An anthropology of Native Americans should focus on advocacy for Native Americans today. We have spent so much time discussing the myth of the “Disappearing Indian” and how Native Americans are marginalized today because a popular mythology exists that Native Americans are an eradicated race. Sports teams, movies, and more are able to get away with portraying so many harmful stereotypes because many people think that they do not interact with Native Americans and that those who do exist live in smaller numbers far from them. When people who espouse these claims that Native American stereotypes are not harmful are face to face with real, living Native American people, they realize the error of their ways and immediately start backtracking or defending themselves. Thus, there are obviously problems that exist today concerning Native American presence and stereotypes.
Thus, I believe that a large component of the anthropology of Native Americans should focus on advocacy, awareness, and education. By educating others about the issues facing Native American peoples today due to the centuries of oppression and genocide, Anthropologists could help to improve Native Americans’ quality of living through education efforts. Many of these problems stem from the fact that many people are simply unaware of the extent of the United States’ stained history concerning Native Americans. If more people were aware of how destructive those centuries of oppression were to Native Americans and how many problems they have to today as a result, then I think it would be a lot easier to improve Native American lives by recognizing their agency and cultural contributions and by changing the stereotypes. Education could be as simple as anthropologists having conversations with their friends and family about these issues. Initiatives could start on a small scale and become widespread and include education reform in schools, changing sports teams’ mascots, and more. It is important to study Native Americans’ past to understand their future.
The new scripted Netflix series Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is a comedy created by Tiny Fey and Robert Carlock. The series depicts a young woman, Kimmy Schmidt, who has been trapped underground by a crazy pastor for a number of years and moves to New York City upon her release. She gains a job as a nanny for a wealthy family. The mother/wife character who employs Kimmy, Jacqueline Voorhees, is secretly a Lakota woman. Jacqueline left South Dakota in a quest to become a rich white woman. Flashback scenes reveal her past with her family in South Dakota as she runs away from home, dyes her hair blonde, wears blue contacts, and moves to New York. She felt that the only way she could succeed in life was to become white. This plotline ends with Jacqueline reclaiming her race by taking out her contacts, driving across the country back to the reservation, and beating up a high school mascot dressed in typical mascot-indian fashion. She even howls at the moon when she decides to embrace her roots.
The actress who plays Jacqueline, Jane Krakowski, is not Native American. She is caucasian and Polish. The actor who portrays her father, Gil Birmingham, is of Comanche. The actor who portrays her mother, Sheri Foster, is Cherokee. In this article written by a mixed-race woman, the author writes that casting Krakowski, a white woman, as a Native American who changes her race is a “whitewashed plot about whitewashing.” Although Jacqueline is pretending to be white, the author states that she should still be portrayed by an American Indian actress. Indian Country Today agrees, stating in this article that the series needed three American Indian actors, not two. Vulture claims that many reviewers steer clear of discussing the Native American subplot. They also discuss how Robert Carlock, one of the show’s creators, says that since there are a few writers of Native American origins on their writing staff, they felt that they had the liberty to make a few jokes and include the storyline.
When I watched the show, I agreed with Vulture’s observation, “The caricatures are so over-the-top, the show is clearly aiming for self-awareness.” I thought that the storyline was making fun of stereotypes by exaggerating them. I still think that they approached the storyline in a funny and interesting way by mocking the insensitivities of modern culture, but they are still presenting the idea that Native Americans need to Anglicize in order to fit in. It pokes fun at the pressure, but it is still in existence. Overall I really enjoyed the show and the attempt to use humor to criticize common stereotypes about Native Americans, but I agree that it could have used a little more nuance and sensitivity in casting a Native American actress in Jacqueline’s role.
A New York Times opinion piece came out today that suggests that Cherokee leader John Ross should replace Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill. Ross was Jackson’s direct opponent in the fight to control Native American land. As we know, Jackson won the fight after Ross resisted for twenty years. However, Jackson committed atrocities in the Trail of Tears that have forever stained his image and the United States in general. This opinion piece suggests that Ross should replace Jackson on the $20 bill as a way to bring “symbolic justice to a seminal episode of American history.”
This is far from the first call to replace Jackson, who was a slave owner in addition to banishing Native Americans to the Trail of Tears. Suggestions have included an African American, a Native American, or a woman. The Women on 20s campaign suggests putting Eleanor Roosevelt, Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman, or Wilma Mankiller, who was the first Principle Chief of the Cherokee Nation. This NYTimes opinion piece suggests replacing Jackson but continuing to represent America’s formative years between the Revolution and the Civil War.
Interestingly, the article calls for Jackson to remain on one side of the bill and Ross to be on the other. Inskeep writes, “He should remain on the $20 bill, but on the flip side — because there’s a flip side of the story.” Jackson was able to rise from nothing to be President, and he won the Battle of New Orleans. However, he privatized Indian territory, owned slaves, and permanently harmed the United States. Inskeep suggests that having both Ross and Jackson on the $20 bill would show that there are two sides to every story. He believes that this would set a precedence for other bills because “Each denomination should feature two different people who together tell a story, illustrating our democratic experience.” He suggests pairing Harriet Beecher Stowe with Ulysses S. Grant and Frederick Douglass with Abraham Lincoln. Creating these pairings would “show a larger truth: Democracy is a conflict of interests and ideas. Many players in that conflict have been grievously wrong. But as they struggled, we now know, our forebears were often thrashing toward the light.”
