Stereo Types and the American Indian by Paty Jager

On my quest to learn all I can to portray my American Indian characters as real and correct as I can, I attend any event that will help my learning.

This past week I attended “Savages/Chiefs/Warriors: the Language of Stereotypes” at the Tamástslikt Cultural Institute in Pendleton, Oregon.  The speakers were Dr. Phillip Cash Cash and Charles F. Sams III.

Dr. Cash Cash started the talk with a PowerPoint presentation that had a photo the Declaration of Independence and the words, “the merciless Indian Savages” circled in that very first American document. From the beginning, when all the American Indian wanted to do was protect their way of life, they were called names by those who didn’t understand them.

Included in the PowerPoint were photos of old westerns with most of the Indian parts being played by White actors. Then a slide with brand names that use or used unflattering Indian words or photos of Indian men in war bonnets, or an Indian maiden. He showed how the derogatory words had been used over the years without thinking about how it demoralized the First Nations People.

Another slide had four romance book covers with Savage in the book titles and a male Indian embracing a White woman.  Dr. Cash Cash said that not only was there stereotyping but a trope being used as well. Tropes were another way the American Indian has been “put down” over the years. Portrayals of drunken Indians, calling them Nomads when they are hunter gatherers and travel with the seasons.

His portion of the talk dealt mainly with how long stereotyping has been going on and how in the 70s & 80s when there was more of an awareness of treating everyone equal that the derisive words and advertising started to change.

Charles Sams III talk the second half of the program. He started off telling us how the Umatilla bands, specifically Cayuse came to this earth and how from the story, which he couldn’t tell in full story mode because stories can only be told in the winter, when there is snow on the mountain. But he told of the coming of the People. And how they came from the earth and how archeologists have discovered how long ago people lived on the earth by middens, the dumps or refuse that humans leave behind. He said he doesn’t believe that American Indians came from Asia. There has been no middens found along the path they have been presumed to have taken. As an Indian, he believes the stories of coming from the earth. As an educated person with a science background he knows there has to be an explanation. 😉

He said the biggest influence in getting the American Indian more respect was Richard Nixon pushing through The Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act of 1975. It gave the tribes a chance to better their lives and the generations to come.  The American Indian believes they are a steward of the land. They don’t want to own land, but will to make sure that the animals and land flourish.

The believe in the constitution because it is under the constitution that all treaties were drawn up and signed. If the constitution goes away, they could lose the lands that were given them by the United States government. It is this reason that Charles grandmother made her seven boys join the military during World War II. They didn’t understand why their mother would send them all off to fight for a country that didn’t give them the same rights as others. She told them because if the U.S. lost, they would lose their treaties and the land the land they had now. He said all seven came home from the war and went on to fight for the rights of the American Indian.

During the discussion at the end it was said, that Indians laugh at themselves to cope with the frustration they feel every day.

Here is a list of stereotypes or wrong assumptions that were listed:

And here is the Youtube video that was shown at the end of the event:

I’ll have another post on what was said about hunting and gathering.

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