In Which I Offer An Apology/Non-Apology Letter in response to the Eureka City Council's Apology/Non-Apology Letter for the Indian Island "Attack" (it's called a massacre people, deal with it) OR Eureka, your Indian problem is showing...
*Disclaimer* I am not a member of the Wiyot Tribe. I am a member of the Hoopa Valley Tribe and I am also Yurok and Karuk. I also do not speak for the Wiyot tribe. (I do not speak for any tribe actually. I speak for me.) The Wiyot tribe is made up of many people and I'm going to pretty much assume they speak for themselves. Please do not think that my rantings in any way reflect the beliefs of the Wiyot Tribe. Although I'd like to say I like the Wiyot Tribe very much. All us California Natives, we gotta stick together.
It's been a weird day. I spent the morning reading craptastic articles from newspapers in California between 1851-1853 that said stuff like this:
In Which I offer an Apology/Non-Apology Letter in response to the Eureka City Council's Apology/Non-Apology Letter for the Indian Island "Attack" (it's called a massacre people, deal with it) or Eureka, your Indian Problem is showing...
Dear Eureka City Council:
Your "Indian Problem" is showing. I know, you can't help it, it's hard to find coats big enough to cover it up when you have to drag it around with you at cocktail mixers or fundraisers. Everybody knows it's there. The ACLU is suing because you refuse to acknowledge it. It seems to be the only way to get your attention. Perhaps that is why you re-wrote and did an (ill advised, IMHO) revision of your apology/non-apology letter to the Wiyot people where you basically refused to acknowledge or pay respect to the severity of the Indian Island massacre while pretending like that is exactly what you were doing.
I also know your letter wasn't meant for me, exactly. Originally you had wanted to apologize to the Wiyot Tribe as they are readying themselves for their first World Renewal Ceremony since 1860. Your potentially sincere (yet entirely insincere) interest in the return of this ceremony meant to balance our earth and protect all peoples (not just Native peoples, but all peoples) perhaps sparked your interest in producing said "apology" letter.
The revitalization of the Wiyot World Renewal Ceremony can only most eloquently be described as a BFD and OMG In Yo' Face Awesome. Native peoples all over the world are talking about it. The Wiyot People are the people of Eureka, CA. They have been there since time immemorial. During the Gold Rush the Wiyot were massacred at their World Renewal Ceremony while they were resting. This was on what became known as "Indian Island." It is a place nestled in the Humboldt Bay. When I was growing up and we would drive over the bridge I would look out and say "There is Indian Island, that's where they killed a bunch of Native people for fun." (Other people played "Slug Bug" and I thought about how our landscape is rife with stories that should be remembered and told. That's how you know I was raised by *strong, proud Native people.*)
Massacring Native people in California wasn't just fun it was good business. The State of California used to pay money for Indian Scalps and Heads. Bounty was set at 10 cents per scalp and $5 per head. Man woman or child. Man, woman... or child. Merchants would provide the tools (guns, knives, axes) for murdering Native people for free, especially when a mob rose up against some perceived injustice inflicted on them by a Native person -- "injustices" like "stealing one of my cattle" or "taking my food because they are starving" or "killing a guy who was trying to rape their daughter."
There are stories about Native women jumping into the water with their children during massacres of villages and breathing through reeds for hours while watching blood spill into the water around them. There are stories about women and children and elders running for their lives only to be surrounded and riddled with bullets from either side. The Indian Island Massacre was no less debased or brutal than other massacres. And it happened during the Wiyot World Renewal Ceremony.
Why am I telling you this? Because I want to make sure that you know this and I'm not quite sure what you already know. Unfortunately, even though we live in an area that has many opportunities to learn about Native peoples, and there is a Native American Studies department at Humboldt State University (you should take a class there, everybody should take a NAS course) and there are Native Americans in government and public positions and there are Native organizations and leaders throughout our county, I also meet people every day who do not and have never really wanted to learn about or confront the very brutal history of Humboldt County and the places we live.
You don't mention these things in your apology/not-apology letter. You write "On a winters night 154 years ago, the Wiyot people of Humboldt Bay were attacked."
The Wiyot people were not attacked, Eureka City Council, they were massacred. They were murdered. "Attacked" makes it sound like some people ran in, and a lot of Native people ran out. But Native people did not escape this "attack" they faced a "massacre" and "mass murder" of their people.
The people of your great city committed a crime against humanity. Their actions were a genocide, they were deplorable, and people throughout the state and the country and the world knew, know and will know this -- even if you won't write it in a pseudo apology letter. You might think you can erase this, you might think you can take away the responsibility for what it really was, you might think that if you write different words that somehow makes it true but no matter how many times you call it an "attack" it will always be a massacre, it will always be the thoughtless, souless killing of a group of mostly women and children.
