Why do non-Indian Americans think about Indians the way they do, and what are the consequences? Scholars have explored these questions by analyzing the images of “Indianness” used by Americans. From colonial times forward, “Indian” figures or characters appeared in visual form–paintings, photographs, cartoons, home furniture and accessories, pageants and public shows, advertisements, film, and logos. Portrayals of “Indians” also occurred in songs, jokes, and games. Indian imagery has two themes: ignoble and noble qualities. Scholars argue that such imagery served and serves a purpose—to reconcile the contradiction between the ideals of national honor and the actual treatment of Indians in America. As this viewpoint gained wide acceptance in the 1970s, anthropologists, historians, and other scholars worked to expunge biases and incorporate Native perspectives into their work.
Americans’ ideas about Indians were shaped by their colonial history. Beginning with Columbus, Indians were represented as either “noble” (healthy, free, guileless, in harmony with nature, exotic, cooperative, and uncorrupted by “civilized” institutions such as government or religion) or “ignoble” (ferocious, warlike, wild, degraded). Europeans sent missionaries to convert and officials to negotiate for land purchase or trade with the “willing” noble savage. Any resistance to European terms by ignoble savages became “just cause” for military subjugation.
During the Revolutionary War and for generations after, Americans relied on Noble Savage imagery to help establish a national identity and to justify making treaties with Indians. Ignoble Savage imagery rationalized war and dispossession through violence.
Americans who protested against British rule commonly dressed as Noble “Indians,” who represented freedom and an ancient association with North America, rather than with Europe. Men’s organizations took on this Indian theme in subsequent years as an expression of American patriotism.
Treaties (from 1785 to the 1820s in the Midwest) were represented as “expansion with honor” because Indians ostensibly gave their consent to land cessions in return for assistance to survive as communities. Imagery of treaty councils portrayed Indians as willing subordinates.
On the other hand, frontiersmen opposed the treaty policy and trespassed and committed hostile acts in Indian country. Indians retaliated as they tried to defend their homeland, which led to war against Indians in the Midwest in 1790-95. Imagery of Indians as violent and bestial both reflected and reinforced frontier sentiments.
By the 1820s, the federal government began to promote a new solution to the problem of how to transfer Indian land to U. S. citizens, the “Removal Policy.” Officials vigorously pursued this effort to move Indians west of the Mississippi River during the 1830s and 1840s, effectively disregarding the treaties that had guaranteed land to Indians in their homeland. The “republicanism” of the Constitution (which gave control of the government to men who owned property) gave way to the new ideal of “democracy,” ostensibly based on majority rule, free enterprise, minimal government that benefited all alike, and individual opportunity. Without land ownership, social mobility was unlikely, so the proponents of democracy were settlers in the frontier region and other landless Americans, who supported Indian removal.
The national narrative was that Indians, regarded as inferior to White people, were doomed to extinction. Removal treaties, that provided land and assistance to help Native people survive elsewhere, would be their only salvation. The federal government would offer Indians (declared “wards” of the government by the Supreme Court) protection and assistance. Indian imagery both reflected these views and promoted them. “Noble” Indians were portrayed as doomed or pitiful, not capable of being part of American society. Indians who resisted removal were portrayed as obstacles to progress in the ignoble savage tradition, which rationalized war against them.
After the removal of most of the Native peoples in the Midwest area (and the military defeat of tribes west of the Mississippi River), the federal government devoted more resources to the “civilization” program and ended treaty-making with tribes. Those tribes on reservations saw their land divided into individually-owned plots and the remainder sold. Federal agents on the reservations had the power to deny their wards freedom of religion, parental rights, and self-government, and they controlled tribal and individuals’ property. Non-Indians were able to obtain Indian land and resources (such as timber) very cheaply, because the prevailing policy was that non-Indians would make better use of them. The rationale for this kind of treatment was that Indians would benefit from civilization. When, instead, poverty and graft resulted from reservation life, Indians were blamed as deficient.
