Merriam-Webster is ‘to believe unfairly that all people or things with a particular characteristic are the same” (“Stereotype”). This paper will specifically focus on the stereotypes I had of Native Americans before taking the class, “American Indian Literature” and I will explain the way this class reshaped my perspective regarding stereotypes. In particular, will explore stereotypes in regards to Native American’s physical characteristics, objectification as team mascots, and religion as will move from the simpler stereotype to more complex. Before taking the class, “American Indian
Literature,” I was not aware that had stereotypes regarding Native Americans. First, this class brought it to my attention that had misinterpreted Native people in a few different areas of their lives. It upsets me that I thought the stereotypes that once held in my mind were true. After I acknowledged these generalizations about this group of people, it was a process of reading truth directly from Native writers in literature class. As I was told the truth from Native people themselves, these stereotypes slowly diminished and realized how ugly and hurtful categorizing people really is.
Before dive into the specific Native American stereotypes, it is essential to have an understanding of the term “stereotype. ” I already stated the definition of the term, but there is more to it. It is important to note that stereotypes are easy to believe because they are not centered on facts or experience, but cultural representations often depicted in the media. I did not realize I had stereotypes of Native Americans until recently because did not have any prior experience or knowledge about them before taking this course.
Stereotypes “are often born out of ignorance and old movies” (Lester 113). I can honestly say I was ignorant to trust the stereotypes I was given from the culture around me. But, where did the stereotypes come from? More often than not we are fed stereotypes from the media of American culture such as old movies as stated above. If we do not have knowledge about a certain group of people then we happen to watch the way people are portrayed in movies, television shows, or books. Based on what we see or hear, a stereotype will more than likely develop.
The effects of stereotypes are hurtful, devastating, unfair, and inhumane because they can lead to discrimination, which can create inequality between people. Now that there is a better understanding of stereotypes in general, let’s look at them pertaining to Native Americans. First, will discuss Native American stereotypes regarding their physical appearance. Growing up, I did not know any better than to think all Native Americans had the same “look” such as the same skin tone, dark black hair with braids, and painted face. Ad nothing to base these stereotypes off except for the television and movies I viewed and the books I read. Whenever I thought of Native Americans, thought of “Cowboys and Indians” because my brother was very interested in pretending e was playing the imaginary game of “Cowboys and Indians” when he was a little boy. I imagined Native Americans as riding around with a feather in their hair. However, there is no single characteristic that can be applied to all Native Americans. Edward Curtis, a photographer in the early 1 sass, traveled around to take pictures of Native Americans.
If they did not “look” a certain Way, Curtis would require them to put On “Indian artifacts” because he had a particular image in mind and if the Native Americans did not fulfill that image, he would give them clothing to look that way. Curtis is imposing this idea of nee characteristic defining all Native Americans and is therefore encouraging stereotypes. However, Thomas King states, “You’re not the Indian I had in mind” (King 48). Think this statement directly relates to stereotypes and I personally think it is mainly referring to the physical characteristics of Native Americans.
Our first judgments of human beings usually come from their appearance. We look at what they look like, whether they are African American, Native American, or Caucasian, and we draw conclusions from there. After looking at someone’s appearance, then we categorize the person onto having a certain standard of characteristics. King States, “They re content simply looking at you. If you don’t look Indian, you’re not. If you don’t look white, you’re not” (King 56). “American Indian Literature” taught me that simply looking at a person and stereotyping is easy, but getting to know the person on a personal level is more challenging.
Nothing good comes easy so we need to stop making rash judgments by merely looking at outside appearance and mature towards something that IS greater such as reaching out to get to know the person. I learned that not all Native Americans look like, the same as not all Europeans look alike. It is unfair to group Native Americans together and assume they have the same characteristics. Every individual on the planet is unique in their own way no matter what group of people they belong to. In addition to stereotyping Native Americans’ physical characteristics, I also had the stereotype Of Native Americans as team mascots.
