July 04, 2013

Lone Ranger vs. real news

People have been talking a lot about Indians in the last week or so. Johnny Depp is defending his Flying Nun-style take on Tonto. The Washington Redskins are facing increasing pressure to change their ethnic slur of a nickname. Nik Wallenda crossed the Grand Canyon--or a gorge near the Grand Canyon, in Navajo territory. And the Cherokee baby Veronica is finally going home--or from one home to another.

Depp supposedly admires and respects Indians, but he hasn't alerted the media hordes following him to any of the real issues facing Indian country. Neither has anyone else who supposedly cares about Indians. With all the attention-grabbing spectacles, Americans are missing the real work happening in Washington DC to improve our tribal nations' well-being.

Not coincidentally, here's an article on that very subject:

The Everlasting Fantasy of Native Americans

By Lise Balk KingWhile everyone is focused on Johnny Depp's Tonto, debating the merits of donning "red face" in order to "... give some hope to kids on the reservations," the President of the United States has quietly continued his reparative work on the broken U.S. Federal Indian Policy to nary an audience.

The timing couldn't be more ironic, or telling, about how we choose as a nation to frame Native America. It is so much easier to add our $12 to the coffers of Disney and Depp in order to enter the debate about our fantastical American history.

What we really could, and should, be doing is paying attention to the real life and work being done to address our own historic holocaust. "This land is our land, this land is your land"? This land was their land, and how we choose to continue this sentimentalist view, and therefore keep our moral distance from responsibility, is right out of a Hollywood escapist fantasy.

Enter Depp to play Tonto, a "Native American" (quotes in deference to Native filmmaker Chris Eyre's observation on HuffPostLive, "I don't see anything Indian about him... what is it, the buckskin pants?") dreamed up by a white guy, and voila, everybody is talking about "Indians."

To wit, last week Obama signed an Executive Order establishing The White House Council on Native American Affairs. The establishment of this Council is to institutionalize the work done thus far by Obama and his top aides, including Jodi Gillette (Standing Rock Sioux), Special Advisor to the President on Native American Affairs and Charlie Galbraith (Navajo), deputy associate director of the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs in the White House Office of Public Engagement.
The Last Real Indians group made a similar point on Facebook:Johnny Depp, we know you ain't Indian...we don't need you to be, we respect you as a human being. But if you want to do something that makes you adoptable by us, help us raise awareness of the 50-80% existing unemployment, the 48-52 yoa life expectancy, the $6,286 per capita income on some reservations and on and on...more importantly help us solve these problems. We can name scores of reservations straddled by federal bureaucracies who could use a partner that has generated $8 Billion (you are one of the most amazing-versatile actors EVER! Btw) Help us get back stolen sacred lands that American elites have enriched themselves from....There is a hell of a lot more you can do to do right by us than dress up like an Indian named Tonto...that identity was stolen by you, from a guy who stole that identity from us. Johnny Depp, you've been adopted by an indigenous nation but you've yet to earn your name...we support you in that journey.Comment:  Lise King is a friend who asked me about her article. I said it was fine but I'd would've opened with something like the two paragraphs at the beginning.

In other words, don't just say people are talking about Indians but not the right ones. Note the responsibility of those who supposedly care, like Depp, to point attention in the right direction.

For more on how Depp has or hasn't helped Indians, see Lone Ranger Benefit for College Fund and Why Doesn't Depp Buy Wounded Knee?

Below:  Johnny Depp shows he cares by making a welcoming video for the Gathering of Nations. Which cost nothing and took little effort.

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