So you want to be an Indian too??

Along my twittering I’ve been coming across many, many images of the “culturally appropriated” aka the stereotyped version of the “American Indian.” Recently someone tweeted me this about it: “I would say that ‘the highest form of flattery is imitation’ but that Would be backwards” And that it’s hard for “them” to see the world from a different perspective. Which is true but, for me anyways, it’s a lot more than imitating me (per se), they are imitating and perpetuating a stereotype of my people. The age old Hollywood image of who a Native American is. Every time I look at your indianized Aubrey O’Day’s and your Gwen Stafani’s I half expect John Wayne and the Calvary to come over the ridge and a bunch of over tanned Italians with their black wigs and headbands to start running in the opposite direction. Westerns……. Let me share with you something about westerns. Both my parents are Residential School Survivors. As kids the nuns would, from time to time, gather all the kids and take them to the movie theater in town. My parents told me that these were treats to them. They were all loaded on to trucks with stock racks, just like cattle. All the white town folk would come out to watch the little spectacle, “the big parade” (my dad’s words) of all these caged little Indian kids, who would get unloaded in front of the movie house. (this is hard to write btw) The kids would get to have things like candy, popcorn and soda to enjoy their movie with. The movies, westerns. On big screens they would watch John Wayne as he battled the Indians. The Hollywood Stereotyped Indian, dressed in buckskin and feathers with tipi’s and drums, just like our own people the Blackfoot. The kids were made to cheer when the Calvary came to kill those Indians, you know where one shot would kill five Indians, yah… My mom once told me that she knew that these were images of her but at the same time she found it hard to identify with those Hollywood Stereotyped Indians. But that they, those images, at the time made her feel embarrassed and ashamed…

It wasn’t until a few years ago that I actually watched a John Wayne western. I laughed at the Indians in that movie, found the ridiculousness as one shot killed five Indians, laughed as they said “how” hand raised. But my parents and other like them, didn’t get to see the Indians the same way. You know what the nuns also told my parents, that they weren’t humans, that they grew out of the ground like plants. Given all this, my parents made sure that I knew who I was, that I wasn’t this manufactured Hollywood image, that I was Blackfoot and a human being. So when I see these people in their hipster headdresses, dressed “Indian,” perpetuating that Hollywood Indian image, It. Enrages. Me. It makes my blood boil with anger and hatred. Because this is not who we are, it will never be who we are. We are greater than your painted face, fake buckskin and cheap feathers. We are more than your sexualized version of the Indian maiden. But as these images continue, as more and more people find it acceptable to “dress indian” they maintain that we are not real people. They continue the idea that we are a caricature of the past. To not say anything would mean that I accept that I grew out of the ground, that the Calvary is suppose to ride over the ridge and kill us all, that we all raise our hand and say “how”. And I just can’t. My parents gave me one thing more, a voice. They always taught me to speak up when I see something wrong and to not be afraid. So all you Hollywood Stereotyped Indians, I’m coming for you. 500 years it’s time they learned about our history and diversity, our uniqueness. We are still here and we are not just a costume.


In closing I’ll leave you with a poem I read when I was like 11, one of my all time favorites.

trying harder ~ by Annharte

In the movies I spent my childhood for 15c

on a dream for a day that most will admit

they cheered for the troops to wipe out

Indians I know I wanted Geronimo to win

Cochise to kick ass & they did it for me

to yell all by myself at the show but

I scream when I see the Indian dancing fast

forward which the old movies speeded up

to look like jumping I recall trying to be

Indian at day camp was disgusting our leader

told us kids make tipis, play Indian

I made an African hut, a long house

weaved of twigs & leaves, a basket house

to be proud of my Native-Land left overs

Geronimo, Cochise taught me to fight


© Flora

About Flora

I'm Native American, my viewpoints are uniquely my own.

Posted on November 8, 2012, in Flora's words, reflections and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Amazing post. I read it with tears in my eyes. My parents are residential school survivors as well.

  2. Marvelously written! Remember when I started writing a blog entry on “cultural appropriations”? The great big one I never finished… I half want to finish it, but everything I wrote was so damn painful to write, all the pictures and videos I linked to it were more than horrendous. Telling about my mom’s childhood spent in a catholic orphanage and foster homes in Montana–being made to go to those same movies, too. So damn much pain connected to all of those stereotypical images, sounds, outfits, cliches, team mascots etc… and damn near all of them considered “respectful and honorable” by ALL non-Natives, not just the European descendants. Chi miigwetch, Niipokamii.

  3. Brilliant, yes, you have a voice :) Culture is more than trimmings, it’s so easy to come from a privileged background and give the appearance of sympathy or support without any understanding at all – like those nuns you speak of… (I think the correct word is ‘ignorance’ – something westerners don’t like to associate with themselves, only with the ‘others’ ;)


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