This week in #SettlerNonsense: Fantastical Natives and where to find them or WHY JK ROWLING WHY?! WHYYYYYYYY!
I promise you this whole thing is not going to be about #MagicInNorthAmericaGate but a lot of it will be. This week in #SettlerNonsense JK Rowling forces me to revisit my love of Harry Potter through a critical scholarly lens (HOW COULD YOU DO THAT TO ME JK ROWLING) and other people prove that in the public imagination fantastical creatures exist all around us, and they are usually Native Americans who are so "other" to us y'all.
What is #SettlerNonsense you ask
Settler Nonsense is dehumanization and dismissal of Native knowledges so prevalent in discussions about Native people. It is the ever present "vanishing Indian" story where we all just up and disappeared one day and NOBODY KNOWS WHY (it was genocide. Yep. Genocide.) Natives are always vanishing, dying or losing something, our languages, our futures, our health, and our cultures. In this story, if we haven’t lost these things, we are on our way to losing them, one step away from an extinction that often feels inevitable and in many ways, improbably, accidental.
#1: JK Rowling published some short (short) stories about the history of #MagicInNorthAmerica and there were Natives mentioned in it and it was not good. It was mostly 1. Natives are magical 2. But they don't use wands cause all the good wand makers are British (touche) 3. They do know a lot about plants though 4. Skinwalkers aren't bad. The people who said they were bad are just jelly. 5. When the wizards immigrated here they were like "where's the apothecary?" And Natives were like "walk 1/2 a mile up that way and get the stuff yourself. We are busy." 6. So the poor British wizards were like "It's a mad wilderness here. There are few amenities." And the Natives sat back in their cities and villages and went "sure, no amenities. You are right. Stay far away from our amenities-less villages."
I'm not going to spend a whole lot of time going through the stories because once they came out several really fantastic writers and bloggers put on their capes and used their non-wand filled hands to do what needed to be done. Here's an excerpt.
Dr. Adrienne Keene of Native Appropriations.
This whole wandless magic thing is bugging me. So Rowling has said multiple times that it takes a lot more skill to perform magic without a wand (Dumbledore does it at several points in the books), but points out that wands are what basically refines magic. Wands are a European invention, so basically she’s demonstrating Eurocentric superiority here–the introduction of European “technology” helps bring the Native wizards to a new level. AKA colonial narrative 101.
Dr. Debbie Reese at American Indians in Children's Literature
What J.K. Rowling did yesterday (March 8, 2016) in the first story of her "History of Magic in North America" is the most recent example of white people misrepresenting Native people. Her misrepresentations are harmful. And yet, countless people are cheering what Rowling did, and dismissing our objections. That, too, is not ok.
Simon Moya-Smith at Indian Country Today
“I’m saying American society hasn’t evolved. Its conception of us and our spiritualities remains seriously antiquated. People all across this fading country still believe Native Americans cast curses, heal with magic potions … I’m saying there’s very little difference between what a 3rdGrade teacher will fleece to students in November about Native American spirituality, and what J.K. Rowling scribbled about Native Americans and magic.”
Over on Righting Red
For me the representation issue boils down to this: The mass media narrative around Natives is intensely problematic; if we’re mentioned at all, it’s within a stereotypical or fantastical sense, and very rarely goes beyond 1 or 2-D. Many consumers of this media have no idea we still exist as contemporary, multi-dimensional individuals, which makes these fantastical/fictional perpetrations very much a part of the problem in that NO ONE knows or cares to know any of the very real issues our communities face. Who cares about the epidemic levels of Native youth suicide when OMG JK ROWLING IS WRITING ABOUT MAGICAL INDIAN SKINWALKERS!!!