Don't tell me it's just a word or that the language doesn't matter, because that acknowledgement -- the difference between massacre and "attack"-- it matters. And you know it matters, or you wouldn't have changed it.
You seem to think that your "apology" may somehow concede to, formalize or name this genocide. And that if you name it for what it really is -- a "massacre," a "genocide" that Native people might finally see it this way and sue you, or hold you responsible. You seem to think that your letter names something for us. It doesn't. We already know. We have already named it. We call it for what it was, is, and continues to be. You don't have to say the words to us, or about us for us to know what happened. We feel it, we can see it when we look out over the land where we live. When we sing, we call on the songs and prayers and strength of thousands of years of ancestors, and we know their stories. We remember these stories and we say the "hard" words because we want to gain strength from them, because we want to honor them, because we want to heal our past, present and future.
You should say the words. You should write them. You should own them. Instead of offering "support to the Wiyot Tribe" and re-affirming "our commitment toward healing the Wiyot people's wounds" why not commit to healing your wounds too? You think this apology is just about the Wiyot people? You think that it concedes something to them and you are in fact just helping them? Is that how it feels? Like maybe you're just helping this one group of people? And it doesn't affect you? (I've heard that before. Things like "I wasn't there, it wasn't me, it doesn't affect me.")
Despite what you may think, those wounds, those lasting effects of genocide (historical trauma) they don't just infest and wreak havoc on Native peoples for generations, they infest, mark, change, and affect Non-Native persons living here and being out of balance. It is written as much in your history as it is in ours. You don't need to apologize because it's good PR, or because it might in some small way encourage the Wiyot people, (they will be and have been encouraged and empowered without your apology/not-apology) or because maybe it is a drop in the bucket of what needs to happen to re-balance this place that we all (now) call home. You need to apologize because you also need to heal.
So don't do it for me. I'm good. Don't do it for the Wiyot, they are very busy. Don't do it for the thousands of Native people living here. Do it because you, your children, your grandchildren, your friends, your family, you all need the means and ability to heal. And that begins with using right words to apologize and tell the story. But that's just a start. It's time to start Eureka, if not now... when?
Here we are, 104 years later, and here we will be. This World Renewal Ceremony will renew and balance and strengthen not just the Wiyot people, but all peoples and it will balance our world. This is what can only most eloquently be described as a BFD and OMG in Yo' Face Awesome.
And it's just a start.
In all sincerity and without any apology,
Cutcha Risling Baldy (Hupa, Karuk, Yurok)
Humboldt County Born and Raised so that makes me a super cool expert on all things Humboldt County #StreetCred
*World Exclusive Interview* In Which I Interview Tiger Lily, famous Indian Princess... or Tiger Lily might just be my sister from another mister, that's cool.
The following piece is a work of fiction (because Tiger Lily is a fictional character originally portrayed in J.M. Barrie's children's stories about "Peter Pan", followed by numerous stage and movie adaptations. Perhaps her most famous portrayal is in Disney's cartoon version of Peter Pan, where she is represented as a young, nubile, beautiful Native American princess who flirts with Peter Pan and refuses to help Captain Hook even though he is threatening to sink her to the bottom of the ocean (violence against Native women and children is HILARIOUS). She also does not speak, not once, in the entire film.
In Which I Interview Tiger Lily, famous Indian Princess... or Tiger Lily might just be my sister from another mister, that's cool.
Perhaps she is best known as the beautiful Native girl with a whole lot of attitude. She was the queen of the side-eye, and while never an "official" Disney Princess, for many years she was the only representation of a Native female in a Disney feature film.
And I hated her. Her attitude. Her dancing. Her jealously and competitiveness with Wendy. Her snobbiness. She seemed like the only person in the entire Peter Pan adventure who was just actively snotty. (Later, I would recognize that Tinker Belle was also a pretty snotty female character, but I forgave her because she was very tiny and people often grabbed her and spanked her without her permission in an attempt to get Pixie Dust. Gross.)
I first met Tiger Lily in a dream. She looked a lot like I would imagine her to look "in real life." She had dark hair, it was long, she was wearing a beautiful buckskin dress, fully beaded moccasins and her hair was perfectly silky and shiny even though we were sitting outside in the wind. I asked her what she was doing there and she said "looking for you" and then she asked me if I would like a cup of hot chocolate and I woke up.
The next time we met was at a coffee shop for tea (because neither of us likes coffee). I couldn't believe that she was there with me because I was supposed to be writing my dissertation. She looked different too. Her hair was graying and cut into a shorter, smoother shoulder length bob. And she was wearing a white tshirt, blue jeans, converse and a very cute beaded belt. She sat across from me and said "You look like you've seen a ghost." And I said "or an imaginary figure that shouldn't exist in real life but is sitting with me right now."
