THE AMERICAN INDIAN
STEREOTYPE . . .
August 8, 1997
My people, Native American Indians, have among the non-Indian American people, almost as many stereotypes as we have tribes: the stoic, the drunk, the savage, the noble red man, the meek "squaw", the proud princess, the pathetic Indian; all of these types drawn against the image of a nickel Indian profile or dream world valiant Pocahontas. We suffer from being asked stereotypical questions also: Are you a real Indian? How do you say something in Indian? Why can't you Indians get together and unite? Can you do the Indian dance? Or was your sister, mother or grandmother an Indian princess?
These stereotypes imply that we Native American Indian people are all one and the same. We are not. The American non-Indian's failure to recognize the distinctness of one tribal Nation from another has resulted in a tremendous cultural loss to the United States. Such a monumental oversight might be excused by the fact that the Europeans who first invaded these shores could not understand each other.
The Norwegians, Italians, Spanish, Dutch, French,
and English presumably could not compare among
themselves their experiences with the newly discovered
native. Had they done so, they might have perceived that
there were national cultural differences among the
native people, similar to what they themselves experienced.
Through the ensuing centuries to the present moment, however, ignorance seems the only explanation for why the descendants of those early Caucasians were still unaware of the diversity of American Indian tribal cultures. This national blindness has not only distorted American history, it has created a situation which diminishes the impact of the one universal quality that did indeed apply to all of America's indigenous peoples.
Every tribe surrounded itself in beauty regardless of region or mode of existence. Some tribes were agricultural people, some were forest people, some were desert people, some were fishing folk and some were wanderers; each was of a culture that included as part of their natural lifestyle what today is described as the arts.
Clans had their own songs, their own poems, their family symbols; tribes had their own dances, their own religious ceremonies, and their own stories, which today are called myths/tales by non-Indians. Theirs was a natural and effortless Life Beautiful. Thus an entire race has been denied its one genuine identifying characteristic, lost in the imposed stereotypical images which are rampant in the non-Indian American mind. Even the word "Indian" is not our true name, for it is created and lives in men's minds.
We descendants of America's aborigines are trying to re-establish our proper cultural legacy. We have managed to undo the horrendous federal program initiated in the 1950's whereby Native American Indian people were removed from reservations to certain selected cities to be taught vocations that would enable them to earn livings.
The vocations were such as shoe repairer, beautician, and machinist: all trades which required manual dexterity but which permitted no freedom of spirit to apply that manual dexterity to beauty of design.
The relocation program was wasteful, and worse, it was spiritually detrimental. History upon these shores has always seemed to be a battle between people advocating love and respect, and those advocating enslavementónot merely restricted to physical enslavement, but that which also encompasses thoughts and ideals.
We are different than the American culture, and those differences will always prevail as long as there is one last Indian alive. We will never become a part of the American dream of a national melting pot. Our spiritual values, our love and respect for the Mother Earth and all Her inhabitants, and how we conduct ourselves in this world in pursuit of truth, humbleness and humility, honor, and grateful respect for all life, and all things, are our one true image despite individual tribal differences.
The American society's egocentric values, motivations, and pursuits are alien and unacceptable to my beliefs. And they are temporary, ephemeral, and do not contribute to peace and the sanctity of living. They only substitute for a spiritual lack or void. All that ever was, is, and ever will be is internal. Knowledge of, and the living of this is what characterizes the true "Indian" identity and the mark of "Indianness" which transcends tribal differences and unites us as a race, as one people. Only when the non-Indian American understands and makes the necessary transformation of the essence of mankind: from hate into love, selfishness into generosity, aggression into peace, greed into generosity, will he know me and my peopleóhe will not refer to me as "Indian" -- a name so misunderstood -- but as "Brother".
We must return to the flow and ebb of life, and move away from embracing too much the false ideals that have been thrust upon my people as being more important.
We must return to the memory of whom and what we are with basic human rights grounded and founded upon Universal Law and Universal Spiritual Truths.
We must return to solidify our tribal instincts which are the real way to self-determination and not the imitation of others.
We must retain our own pride and not substitute it for the standards measured by others, but by ourselves.
At that point, we will have self-determination.
We must retain to respect differences as well as similarities we find in others. Difference is strength.
Perhaps Native American Indians could one day have the opportunity of reaching the non-Indian world through our one true image, the people who surround in beauty. And that day is today . . .
J.C. High Eagle
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