Pre-Easter Celebrations an Insult to American Indians

Julianne Jennings
February 24, 2013

While strolling with friends through the busy streets of Spoleto, an ancient Italian city in the province of Umbria, we stepped into the start of celebrations or carnivals called, Quaresima. This is the time that precedes the celebration of Easter or the Great Feast, and according to the Roman Rite, had 44 days (starting from Ash Wednesday), while, according to the Ambrosian practice, it lasts 40, from the Sunday after Shrove Tuesday. This period is characterized by the call to conversion to God with typical practices of Lent fasting, ecclesiastical and other forms of penance, more intense prayer and the practice of charity. It is a journey of preparation to celebrate Easter, which is the culmination of the Christian holidays.

This year’s carnival theme happened to be Cowboys and Indians. Italian actors wearing cowboy hats and bandanas, shooting shiny silver toy guns loaded with confetti into the air. While other performers were decked out in face paint, brightly colored headdresses, beads and offering war cries to on-lookers, seemed like the equivalent to blackface in minstrel shows; gives this pre-Easter holiday season an entirely new platform for immature, morally depraved, suburbanite and ignorant individuals to get away with obvious hatred and bigotry towards American Indians.

When trying to explain to the actors and my friends how disrespectful the carnival is in perpetuating Indian stereotypes, they told me I was being overly sensitive and that it was just entertainment as a means of making ME look stupid for calling them on their foolishness, when you know I was completely in the right for doing so. A few minutes later, a comment was made based on my appearance, “You don’t look Indian,” as I stood there in my wool Calvin Kline red winter coat, sneakers and short black hair.

 I cut off my long black hair to protest against stereotyping. I felt my hair chained me to this country’s racialized notion of what it is to be an Indian—stoic, admired for heroism, along with the ideological construction of romanticism that evoked classic images of the noble savage, seductive squaw or the blood-thirsty Redskin. These descriptions serve as weapons in our continued subjugation ensuring our status as “backward” and “primitive.” The same perceived notion of how we should appear. Historically, American Indians have always been cosmopolitan, as a result of contact with various groups of people through travel, trade, out marriage, migration; and later slavery.

From the making of Hollywood’s Indian to race-based holidays like Columbus Day, Thanksgiving, and now Easter, only creates resentment and raises racial tensions given the number of individuals, who may not even realize, fuel stereotypes when dressed up as someone of another race for an occasion. Halloween is a good example. They will tell you, “We love Indians.” If you love us, then learn the truth.

The whole idea of using Native Americans as a foil for Eurocentric or Catholic Church-centric public displays of “religion” only accentuates the depravity of the Catholic so-called “missionaries” who thought, taught, and preached violence and hatred against Native Americans and authorized the whole-sale murder of an entire group of humanity. And don’t even get me started on the destruction of Native American records and medical or astronomical treatises; thus consigning to oblivion the accumulated wisdom and knowledge of millennia of Native medicine, Native astronomy, Native surgical methods, Native religions, Native legal practices, and Native cultures or worldviews.

I find the Catholic Church’s attitude toward their extermination practices of Native cultures in the Americas just as despicable as the Nazi exterminations of Jews, Gypsies, mentally impaired people, all of the non-white people of the world, and anyone else they deemed “undesirable.” They (Nazis and medieval or renaissance Catholics) are all in the same category of hate-mongers. From this experience, it is clear that the current-day Catholic Church has changed none of its stance toward the indigenous peoples of the Americas, the canonization of Kateri Tekakwitha (Lily of the Mohawk) notwithstanding.

The practice of charity I give for this Easter holiday season is an opportunity to act as cultural broker between the two worlds helping to educate the Italian people who we are today. I would love to call upon Alessandro Profeti and Hunkapi, two Italian-Indian organizations that advocate on the behalf on behalf of Native Americans, to help me organize a panel discussion in Spoleto on the harms of Indian stereotypes. This would help restore balance and harmony between the two cultures and help shed misconceptions about Indians— just a little something to put in your Easter basket.

Julianne Jennings (Nottoway) is an anthropologist.




yawnnnn. Do we get to see this same article in some form or fashion every-year about this time? I feel "INSULTED" considering how progressives have taken the godly-ness/sacredness of the RESTORATION TO NEW LIFE by marketing and promoting the Easter Bunny ever-more in the name of consumerism. What do YOU propose to replace the organized religion with considering each tribal nation has THEIR own acknowledgement to LIFE. Do these tribal nations even still realize and know their prayers anymore?
Like many Native people I grew up with mixed ethnic heritage. My mom was from the reservation and my father was first generation Sicilian-American. Growing up I was around my Italian/Sicilian relatives far more than my Indian relatives. But I always related more to my Indian side, ever since I was small. To this day my Italian relatives don't understand it. "You're more Italian than you are Indian," they say. It drives them nuts.......they seem to take it as a personal insult that I am more compelled by my Indian-ness than my Italian-ness. The dilemmas of a mixed race, mixed heritage person. Many Italians percieve themselves as superior to others. But from the other side, I also hear these kinds of attitudes from Native (or people who claim to be Native) people also. In an op-ed I wrote and was published here at ICTMN just this week, someone commented that I couldn't be trusted because of my hair color and my hyphenated name. What that has to do with anything is beyond me. The point is, the concept of racial/cultural superiority and all its attendant ignorance is so deeply embedded in the psyches of peoples all over the planet that these kinds of displays at the Catholic festival remind us how far we have to go in educating people about that ignorance.
It is hard to fight a steriotype that has been a long staple of Hollywood. Painting the picture of the Indian savage brings about a romantic notion of what Indian life was back then. The European whites never saw anything like it. In dressing and behaving as the Hollywood steriotype, they are making fools of themselves and practicing a racism they can't understand. They are behaving like uneducated children. They are stupid people
I so agree with you. I am a second generation Italian-American. People need to be told the truth. Deborah DeVencenty-Walker
Good points made by the author of this article. Interesting but religion is formed and cemented in the formative years. People will usually adapt to what their taught and that will usually be their gospel. A little history of the church when offered will often lessen it's grip on the individual. Andre Leonard,
I live in Washington DC. Home of the "Redskins". The majority of the ignorant people in Washington cannot see the racial bigotry in the term "Redskins". even the African Americans here do not see the term as racial. How would they like it if the team name were changed to The Washington Ni**ers"? Rick Three Bears
Wow why are you getting so up tight over harmless fun that no ones going to remember until next year?
I am half Native and half Italian. I am also Catholic. The Church has and continues to do so much good to native peoples here in North America, Central and South America as well as Africa and so on and so on, It is easy to blame the Church for the few bad apples but not all the history is bad. What about what Natives have done to each other? People just need to learn to look past skin color! I am so tired of racism, bigotry, misogyny and a culture of death. As the late Rodney King said "Can't we just get along?" In this day and age we all need each other because the times are a changing and if we can't get on a new road.......... and like the person that said what if we called a pro team the blackies or the Ni@@ers? I remember long ago there was a restaurant chain called Sambo's. It was that for years then in the late sixties to early seventies because it was offensive to blacks it was changed to something else and then after a couple of years it closed down. The problem with Natives is that Natives pull no weight. Like say Rosa Parks. Can we stop riding the buses or not go to any stores? no about the only thing Natives can do is close the casinos. That is another thing why can some tribes have casinos and others can't? Because the larger nations prevent the smaller ones. What really needs to be done is to educate the world about doing wrong to anyone!
How do you educate the deliberately ignorant? The fact that the people you spoke to argued that they were just having fun and told you that “You don’t look Indian” tells me they are CHOOSING ignorance over education. I wonder how they would have felt had you been dressed up as the stereotypical Italian (which appears to be the Mafia stereotype) and paraded around with a fake assault weapon shooting people with it?
ajross's picture
Religion and ignorance. I don't think religion has much to do with their display anymore than religion has to do with mardigras in NewOrleans. They are just ignorant and feel entitled. Having said that, the Catholic church has been and still is the one of the most backward forces in the world. After doing my own genetic testing, it is a possiblity that one ancestor may have been a Sicilian Jew. Through this I found that the catholic church supported the Spanish rulers with their demands that Jews leave Sicily or convert. These are the same Spanish rulers that sent Columbus on his way. The church has shut out the light of day in Sicily for centuries.
I truly feel this is a case of pure ignorance, not malice...still, it hurts just the same...what we need to ask is how do we get people to understand the hurt it causes?
Disrespect? Yes. Hatred, no. Bigotry, maybe. Julianne undoubtedly is sincere, but hatred is likely overstatement. I grew up a minority of one in my school, being able to pass either way, but having learned to pass one way after a bad experience early in public elementary school while Dad was in the Army, being the target of the teasing ignorami after a show and tell with some feathers and shells Dad had sent me. That wasn't 'hate', though, only ignorance. When he got home I was immediately in another school, Quaker, where any form of harassment was severely disciplined. When kids were playing Indian they were aping what they saw in the Saturday matinee movies, and they didn't know any better. But there was no hate. The Church was instrumental in making sure there was no harassment in classes there. In the early days in New England, there were two brands of Christianity: Catholic and Puritan. Puritan centered in Massachusetts, Catholic in Quebec and northern New England. The Catholic was French in origin, the Puritan was outcast English in origin. The Wars between England and France were expressed by their counterparts here. The approach of the Catholics in the north was cooptive, even manipulative, to give us a 'better understanding' of our deity Kautontowit as being our early, incomplete expression of God. So we had been 'right', but incomplete. The approach of the Puritans in the south was preemptive, we were savages who were worshipping Satan and deserved nothing but death. It is easy to see why we preferred the French! Aping is parody, and sometimes so understood and therefore evil, and sometimes not understood and ignorance. Now that we've moved on from Puritan days, mostly, its rarely hatred. My mother and her family did not hate me. My Dad, nadadan, is who I look like any more. He and his family love(d) me.
Why is no one up in arms about the 'insult" to cowboys. Again, you need to get over yourselves.
rezzdog's picture
Well, for one thing, being a Cowboy is a profession, not a nation, culture or a peoples. And, they are locked in an infinite underage status, otherwise they would be called Cowmen and not Cowchildren. (boys).
Amazing Post.thanks for share..more wait ..