Julianne Jennings: Not all American Indians fit the stereotype

Julianne Jennings on race and stereotypes:
Mainstream America has effectively marginalized our inherited way of being and, although restricted, it is still very much alive despite the history and purpose of the Europeans, which was to produce people who might appear to be “look-like Indians,” but shall be European in spirit and habits of mind. It has uprooted us in the sense that there is complete disjunction with our traditions and culture which has infused in many of us a spirit of self-denigration. Further, celebrated photographer, Edward Curtis (1869−1952) worked tirelessly to capture images of Indian people that became the dominant culture’s popular conception of “noble savages.” The widespread belief that Indians were a dying race created both a fascination with them as a people and lent a sense of urgency to Curtis’ massive project. His work focused principally on real Indians, whose traditional ways of life were coming to an end as the U.S. frontier began to fade, and they served as a necessary element in the grand story of America’s nation-building mythology. Certain American Indian tribes, who had close relations with Africans, especially those where slavery was prevalent, would probably never be considered in his photographic odyssey because they did not fit his or others racial stereotype so confidently assumed.

Difference in appearance was and is a result of (subtle or blunt) contact and intermingling, which are cultural constants, the world over—the physical, geographical, political and strategic evolution of all humans. However, multiracial blending has been a mark of shame, and challenges societies discomfort with its historical past. Multiracialism has been institutionalized throughout history, whether through the “one drop” rule, BIA imposed blood quantum policies, Walter Plecker, the first Virginia state registrar of vital statistics, who reclassified Indians as black, Sir Francis Galton, who founded the science of eugenics or media depictions. Our walk of plurality—a learned balance from the inalienable habitants of the soil, and as representatives of newcomers—is the fluid new face of Native America.

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Julianne Jennings: Not All American Indians Are Red (Indian Country Today 6/3)

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