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FNS 198 From Disney's Pocahontas to the NFL: Stereotypes

J P Leary

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Topics in Indian Country

Cultural identity & language revitalization
"Many Natives who attended boarding schools lost their sense of self through enforced shaming of their cultural identity. Today, many tribes in the United States are reviving their traditions and cultures.  Central to this cultural renaissance is the importance of language and ceremony. " (Running Strong)
Environment & conservation
"Tribes look to their land and natural resources to provide and support essential elements of Native life and culture—from subsistence hunting, fishing, and gathering, to sources of economic development and tribal sacred places" (NCAI).
"Lower life expectancy and the disproportionate disease burden [among American Indian and Alaska Native people] exist perhaps because of inadequate education, disproportionate poverty, discrimination in the delivery of health services, and cultural differences" (IHS).
Language revitalization
"Native language revitalization is a critical priority for tribes because language goes to the heart of tribal identity. A language is not simply a collection of words; nor is one language interchangeable with another. In many ways, language is culture" (NCAI).
Film, art, literature, dance & music
"Negative Indian stereotypes – especially those perpetuated by sports mascots – affect the reputation and self-image of every single Native person and foster ongoing discrimination against tribal citizens" (NCAI).
Powwows are "a gathering of Native people for the purpose of singing, dancing, celebration, and socialization. It consists of ceremonies, dance competitions, and social dancing" (UNL).
Racism & poverty
"Native Americans fall at the bottom of assessments of education, health status, and income, and at the top of assessments of crime victimization and incarceration [...] patterns emerge across the eras as tribes are reinscribed as inferior, limited, and defined by their race to justify limiting tribal independence and controlling Indian people" (Berger, 2009).
Religious freedom
"Because many Native traditions did not fit prevalent Protestant Christian definitions of 'religion,' the practices and beliefs of Native communities often have not received protection under the First Amendment" (Pluralism Project).
Stereotypes & institutional mascots
"Rather than honoring Native peoples, these caricatures and stereotypes are harmful, perpetuate negative stereotypes of America’s first peoples, and contribute to a disregard for the personhood of Native peoples" (NCAI).
Tribal sovereignty & reservations
"The governmental status of tribal nations is at the heart of nearly every issue that touches Indian Country. Self-government is essential if tribal communities are to continue to protect their unique cultures and identities (NCAI).
**Note: this is not a comprehensive list of topics and issues related to First Nations**

A Word about Keywords

Keyword searching is the most common search strategy when doing research; when doing research about First Nations Peoples, it's important to recognize the many ways -- past and present -- writers describe topics, issues, and groups of people. A simple keyword search for 'Indian' may pull up some older records referring to American Indians, but most of the results would probably be related to peoples from India. Keep in mind the following variety of terms:

  • American Indian
  • Native American
  • First Nations
  • Indigenous

This gets even more granular when we're looking at a particular group of people such as a tribe or clan. For example, Ojibwa has different spelling variations depending on location and linguistic dialect. You also have to consider that indexes may use the anglicized version of a tribe versus the preferred name of a people or tribe; for instance, Chippewa is the anglacized name for the Anishinaabe people.

  • Chippewa, Chippeway -- the approximate French pronunciation of "Ojibwa" and still commonly used
  • Ojibwa, Ojibway, and Ojibwe -- various spellings for "Ojibwa"
  • Anishinaabe -- preferred name of the tribe meaning "the people" or "the original people"