Native Americans are talked about a certain way by mainstream American culture. Some of these ways extend to other people of colour.
This post is an attempt to list some of those ways. It is a stepping stone to doing a more thorough, well thought-post on the subject:
- Vocabulary: Overuse a parallel set of words that exoticizes them and puts them on a level below whites:
- Not house but tepee, longhouse, wigwam, hut, etc
- Not hat but headdress
- Not boat but canoe
- Not shoe but moccasin
- Not doctor but medicine man or healer
- Not soldiers but braves or warriors
- Not woman but squaw
- Not men but tribesmen
- Not nation but tribe
- Not country but tribal lands
- Not king or kingdom but chief or chiefdom.
- Not civil war but fighting
- Not technology but tools
- Not town but village, pueblo, population centre, etc
- Children of Eden: Do not use the words “work”, “farmers”, “politics” or “economic policy”. They were like children living at one with Nature who got by on berries, hunting, cool clothes and ancient wisdom.
- History: Say as little as possible, especially about the Indian Wars and the period before 1492 and after 1890. They are timeless. The Sioux, for example, are frozen forever in time on their horses hunting bisons and fighting Custer. Thus “Dances With Wolves” is set not in the present day but the 1860s.
- Violence: Assume they were all cruel, violent savages. No need to know and understand their history.
- Cultural change: a sign of progress among whites, a sign of destruction of a pure, virgin culture among Indians
- The cold white gaze: Take pictures of them as exotic creatures, objects of study – or at their worst: old, unsmiling men, drunks, falling-apart houses, etc. Do it in the name of an Objective Truth, one that is never applied to whites because it would seem tastelessly cruel and heartless. Because it is.
- Country names: Never use them. The French have France, the Italians have Italy but the Cherokees had what?
- Maps: Draw maps as if they were wandering herds of animals instead of people who had countries of their own. Avoid using lines, especially solid ones, as if there were never any treaties, as if present-day Indians have no idea just where their countries were.
- The Tragic Indian: Cast them as noble but tragic figures. Their fate could not be helped. It is no one’s fault.
- Speaking: The men should look sad or mean and speak little. When they do speak, it should be in an almost poetic but broken English.
- Laughing: rare.
- Middle age: rare. The women are either 19 or 89 while the men are either 25 or 65.
- Religion: Wise and in tune with Nature, but otherwise do not take it too seriously. See Eden, Children of.
- Romanization: make their words and names look either cartoonish or too hard to say.
In short Indians are either exoticized or they are dehumanized. The trouble is not with Indians but with how White Americans deal with history and with cultural differences.
- Emerald Triangle Princess: Here’s a roundup of the maps of “North American indigenous territories”
- Charles C. Mann: 1491
- Native Europeans - applies some of this way of talking to whites
- The lies you were taught about Native Americans - at American high school
- A Hidden America: Children Of The Plains - White American television documentary on Sioux children
- Posts based on Indian writing:
- My own writing on Indians: