November is Native American Heritage Month. It's a time to reflect on the significant contributions Indigenous peoples have made to the establishment of the United States and to celebrate Native culture.
It's also a period of time–from Halloween to Thanksgiving–when it's hard out there for an Indian. Because Native Americans are half of that mythological "First Thanksgiving" story, I thought I'd dispel a few misconceptions about Indigenous people. So, here's my #Nativeprobs–Or, why it's hard out there for an Indian:
Perhaps you still think that all Native people live on reservations because of the images conjured up from the stories of the "First Thanksgiving." Well, I'm sorry to break it to you, but we don't all live on reservations. Many of us live in major cities like New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. We fondly call ourselves, "Urban Natives" or "Urban Indians." Some of us are full-blooded and others of us are mixed-race. Some of us are from remote, Northwestern communities while others are from the Florida Everglades. We are diverse and tend to identify most closely with our tribal affiliation (like Hopi or Shawnee). We don't all look the same, so you might miss us if you're expecting to see the type of Indian who would walk right out of a Hollywood western: war paint, two long braids and a pronounced nose.
Native photographer, Anthony Thosh Collins, demonstrated that for "Rock Your Mocs Day"–a day when Native people everywhere sport their baddest pair of moccasins (whether walking on sacred tribal land or the streets of New York).
Not all Native American women look like Pocahontas. And sexualizing Native women with "Pocahottie"-themed costumes is not only sexist, it's no laughing matter. According to the Department of Justice, American Indians are 2.5 times more likely to experience sexual crimes compared to all other races. And, one in three Indian women report having been raped in their lifetime.
Besides, your idea of her is based off of a cartoon drawing made to look like Irene Bedard, the voice actor who played Pocahontas. She's actually an Aboriginal Canadian, not from a Virginia Tribe, which is where the Powhatan Nation, really existed.
There's this myth that we get lots of free stuff just because we're Native. Sure there may be some perks that a few tribes have benefited from due to their unique government-to-government relationship with the United States, but no, gas isn't one of them. Not even in Canada. Yes, I'm looking at you, Justin Bieber.
We can't seem to shake the stereotype that we're all alcoholics and/or drug addicts. But, did you know that white men may be bigger drinkers than Native Americans? According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, white people are more likely than any other demographic to start drinking at a younger age, drink on a daily basis and drive while under the influence of alcohol.
I hear it all of the time. "Why are you complaining? You guys are rich…you have casinos!"
Riiiiight…well, without going into this one, I'll say this: Why is it that when even one person of color makes money, we want to tear them down. But, no one questions billionaires like Donald Trump?
The term "Indian Giver." I'd like to officially request that we at least hold off from using it until after the new year. That means you, Mama Kardashian.
I know you may not see why you shouldn't say it, but any hint that we gave away land–not that it was stolen from us–is offensive. Period.
Remember that trite "Crying Indian" PSA from the 1970's? Well, "Iron Eyes Cody" wasn't really Indian. He was Italian. And, his name wasn't really "Iron Eyes." [Mind blown, right?]
Unlike good old "Iron Eyes," we don't all have a strong connection to nature. But, for those of us who do, we may not want to put it on display for you. So, please don't ask when it's going to rain.
No, we don't all dress the same. Sure last week's episode of Family Guy may be funny, but not all Native Americans wear denim jackets, two braids and a headband over our foreheads. Given the diversity in the climates we come from, denim isn't warm enough to wear year-round for all Native people.
It's football season and everyone doggedly supports their team of choice, be it NFL or high school. Joy. We get to watch a parade of wannabe "Indian chiefs" on TV in the name of "respect." And, no, Dan–never going to change the name–Snyder, owner of the Washington Redskins, your team name and the imagery you're appropriating is still racist even if the Navajo "Codetalkers" made a cameo at a recent game. Why? Because allowing professional football teams to use stereotypical Native American imagery means schools in Alabama like McAdory High School think it's okay to hold up a sign that says, “Hey Indians, get ready to leave in a trail of tears. Round 2,” as a threat to an opposing team.
People assume that there is a "Native" perspective. As if all Native Americans feel the same way about all things. But, not all Indigenous people feel the same way about everything. Just like different tribes have different beliefs, some Native folks may disagree with me on some or all of the above.
In fact, some Natives hate the idea of Thanksgiving altogether. But, I'll just leave that debate for another time.
Since it's Thanksgiving, I'll share what I'm thankful for: having this platform to share some of my #Nativeprobs. I hope I cleared up some things for you.
Image: Flickr/ Five Hanks