The Noble Indian imagery, in which Indians were associated with a past Golden Age, remained popular in the late 19th and 20th centuries. Americans were nostalgic about Indians in the past. They could draw on this imagery to sell products and develop tourism. Indian imagery also was used to create personal or group identities (for example, as Boy Scouts, countercultural activists, or sports fans). By their preoccupation with Indians of the past, Americans could ignore the circumstances of contemporary Indian life.
HOW DID AMERICANS REPRESENT “NOBLE” INDIANS IN THE GREAT LAKES REGION AND WHY WAS THIS IMAGERY POPULAR?
(Click on photo for caption)
Alan Trachtenberg explores the role of “The Song of Hiawatha” in American life. The poem was written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, whose chief source was the work of Henry Rowe Schoolcraft, who published Ojibwa stories about a supernatural being who both helped and harmed humans. Longfellow renamed him Hiawatha, after a heroic Iroquois figure. Longfellow’s poem became a folk tradition for Americans, and “Hiawatha,” the “good Indian,” appeared in coloring books, songs, performances, visual art, and other contexts. In discussing the end of the poem, when Hiawatha departs his homeland, Trachtenberg writes:
Longfellow contrived “a ‘departure’ scene, an Indian ‘assumption’ of a dead or dying god figure redeeming a nation that had in real life spilled oceans of blood and inflicted immeasurable bodily pain to achieve its dominance . . . . Repeated performance of gentle Hiawatha’s farewell passion displaced and substituted for a history of actual blood sacrifice . . . and it gave the nation an aestheticized version of its own unspoken historical memory.” From Alan Trachtenberg, Shades of Hiawatha, 2004, pp. 87-88
Read these stanzas from the end of The Song of Hiawatha , 1911 by Longfellow. Can you find the imagery which Trachtenberg uses to convey these themes: Hiawatha’s nobility and welcoming of the White man. His willing departure in the face of a superior way of life that became available to his people. What emotion is evoked by these images? “sun descending,” “clouds on fire,” and “westward Hiawatha sailed into the fiery sunset, the purple vapors, the dusk of evening”?
And the noble Hiawatha,
With his hands aloft extended,
Held aloft in sign of welcome.
Waited, full of exultation,
Till the birch canoe with paddles
Grated on the shining pebbles,
Stranded on the sandy margin,
Till the Black-Robe chief, the Pale-face,
With the cross upon his bosom,
Landed on the sandy margin.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Forth into the village went he,
Bade farewell to all the warriors,
Bade farewell to all the young men,
Spake persuading, spake in this wise:
“I am going, O my people,
On a long and distant journey;
Many moons and many winters
Will have come, and will have vanished,
Ere I come again to see you.
But my guests I leave behind me;
Listen to their words of wisdom,
Listen to the truth they tell you,
For the Master of Life has sent them
From the land of light and morning!”
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
And the evening sun descending
Set the clouds on fire with redness,
Burned the broad sky, like a prairie,
Left upon the level water
One long track and trail of splendor,
Down whose stream, as down a river,
Westward, westward Hiawatha
Sailed into the fiery sunset,
Sailed into the purple vapors,
Sailed into the dusk of evening.
(pages 219-20, 224-25)
The image of the ignoble Indian survived into the 20th century, as well. In contrast to Indians in the past, Indian contemporaries were no longer “noble” but, rather, degraded (lazy, corrupted, even “fake”), particularly when they challenged the status quo.
What scholars argue is that Indians have been and are treated as alien to American society, on the one hand, and a necessary part of national identity, on the other. Indian imagery, as used by Americans works to reconcile the tension between American ideals and the harsh reality of Indians’ treatment.
LISTEN TO HISTORIAN DAVE EDMUNDS EXPLAIN HOW IMAGERY ASSOCIATED WITH TECUMSEH CHANGED OVER TIME TO ACCOMMODATE AMERICAN INTERESTS. Help
Academic publications, as well as textbooks and films, have promoted this Noble/Ignoble Indian imagery. In recent years, scholars have recognized the distortions inherent in this kind of Indian imagery and committed to acknowledging or incorporating Native interpretations, viewpoints, and explanations into their work. In this spirit, Native American studies programs have been established at major universities in the Midwest region.