She asked me "Do you know how stories come to people?" And that is how she began...
"Do you know how stories come to people? Because I've always been told that stories come at inconvenient times or convenient times. They come in person or in dreams. They are everywhere around you. They exist outside of your self. They find you. Many native people would say that stories and prayers and songs are never lost, because even when there is nobody singing them, or saying them, or telling them, or knowing them... they still exist and they will come to somebody... someday. Each person might tell the story a little bit differently..."
She asked me if I had ever heard her stories?
And I said "the only story I ever knew of Tiger Lily existed in Disney's cartoon version of Peter Pan made in 1953 and based off of JM Berrie's children's stories about Peter Pan (published in 1902) and subsequent play (1904), which admittedly I'd never read before although I'd heard that the portrayal of Native people left something to be desired.
She smiled and said "JM Berrie was a man who wanted to believe that Native people could exist somewhere in his imagination and could help his young boy who did not want to grow up to finally find a home away from home."
That, she said, is what she found the most compelling about the way white male authors told the stories of Native peoples. "They had lost so much in the loss of their own Indigenous-ness." She said. "They had lost their home, their center. Native people were concerned with balance, not with power. With prayers, not with contracts and the bottom line. The bottom line was we all deserved to grow old in a good way."
I whole heartedely agreed with her but still couldn't find much to say because it was freaking Tiger Lily sitting before me. She took a deep breath and agreed to do an interview with me, right there on that day in the coffee shop when I was supposed to be writing my dissertation. "Do you have a question?" And the only thing could think to say was the first thing that came to my head "Yeah, so, I sort of hated you growing up."
Me: I need to be honest here, because I hope that honesty extends to your speaking with me today. I really hated you growing up.
Tiger Lily: Thank you?
Me: It was just that, at the time (and I may be dating myself here) you were really the only Native Disney Princess that was around. This was before Pochahontas, so I had one example of a Native girl in the movies in my childhood and she was you. And it always seemed like you thought you were better than me.
Tiger Lily: I probably was... better than you.
Me: A better Indian anyway. You looked like an Indian, you danced like one. You were what kids expected to see and so they would look at me and just be disappointed. Sometimes they would pull my braids. Sometimes they would call me Squaw.
Tiger Lily: Those kids sound like little jerks.
Me: But again, you were all they knew. They thought it was funny.
Tiger Lily: So...little jerks.
Me: You know they just announced casting for a new film that is sort of based on Peter Pan. It's supposed to be about his origin story.
Tiger Lily: I heard.
Me: Rooney Mara is supposed to play you. Or a version of you. According to the press release it's not like she's a Native American she's more like a "multi-racial/international" person or in an "multi-racial/international" movie? I'm not quite sure.
TL: What does that mean?
Me: Well, I think it means that they anticipate there being some backlash because she is a non-Native actress playing a famous Native character. So they want to put out the fire by saying she's not really going to be a Native person.
TL: So in an effort to avoid the criticism, they will just erase my Native-ness as if that is not a significant part of who I am?
TL: That's flattering and not degrading to me at all.
Me: I feel like we should note to readers that you are being sarcastic. You are being sarcastic, right?
TL: I am. For the record.
Me: Have you heard about the new film?
TL: Not until the casting news came out.
Me: Do you have any comments or reactions to the casting news?
TL: Not on any emotional level. Hollywood likes their Indians in a certain package. When I met Walt Disney, I don't think he even saw me for what I really looked like, I think I instantly became a certain kind of Indian girl to him. My hair, my eyes, my body, it was all, in his imagination, designed to evoke the right socio-emotional response to seeing a "Red Man."
Me: So you met Walt Disney?
TL: I spent some time with him, yes. The thing about Mr. Disney, he was somewhat fascinated with Native peoples. This was a man who lived through his imagination. But Mr. Disney was like a lot of people, he was raised on certain books and pictures and in those books and pictures Native people were a primitive civilization that died out long ago.
Me: Disney has a weird history with Native peoples if you think about it.
TL: Do you know that at one time the Jungle Cruise, a place where you can see hippos and tigers and lions, used to also feature a Native American village? Did you know that he would bring Native people in to the park to do dance demonstrations? Frontier land was built on this cowboys and Indians legend. You could buy a Tomahawk and some feathers or a cowboy hat and some guns and head to Tom Sawyer's Fort and pretend to kill each other.
Me: So this new version of Peter Pan, which they are just calling "Pan" by the way...
TL: It's just more of the same, but what makes it worse -- it doesn't have to be. They need to put the work in to tell a better story. Do you know how many Native writers and directors and actors there are out there? A lot more than you think. I don't trust "Hollywood" with this story, not yet.
Me: You trusted them before?
TL: Trust is a weird word. I think I had in mind the best intentions for telling a story.
Me: Can we talk about this moment then?
TL: I had a feeling it would come up, yes.
Me: I think this is probably one of the most memorably bad moments in Disney history. I think most people would point to this as a major problem.
TL: It is a major problem. Especially because of the way that it was portrayed. In this situation, we, as Native people became racist caricatures. But this is not the real story.
Me: What is the real story?
TL:Native people are pretty funny. At least that's the experience I've had. And you know what I remember about this story? Pan brings this group of little white children, from England, and they don't know much about Native people. So my Dad, he doesn't take this whole thing seriously. Another day, another group of white kids coming to make a fool of themselves in front of Natives. And the kids start asking these questions because nobody has ever taught them anything useful about Natives. Their questions are like "Why does he askem how?" and "What makes the Red Man red?" What kinds of questions are those?
Me: Offensive ones.
TL: But not just offensive. They are violent questions. They violently question my intelligence. They are questions meant to put me down and in my place. That tells you a lot about how these kids view Native people. Here is this five year old kid wearing pajamas and he thinks it is okay to ask when Native peoples first said "ugh?" He should have been ashamed but he was awash in his privilege. So my Dad says "well the first time I saw my Mother-In-Law I was all UGH." Ha ha, right?
Me: Humor is lost on the young.
TL: Or ignored. Or blatantly disregarded. If a Native person is sarcastic or funny or intelligent in their humor, people need to ignore it because those kinds of things make you sentient, they make you living. It's the same reason why people ignore the humor and love and personality that comes from animals, or trees, or the waters.
Again, the portrayal of this song reflects so much on the kind of acceptable racism surrounding Native peoples and their image. I was disappointed, yes, in the portrayal of this story. But I was also infuriated. It took me a long time to tell more stories. It took me a long time to come and sit with you today. This wasn't just a "funny" or "racist" portrayal of Native people, this was violent and deliberate. We have to keep asking why Non-Native people want Native people to be so stupid or silent? Why? Because the lasting effects of genocide they don't just infest and wreak havoc on Native peoples for generations, they infest, mark, change and affect Non-Native persons. It is written as much in their history as in ours, even if they try to ignore or "Disney" it away.
Me: And the way you were portrayed in this song? Pan is asked to take you as his bride? And you essentially do a table dance for him after he was just made in to an Indian and given a new name. You nuzzled him on the nose and turn his face bright red.
TL: Nope. I could go on for days about the sexualization of Native women in Hollywood films, novels and stories. There is a reason why Native women are treated like objects. My voice was literally stripped away from me in this film. They did not want to hear me speak. THIS is how Disney storytellers adapt and portray my story, that says a whole lot about them.
Me: I get that. I thought about it a lot as I was trying to reconcile my distaste for your portrayal in this film, and who you are, or could have been for me as I was growing up. Like when I look at this moment from this picture. You're tied up to an anchor and Captain Hook is going to sink you.
TL: You know what I am in this moment... annoyed.
Me: But you know what else I see in this moment, conviction. I started watching the film over again a few months ago and I started to think about the strength and courage you show throughout the movie. It took me many years to see through all the B.S. of this Peter Pan portrayal and instead try and listen to your story, and then wanting to re-claim your story. I don't think you belong to Mr. Barrie, or Mr. Disney. That was always hard for me to understand. Some people would say Mr. Barrie is your inventor, you came from his imagination.
TL: Those people would be wrong. And even if he was the first person to describe me and write me down, that doesn't mean that I only get one story and one voice. That doesn't mean that we can't tell the story better now. How would people tell my story if they knew more? If they took a Native American Studies class? If they read more about Native women and colonization? If they talked to Native writers and directors and artists? That's what I would tell the writers and director of this new film. Why not try to actually learn something and make a good movie? Not a slightly less racist movie or a more international/multi-racial Pan-Indian white savior movie, but a good movie.
They hold so tightly to their racist, sexist, ignorant portrayal of Native peoples. That is Hollywood. That is appropriation. That is seeing Natives in old photos, but not in new TV Shows. This is comfortable to them. So we are used as props to some story about adventure and fantasy. We are used as sidekicks to white people's stories about themselves. And if they like, we become invisible to them.
One time I was at the coffee shop and I heard this kid saying that he had never met a real Native American before. I smiled and said "Now you have, hello." And he just stared blankly at me. He sort of shook his head and said "No, not like a Native person out here in the real world, but you know, like a real Native American, like the real kind."
