It never goes out of fashion
January 30, 2018 8:54 AM   Subscribe

"Here, a sporty yellow Indian-make motorbike; there, a bullet box from the Savage Arms gun company. Here, an ad for Columbia Pictures’ The Great Sioux Massacre; there, scale models of the U.S. military’s Chinook, Kiowa and Apache Longbow helicopters. It’s a dizzying blizzard of pop cultural artifacts with nothing at all in common—save for their reliance on Native American imagery." At the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian, a new exhibition called "Americans" showcases how "American Indian images, names, and stories infuse American history and contemporary life." Explore the interactive exhibition website here. posted by everybody had matching towels (24 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
What's awkward, and I don't feel this personally but I feel it culturally, is that as a white person I want to recognize the presence of the natives of this continent, but it's difficult to find a way to do that which is entirely sensitive. And I don't have an answer for that other than to listen to what the remaining natives feel is acceptable. And I think that's probably the line that should be drawn and respected.

I suppose the best way to pay tribute to the indigenous people of the continent would be to not make their lives shitty which seems to be what we do in the US on an institutional and cultural level.

So, yeah, no naming of stuff (such an "honor"), but maybe actually helping to build roads and housing and schools (that aren't the horror of the schools of yesteryear) and perhaps helping to found some industries so that jobs are available?

While I welcome the prosperity that casinos have brought Native Americans, I think it's kind of a societal illness that those who lived here before the White Man came are looking to the greed of the White Man and the disposable income attached to their prosperity as the income stream that lifts their societies out of poverty.

I wish we'd engineer better solutions. In my heart I imagine them, but I'm powerless to manifest them. I've listened to Native America Calling for decades. I don't claim to have real understanding, but I do believe I've Been Schooled. And my heart breaks all the time for our indigenous population.
posted by hippybear at 10:19 AM on January 30, 2018 [6 favorites]

Thanks for the reminder- I might try to go see this in person!

Something struck me while listening to people complain about the Cleveland Indians removing their logo on NPR this morning. The word "history" kept coming up as to the importance of the logo, and how removing it impacted their personal connection with the team. And I realized that it never crossed their minds that Native Americans may feel THE EXACT SAME WAY about their culture, history and images, which has been manipulated, reworked and removed over the centuries? And that while it is a familiar drawing for Clevelanders, it is ancestors and identity and PEOPLE to the local Native Americans?
It is just incredibly myopic for someone to say "but this disrespects MY history" and never think to see how that maybe it should be let go for the greater good. I confess, I have to actively work against ignoring other groups concerns because it causes me discomfort, so I know it's hard. I think it is also hard to work against the fetishization of an oppressed culture, which is also a default for pop culture icons (e.g., the noble savage, Cochella headresses, etc)

I've been following Native Women's Wilderness in an effort to get more exposure to how Native Americans view themselves. (plus, the women are awesome and badass)
posted by Hermeowne Grangepurr at 10:41 AM on January 30, 2018 [7 favorites]

to add: Indian Country Today has been a very good source of news about the struggles of Native folks in the US, the issues they are currently working on, and how one might be able to help financially and through action. The Zinn Project has a good bit about the history of resistance by Native communities - NODAPL is not without precedent, of course

additionally Bitch, because they are the lovely, intersectionally feminist magazine that puts their praxis where they mouths are, had an article a little while ago featuring 15 Indigenous leaders you should know about. they also appear to regularly publish commentary on the issue of Native rights and oppression
posted by runt at 11:32 AM on January 30, 2018 [4 favorites]

to pick an article that seems particularly relevant to this conversation from Bitch - Refusing Colonialism: Leanne Betasamosake Simpson’s New Book Highlights Indigenous Resistance
When we talk about accomplices or allies in movements, we are actually talking about white people, and this centers whiteness in models of solidarity. I’m not interested in that because it replicates the very structures we are trying to escape, and it ends up taking space, time and energy from the actual movement. In terms of solidarity, I’m interested in nurturing a closer and more generative relationship with people in my territory. So I’m asking myself questions like how do I live in solidarity with Black Lives Matter? What does Nishnaabewin say my responsibilities are in terms of sharing land and space with Black communities imaging other worlds? How can I understand colonialism if I do not understand the Black scholars’ theoretical brilliance in understanding slavery? How am I listening to and supporting Indigenous trans people? How am I connecting my own struggle with colonialism to the rest of the world, [including] the plant and animal nations? How am I acting in solidarity with Lake Ontario? Those questions are much more important to me, and I think when we center that, authentic and ethical allies come onboard anyway.
it speaks to my own experience too, that it's often more effort than it's worth to educate white folks on the practice of resistance because you end up having to push back, regularly, at the centering of their own perspectives - an emotionally exhausting task in the midst of a million other emotionally exhausting tasks. white fragility is a monster to deal with and it's more common than you would expect from folks who seek to do anti-racist work. to offer a non-distressing takeaway and a path forward for would be allies - if you're not already doing the work of figuring out how to decenter your own experience, taking account of your own positionality, and reading everything there is to read under the sun in regards to accountability in an activist space, it's very likely that you are more burden than ally to PoC-centered groups. the work needs to be directed and led by the community you seek to assist or else you replicate very same power structures that create oppression
posted by runt at 11:41 AM on January 30, 2018 [3 favorites]

Follow NativeTwitter. There are an awful lot of Natives on Twitter, they are very active, and you'll see a huge variety of things, from Native people who make art, literature to Natives who are extremely political.