LISTEN TO ETHNOHISTORIAN RAY DEMALLIE EXPLAIN HOW THE WRITINGS OF CHARLES EASTMAN HELPED HIM GAIN A BETTER UNDERSTANDING OF DAKOTA CULTURE AND HISTORY. Help
Museum professionals also have committed to acknowledging the importance of Native participation.
LISTEN TO ANTHROPOLOGIST NANCY LURIE EXPLAIN HOW THE MILWAUKEE INDIAN COMMUNITY TOOK A MAJOR ROLE IN PLANNING A NEW EXHIBIT AREA AT THE MILWAUKEE PUBLIC MUSEUM. Help
The powwow exhibit at the Milwaukee Public Museum not only was planned by local Indian people, but they also posed for the facial casts of the dancers and made the dance outfits.
WOULD YOU LIKE TO HEAR MORE ABOUT THE POWWOW EXHIBIT? Help
Do you want to do your own research on Indian Imagery?
Patricia C. Albers and William R. James. “Images and Reality: Post Cards of Minnesota’s Ojibway People, 1900-80,” Minnesota History, 49, 6, 1985. The authors provide an excellent discussion of how postcards with Indian themes reinforce stereotypes. Americans drew perceptions of Ojibwas from postcard images. Anthropologists Albers and James discuss how Native identity was distorted by photographers staging subjects, selecting certain activities to photograph and ignoring others, employing a Plains or Hiawatha theme, using mock Indian villages or scenic views as background, and using captions that disparaged Indians. The result was that tourists and others did not perceive contemporary Indians outside the stereotypic representation as “real.”
Robert F. Berkhofer, Jr. The White Man’s Indian, 1978. This book is an important early discussion of Indian imagery that influenced subsequent research. Historian Berkhofer explores how the idea of the “Indian” as a general category was invented and perpetuated, and how religious doctrine and early attempts at “science” (and scientific racism) reinforced the idea of the American Indian as both ignoble and noble “savage.” He also illustrates how imagery in literature and visual art maintained this idea of the Indian in the popular imagination. Finally, Berkhofer shows how the imagery worked to rationalize policies that served the interests of White Americans and how these policies put Native Americans at a disadvantage. See also Berkhofer’s article “White Conceptions of Indians“ in History of Indian-White Relations, ed. Wilcomb E. Washburn, Handbook of North American Indians 4, 1988
S. Elizabeth Bird, ed. Dressing in Feathers,1996. This volume explores the use of “good” and “bad” Indian imagery. Good Indians help Americans and recognize the inevitability of White domination. Not a threat, they are colorful and quaint. Activist Indians are characterized as lazy, dependent, undeserving, and incompetent. The ability to depict Indians in this way derives from the power differential between majority America and the Indian minority. Jeffrey Steele’s article explores Indian imagery in 19th and 20th century advertisements, pointing out that stereotypes sell. He also argues that the portrayal of minorities in ads worked to create a middle-class unity based on consumerism. Cynthia-Lou Coleman examines a conflict over copper mining in northern Wisconsin in the early 1990s, showing how newspaper articles portrayed Indian activists who opposed the mine as irrational, unprogressive, and warlike outsiders.