I sort of went with it, I smiled and said to him "Well, if one of the real Native Americans came in here, what would you say? What would you want to ask them?"
And the kid just shrugged and went "I'd probably just ask to take a picture and Instagram it."
Because you know what they say, if it's not on Instagram... it didn't happen.
She was at the end of her cup of tea when she stopped and smiled at me. "Did you get what you needed?" she asked and I just nodded.
She stood up to put her tea cup in the plastic bin and she offered to take mine as well. I handed it to her with shaky hands. "By the way," she said "if you ever find the time and want to write a really good movie about me you should talk about how we ended up in Neverland in the first place."
"How was that?" I asked.
She laughed and replied -- "Relocation" before she headed for the door. #IndianHumor
In Which I Make A List to Help You Identify When You Are The White Savior in a Hollywood Movie or Hollywood Your Indian Problem is Showing Again
So this happened today.
Rooney Mara Cast as Pan's Tiger Lily
I guess they are making a new Peter Pan? Nobody asked me.
The movie is being released by Warner Bros. in 2015. It's written by Jason Fuchs. And apparently, so far, it stars Hugh Jackman (as Blackbeard) and Garrett Hedlund (as Captain Hook) and I guess people are saying this ain't yo mama's Tiger Lily.
My first instinct was to be #Skeptical. It's Hollywood. We are fresh off of Tonto. Has anybody really learned their lesson? Wasn't Peter Pan one of the grossest misrepresentations of Native peoples? Would Disney not even touch it? Is that why it's a Warner Bros. picture? Because if Disney wouldn't touch it then be wary Warner B. Color me #Skeptical
Especially when I read this:
In Fuchs’ script, an orphan is taken to the magical world of Neverland, where he becomes the savior of the natives and leads a rebellion against the evil pirates led by Blackbeard.
Man, we've never heard this story before.
This, of course, sends me down a rabbit hole of research and information. Because I want to tell everyone "Run, run far away from this. Do something BETTER than this."
This whole thing has a name: "The White Savior Industrial Complex." Lots of people have written about it. You can find this complex demonstrated in: literature, movies, art work, newspapers, songs, nonprofit organizations, viral videos and much more. He comes in many forms. Sometimes he is a lawyer and he gives impassioned about how racism is bad. Sometimes he is a dude on a horse and he has a trusty Native sidekick who likes to help him blow up railroads. Sometimes he is a white guy going to Africa to save Africans from themselves.
For Native people the white savior is usually intimately tied to saving Natives from certain extinction. This tale becomes "if only the Natives had _______ then maybe they wouldn't have all died or gotten sick or 'lost' the war for their land." And usually what Natives needed (according to these stories) were more guns, more "modern" ways of thinking, and a white guy.
In case you're a writer/ actor/ storyteller/ director/ producer and you're a little unsure if you, in fact, have fallen in to a "white savior industrial complex" movie allow me to provide you with a handy dandy guide.
How to tell you are in a white savior movie in which you are the white person tasked with saving Native peoples from certain destruction (and/or Manifest Destiny).
1. You are an orphan. Or you have no other family. You've always wanted a family.
2. You go to a place and notice that there are awesome Native people being all "multi-racial/international" (as per the description in the press release) which usually means kind of a mixture of fictional Pan-Indian ideas. You also notice that they are one big family -- a "tribe" if you will. Many of them are related ("how many cousins do you have?!") Also everybody calls everybody else "Auntie" and that's nice.
3. The Natives there are having a problem dealing with big bad guys who have lots of guns, and technology, and they just want to take over the world.
4. You immediately think "let me teach you how to defend yourself" because "otherwise they will all die."
5. Most of the tribe is more than a little skeptical. But you know they just don't know any better. The Native guy giving you the side-eye, he's the "last of his tribe." You worry about him.
5. There's a girl there, she's probably kind of a rebel. All the rest of the tribe rejects you for a time. But she welcomes you with open arms because she's modern and hip like that.
6. Eventually you will have to lead them in a big fight against the big, bad people with more technology and you will save the day.
7. If at some point there is an elder Native man involved he will help you to discover more about yourself. Also he will die. Don't get too attached.
8. If at some point there is a nice white girl who is your friend, or who is on the other side and she falls in love with a Native man she will die. Don't get too attached.
9. You will save the day and decide to stay in Never land to help the Natives so they don't all just get killed. You have to protect them by living and being with them forever.
10. You're a super Native now.
The story needs to be told this way for a number of reasons. First, it takes away the responsibility of genocide. It's almost as if people want to believe that genocide should be harder. In this tale, the attempt to annihilate a group of people wasn't "hard" it was just "destiny" (manifest destiny) and "survival of the fittest."