I also really liked what author N(ora). K. Jemisin wrote
It would’ve taken some work for her to research Navajo stories and pick (or request) some elements from that tradition that weren’t stereotypical or sacred — and then for her to do it again with the Paiutes and again with the Iroquois and so on. But that is work she should’ve done — for the sake of her readers who live those traditions, if not for her own edification as a writer. And how much more delightful could Magic in North America have been if she’d put an ancient, still-thriving Macchu Picchu magic school alongside a brash, newer New York school? How much richer could her history have been if she’d mentioned the ruins of a “lost” school at Cahokia, full of dangerous magical artifacts and the signs of mysterious, hasty abandonment? Or a New Orleanian school founded by Marie Laveau, that practiced real vodoun and was open/known to the locals as a temple — and in the old days as a safe place to plan slave rebellions, a la Congo Square? Or what if she’d mentioned that ancient Death Eater-ish wizards deliberately destroyed the magical school of Hawai’i — but native Hawai’ians are rebuilding it now as Liliuokalani Institute, better than before and open to all?
You're welcome Internet. Now that we have covered all the bases I'm sure we can all agree that what JK Rowling wrote was problematic, dismissive and hurtful to Native peoples. Also, ill-informed and contributes to continuing issues that face Native peoples who are just trying to get some good literature written about them so that kids/ students will stop writing book reports about how nice it was that Columbus brought some Natives back to Europe with him when he left so they too could visit the apothecary (I am guessing here. I know for a fact that some students write that Columbus was nice enough to run a quick cruise line back to Europe because nowhere do any children's books call it a SLAVE TRADE).
Except we can't all agree. The backlash was swift. There was a lot of "it's only fiction!" or "Stop being so PC!" or "You should just be grateful someone like Rowling even mentioned you!" or "Stop being such a cry baby!"
jSo here's my two cents.
$.01: Here are some times where things that JK Rowling wrote in Harry Potter really super mattered and also were more than just fiction.
$.02: JK Rowling has a lot of money. This does not mean I think she owes me anything but I think she owes herself to really take some of that money and enroll in a Native American Studies class. Heck, at least a Native American literature class. It is there that she will start to see how the language of "fantasy" and "magical realism" and "magic" is part and parcel to language of vanishing, pretend Indians. Like if we can make Natives kind of foggy in our imaginations it just feels a little bit like millions of people being killed or displaced isn't all that gut wrenching (it happened a long time ago in a land far far away you know?) We have to be real as well as fantastical. Because you know what, I'm not going to argue that we aren't fantastical. But we are fantastical and magical not just as wizards but because of the sheer strength and power that comes from our cultures, stories, songs and ceremonies.
Also we can be wizards and have an awesome wizard school and teach all about why magic with no wand is so much better but our schools would not and should not be divorced from our histories in the "no-maj" world as well. You know why? Because our wizards would not turn their backs on their no-maj family. And we would want even the newest wizard immigrant to know that.
P.S. Listen. If you're gonna do a whole boarding school thing with the magical school in the U.S. that has a background in Indigenous magic (which you said before) you really need to read up on the history of boarding schools in the Americas and be very conscious of that as you move forward. Please. Please stop what you are doing and do this right now. Please.
#2: Some girl on Instagram put up a photo of her "hot boxing a hobbit house" which just so happened to be her hitting a bong in a traditional Northwest California home in a State Park.
I'm not going to put up the photo of this girl that she posted publicly to Instagram and then let people make a bunch of comments and like it a lot before finally deleting it because many Native youth were all "excuse me?"
Her defense was that 1. She's native? And 2. It just looked like a Hobbit house because of the hole or something and she didn't mean to be disrespectful. Okay.
The reason why I was struck by this particular instance is the mention of Hobbits. It was the second time in a number of weeks that I had seen someone say these were "hobbit houses" or refer to Native people from the Northwest of California as possible hobbits. I don't really feel the need to correct that we are in fact, not hobbits because hobbits aren't real and if anything hobbits probably stole their ideas from us when we were exchanging ideas with Maori's from New Zealand long before Columbus got lost and thought he found India. Because hobbits are from New Zealand right? They were in the movie.
Somebody's going to write me a letter now explaining it's fiction and hobbit's are from MIDDLE EARTH to which I say, yes, exactly.