Support Native business. Support Natives who need direct financial help if you can. Do good ally work online and offline. Let them lead. Listen more than talk. But don't be afraid to be sociable.
posted by maxsparber at 11:46 AM on January 30, 2018 [7 favorites]

By the way, I try and follow a huge variety of people on Twitter, and generally try to say something when people are getting shit on. As a white dude, even though I am publicly Jewish, I get relatively little compared to women and people of color, and I try to push back whenever possible.

I have never seen a group get as much shit as Natives on Twitter. If you're a white dude, as I am, it's worth noting that it is mostly white dudes who are slinging the shit (and fair number of white women as well), and I feel like we should come and get our own when they are making a mess.
posted by maxsparber at 11:49 AM on January 30, 2018 [16 favorites]

It constantly astounds me how the simple maxim of Wheaton’s Law eludes so many in our country.
posted by Celsius1414 at 12:03 PM on January 30, 2018

Also, the word “Indian” for Native American should be deprecated. Other than the question of sensitivity (and how sensitive can it be if it says “well, we say you're from India, so you're Indian”), it's just ignorance, and belongs alongside phlogiston, bodily humours and the Antediluvian Epoch.
posted by acb at 1:18 PM on January 30, 2018 [1 favorite]

Also, the word “Indian” for Native American should be deprecated.

Like many things, it depends. I default to "Native American", but many Native people still use "Indian", or NDN, and many tribes still have Indian in their names. It's very individual.
posted by suelac at 1:32 PM on January 30, 2018 [8 favorites]

I've told our school's Aboriginal Access Coordinator (we have a specific recruiting role for law/medicine/business, who visits and does specific outreach in Indigenous communities to encourage Indigenous students to look into professional post-university degrees) and she's now soft-planning a summer field trip, so that's awesome.

As a Canuck, the word "Indian" is shocking to me now. Like less bad than "hate speech" but eyebrow-raising.
posted by Shepherd at 1:36 PM on January 30, 2018 [5 favorites]

Also, the word “Indian” for Native American should be deprecated.

For what it's worth, this is addressed by the NMAI:

What is the correct terminology: American Indian, Indian, Native American, or Native?

All of these terms are acceptable. The consensus, however, is that whenever possible, Native people prefer to be called by their specific tribal name. In the United States, Native American has been widely used but is falling out of favor with some groups, and the terms American Indian or indigenous American are preferred by many Native people.
posted by everybody had matching towels at 1:39 PM on January 30, 2018 [9 favorites]

Also, it's worth nothing that there is a shift toward capitalizing Indigenous in contexts where it's used as a proper noun/name. My sense is that this is more common in Canada, but is starting to be adopted in the U.S. as well.
posted by the return of the thin white sock at 1:59 PM on January 30, 2018 [2 favorites]

Why not just call them "Americans" and call everyone else "immigrant Americans"?
posted by Faint of Butt at 2:00 PM on January 30, 2018 [1 favorite]

the terms American Indian or indigenous American are preferred by many Native people.

What happened to First Nations? Is that more of a political label versus a racial/cultural one?
posted by GuyZero at 2:00 PM on January 30, 2018

Why not just call them "Americans" and call everyone else "immigrant Americans"?

Because they probably don't have particular love for Amerigo Vespucci.
posted by GuyZero at 2:01 PM on January 30, 2018 [11 favorites]

What happened to First Nations?

That's tricky because it has a specific legal meaning related to nations located within the boundaries of Canada which it doesn't in the US.
posted by Miko at 2:03 PM on January 30, 2018 [9 favorites]

If it's helpful, I do a podcast for some undergrad law courses I offer through work, and one recent episode was the breakdown of Aboriginal Law vs. Indigenous Law as terms of art in the legal field, but it starts with a pretty thorough accounting of how we arrived at "Indigenous" (via Indian, First Nations, etc.) as the preferred* term. The episode is here. "First Nations" is one of three recognized groups in Canada: First Nations, Inuit and Metis are distinct.