Second, it takes away the worldview and societal organization of Native people. It assumes that Native people would have used their guns to kill everyone. It says that Native people weren't in fact organizing and making strategic decisions. Instead, they were mistaken about the serious of it all, too dumb to understand, too ill equipped to win. Less civilized. Less "intelligent."
I have asked people before. "Who is more civilized and intelligent. The group of people who get together to create a society that is equal, balanced, sustainable and builds knowledge of how the world works while also creating a society that cares for all of its people. Or the group of people who get together to make guns and kill people?"
Civilized and intelligent.
But the story that perpetuates throughout Hollywood movies (if it's not "those savage Indians" or "those stupid Indians" or "those Indians who are busy communing with Nature and not actually living in the modern world") is "if only they had a white guy that could save them from, well mostly themselves, and genocide, but mostly themselves.
And this affects how people see modern Native people. It allows people to reject "historical trauma" and the lasting effects of genocide. It pretends that living Native people are not still dealing with the past in the present.
So I'm not just concerned because there is another movie about Native people already casting Non-Native people to play Native roles. I'm not trying to argue semantics of "Well, she's not supposed to be 'NATIVE' per se, she's more like, a 'multi-racial, international' character." I'm not trying to split hairs about how everyone is going to view her as Native no matter what you do, and even if you strip all these Native characters of their Native-ness, there is something about the story that rings true to Hollywood's Indian problem. (See, for example, Avatar).
Because Hollywood has an Indian problem. Their problem is that Indian people still exist.
There are still Indians. They are living, breathing, writing, singing, dancing, entertaining, basketballing, educated, funny Indians. They don't live in magical places where they speak in broken sentences and talk to trees and pass up on the super hot Native guy in favor of the blonde white guy. This is a problem.
Hollywood wants Native people to be imaginary. It's easier to make movies that way. Instead of having to learn something or educate yourself or change the dominant idea, they just want to make a movie. They don't want to consider what that means. Diversity, addressing privilege, combating racism, that's hard. Making a movie about an Indian that wears a bird on his head and saves a white guy from death so that he can save the day...that's a summer blockbuster.
I'm anxious to see if I am right. You never know how these things go. Hollywood is a funny place where many minds come together to try to make something that is coherent and entertaining to watch. Most of the time this does not end as well as they would like. I once read somebody's memoir of Hollywood (I can't remember who) and it was all about how the script that is written is never usually the movie you see. Not with so many factors (what the actors want, what the director wants, what the studio wants, what the test audiences say).
But I do know this. The story of the nice white savior who helps the Natives so that they don't perish and become relegated to the past... that's been done, done, and done. Let's move on. Why not invite some Native scholars or educators to speak with your director and your writer? Why not have them take a Native American Studies class or listen to a lecture? Why not see if that changes what these directors and writers want to show and what they want to write? I have a list you can consult of people who would be willing to talk to you if you just click here.
Again, nobody asked me.
They probably thought I'd say no.
Who knows what I would have said. I think I probably would have started with "let me tell you a little bit about the white savior Industrial complex."
PS. Hollywood, if you are looking for some people willing to take a look at and/or consult with you about making this movie (which you probably aren't, but you should be) I'm making a list for just such an occasion. Click here to find out more!
To My Fellow Complainers: In which I make a call for Native people who want to be included on my list for "The Media" so they can actually have Native peoples on their shows who won't say crap like "No speak, me no feel."
To My Fellow Complainers:
I realize sometimes this stuff can get a little heavy. We carry with us the continued struggle for representation, a seat at the table, an invitation to be a part of the conversation. We watch as the news goes on to talk about issues of sovereignty and child kidnapping (but they call it things like a "mishandled adoption" #VeronicaBrownBelongsWithHerFather) but they do not invite Native people to be a part of this conversation. "Experts" that are "easy to find" are nonNative and they are often mistaken about what they think they know.
We go to plays where we are portrayed as savage or spiritual, or spiritual savages. We ask questions about why this is okay? Why are we still acting like Native peoples are always on their way into the past instead of acknowledging that we are one of the fastest growing groups of people in the United States? Our voices are surprising to people. They are unexpected. Because they believed the tall tale of manifest destiny, they thought there was no way we could survive in the modern world (let alone blog, tweet or speak to).
But our worlds were and have always been "modern." Native people have been a part of this landscape, this world, this society, this story since time immemorial. We continue to be. It's not surprising... it's a fact.
And it's hard. This past weekend I got tired of it. My friend and I went to Los Angeles where we experienced clear instances of racism, and even more of ignorance toward Native peoples. It was challenging not to roll our eyes and say something sarcastic. It was hard not to sit people down for a long lecture (in a crowded room). It resulted in my dear friend's head being rubbed by a white guy in an effort to? He rubbed it vigorously. (I am completing a blog entry on this incident post haste. Stay tuned! Also PS. stop asking to touch Native people. We don't need you to touch us to make sure we are real. We are.)
