Opinion

Opinion: Overcoming stereotypes of Native American culture






A "noble savage" is depicted in this detail from The Death of General Wolfe (1771), a painting by Benjamin West. Image from Wikipedia

Author Cynthia Darling discusses how stereotypes affect how Native Americans are treated:
Over the years there has been a plethora of cartoons and half-truths disseminated about Native Americans. They have been pictured as driving Cadillacs with oil wells in their back yards; they have been seen in comic strips drinking Kickapoo joy juice, and there have even been rumors of tribes making millions of dollars through casinos on tribal lands.

Besides the jokes there was something even worse – the idealization. Thanks to Rousseau’s ‘noble savage’ theory, there appeared the Native American actor on television who cried when he saw the pollution of the land. There were pictures of those who carried crystals in their buckskin pockets, and those who consulted shamans to tell them what to do. These pictures are still common in American society.

Exemplifying these trends is a story told by a member of the Blackfeet tribe in Montana. The story was told with the humor which the people on the reservation used to view those who insisted on idealizing them.

It seems that a woman from somewhere back East became sick, and the doctors were not able to cure the illness. This woman had read somewhere that Indians were very special people who had a pipeline to the Deity. So, she packed the trunk of her car with cartons of cigarettes – she had heard that Indians liked tobacco – and headed out West toward Glacier National Park and the Blackfeet tribe.

Get the Story:
Beyond Squanto and Sitting Bull: Overcoming the Stereotypes of Native American Culture (The Native American Times 10/29)