Why does it matter that some people refer to our houses as hobbit houses? It's just more nonsense really. I often explain that these houses were very well designed homes and in fact draw on principles that are now being used as part of sustainable building design. They were made from redwood planks, they were sturdy, they were warm in the winter and cool in the summer. They were energy efficient. Also, they were permanent structures (so all those things you hear about Natives being nomadic wanderers... nope). And they survived. In some places in Northwest California Natives were living in homes like this through the 1920s. They were holding steadfastly to their village sites despite pressure to move and to destroy or build over those sites.
The particular site that the young woman was at is a recreational site in a state park meant to educate people about the Natives of the area called the Yurok. After she posted the photo a young woman posted a response to her trying to explain why the photo is so infuriating. That posted letter got the young woman who wrote the letter temporary blocked from Facebook for not meeting Facebook's standards? AND THAT ladies and gentlemen is why Facebook wins the #SettlerNonsense badge of the week.
Here is the letter for everyone to read.
*Update* The young woman who had her account banned from Facebook for a while posted a statement on her own website which you can read here. https://sineadtalley.wordpress.com/
So that's it for this week folks. Enjoy your #SettlerNonsense
I'm going to go and see where all my Fantastical Natives are at. #WhereMyFantasticalNativesAt
Palate Cleanser: The opposite of #SettlerNonsense is
My friend Morning Star Gali got awarded a Leading Edge Fund fellowship so that she can work on restoring justice for Native Peoples.
Gali will document the crisis of mass incarceration among Native Americans in the state. Using her extensive network, organizing and community-based and engaged research background, she will mobilize Native nations, incarcerated Native Americans and their families, allies and policy leaders to address and shift the tide of over-incarceration and human rights violations within corrections institutions. She also aims to build solidarity and power among Indigenous Peoples throughout California, enabling them to restore sovereign rights and to heal, care for and resolve differences among their people on their own terms and by their own tribal governments.
Here she is in a video. #AwesomeNativeWomen
I Can't Believe You Keep Killing Off Adam Beach, NBC: Gender, Representation, Settler Colonialism and Native Cameos on Television OR I Went to the Perspectives on Native Representations Symposium in Berkeley and Adam Beach Re-tweeted me
This past Friday I went to the Perspectives on Native Representations symposium with keynote speakers Adrienne Keene (of Native Appropriations); Migizi Penseneau (1491s!) and Matika Wilbur (from the 562 Project!) and it was pretty great. I was there to present and was lucky enough to have a group of good friends come to sit with me and watch all the other presentations as well. It was a fully day talking about the importance of representation of Native peoples as the modern, awesome, funny, strong, photogenic, survivors we are.
I presented on my love of all things Adam Beach as a way to finally register my disappointment with NBC who likes to bring Adam Beach on to tv shows to kill him off. I said "settler colonialism" a lot so that I would sound super smart and academic like. And then I talked about the "Native Cameo."
And then Adam Beach re-tweeted a picture of me presenting about him. That's right, he hit that tiny little set of re-tweet arrows and shared it with all of his followers. And with that...I am willing to call this the best presentation of my growing academic career. Hands down.
Now that we are best friends via Twitter Adam Beach let me just say, I also tweet sometimes about my favorite places to get Iced Tea. Feel free to re-tweet those as well.
I Can't Believe You Keep Killing Off Adam Beach, NBC: Gender, Representation, Settler Colonialism and Native Cameos on Television OR I went to the Perspectives on Native Representations Symposium in Berkeley and Adam Beach re-tweeted me
I don’t know about anybody else but ever since I was a little girl I have been in the habit of yelling every time there is an Indian on TV: “THERES IS AN INDIAN ON TV! THERE IS AN INDIAN ON TV!” and then I would expect everyone to come running.
By the time I got to my formative TV watching it felt like (to me) that there wasn’t a whole lot of Natives on TV. Instead, I have often cataloged a collection of what I called the “Native cameo.”
