November 24, 2012

Native with "professional voice" goes unrecognized

An article about Native education includes a telling anecdote about stereotypes:

Montana Natives Aim to Educate Against Hate

By Adrian JawortRegarding the “Indians are all drunks” stereotype, Brien says since Natives are a collectivist society, people with addiction problems will leave reservations to deal with their addiction away from their families. Those are often the Natives city people come across, and thus they base their illusions of the entire group on them. Even if one did want help with their addiction, Brien says they’d have to wait up to two months before being evaluated at a local Indian Health Service clinic. “A person with an addiction problem that wants help can’t often wait that long.”

Familial patterns of addiction combined with historical trauma, poverty, and undiagnosed learning disabilities make for a harsh cycle that’s hard to break out of.“These stereotypes are so interconnected that you can’t solve one without dealing with the other,” Brien said.

A former newspaper reporter for The Billings Gazette, Brien related an anecdote of how she was assigned to write a story about miniature horses. She called the interviewee using a “reporter voice,” and they enthusiastically agreed to the interview. When she showed up and knocked on the door, there was no answer. After going to the door a second time after calling to verify it was the correct house, she saw the curtains rustling from inside the house, but they still wouldn’t answer. Brien said, “They heard my voice, but they saw my face, and they didn’t make the connection because I have the ability to use a professional voice.”

Although she can joke about it now and says maybe the woman thought “that Indian woman was going to steal her tiny ponies,” she said, “People just make assumptions about us. There may be some truth to these stereotypes, but it’s snowballed into something much bigger, into a belief that’s so negative that they don’t even realize they’re assuming something because they think its fact.”
Comment:  For more on the subject, see Natives Can't Be Professors?! and Modern Indians Are Less Native?

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