Out of Sight, Out of Mind
September 24, 2010 7:04 AM   Subscribe

Is this just another version of the minstrel show? The Pendleton Round-up is celebrating its 100th anniversary. Part of its attraction is the performance of a "American Indian" dance pageant, whose participants are compensated traditionally. "A century later, the mill still provides blankets, and families are still paid to appear, $5 per person each day at the arena. Beef and vegetables are provided, as are tokens for other food. The winner of the “Best Dressed Indian Award” at the parade gets 50 silver dollars. The winner of the “Oldest Indian Couple Award” gets 100 silver dollars in a pouch."
posted by Xurando (17 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Blankets, huh? Does smallpox come with that?
posted by the dief at 7:09 AM on September 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

For historical accuracy, they should provide historically accurate blankets. Then they wouldn't have to have one next year!
posted by mhoye at 7:10 AM on September 24, 2010

I think it might be a little more complicated than that. From the 100th anniversary link:
From the beginning, the Round-Up also presented the Umatilla, Walla Walla and Cayuse Indian tribes the opportunity to do what their ancient cultures had always done.

"Indians saw the Pendleton Round-Up as a time to gather with family and friends they hadn't seen for many years," said Cedric Wildbill, a member of the tribal council.

The Nez Perce, Yakama, Warm Springs and Colvilles joined the Round-Up festivities a year later, which was the first time all the Confederated tribes were allowed to congregate together because the government was fearful the tribes would band together to start a war, Wildbill said.

"This was the time frame when Indians were being forced to assimilate by becoming farmers (and) Christians, and Indian children were going to school," Wildbill said. "The Round-Up kind of went against what the government was trying to do, which was turn the Indians into farmers, (but) the Round-Up always allowed the Indians to be who they were."
So I think the question becomes more one of framing -- do you keep alive those traditions that might be viewed negatively today? If this is an event that allowed families and friends to keep in touch at a time when they were discriminated against, there is value to it, but there are some aspects of the tradition that make us uncomfortable. The idea of providing blankets and food, for example, seems a bit off to me but maybe it is a reminder of a time when that was really helpful to a certain community. Although I'm not comfortable with some aspects of this tradition, I think that that in itself has value; they are reminders of how things used to be and maybe that will help keep us aware of how things have changed and how we can continue to change things for the better.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 7:19 AM on September 24, 2010 [5 favorites]

I understand that all rodeos are inherently politically incorrect, but... well... I've been to the Roundup. And I didn't feel as if any of it was demeaning to the local tribes, who participate heavily.

Not just in those traditional roles that the OP is clucking about. A lot of the cowboys who compete in various events are from the tribes.

Mrs. Pterodactyl is right: this post is specious.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 7:34 AM on September 24, 2010 [7 favorites]

Is this just another version of the minstrel show?

Is this a question that Metafilter readers can ask themselves, without your blatant editorializing?

posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:39 AM on September 24, 2010 [2 favorites]

This sounds like it's a lot more complicated than the post title suggests. I wonder if non "NDN"s can sit in the bleachers for free? That's never mentioned in the article. And it's not like the Umatilla tribes are boycotting the event -- they've turned out in larger numbers this year than ever before.

Plus, well, Pendleton Co. blankets aren't exactly Bed Bath & Beyond items -- many of them retail for close to $200. I'd love to have one or two in my house.

The interaction between the Native Americans and the non-Natives in the Nez Perce area is also long and complicated. Their assistance to the Lewis & Clark expedition is well noted in the journals kept of that time, they welcomed the first missionaries into their area peacefully (until the rumor spread that Whitman was trying to poison them)...

These days, tribes in that area occupy lands that were part of their original territory, still have fishing rights to their traditional grounds, and maintain a lot of their traditions of dress , ceremonies, and garb all for their own cultural wellbeing, not just as exhibits at white man events.

I just think it's worth looking into the greater dynamic of the interplay between the Natives and non-Natives in the area before anyone comes to knee-jerk reactions about this particular one weekend a year.
posted by hippybear at 7:46 AM on September 24, 2010 [6 favorites]

These few paragraphs at the end of the article provide an interesting microcosm of modern Indian/non-Indian relations:

Before the procession this year, Wayne Brooks, the rodeo announcer, called local Indians “our friends, our family” and during the procession he handed over the microphone to Jess Nowland, who spoke for the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla.

“We’re all glad to welcome all of you here to our homeland,” Mr. Nowland said.

Mr. Nowland described the tribes’ long history here on the Columbia River plateau, how they had “ceded” much of their land to white settlers but were now striving to improve tribal social and economic health through projects as varied as improving salmon habitat and the steadily expanding Wildhorse Resort and Casino, which opened in 1995.

It was then that a man in the crowd called out, “To suck us all dry! So we can spend all our money there.”

Part of the way we see modern racism toward American Indian manifested is through the eagerness of non-Indians to compartmentalize modern tribal members as a museum culture. As anthropological curiosities, Indians aren't a threat to the dominant culture, but once tribes gain some sort of economic or political power through self-determination, it begins to threaten the non-Indian dominant power structure.

I don't think "minstrel show" is an apt comparison here for the Round Up, so much as a ritual re-enactment of tensions at the core of a two hundred year old failure of American federal Indian policy. It's a ritual still re-enacted not just in these social exchanges, but in economics and law as well. Sure, the rodeo announcer referred to his Indian neighbors as "our friends, our family," but that phrase rings a bit hollow when tribes and tribal members still have to fight these "neighbors" in federal courts to protect their fishing rights, water rights, and rights to govern themselves.

I salute the tribal members who steadfastly return to this event, year after year, sit in the cheap seats designated by the White man to put them in their places, as if to say "Fuck you. You still haven't turned us into farmers and you never will." And then they dance, maybe the same dances the BIA once tried to ban during the years of Assimilation policy.