Some examples Of these mascots include: the Atlanta Brave, the Cleveland Indians, the Washington Redskins, the Fighting Ailing of University of Illinois, Kansas City Chiefs, and the F-sighting Sioux of the university of North Dakota. The list could go on and on. In the book, Images that Injure by Lucy Ganja, an entire chapter is dedicated to stereotypes of Native Americans, which includes the topic of team mascots. In regards to this topic, she states, “all these stereotypes Non-native schools and organizations brand their sports teams through the use of the Indian as both a noble and savage warrior. They] all depend on the stereotype of Native people as proud, warlike, and noble to sell their product and instill fear in the hearts of their opponents” (Lester 1 15). Am on the women’s basketball team at the University of Minnesota and I eave been immersed in the athletic world all my life. Being that I love to play sports, I have been surrounded by these mascots, whether playing against one of these teams with Native mascots or watching a game of them competing. I have noticed these particular mascots, but I did not think much of them as being hurtful. Unconsciously associated Native Americans with these names, which is unfair. Even thought it was normal that Native Americans were mascots and supported them as being team mascots. However, this course has taught me that another result of team mascots is the objectification of Native Americans. Since I did not know any Native Americans personally and I did not know much about this group of people either, my immediate thought representing them was team mascots. There are countless other possibilities of team mascots available to sport teams, but sports chose to objectify Native Americans. On one side, sports teams use Native as mascots to honor them as a compliment, but on the other side these names are offensive.
Take the Washington Redskins for example. This name “is a term defined as derogatory by Webster dictionary and viewed by many Native people with the same disgust as the word Niger, [the Redskins] onto just defeat a team, they scalp them, an image that brings with it another violent stereotype” (Images 1 15). As you can see, these mascot names have profound power to hurt the people associated with the name. Before this class, I supported Native Americans as team mascots, however, now do not because I have a deeper appreciation for Native Americans and they do not deserve to be represented this way as mascots.
Finally, will discuss the stereotype of Native Americans possessing “no religion. ” Being that religion is the most complex to analyze, I decided to explain this stereotype last. Growing up, I was told that some Natives were spiritual (in ways that I did not understand), but it was not very common. However, this statement of Native Americans having no religion is untrue and the truth can be seen in the book, American Indians: Stereotypes & Realities, which helped change my perspective regarding the religion stereotype.
This book digs into many Native American stereotypes along with the religion stereotype and the book’s author, Devon Messiah, is a Choctaw historian and writer. In American Indians: Stereotypes & Realities, Devon Messiah states: Indian elisions tend to be only superficially understood- or totally misunderstood by non-landings. Each tribe has its own religious traditions, with ceremonies to mark the seasons, to give thanks, to ask for prosperous hunting and growing, in addition to specific ways to sing, dance, and bury their dead. Like other aspects of Indians’ cultures, their religions cannot be generalized. 71) First and foremost, this quote displays Natives to have religious traditions, but more importantly it illustrates the dire need of understanding for not only Native Americans’ religion, but understanding of this group of people in other aspects of their lives as well. It is heartbreaking to feel like someone does not appreciate or understand you and this quote actually helped me to understand Natives a little more. I learned religious traditions vary from tribe to tribe and it is unfair to say that all Native Americans practice this religious custom or they all posses this specific religion, when in reality each tribe differs.
Furthermore, Devon Messiah provided clarity on how all these religious stereotypes developed. The reason is because: Most Indians are intensely private about their religions and will often let non-landings believe anything they want to without correcting them. Spirituality is not something to discuss in casual conversation. Because of the history of persecution of Indian religions, the fear of being ridiculed, or the potential for loss of spiritual power, most Indians will not discuss their religion and view questions about it as intrusive. 74) I agree that spirituality is not to be taken lightly, but something that is important and serious to talk about with others, but Natives cannot do this because of the way the have been mistreated with disrespect in the past. I was not aware Native Americans were private about their elision because of the fear instilled in them from persecution. In my opinion, saying Native Americans do not have a religion is a hurtful stereotype. Try to put myself in their shoes (The Golden Rule) and I know if someone were to categorize me as possessing “no religion,” I would take offense and be deeply hurt.