“Native Cameos” are those 1-2 episode, sometimes intermittent appearances by Native characters on television shows. What I have found *spoiler alert* is that these Native Cameos resettle settler colonial claims to legitimacy, meaning, they justify, and normalize colonization and settler colonial occupation of Indigenous spaces and Indigenous histories.
These Native characters are also primarily male and do not have Native female counterparts. Native women are rarely mentioned as being part of modern discourse.
To better critically analyze (or what I like to call “engage in Indigenous media analytics”) I have provided the following cheat sheet of what I have noticed about these Native cameos. In the Native Cameo…
1. Native Americans are spiritual peoples full of knowledge that is specifically aimed at addressing answers to questions and conundrums of main characters (Spiritual & Knowledgeable)
2. Native American characters remind us that history is… complicated (History)
3. Native American’s Own Casinos (Casinos)***
4. Mascots are dumb (Booo Mascots!)
5. Native Americans are Men (Men)
Okay here we go!
There’s this one episode of Sleepy Hollow that my friend Angel told me to watch, so I did. This episode has a Native character because there was a special Native monster that was causing a whole bunch of non-Native people to die in their dreams. Ichabod Crane (if you’ve never seen the show, he’s like in the present now because of something?) says “all we need is a Mohawk Shaman who can help us to defeat this monster.” And then his sidekick explains that there aren’t a lot of Mohawks or Shamans cause of colonization and genocide and stuff and Ichabod is all:
How is that possible? Their nations stretched the continent! Their rules for governance formed the very basis for how we planned to unify thirteen diverse states in a single federation!" (You go Ichabod Crane)
Luckily, they are able to find a Mohawk guy and, surprisingly, he teases them for assuming that he can help them because he’s Mohawk. Like every Mohawk knows how to get rid of a sleep demon. Except in the end he can solve their spiritual issue. Lord knows it would be weird if they had to approach at least TWO Mohawk guys before they found the right magical spiritual one.
Rating: THERE’S A NATIVE ON TV, and he’s kinda funny, and he helps them to conquer the dream monster. So I’ll go with “coulda been worse.”
On an episode of Greys Anatomy where Izzie was going crazy and seeing her old boyfriend Denny even though he is dead she meets a Navajo man who is supposed to have heart surgery to take out his donor heart because he believes it is “haunting” him. Izzie decides this has something to do with her. The Navajo guy is very understanding when she opens up to him and tells him she is also haunted. And instead of going “well, sure, let’s talk about how my heart surgery is really about you” he patiently explains to her that she should burn everything that she still has tying her to the dead guy and that she probably shouldn’t do his surgery.
RATING? THERE’S A NATIVE GUY ON TV, and he’s Navajo. So I’ll go with “Shonda Rhymes you have three million shows on television, I think you could maybe, possibly put one MAIN character who is a Native person on one of those shows.”
I don’t know if it’s fair to say that Adam Beach’s character on Law and Order: Special Victims Unit was all that spiritual. I’m unwilling to go back and watch his many episode arc to support my claims. But I do remember that there were several instances in which he offered some important discussion in to how “other” cultures would respond to whatever the issue of the week was. I was so looking forward to a very long tenure by this character. FINALLY, a Native character who is Native (yes, it’s true) but he’s also a cop on the beat, making jokes with Ice-T. Except that didn’t happen, because why would it? And Adam Beach was relegated to Native Cameo status when for some reason he went off the deep end and become some kind of vigilante justice cop and killed some guy because…whatever. I’m still bitter.
Parks and Recreation’s portrayal of Ken Hotate has always been very fascinating to me. I actually really like the dude. I like him because he’s got great delivery, and also because he gets to come into the show and be funny and then go away. I also like his confidence. He knows he’s got the money (the casino) and the pull to do what he wants. That’s an interesting position in this town that Leslie Knope points out, does not have the best history with Native people.
On this week’s episode (from Tuesday) Ken Hotate made a super cameo in a commercial for the Wamapoke Casino which ended with the slogan “Slowly taking back our money from white people one quarter at a time” (I LOLd).