I definitely think that Andrew Jackson should no longer be on the $20 bill alone. I was initially in favor of removing him altogether, but I am intrigued by Inskeep’s idea of pairing Jackson with Ross to showcase these larger ideas about democracy. I hope that a change will be made and that our currency can tell us more interesting and nuanced histories of the United States rather than glorifying the white, male victors.
The most important thing I learned from our conversation with Mr. Francisco is hearing about his boarding school experience. I was unaware that boarding schools specifically for Native Americans still exist today. I was surprised to hear about them because I have such negative associations with Native Americans and boarding schools from the late 19th and early 20th century.
However, it was interesting and encouraging to hear about how Native Americans run the boarding schools instead of white men and how their mission has changed to educating scores of Native American youth from around the country. Mr. Francisco went to boarding school with students from hundreds of different tribes and got to learn about life in different tribes. He also chose to go to boarding school to get away from his parents and explore the larger world on his own. Mr. Francisco was able to express his agency in making his own educational choice. I also found it interesting that he chose to go to a Native American boarding school out of the plethora of boarding school options. Even though he wanted to get off his reservation, he still wanted to be connected to other Native Americans. He told us about his educational experience and why he made the choice to go to a boarding school because his education was such a foundational part of his life. It is important to learn about how Native Americans are making their own educational choices in a system that has historically repressed them and offered them no choice.
I found this article from Harvard Magazine that discusses the shift in Indian boarding schools. At many of today’s Native American boarding schools, students are accepted and “face no shame about being Indian.” Many schools today encourage their students to go to college and work to help them secure scholarships.
This is an image of Land O’ Lakes butter. My family uses this brand of butter, so I have been exposed to it in my own home for as long as I can remember. This packaging depicts a young Native American woman seated on her knees in some sort of traditional dress (unsure which nation/group.) She is in a natural landscape with green grass, blue waters, and healthy trees. She is alone, and she is presenting Land O’ Lakes butter to consumers. This woman is in the Land O’ Lakes logo, but I associate it with the butter package.
Land O’Lakes company logo
According to Land O’ Lakes website, the company was started in the 1920s. I am assuming that it was started by white men considering that their are images of them all over the website, and they do not mention any Native Americans in their origin story. I also did not find anything on their website about employing Native Americans. Therefore, they are appropriating this image of a native woman. Since she is seated, she is naturally seen as subservient to the consumer. As a seated Native American woman, she is conveying the message that all like her are in the same subservient role in society. She is not named; we do not know anything about her story, her name, or her people, so she serves as an unnamed, anonymous representative for all Native North American women.
I think that this is a misrepresentation because it is furthering the stereotype that all Native American women are the same. Since she does not have any distinguishing features, she represents the whole group. This is misleading to consumers and perpetuates the Native American stereotype of homogeneity. This kind of bland, non-specific advertising is harmful to Native American women because it strips them of their agency as individuals and perpetuates stereotypes of sameness, being stuck in the past due to the traditional dress, and subservience given her kneeling position.
The Culture Area Concept teaches about Native Americans by dividing North America into geographic regions and lumping communities that are geographically close. These societies are often cited as having similar cultures and traditions due to their shared geographic area. For example, the map that Oswalt includes in the back of the book lumps all Northeastern communities into “N. Eastern Algonquins.” Within that group, there are a plethora of different communities. I wrote my history thesis on the Wampanoag people of Southern Massachusetts, so I encountered problem after problem associated with lumping all Northern Woodland peoples as Northeastern Algonquins. I was unaware that Wampanoag are also called five or six other names. I was reading an article about the Masachusset people, and I didn’t realize until a few pages into the article that the author was discussing the Wampanoag. By lumping groups together by geographic region, specificity from community to community is lost.
I understand the intent behind this practice because many groups that are geographically close share cultural and economic aspects because they are living in a similar landscape. Many do have similar hunting and gathering practices, living arrangements, and more because of their shared environment. I think that this practice is a good one in theory, but in practice specificity is lost too quickly. I would suggest discussing theory while teaching about native peoples of North America and address the issues up front in schools, universities, etc. There needs to be an acknowledgment that this system is not perfect and does have flaws. Scholars are aware, but many schoolchildren will think that all native communities in Florida are the same. We just learned how different California is and how varied the landscape is throughout the state, so it is a grave mistake to believe that all native peoples in California are the same.
I have learned that there are a myriad of views and opinions surrounding Native Americans as a whole group. I have enjoyed comparing Sioui’s ideas of a set Amerindian set of values in application against studying specific Amerindian nations. I have seen a distillation of Sioui’s ideas my whole life in America because most people think that Native Americans are one group of people that share(d) everything; there was not a lot of variety, if any, amongst nations. Although Sioui’s idea of an Amerindian set of values is meant to be positive and show all the progressive characteristics that Native Americans share, it is often distilled in a lack of nuance. Instead of shared progressive characteristics, like conservation efforts and matriarchal societies, they are distilled into harmful caricatures. The general lack of knowledge about Native American history has become extremely apparent to me.
These caricatures and stereotypes make it difficult for Native Americans to live as modern people today. They have the tricky task of preserving their culture and heritage while also participating in the modern world. If they embrace their heritage, they are seen as living in the past. If they attempt to live fully in modern society, then they are asked if they are even Native American. It’s an unforgiving double standard that does not allow Native Americans agency in choosing how to live their lives.