My faith in God is the most important part of my life and I take it seriously as well. This quote also demonstrates the privacy of Natives’ religion is opposite of Christianity, which actively evangelize others. In fact, Native Americans themselves have been evangelize by Christian seminaries, which has lead to the expansion of the Christianity religion within Native American culture. It is evident in American Indians: Stereotypes & Realities that Native Americans are indeed deeply religious.
Not only did the book, American Indians: Stereotypes & Realities, assist in showing me Natives possessed a religion, but multiple in-class readings did as well. They specifically helped in the way of showing Native Americans as Christians. The first novel we read as a class was Ceremony by Leslie Maroon Silks. In Ceremony, Taco’s aunt (“Auntie”) is a devout Christian. Even though this novel ND the character are fiction, the writer is a knowledgeable authority because she is a Laguna pueblo person and she probably did not have Auntie be a Christian for no reason.
I was shocked to read this because was told absolutely no Natives were Christians and I found it interesting that the stereotype of Natives not being Christians was changed almost instantly in the first book read in class this semester. The second book we read was The Truth About Stories by Thomas King. There is a solid statistic found within this book stating, ‘Seventy-percent of Native Americans are Christians” (King). Not only does Ceremony and The Truth About Stories prove the non- Christianity stereotype to be inaccurate, but the novel Mike Kings, by Lean Howe, does as well.
This book is based on a true story and there is a man named Henry Day, who is a Christian and spiritual in Native ways as well. Some Native Americans ‘ivories both the Christian God and the Native deities” (Austere) and Henry Day exemplifies a Native American who worships both. He is a “both-and” kind of a guy as discussed in our class discussions. These books show that Native Americans can be religious in two different ways. As you can see, Native writers demonstrate Native Americans to possess a religion, even Christianity. As mentioned above, a large amount of Native Americans are Christians.
This brings up the question, how did Native Americans become Christians? The major reason for this Was the establishment of boarding schools, which sent Native American children far away from their families and provided a free education and food. The main purpose of boarding schools was to assimilate Native Americans into western culture as much as possible (we saw this in our in-class reading Spirit Car). One aspect of Native American lives’ hat was assimilated in boarding schools was their religion. Starting in the 1 sass, European missionaries were converting Native Americans to Christianity in order to “civilize” them (Messiah 44).
Today’s statistics show they were successful in doing so as seventy-percent of Native Americans are Christians (King). I am aware that I have focused much of my attention on Christianity. The reason for doing so is because was told absolutely no Native Americans were Christians. When heard information to counter this fixed belief, it surprised me greatly. However, it is important to note that Native Americans have converted to multiple other faiths as well; “Many have become priests, ministers, and even rabbis” (Messiah 71). Now that we have learned a great deal about stereotypes, what do we do with this information?
How do we eliminate stereotypes in our lives? In order to get past these stereotypes we first need to identify them and be truthful with ourselves that we have stereotypes. After we identify stereotypes, we need to learn more about them from those directly objectified by them. Gaining knowledge from the people you are stereotyping directly is extremely helpful (e. G. Learned so much from Native writers in class). After the learning takes place, we need to move towards understanding and appreciation towards the group of people. To summarize, stereotypes are making quick judgments of others without facts or experience.
I have stereotyped Native Americans in various facets of their lives when I did not even have a relationship with a Native person. I thought Native Americans had the same set of physical characteristics, were team mascots, and did not have a religion. Based these judgments on what I saw portrayed on television, movies, or what read in books. I thought these stereotypes were true, but heard the truth from Native Americans in readings such as Ceremony, The Truth About Stories, Mike Kings, American Indians: Stereotypes & Realities, and Images That Injure: Pictorial Stereotypes in the Media.
These readings immensely helped in shifting my perspective. To conclude, I do not want to conform to society’s stereotypes of others, not only of Native Americans, but of other races of people as well. If I had stereotypes of Native Americans, I am sure have stereotypes of other groups of people as well. I cannot get rid of them in society because it is out of my control. However, I am responsible for my own Houghton and actions and can do my part and get rid of them in my personal life. I have had to unlearn these Native American stereotypes and this class strongly aided in helping in the process.