There are actually several times that Native people pop up on the Family Guy. “Native American What’s Happening” or “Offensive Native American Mascot” or “Peter saves the Native Americans.”
In Season 12 Episode 6 “Life of Brian” Stewie and Brian travel back in time to Jamestown where they give Native Americans guns and change the course of history. When we catch up with Brian and Stewie in the present day. Brian tells Stewie: “Thanks to you the Indians killed all the white people and took over America.”
This new, present day America is filled with brown faces, and Indians wearing headbands, with braids and jean jackets. The joke on the show is that Natives love their jean jackets (I have two of them, actually). Medical care is done by a shaman who does funny poses but offers no real help for a dying man. Native music is gibberish that all sounds the same. Native families live in houses that look like teepees and instead of “I love Lucy” they watch “I love liquor.”
These are the stereotypes of Native people come to life. This is not a Native vision of the future where Native people weren’t mass killed and removed, this is a tongue in cheek representation of stereotypes shoved in to the audience’s face.
Brian tells Stewie they have to go back to Jamestown to “set things right” as if this alternative future, where Native people are the majority and white people live on reservations is “wrong.” This, again, effectively resettles this space and makes it “right” to be under control of white settlers, and not under the control of Native people.
*Bonus Cameo* In another episode Peter remarks that he has always wanted to use a musket to go and save Native Americans from “rapacious Calvary men.” It then flashes to a Calvary raiding a Native village where one guy is kidnapping a woman to probably take her and rape her. Peter accidentally shoots her in the head. He then remarks something like “you don’t have to be afraid of him anymore.” The most disturbing part is that when I looked this clip up online the guy recording it lets out a huge laugh when this woman gets shot in the head. And there you have a Native Cameo featuring a Native woman. She is there to get kidnapped, possibly raped, and then shot in the head.
Rating: There’s Natives on TV. They are cartoons. There is so much here to talk about. For instance- this idea that had the Indians been given guns they would have also used them to oppress white people. But I don’t have enough time right now. Maybe later.
South Park actually has a number of episodes featuring Native American characters and cameos. (Like, Cherokee Hair Tampons, or A History Channel Thanksgiving, or Cartman’s Mom is a Dirty Slut) The most cameoed of cameos comes in Season 7 Episode 7 – “Red Man’s Greed.”
In this episode South Park is trying to say that Native peoples are (now) just as obsessed with the trappings of capitalism as any other group.
There is another layer added throughout this episode as well and that is what I call the “just desserts” layer. For instance, when the Natives decide to build a super highway through South Park, they buy all the land “out from under” the residents and force them to move. When the residents protest, they give them blankets with the SARS virus on them. There’s your just desserts white people. There’s even a joke about removal and relocation.
South Park’s seemingly pointed is another settler colonial apology “we’re sorry for the genocide, you would genocide us too if given the chance” and also “we’re sorry for taking your land, you would take our land now too, if given the chance.” Dismissing the possibility that even in imaginary cartoon universes Native people could create a much different present and future because of their past experiences with genocide… well this re-settles the settler claims to innocence by saying colonization is “human nature.”
RATING: South Park’s Indians are a mixed bag. I’m interested in this cartoon obsession with voice cadence, the way Indians talk and sound and even laugh. Maybe now I just want one Indian on TV who is like “oh you know, whatevs, it’s the bees knees, fer realsy.” Or says “totes” a lot. Okay we Natives don't say totes all that much. You know what we do say a lot... "BINGO!" #JustKiddingINeverWinAtBingo
"Revolution" is technically not on the air anymore but when I started writing this very rigorous research down in my very fancy hardback notebook, "Revolution" was on the air and "Revolution" had Adam Beach on it. When the group ends up in the “Plains Nation” there is good old Adam Beach, and he’s the sheriff. I was very happy to see that they at least acknowledge that maybe, just maybe, at least one Native person survived the apocalypse. I mean it’s not like we haven’t survived an apocalypse before…
Anyway, Adam Beach shows up to die one episode later, in a cage. And there you go. We managed to survive 500 years of attempts to annihilate, assimilate, exterminate us, but get us post apocalypse with no electricity and we are done for.
