment: the primitive clothes, the raging fire, the "funny Indian names," and the chanting in unison. It's all about painting Indians as uncivilized, savage people of the past. And homogenizing them into a pack of wild animals who lack language, culture, and religion. Who are as mindless as the eagles and wolves they're named after.

Once that happens, we can feel good about conquering and killing them and taking their land. They were merely beasts, like the buffalo we slaughtered, so we didn't do anything wrong. Now that they're gone, we can "honor" their savage nobility with these mock ceremonies.

It's the same impulse that leads hunters to show off stuffed animals and rugs and mounted trophies. "Look how brave and noble these animals were. And look how mighty I was to have killed them. I display their carcasses to prove they were worthy foes. In other words, to prove I'm a great hunter."

For more on the The Y-Indian Guides, see Y-Guides Still Stereotype Indians and Indian Princess "Tribes" Go Sledding.

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