Edward Buscombe, ‘Injuns!’, 2006. Film historian Buscombe writes a clear and concise history of how Indian imagery is used in American and European cinema. Prior to the 1920s, silent films made in a woodlands setting included portrayals of pure but doomed Indians, frozen in time (18th or early 19th centuries). These Hiawatha-themed films tended to be idealized views of a simple life, often love stories about a “brave” and a “maiden.” James Young Deer, a Winnebago director, and his wife actress Lillian Red Wing made several films. “White Fawn’s Devotion” (1910) was about a White settler married to an Indian woman who was his moral superior. She saves him from his mistakes. Young Deer received bad reviews for his mixed-race theme. Red Wing made several films produced by Bison Company, including “Flight of Red Wing,” about a “good Indian” princess who helps White Americans. By the 1920s, the film industry had lost interest in pastoral romance and made films about the American West that portrayed Indians as violent obstacles to progress. In “Unconquered” (1947), Indians allied with the French in the Seven Years War massacre settlers under a flag of truce. They capture Paulette Goddard, strip her, and tie her to a stake to be tortured. Gary Cooper is able to rescue her by convincing the simple-minded Indians he has magic (gunpowder and a compass).
Renée Ann Cramer. Cash, Color, and Colonialism, 2005. Political scientist Cramer uses the federal acknowledgment process to examine how Americans’ perceptions of Indian identity are based on “race” (how they look), “primitivism” (the degree to which they can function in the modern world), and “poverty” (how much money they have). These perceptions move Americans to believe that “real” Indians are poor (and powerless) and unable to function well in the modern world. Counter examples are “fake” Indians. Cramer argues that the federal government has been reluctant to recognize tribes whose identity is discredited by these stereotypes. She examines the Pequots in Massachusetts and the Poarch Band of Creeks in Alabama from this perspective.
Eve Darian-Smith. New Capitalists, 2004. This anthropologist explores the public’s identification of Native Americans as “rich Indians” who do not fit the stereotype of “real” Indians. Stereotypes prevent mainstream society from imagining real Native Americans in positions of power, authority, and social prestige. Indians with adequate income are somehow inauthentic. Darian-Smith also shows how “rich Indian” imagery has been used politically to oppose Indian gaming.
Philip J. Deloria. Playing Indian, 1998. Historian Deloria examines the various ways Americans have appropriated Indian dress and roles to claim an identity. The Boy Scouts, Camp Fire Girls, hobbyists, New Age Movement—all are examples of how Americans used Indian imagery to cope with the anxieties of urban life. Nationalist groups used Indian imagery to shape national identity (e.g., the Boston Tea Party) and to evade the tension stemming from the simultaneous destruction of the Indian way of life. Playing Indian represents the contradiction at the heart of the American self- image: the democratic ideal of equality and the reality of social inequality.
R. David Edmunds. Tecumseh and the Quest for Indian Leadership, 1984. This is a life history of Tecumseh situated in the context of the historical events of the time. The author also includes a discussion of the mythology associated with Tecumseh.
Ruth Miller Elson. Guardians of Tradition: American Schoolbooks of the Nineteenth Century, 1964. This work has a short section on the treatment of Indians in textbooks, showing how noble and ignoble imagery permeated these books and influenced children’s ideas about Native people.
Carolyn Thomas Foreman. Indians Abroad, 1943. One chapter in this book is an interesting account of the activities of the Ojibwa performers sponsored by George Catlin in England in 1844.
Stephanie A. Fryberg, Hazel Rose Markus, Daphna Oyserman and Joseph M. Stone. “Of Warrior Chiefs and Indian Princesses: The Psychological Consequences of American Indian Mascots,” Basic and Applied Social Psychology 30 (2008): 208-18. In four separate studies, the authors examined the consequences of Chief Wahoo and Chief Illiniwek imagery on the self-concept of American Indian high school and college students. Research among several groups revealed consequences of a depressed sense of self-esteem and community worth, as well as decreased aspirations. The authors argue that Indians are rarely described as contemporary people with everyday roles, and the relative invisibility of American Indians in mainstream media gives inordinate power to the few representations or stereotypes of Indians. Warrior imagery (as in mascots), in-tune-with-nature imagery (as in Disney’s Pocahontas), or negative imagery of social pathology remind Indians of the limited ways in which others see them.