I see what it means for people to be exposed to Native people in this way, whether it be young Native children who really do acknowledge and hold on to each and every portrayal, or non-Native people who might not ever engage with “modern” Native American people. Our TV watching experiences do shape us, even though they probably shouldn’t.
Understanding, discussing, and complicating the Native Cameo is important. We are more than just cameos to a world that tries to pretend like we don’t exist, or that we aren’t fully functioning nations of people who deserve equal footing in politics and culture. Our worlds are more than just other to the “real” or “normal” world that is often portrayed on television. When we are represented in places like Network television it can and should speak to our continued investment in our shared existence, in our shared experiences on Indigenous lands. Also, it gives us the opportunity to watch Adam Beach do his Adam Beach thing… which is nice.
Because I’m still bitter NBC. Still…bitter.
BONUS CAMEO – Someone in the audience (okay it was a 1491. And yes, I tried not to be all “OH MY GOSH ARE YOU ASKING ME A QUESTION and YOU ARE FROM THE 1491s!) asked me about “House of Cards.” Funnily enough, I had written something about "House of Cards" but had to cut it for time. Here it is:
House of Cards – (History, Casinos, Men): Ah yes, the rich Native people on a show about rich people who try and take over the world. I binged on "House of Cards" (like any decent TV watcher would) last year because I just had to know what Frank was going to do after becoming Vice-President. And there was an Indian on the show, and he was smart and witty and just as big of a jerk as everyone else. I appreciated the “inside jokes” about Natives and politics and the BIA. Jokes about the BIA are always welcome. Also, jokes about Andrew Jackson, HA! I really appreciated when Frank goes to the big old white house that is on the Indian reservation (very symbolic, BTdubbs, we got our own white…house) and he thinks he’s a big deal and the Tribal Chair guy is like “you are not a big deal. We are on sovereign land. You are not my vice-president.” I clapped. Jokes about how even the vice-president doesn’t understand sovereignty… priceless.
When you find out that the Indian casino is participating in what could probably amount to espionage in order to give money to buy an election because they got the money to spare I thought “um? Okay?” The discourse on casinos tends to focus on how casino power must or will corrupt. This is a narrative that is growing and starting to dominate how we talk about casinos. Instead of “casinos are active parts of the sovereignty and contribute to the self-determination of Indian nations” we have “casinos help Indian people to become rich and participate in politics the way other rich people do and that’s scary…” Talk about settler colonial fear. We may just get enough money and political clout to get our land back… uh oh.
Rating: There’s an Indian on TV (Netflix) and he’s… just as horrible as everyone else on that show. So I guess that’s okay because if they would have made him way better than everyone on that show you’d wonder if they were doing that out of guilt for you know… all the genocide and small pox blankets.
Cutcha Risling Baldy is an Assistant Professor of American Indian Studies at San Diego State University. She received her PhD in Native American Studies from the University of California, Davis. She is also a writer, mother, fan of "The Good Wife" and "The Walking Dead", who likes to go for long walks on long piers...
(5) Top Posts
On telling Native people to just "get over it" or why I teach about the Walking Dead in my Native Studies classes... *Spoiler Alert!*
Hokay -- In which I lead a presentation on what happens when you Google "Native American Women" and critically analyze the images or "Hupas be like dang where'd you get that dentalium cape girl? Showing off all your money! PS: Suck it Victorias Secret"
In which we establish that there was a genocide against Native Americans, yes there was, it was genocide, yes or this is why I teach Native Studies part 3 million
5 Reasons I Wear "Indian" Jewelry or Hupas...we been bling-blingin' since Year 1
Pope Francis decides to make Father Junipero Serra a saint or In Which I Tell Pope Francis he needs to take a Native Studies class like stat
I need to read more Native blogs!
A few that I read...