And to echo what hippybear said above, receiving a Pendleton blanket from a tribal member is a big deal; it's not a pretty nice object, it's an enormous honor, one I hope to receive some day.
posted by Dr. Zira at 7:59 AM on September 24, 2010 [9 favorites]

Is this just another version of the minstrel show?

I think that this is a more complicated question at a time when the various confederated tribes involved are becoming far more politically and economically powerful than at any time since European settlement. According to a quick google search, the local confederated tribes are the second largest employer in the county -- if they didn't like the way Round-Up was run, they definitely have the clout to make changes.

I've have visited Pendleton many times, and it's very much still a place with super sharp racial divisions. But it's also a place that is changing fast; between the newly-powerful Indian tribes, Latino immigration, and other changes, it's not the same town today that it was even twenty years ago. There's a lot of interesting things to say about Round-Up and about Indian/non-Indian relations, past and contemporary. This terribly shallow NYTimes article is, unfortunately, probably not the basis for that discussion.
posted by Forktine at 7:59 AM on September 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I was struck by the heckler's callout too, if only to note the white man's fetish with casinos in general. I know, here in the greater Spokane area, we have one (recently expanded) casino already established and another one on the way. And at least one more within easy reach over near Coeur d'Alene, ID. And people that I talk to who mention the casinos are truly taken aback when I say that I've only ever been once, and that was for a concert.

Why gambling has become such an assumed way of life for many is beyond me, frankly. I understand that some people think it's fun, but I don't, for any number of reasons. But you'd think that I'd have just purposely backed over someone's cat to judge by the reactions I get from people around here when I say I don't participate in the casino culture.

So, yeah. The casinos are all put in place by the Natives to "suck us all dry". Because we're all under such duress about having to go there in the first place.
posted by hippybear at 8:07 AM on September 24, 2010

The casinos are all put in place by the Natives to "suck us all dry". Because we're all under such duress about having to go there in the first place.

The liquors are all put in place by the Whites to prevent natives from "keeping dry." Because they're under such duress about being forced to drink alcohol in the first place.
posted by Michael Pemulis at 8:43 AM on September 24, 2010

Blankets, huh? Does smallpox come with that?

If I recall correctly, there's no real evidence that Americans ever gave infected blankets to Native Americans. Some British general wrote about it in a letter once and everything spooled out from there.
posted by electroboy at 8:43 AM on September 24, 2010

I haven't been to Round-Up in years, long before any tribes in the US entered the gaming industry. As Dr. Zira says, receiving a blanket is a huge honor; a friend of my father's received one once, and considered it one of his lifetime high points.

One of the holdings in the University of Oregon's documentary photograph collection is a series of photographs from the Pendleton area, including a lot of Round-Up images. Round-Up is a complicated dance in Oregon cultural politics, both for whites and tribal members. Add in that the rodeo itself is a major stop on the NFR tour, which brings in television cameras that like the "traditional" (i.e., tribal costumes and dances) elements for non-east-of-the-Cascades-Northwestern audiences, and you've got a strange, beautiful, subtext-laden yearly ritual that the New York Times's obsession with Oregon could never hope to understand.

(Except, maybe, Tim Egan, although he lets his own biases blind himself sometimes even when he's writing something that's rooted in his own PNW sense of place.)
posted by catlet at 8:50 AM on September 24, 2010

The smallpox joke is also less funny given the role that rumors of deliberate disease spreading played in the Whitman massacre.
posted by Forktine at 8:52 AM on September 24, 2010

The Indian Pageant event sounds interesting:
Our colorful night pageant takes you into the past to relive the experiences of our forefathers. The show begins with the portrayal of the early American Indian culture. Emigrants, seeking a new life, come to the frontier and soon the two cultures clash. Fighting breaks out, then peace comes and the scene changes to that of a wild frontier town.

posted by exogenous at 9:05 AM on September 24, 2010

I guess I'm not sure what you're saying there, Michael Pemulis. Are you drawing an equivalency between casinos and alcohol, perhaps saying that each culture has a specific addictive weakness which is being exploited by the other culture in order to try to gain advantage? Are you suggesting that the creation of casinos is some kind of turnabout being enacted by the Native Americans in retribution for the white man's firewater? Or are you generally uncomfortable with any conversation at all that has to do with Native American and White cultural contact and you're hoping to shut it down with a snide comment which really isn't drawing any parallel at all?
posted by hippybear at 9:28 AM on September 24, 2010 [2 favorites]

I haven't been to this one, but I've been to a fair number of powwows and a couple of on-res festivals/rituals. I don't fully understand either. On one hand, the powwows do bear resemblance to the more private ritual dances and ceremonies, so it's not like Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show or anything. On the other, there is a lot of dilution and serious-but-not spectacle to it. There was a post a while ago (or maybe it was in the comments) about some white girls who showed up to a powwow in what amounted to squaw costumes without realizing they were being offensive. While its not as overt as that, stuff like braids, headbands, unironic wolf tee-shirts, and stuff like that worn by aging white hippies who genuinely identify as Indian seem to me to be not that far off. It's a very weird scene to me.

It's also difficult to realize, though, that the culture was and is substantially different than ours. It always struck me as bizarre how many Navajo, as a group, are very patriotic and join the military. But, the Navajo were a fluid group that had been assimilating and being assimilated by warring tribes for thousands of years, so it's still natural to honor and aspire to be a warrior. Apparently.
posted by cmoj at 10:29 AM on September 24, 2010

Just for the record, the story about the US giving smallpox-infected blankets to the Indians is a lie that was promulgated by Ward Churchill.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 5:46 PM on September 24, 2010

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