David Glassberg. American Historical Pageantry, 1990. This work provides a good discussion of pageant themes in American towns in the early 20th century. The author argues that Indian themes reinforced the idea that the Indians’ “disappearance” was inevitable and that it was necessary to make way for American “progress.”
Rayna Green. “The Indian in Popular American Culture,” in History of Indian-White Relations, ed. Wilcomb E. Washburn, Handbook of North American Indians 4, 1988. A good overview of the popular arts and the messages they have conveyed about Indians. Green considers songs, legends, jokes, proverbs, epithets, advertisements, household furnishings, murals and calendars, picture card graphics, dramas, and sports imagery.
Steven D. Hoelscher, Picturing Indians, 2008. This work focuses on the photographs of H. H. Bennett in the Wisconsin Dells area in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Commercial photographer Bennett staged his photos to best convey the imagery of the vanishing noble Indian. These images of “primitive” life shaped tourists’ perceptions of Indians. The author also discusses the Ho-Chunk’s goals in posing for Bennett.
Frederick E. Hoxie. The Indians Versus the Textbooks: Is There Any Way Out? Occasional Papers in Curriculum Series, D’Arcy McNickle Center for the History of the American Indian, 1984. Historian Hoxie examined thirteen U. S. history textbooks published in the early 1980s and representative of college level material. He argued that they have many of the same problems as earlier textbooks: Indians are absent, disparaged, or misrepresented. He argued that textbooks have difficulty admitting that U. S. history is the story of many groups, not one, and makes suggestions for improvements.
Shari M. Huhndorf. Going Native, 2001. English professor Huhndorf explores the American obsession with “playing Indian” in such contexts as the Boston Tea Party, hobbyist activity, Indian inspired communes, and the New Age Movement. Playing Indian is an attempt to resolve ambivalence about modernity by constructing an identity that romanticizes Native life. It also is an attempt to obfuscate the violence surrounding the history of the conquest of Native people. The stereotypes and inequalities serve non-Indian interests.
Robert Jay. The Trade Card in Nineteenth-Century America, 1987. This study includes a discussion of the use of Indian imagery (as well as images of other minority groups) in advertising. The author points out that African-Americans, regarded as a threat, were portrayed very derisively, but Indians (no longer a threat) were shown as noble and exotic.
Clara Sue Kidwell. “Native American Studies Programs,” in Indians in Contemporary Society, ed. Garrick A. Bailey, Handbook of North American Indians 2, 2008. The author discusses the history of Native American Studies programs, of which there were 87 in the United States in 2006. Thirty-six granted the B.A. and 12, the graduate degree. These programs have contributed to the diversity goals of colleges and universities, and the faculty in them have had an influence on scholarship in general. Some programs have their own faculty and others have faculty with joint appointments in other departments. The field of Native American Studies has evolved with the growing number of Native Americans with scholarly credentials. The American Indian Studies department at the University of Minnesota was one of the first in 1970. A few years later it disbanded but reorganized in the early 1990s.
C. Richard King and Charles Fruehling Springwood, eds. Team Spirits, 2001. The editors are anthropologists whose volume explores what sports imagery reveals about power relations in the United States. They argue that mascots are an example of “playing Indian” in order to fashion individual and collective identities and that the conflict over mascots and Indian imagery in sports is best understood by studying the historical context of this conflict. Articles include Richard Clark Eckert’s piece on Central Michigan University’s use of the name “Chippewa”; Patrick Russell LeBeau’s essay on the men’s club “Fighting Braves of Michigamua” at the University of Michigan; and David Prochaska on Chief Illiniwek at the University of Illinois.
James W. Loewen. Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong, 1995. This is a very well written discussion of stereotypes and misunderstandings about American Indians that are found in twelve of the leading textbooks. There is a chapter on “The Truth about the First Thanksgiving” and another, “Red Eyes,” on the ways these textbooks portray American Indians in general.