After this past weekend I was soooo, soooo, tired of what it means to carry, lug, haul and be responsible for and to this continued attempt to make us all disappear. It's a magic trick really. They are moving mirrors, changing words, creating policies, doing slight of hand, because they like that story. "Native people are not real."
Because what happens when you are real? What happens when you are standing right in front of them? What happens when you can talk back? This often happens:
This was a response to an open letter to Christina Fallin on Native Appropriations. You should read it. Some girl (she is the daughter of the Governor of Oklahoma) wears a headdress and we're supposed to say "well it's not the MOST offensive thing that someone has done in a headdress." But instead, we write back. We take the moment, we educate, we speak the words that need to be spoken. (We share and share and tweet and bring it to our classes and we share some more.) And the response to Adrienne K. (writer of Native Appropriations) is something about how she is discriminating...
It can start to feel like shouting into a wind tunnel (so I've heard. I've never actually shouted into a wind tunnel). Suddenly you are on display, held up, put out there because you have dared to question someones "right" to be offensive, patronizing, racist, privileged.
They will inevitably use it to take you apart in some way. They will deny your very existence, most often. Maybe they'll listen (that's the goal) but mostly they'll try to defend their right to be offensive.
Someone told me once that most people don't feel like their racism is "big enough." Big racism is separate water fountains and sitting on the back of the bus. We cured that (not true) and maybe we have "little" racism left, but we should be grateful. Why aren't we grateful?!
Instead, racism becomes "micro." Instances where it can be slathered in "I didn't know" or "I was just joking" or "I was honoring you." Racism becomes measured against all other representations of that group of people.
So suddenly I am aware as to why, each and every moment that we take to speak out against each and every single mis-representation is important.
Yes, fellow complainers (educators, speakers, comedians, friends) they are paying attention. They are keeping track. The images they see around them -- matter. They not only matter because they are racist, but because they make an impression of "what is okay."
And now we have many means by which to say "this is NOT okay." I am proud of you all for taking the lead in this. I am reminded that we are all still carrying, lugging, hauling, and are responsible for how we build our future. Every voice is a reminder and when we put our voices together, when we make more and more, this starts to be the first place that people get information... instead of speaking for us they finally get information from us.
Go us. We are shouting into the wind tunnel but there are more of us each day and we are getting louder.
And our voices are important. How do I know this? Because of this video. (I put it above for ya).
I was not going to share this video. My thought process went a little like this:
But then I watched it again and it was still just as ridiculous and infuriating. And then I considered sharing it without comment just to make other people infuriated. And then I paused and took a breath and wrote to my "sister from another mister" and we both considered throwing things at our computers.
But it's not the computer's fault.
I already wrote a blog (An Open Letter to No Doubt) a while ago. You can read it if you'd like to know more about the problems with the No Doubt Video: http://cutchabaldy.weebly.com/1/post/2012/11/an-open-letter-to-no-doubt-not-so-hot.html
Let me tell you how I came across this particular video response to No Doub. One of my students sent it to me because he found it while doing an assignment for my class. THIS is what is out there for people to find information on this video. He was able to expertly take it apart, because of my class. Otherwise, he said, he might not have seen the problem with it.
So I see the importance of Native American Studies... because in this situation his knowledge (gained from the class) allowed him to critically respond to this. I see the importance of my responses to the No Doubt Video because he was able to use my words to conceptualize what he wanted to say. I see how this gave him other places to find information and to question what he saw as a "professional" video as his only source of information.
On to the video. There is so much to respond to! First - watch and be infuriated. Second, take a deep breath and roll your eyes. Third... we teach. (I teach. This should be a teachable moment. I use my voice to teach). Fourth, we call for action.
1. When asked to express in five words or less how they feel about this video the guests on this show decide on:
"No Doubt this is silly."
Oh, okay. Sorry host of this show. We will forget that it is racist and offensive because being racist and offensive is in right now.
2. "I'm 1/8th Cherokee and I don't ever complain about nuthin."
My student found this girl both the most annoying and the most problematic. He told me "the day you talked about Blood Quantum in class was the day I found this video. I found it interesting she was claiming blood without thinking about what it really means to be a Native American. Like that was her street cred."
Point well made student. Point well made.
3. "We know that black face is inappropriate... so we just need to figure out... someone needs to say once and for all and just figure this out because, like, Florida State people dress up like Seminoles every Saturday and the main person in the Seminole Nation is like 'that's fine.'" (Insert picture of Russell Means who is not, in fact, the main person in the Seminole Nation.)
