In recent weeks, social media erupted in outrage after it was announced that Warner Brothers had cast Rooney Mara, a non-Native actress, to play the part of Tiger Lily, a Native character, in a new adaptation of Peter Pan.
We’re all seen this scenario before. Since the dawn of film, non-Native actors and actresses have been perpetuating negative stereotypes of Natives by painting their faces red and appearing as embarrassing caricatures that promote Hollywood’s view of what American Indians are.
It’s so disappointing that this practice continues. There are plenty of qualified, talented Native thespians who are available to play Native characters. Sadly, movie makers continue to double down on white privilege, unwilling to give Natives and other people of color equal representation.
I understand the indignation. When will we have a voice in how we as Native peoples are portrayed? When will our demands for respect be heard?
But wait. Hold your horses. Instead of raising our smartphones in anger and filing petitions calling for Warner Brothers to boot Mara and replace her with a Native actress, let’s flip the script—literally. We don’t have to play their white-privilege game.
While little is known of Warner Brothers' new version of Peter Pan, the history of the story alone is enough to warrant apt circumspection by socially conscious Natives everywhere.
Like other movies featuring stereotypical Native characters, Peter Pan, in regards to American Indians, is flawed on its face. Based on the 1904 play authored by J.M. Barrie, Disney upped the racism ante by giving his feather and fringe costumed Indian princess Tiger Lily a "peace pipe"-toking father in actual redface who offered to “Teach ‘um Paleface brother all about Red Man,” accompanied by a big-nosed chorus of generic Indian braves who sang “What Makes the Red Man Red.” If that weren’t enough, a homely snaggle-toothed ‘squaw’ plays right into patriarchy when she tells Wendy, “No dance,” that she must gather wood instead. The fact that these monstrous, bigoted, negative depictions of Natives continue to be force fed to the minds of highly impressionable children is unacceptable. They’re being brainwashed; conditioned to embrace white privilege and the racist system they’ve been born into.
We’re right in refusing to accept a whitewashed world. Our children need to see role models who look like them, not just lily white ones. Also, studies have shown that redface is harmful to the mental and emotionally well-being of Native children. Yet at the same time, are we as Native adults setting a good example for the next generation when we put Native actors and actresses in the position of playing to Hollywood’s stereotypes of who we are?
It’s time we stop dancing to their tune. We don’t have to play into their lies. No more one little, two little, three little Indians. We have the tools and talent necessary to tell our own stories, with our own voices. We have the power, and are the most qualified, to show the world who we are as Natives.
Late last night, my father and I talked about how the ethnic term Latino mislabels Indigenous and mixed-Indigenous people from Mexico, Ecuador, Puerto Rico, etc.
“Oh Uncle Adrian, I am in the reservation of my mind,” is a passage from Adrian C. Louis’s literary work, Elegy for the Forgotten Oldsmobile. It is the same one line written by a different author and in a different context which affirms a biography of oppression in living on an Indian reservation; and the intellectual and emotional understanding that fuses together the immense communicative power of language. For Sherman Alexie, a Spokane/Coeur d'Alene Indian, who grew up destitute where literary dreams were more than beyond reach, Louis’ passage opened his eyes to the potential of writing. Alexie soon went on to write several novels, for example: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, War Dance, First Indian on the Moon, Indian Killer; and and Smoke Signals (1998), a critically acclaimed movie based on one of Alexie’s short stories and for which he co-wrote the screenplay Smoke Signals (1998), a critically acclaimed movie based on one of Alexie’s short stories. Sherman Alexie’s writing has cleared a mental, emotional and spiritual path for others wanting to ‘fancy dance’ a new Indian reality though writing.
For some however, moving beyond reservation borders is more difficult — a place where poverty, despair and alcoholism have often shaped the lives of many Native Americans living on reservations. But what about Indians who grew up off reservations with desires of wanting to write a different experience?
In a series of e-mails Alexei Auld, Pamunkey-Tauxenant, Graduate, Columbia School of Law, and a Sundance Native Writing alum whose work has been featured in E! True Hollywood Story, Fondo Del Sol, and numerous curated festivals and publications has recently penned a must-read book titled Tonto Canto Pocahontas to answer my inquiry.
Auld asserts, “It is difficult, but as human beings, we cope in different ways. It was easier for me to move beyond the 'reservation mind' because I never grew up on one. And I'm not making a judgment, it's just my reality.” He continues, “I have always participated in the culture. My grandmother was in an arranged marriage with my grandfather to 'keep the blood strong'. My cousin, who was the Chief's brother, married my wife and I. I was a member of a Lumbee Indian church in Baltimore (they were originally from North Carolina, so they were experiencing the whole off-Rez urban experience as well). I worked the powwow circuit with my parents until I left for law school in NYC. Served as president of Columbia Law's Native American Law Students Association. Organized the first unity pow wow between Columbia's undergraduate and graduate Native American student organizations.”
One of our grandfather teachings is to be humble. Webster’s Dictionary defines humble as: 1. not proud or haughty; 2. not aggressive or assertive; 3. lacking all signs of pride or arrogance, reflecting or acting in a manner of deference or submission.
I’m a sucker for political dramas and the Netflix series House of Cards is as good (or better) than any other series I’ve seen in the last 10 years. It’s fast-paced, intelligent and full of all the elements that make for good drama—scandal, sex and unexpected twists and turns.
The old Native American walks slowly but he walks for at least two hours every day. If you ask the old man his name, he will look at you with his dark brown eyes. He will smile. And he will tell you it is Marlon. The Spirits know him by a different name.
The Two Row Wampum Renewal Campaign landed in The Netherlands.
In a ceremony under a Tree of Peace in the center of the Hague, Onondaga Faithkeeper Oren Lyons presented a replica of the Two Row Wampum to the Ambassador for Human Rights of the government of the Netherlands.
Anniversaries matter in the short run as memory markers and in the long run they become traditions. The year 1963 was the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, and it was used by activists of the time to take another step toward emancipation on the economic front.
Unless you're an anthropologist, you've probably never heard of Professor George Stocking, Jr., so you also wouldn't have noticed his obituary in The New Yor
As a Mohawk historian who uses wampum belts to tell our story, I have always loved the Two Row Wampum Belt and its metaphor of the native canoe and European ship sailing side by side down the river of life.
In the music business summertime is prime season for B-list and “nostalgia” acts to go on tour with an abundance of venues, from county fairs and festivals to the usual Indian casino gigs.
Bethany Berger is a first rate legal scholar who has done a great deal of useful work for Indians in academia. Before that, she paid her dues in the legal trenches of Dinébe’iiná Náhiiłna be Agha’diit’ahii.
The visions of my father, Isaac Curley Sr., come and go with each passing month and season. My father was born on March 25, 1922 and raised on the Navajo reservation. His home was a hogan, the family subsisted upon livestock, no modern conveniences and news was gathered only by word of mouth.
Starting the first Friday in June, my Native Trailblazers radio show will be highlighting for the third year in a row an impressive amount of Native American, First Nations and other indigenous groups and artists in music.