John N. Low, “The Architecture of Simon Pokagon—In Text and On Display,” in Ogimawkwe Mitigwaki: Queen of the Woods, by Simon Pokagon, 2011. This new edition of Queen of the Woods is a reprint of the original 1899 novel. New accompanying materials add context through a cultural biography, literary historical analysis, and linguistic considerations of the text. The edition includes an introduction by Philip J. Deloria, as well as the essay by Low and two others by Margaret Noori and Kiara M. Vigil. Queen of the Woods was the second novel ever published by an American Indian. He intended it as a testimonial to the traditions, stability, and continuity of the Potawatomi in a rapidly changing world.
Elise Marienstras, “The Common Man’s Indian.” In Native Americans and the Early Republic, eds. Frederick E. Hoxie, Ronald Hoffman and Peter J. Albert, 1999. This essay, written for an academic audience, discusses how Indian imagery in popular culture (stories, songs, schoolbooks, popular magazines, almanacs, and so on) shaped Americans’ sense of national identity. The ignoble Indian image reinforced the idea that conquest was necessary and the “wilderness” that was the home of the Indian had to be cleared to make way for civilization. After the Indians were removed, the Indian as Other served as the antithesis of Americans and helped Americans to conceive of a common past and common lore, and thus to construct a national identity.
Devon A. Mihesuah. American Indians: Stereotypes and Realities, 1996. This is a clearly written book for the general public. The author evaluates several stereotypes, including the following. All Indians are alike. Indians had no civilization before Europeans. Indians were warlike and treacherous. Indians vanished. Indians are supported by the federal government.
June Namias. White Captives, 1996. Historian Namias questions why captivity narratives were so popular in American literature and art in the 19th century. She argues that Americans used these stories, especially about women captives, in their struggles with fears about the frontier experience. A study of captivity shows that fewer than 10 percent of captives died and half the remainder stayed with their captors, while the other half returned to their own people. Even so, captivity narratives exaggerated the horrors of captivity and created heroines who suffered and survived. Women were essential to building a new civilized society, a new nation in a dangerous world, so they became the central figures in these popular narratives and in the work of artists who drew on the subject of captivity.
Larry Nesper, “Simulating Culture: Being Indian for Tourists in Lac du Flambeau’s Wa-Swa-Gon Indian Bowl,” in Ethnohistory 50, 3, 2003. Anthropologist Nesper discusses the Indian Bowl, opened by the Lac du Flambeau Ojibwa in 1951. The performances consisted of a pageant that represented their history in terms of treaty relations and reciprocal gift-exchange, followed by dances. While performing in ways that reinforced stereotypes was discomforting, the Bowl facilitated the community’s efforts at cultural renaissance and reinforced their moral claim on American society. The Bowl provided income and helped perpetuate dances, songs, crafts, and a sense of identity.
Moira G. Simpson. Making Representations, 1996. The author discusses the historical development of tribal museums and the history of the repatriation movement in the context of the civil rights movement and Indian self-determination. The discussion draws on examples of museums from the Southwest, Pacific Northwest, Southeast, Oklahoma, and Canada.
Andrew Brodie Smith. Shooting Cowboys and Indians, 2003. Historian Smith discusses the silent film era of the “Western.” One chapter focuses on the work of James Young Deer and his wife Lillian Red Wing, who challenged the stereotypes in films about Indians from 1909 to 1913. They were Nebraska Winnebagos, who began working as actors in New York. Later, Young Deer became a prominent director and head of Pathe studios in Los Angeles. Red Wing was a well-known actress. Young Deer’s films depicted Native Americans as complex and sympathetic characters, and he developed themes of racism and cultural repression, conveying a message that hostility toward Indians was due to fears and prejudices of Whites, rather than the behavior of Indian “savages.”