*and even then it's like calling a French person "European" instead of "French"; historically these were very distinct nations, and even "Indigenous" is a bit not-great in terms of recognizing their pre-Colonial history.
posted by Shepherd at 2:32 PM on January 30, 2018 [8 favorites]

Looking over the interactive website, it's fascinating how names of tribes have become common knowledge, but completely divorced from the people that use the name. I hadn't really thought how the Bikini atoll nuclear tests were all named after Native American tribes (Lacrosse, Cherokee, Zuni, Yuma, Erie, Seminole, Blackfoot, Flathead, Kickapoo, Osage, Inca, Dakota, Mohawk, Apache, Navajo, Tewa, and Huron). These tests weren't even done in US soil, but clearly the idea of "brave indians" was enough of a callback to use the tribal names as inspiration!

... I also realized that I have used Calumet baking powder in the past, and have Indian Head cornmeal in my cabinets now. I feel bad that I've never really noticed the imagery or logos. On the other hand, the Land O'Lakes "Indian maiden" image was updated by a Red Tribe Ojibwe artist, so is that better? Obviously capitalist systems have ways of subjugating artists, so it's probably good I don't purchase it anyway.

I do have some sand paintings that I purchased from Native artists when I traveled around Arizona years ago. I might have to see if there are other local Native artisans that I can support, too.
posted by Hermeowne Grangepurr at 2:33 PM on January 30, 2018

Aw man, I finally got my Caucasians t-shirt last month. (Although I hope this means Bertman Mustard will remove Chief Wahoo from their packaging.)

As for what to call the indigenous people of North America, I think it's best for non-Natives in Canada to go with First Nations (Inuit are somehow obviously separate and Métis has its own...issues) and USicans to go with Native Americans.

Personally, I don't like either so I default to Native or tribal affiliation unless I'm around other Indians, who mostly prefer Indian or American Indian. Random factoid: I get my health care at the clinic on the local reservation and I have never seen the term Native American there, it's all Indian or Native. American is implied, I guess. Heh.
posted by elsietheeel at 2:39 PM on January 30, 2018 [1 favorite]

Why not just call them "Americans" and call everyone else "immigrant Americans"?

Most Black Americans are not immigrants.
posted by AFABulous at 2:48 PM on January 30, 2018 [6 favorites]

The company I work for used to have a logo with a character they referred to as "Mini, the Indian Maiden." It was created in 1959 by a guy at an ad agency, and stuck around for decades. It finally went away in the early 2000s when the company was acquired and re-acquired and eventually became part of some other new company that was spun up in the wake of restructuring in the energy industry.

There are still a few folks around with old Mini memorabilia, but most of them have retired and the rest will be gone soon. Nobody really displays it anymore (though they did ten years ago when I was new here). It wasn't on the same level of offensiveness as some logos - it was no Chief Wahoo - but still.

The new company name is kinda meaningless and obviously consultant-generated in the same way as Accenture, Xcel, Qwest, and the other corporate names that date to the era. Most of those names were, in my view, a step down from the previous name, but in our case I'm a lot happier with the change.
posted by nickmark at 3:09 PM on January 30, 2018 [2 favorites]

I might have to see if there are other local Native artisans that I can support, too.

I love any chance to link to Beyond Buckskin, where you can buy clothes and accessories designed by Native artists and designers. Also on the site is the Buy Native list, with links to products you can buy online in a wide variety of categories - food, books, art, etc.
posted by Miko at 7:49 PM on January 30, 2018 [4 favorites]

I once asked an aboriginal friend what he preferred to be called. He said, "My name is Doug."

That being said I have to echo the comments from other Canadians upthread -- the term "Indian" is a shocker, like when your racist grandma comes over and refers to Afghanis as "towel heads."

I grok that some people self-identify as Indian but I don't think that makes it right for non-aboriginal people to use the term. If they want to take back ownership of the word, that's super. But it's no more appropriate for me to say "Indian" than it would be to say "chink" or "nigger."

In Canada I believe if you have to refer to a whole group the proper whole group label is "First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples." Which is admittedly a mouthful, especially if you're Frenching it up. Try fitting it onto a presentation slide sometime. It's true that most of the time identifying the person's specific nation or tribal group is preferred, in my experience.

Among the aboriginal folks I know the preferred term for me and my kind is "newcomers" which I think is a fine word. I don't mind being lumped under that banner. It's an accurate delimiter without demeaning my people or culture, and doesn't share the sardonic load of calling doughnut-eaters like me "immigrants."
posted by Construction Concern at 7:36 AM on January 31, 2018

No, the use of the word Indian is kind of a reclaimation, although we never stopped using it. Non-Natives shouldn't use it, although American Indian is fine.

Aboriginal sets my teeth on edge though. in the US that tends to make people think of Aboriginal Australians.
posted by elsietheeel at 8:33 AM on January 31, 2018 [1 favorite]

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