Have you spit Ice Tea all over your computer yet? Just me? Just me...
And this is the moment where I thought of you, my fellow complainers. You see, it seems like people are anxious to "figure this out." They usually don't like what they hear but maybe as they hear it more it becomes "point of fact" instead of "how come people are always complaining."
Cause we all KNOW that black face is inappropriate... because people "complained" and "educated" people to know that.
Finally, whoever the "main person" is of the Seminole Nation that is like "that's fine" it's probably not Russell Means (the guy they used as a picture).
There is so much more I could tell you about, fellow complainers, but I'll leave it for you to respond to. How about the part where they say that Peter Pan is even more racist. "Nobody talks about that." Like there is a point where you reach your racism max. No Doubt only had like four racist things... they did not reach their racism max. Or, like, whatever. But it's fashion. Stop being politically correct. Blahbeedy blah blah.
I learned a lot from this video actually which is why I wanted to share it with you. I learned that it actually is confusing to people because they seem to feel like certain people get "singled out" when we start to respond and critique the things they are doing. They don't see it as a pattern because there are conflicting images out there.
For instance, why is the "Washington R-Word" football team okay? Why do we have the racist images of Native peoples in sports if we can't have a No Doubt video?
This reminds me why it is important for us to talk about stereotypes and mascots and music videos and to call out and point out every single hipster who ever wears a headdress. Every single one matters.
So don't stop your Facebook rants, your twitters storms ( #NotYourMascot #NotYourTonto ), your open letters, your blogs, your symposiums or your hilarious videos. Don't stop your poetry, your art, your musings, your songs, your jokes.
Because guess what. I read some of the YouTube comments (never, never, read the comments) and what I found out was... they started with a bunch of people calling out the awfulness of this video. They started with people saying that this video was the problem. I was proud of the You Tube commenters. And when am I ever going to get to say that again?
Hopefully a lot more. We have a job to do fellow complainers.
We keep complaining...together.
P.S. I nominate ME to be the "main person" of "The Native American Organization." Any seconds?
P.P.S. I would like to email this show and give them a list of Native people who could actually go on their show to talk about these issues in the future. As I am going to soon be the "main person" of "The Native American Organization" though, I thought it might be more helpful to do that here, and then to also email this list to CNN, MSNBC, NBC, ABC, Huff Post, Jezebel, Gawker, etc., and other shows I can find on You Tube, so that everyone can have this list for their use. If you would like to be added to the list please let me know!
Email me the following information:
The start of the list is below! (If you are from the Media and want to know more Natives who may be willing to talk to you about Native issues... check back often! Or get in touch with me and I'll point you in the right direction.)
Dear Media: Here is a list of actual Native People who may be willing to talk to you about Native issues so that you don't have to have people on your shows that say things like "No speak, me no feel." You're welcome. (In Progress)
Name: Jennie Stockle
Contact: Email (click to email)
Tribal Affiliation: I'm a Cherokee Nation citizen
EONM Executive Committee Member like JJ
Areas: Indigenous activism, Eradicating Native Racism and Discrimination, Native American Women and Children Issues, Supporting Native American Arts and Artists, Native Youth Suicide Prevention, and Promoting Native American involvement in STEM fields.
Name: Summer Wesley
Tribal Affiliation: Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma
Areas: ICWA, Indian Law (both at the tribal & federal levels), Native Mascots, Tribal Sovereignty, Tribal Disenrollment, Media Representations, Cultural Appropriations, Languages, Native Women's Issues, Environmental Issues
Name: Johnnie Jae Sisneros
Tribal Affiliation: Otoe-Missouria and Choctaw
Contact: Email (click to email)
Areas: Native Mascots, Tribal Disenrollment, Fashion, Media Representation, Cultural Appropriations, Languages, Native Women's Issues, Environmental Issues.
Name: Me. (Cutcha Risling Baldy)
Tribal Affiliation: Hupa, Karuk, Yurok
Contact Email (click to email)
Areas: Native American Women, California Indian History, Why you should not be making music videos about tying Native women to walls, Native American Literature, Why the Veronica Brown case was the legalized kidnapping of a Native child, Representations of Native people in Pop Culture, How to Get In To Blogging Without Really Trying, Making Really Good Salmon Cakes, Native American politics and contemporary issues.
Somebody DID take me up on this offer! And so it begins...
Cutcha Risling Baldy is an Associate Professor and Department Chair of Native American Studies at Humboldt State University. She received her PhD in Native American Studies from the University of California, Davis. She is also a writer, mother, volunteer Executive Director for the Native Women's Collective and is currently re-watching My Name is Earl...
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