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Opinion: Ignorance abounds in dealings with indigenous people

Filed Under: Opinion
More on: indiana, racism

Notre Dame student Mia Lillis discusses historical and present-day mistreatment of Native Americans:
Last year, white actor Johnny Depp was cast as the fictional character Tonto in the Walt Disney reimagining of the Lone Ranger series. In an industry where an overwhelming majority of lead roles are white (81.9 percent in 2006, according to a Berkeley study), such whitewashing of non-white roles exacerbates the exclusion of actors of color in Hollywood. Popular films of the last couple of decades continue to perpetuate cultural misunderstanding among Americans. Films such as “The Last of the Mohicans”, “Pocahontas” and others have failed to accurately portray any single indigenous tribe (“Mohicans” itself is a blend of the “Mohegan” and “Mahican” tribes) and have sustained the broad misconception that the differences between indigenous tribes are inconsequential.

College parties such as “Cowboys and Indians,” or our very own “Native Americans and Hoes” party hosted by Notre Dame students about a year ago, continue to encourage misunderstanding about, and disrespect of, American Indian populations, the most visible indicator being the disrespectful use of war bonnets and ignorant use of the headband (which was used by very few indigenous tribes, unlike what Hollywood would have us believe). In short, ignorance abounds among non-indigenous Americans when it comes to American Indian tribes.

But our ignorance is not limited to cultural ignorance. The systemic destruction and massacre of American Indians is yet to be found recounted accurately in history textbooks used in American schools. The colonial introduction of diseases such as smallpox and cholera killed upwards of 90 percent of indigenous people who had not developed immunities, and the extent to which this near-genocide was unintentional or biological warfare on the part of colonists is still up for debate among modern historians.

Get the Story:
Mia Lillis: This land is (not) our land (The Notre Dame Observer 4/14)

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