Carol Spindel. Dancing at Halftime, 2000. This is a very readable account of the struggle over the Chief Illiniwek mascot at the University of Illinois. The author seeks to discover why non-Indians have been so attached to this character. She explains the history of Chief Illiniwek, the development of a movement to retire the character, and the resistance from non-Indians. Spindel argues that Chief Illiniwek is a romantic stereotype (Noble Indian), projecting freedom, spiritualism, and a sense of Americanism that non-Indians associate with the “real” Indians in the past. Focusing on this image allows non-Indians to ignore contemporary Indians. Spindel concludes that racism flourishes on a foundation of stereotypes and prejudices and makes the point that the story of Chief Illiniwek is a microcosmic history of White America’s attitude toward American Indians.
Pauline Turner Strong, “’To Light the Fire of Our Desire’: Primitivism in the Camp Fire Girls,” in New Perspectives on Native North America, eds. Sergei A. Kan and Pauline Turner Strong, 2006. Anthropologist Strong discusses the history and symbolism of the Camp Fire Girls. Founded in 1910, the group was a response to a national panic over industrialization, urbanization, immigration, and feminism (represented especially by women’s employment outside the home). The organizers wanted to promote a more satisfactory emotional life through Indian symbolism. They made a connection between Indian culture (at an “adolescent” stage of human development) and adolescent girls. Tapping into a generalized back-to-nature movement, the organization tried to give the domestic sphere more value. Strong describes the Camp Fire Girls organization in the 1960s: outfits designed after Woodlands and other Native clothing, outdoor activities, and Indian rituals.
Alan Trachtenberg. Shades of Hiawatha, 2004. Trachtenberg views the Hiawatha theme as a response to a national crisis of identity in the 19th century, due to a wave of immigration, urbanization, and social movements among subordinated groups. Longfellow’s poem was an early effort to imagine a nation with origins in a noble Indian past. He drew on Indian lore, but needed to find a less “primitive” past. He used romantic racism in characterizing the Indian “ancestors”: emotional, possessing a childlike simplicity, and close to nature. The original American Hiawatha was dignified, independent, and virile, and he offered himself as the originator of American identity. The Hiawatha theme underwent a florescence during the peak years of immigration through public performance and artistic expression. The Hiawatha myth helped create a new national identity: a heroic past with Anglo-Saxon domination. The Hiawatha theme used ideas and imagery of the Indian to defend the expropriation of Native land as essential to the growth of the nation. English professor Trachtenberg also argues that the use of the idea and imagery of immigrants defended the rightness of class as essential to the growth of the nation.
Lisa J. Watt and Brian L. Lawrie-Beaumont. “Native Museums and Cultural Centers,” in Indians in Contemporary Society, ed. Garrick A. Bailey, Handbook of North American Indians 2. 2008. The article discusses how Native museums and cultural centers have become part of cultural renaissance and an expression of sovereignty. There are 150 tribal museums in the United States. The development of tribal museums surged when federal funding was available in the 1960s and 1970s for construction and job training. The hope was that these museums would foster tourism and lead to economic development, but they were in areas that did not attract tourists. Since the 1990s, training programs for Native people interested in museum work have increased and the development of tribal casinos and resorts has spurred the development of museums and cultural centers. The authors discuss the goals and tasks of these centers, including collection, libraries, archives, and exhibits.
Carl Gawboy Portrait: The Art of the Everyday. 2010. 27 mi. Produced by Lorraine Norrgard. Bois Forte Heritage Center. This beautifully done video features Ojibwa artist Gawboy’s discussion of his paintings of Ojibwa life. His focus is “Ojibwa images” largely from his childhood memories. Gawboy has been called the “Norman Rockwell” of Ojibwa art because of his realistic depictions of Native American life in northern Minnesota. Visual images from his paintings enrich Gawboy’s narrative.
Images of Indians: How Hollywood Stereotyped the Native American. 2003. 25 mi. Dir. Chris O’Brien and Jason Witmer. This documentary surveys the use of Indian stereotypes in American film past and present using archive footage and interviews with Native Americans.
You can watch a clip of this documentary on the following YouTube channel:
In Whose Honor?: American Indian Mascots in Sports. 1997. 46 mi. Dir. Jay Rosenstein. New Day Films. The video considers the Chief Illiniwek issue from the perspective of those who oppose the use of the mascot.
The Indian Princess Demystified. 1997. 30 mi. Produced by Lorraine Norrgard/WDSE-TV. This video features the commentary of Dr. Gail Valiskakis (Lac du Flambeau Ojibwa), who shares her antique postcard collection of Indian princesses and offers insights on stereotypes of American Indian women. This video can be ordered from WDSE-TV, Duluth, MN: http://www.wdse.org/shows/album/collection
Oneida Language Animation Series
The series of video clips offers Oneida language instruction to children. The links listed above lead to clips that feature an animated bear, frog, and wolf offering basic instruction. Oneida Productions produced these clips, and they offer a YouTube channel that features a variety of Oneida-themed programming. The channel can be found at the following link:
Reel Injun: On the Trail of the Hollywood Indian. 88 mi., 2009, National Film Board of Canada and Rezolution Pictures. Cree filmmaker Neil Diamond’s work is a history of Indian imagery in Hollywood movies from the silent film era to today. It shows how myths about “the Injun” have influenced the world’s understanding of Natives
American Indian Sports Team Mascots
The AISTM is a collection of information about the sports mascot issue in popular media. The site links to recent newspaper articles, editorial cartoons, and YouTube clips.
Honor Indians Institute
The Honor Indians Institute seeks to confront negative stereotypes of Native Americans in the media and in sports. The Institute provides educational classes, seminars, and lectures, and on the website you can find links to recent news stories that relate to Native American representation.
The Movies, Race, and Ethnicity film database
University of California-Berkeley, Media Resources Center, Moffitt Library
This videography provides a broad sampling of ethnic and racial representations in film over the past century. Among the Native American entries are both mainstream Hollywood features and films made by Native Americans. Each entry offers a brief plot synopsis. The resource also provides a bibliography of books and articles on Native American representation in film.
Native American Public Telecommunications
NAPT creates, promotes, and distributes Native media, which includes a number of documentaries and informational programming on the use of Indian imagery in American culture. You can consult a “programming guide” that lists upcoming airings of Native American programming on public television and elsewhere. NAPT also distributes documentaries that can be purchased through their website.
National Coalition on Racism in Sports and Media
This coalition of activists and scholars highlights the racial, cultural, and spiritual stereotyping of Native Americans via sports team identities, mascots, and logos. The acting president of NCRSM, Charlene Teters (Spokane Tribe), was instrumental in bringing national attention to the Chief Illiniwek mascot issue at the University of Illinois in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when she was a graduate student there.
National Congress of American Indians
The NCAI is an organization that attempts to inform the public and Congress on the governmental rights of American Indians and Alaskan Natives. Their website offers information on a number of policy issues, including recent information on culturally insensitive representations of American Indians in sports and popular culture.
Native Culture Links
The Native Culture Links website offers links to record labels, distributors, individual artists, and other organizations that produce and promote Native American art in a variety of media.
Students and Teachers Against Racism
STAR seeks to raise public awareness for other educators on a variety of Indian issues, including the use of stereotypes in Indian imagery. The STAR website offers links to articles and other materials for educators, guidance counselors, and social workers.
Tribal Museums and Cultural Centers. National Association of Tribal Historic Preservation Officers.
This site provides information on museum exhibits and programs in American Indian and Alaska Native museums and cultural centers around the country. The NATHP provides support and training for tribal museum and cultural center projects.
Wisconsin Indian Education Association
The WIEA consists of Indian educators who advocate for Indian students (in primary and secondary schools as well as in public universities) in Wisconsin. In addition to advising school boards and other educators on Indian issues, they created the Indian Mascot & Logo Taskforce, an educational group that provides information about and confronts the use of Indian imagery as mascots and logos in Wisconsin schools. Their website offers a section that discusses the commonly used Indian images and responds to the common justifications offered by non-Indians for use of Indian imagery. Also, the Taskforce offers a list of Wisconsin high schools that use Indian-themed mascots and logos.