Five Myths about American Indians

Thanksgiving recalls for many people a meal between European colonists and indigenous Americans that we have invested with all the symbolism we can muster. But the new arrivals who sat down to share venison with some of America’s original inhabitants relied on a raft of misconceptions that began as early as the 1500s, when Europeans produced fanciful depictions of the “New World.” In the centuries that followed, captivity narratives, novels, short stories, textbooks, newspapers, art, photography, movies and television perpetuated old stereotypes or created new ones — particularly ones that cast indigenous peoples as obstacles to, rather than actors in, the creation of the modern world. I hear those concepts repeated in questions from visitors to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian every day. Here are five of the most intransigent.

Myth No. 1
There is a Native American culture

 

This concept really took hold when Christopher Columbus dubbed the diverse indigenous inhabitants of the Western Hemisphere “Indians.” Lumping all Native Americans into an indiscriminate, and threatening, mass continued during the era of western expansion, as settlers pushed into tribal territories in pursuit of new lands on the frontier. In his 1830 “Message to Congress,” President Andrew Jackson justified forced Indian removal and ethnic cleansing by painting Indian lands as “ranged by a few thousand savages.” But it was Hollywood that established our monolithic modern vision of American Indians, in blockbuster westerns — such as “Stagecoach” (1939), “Red River” (1948) and “The Searchers” (1956) — that depict all Indians, all the time, as horse-riding; tipi-dwelling; bow-, arrow- and rifle-wielding; buckskin-, feather- and fringe-wearing warriors.

Yet vast differences — in culture, ethnicity and language — exist among the 567 federally recognized Indian nations across the United States. It’s true that the buffalo-hunting peoples of the Great Plains and prairie, such as the Lakota, once lived in tipis. But other native people lived in hogans (the Navajo of the Southwest), bark wigwams (the Algonquian-speaking peoples of the Great Lakes), wood longhouses in the Northeast (Haudenosaunee, the Iroquois peoples’ name for themselves, means “they made the house”), iglus and on and on. Nowadays, most Native Americans live in contemporary houses, apartments, condos and co-ops just like everyone else.

There is similar diversity in how native people traditionally dressed; whether they farmed, fished or hunted; and what they ate. Something as simple as food ranged from game (everywhere); to seafood along the coasts; to saguaro, prickly pear and cholla cactus in the Southwest; to acorns and pine nuts in California and the Great Basin.

Myth No. 2
American Indians get a free ride from the U.S. government

 

The notion that indigenous people benefit from the government’s largesse is widespread, according to “American Indians: Stereotypes and Realities,” by Choctaw historian Devon Mihesuah. Staff and volunteers at our Washington and New York museums hear daily about how Washington “gave” Native Americans their reservations and how the Bureau of Indian Affairs manages their lives for them.

In 1879, a landmark case asked the question: Are Native Americans considered human beings under the U.S. Constitution? This is Chief Standing Bear’s story.

But Native Americans are subject to income taxes just like all other Americans and, at best, have the same access to government services — though often worse. In 2013, the Indian Health Service (IHS) spent just $2,849 per capita for patient health services, well below the national average of $7,717. And IHS clinics can be difficult to access, not only on reservations but in urban areas, where the majority of Native Americans live today.

As for reservations, most were created when tribes relinquished enormous portions of their original landholdings in treaties with the federal government. They are what remained after the United States expropriated the bulk of the native estate. And even these tenuous holdings were often confiscated and sold to white settlers. The Dawes Allotment Act, passed by Congress in 1887, broke up communally held reservation lands and allotted them to native households in 160-acre parcels of individually owned property, many of which were sold off. Between 1887, when the allotment act was passed, and 1934, when allotment was repealed, the Native American land base diminished from approximately 138 million acres to 48 million acres.

Myth No. 3
‘Native American’ is the proper term

 

Commentaries and corporate guidelines address the notion that “Native American” is preferred or that “American Indian” is impolite. During the 1492 quincentennial, Oprah Winfrey devoted an hour of her show to the subject. At the museums and on social media, people ask at least once per day when we are going to take “American Indian” out of our name.

The term Native American grew out of the political movements of the 1960s and ’70s and is commonly used in legislation covering the indigenous people of the lower 48 states and U.S. territories. But Native Americans use a range of words to describe themselves, and all are appropriate. Some people refer to themselves as Native or Indian; most prefer to be known by their tribal affiliation — Cherokee, Pawnee, Seneca, etc. — if the context doesn’t demand a more encompassing description. Some natives and nonnatives, including scholars, insist on using the word Indigenous, with a capital I. In Canada, terms such as First Nations and First Peoples are preferred. Ditto in Central and South America, where the word indio has a history of use as a racial slur. There, Spanish speakers tend to use the collective word indígenas, as well as specific national names.

Myth No. 4
Indians sold Manhattan for $24 worth of trinkets

 

This myth — repeated in textbooks and made vivid in illustrations — casts Native Americans as gullible provincials who traded valuable lands and beaver pelts for colorful European-made beads and baubles. According to a letter to Dutch officials, the settlers offered representatives of local Lenape groups 60 guilders, about $24, in trade goods for their homeland, Manahatta. The best insight we have into what the Lenape received comes from a later 17th-century deed for the Dutch purchase of Staten Island, also for 60 guilders, which lists goods “to be brought from Holland and delivered” to the Indians, including shirts, socks, cloth, muskets, bars of lead, powder, kettles, axes, awls, adzes and knives. The Dutch recognized the mouth of the Hudson River as a gateway to valuable fur-trapping territories farther north and west.

But it is unlikely that the Lenape saw the original transaction as a sale. Although land could be designated for the exclusive use of prominent native individuals and families, the idea of selling land in perpetuity, to be regarded as property, was alien to native societies. Historians who try now to reconstruct early transactions between Europeans and Native Americans differ over whether the Lenape considered it an agreement for the Dutch to use, but not own, Manahatta (the majority view), or whether even as early as 1626, Indians had engaged in enough trade to understand European economic ideas.

Myth No. 5
Mascots honor Native Americans

 

Many people, including some American Indians , hold that naming sports teams after Native American caricatures, such as the Redskins and the Braves, recognizes the strength and fortitude of native peoples. “It represents honor, represents respect, represents pride,” Redskins owner Dan Snyder told ESPN.

A little history: The use of Native Americans as mascots arose during the allotment period, a time when U.S. policy sought to eradicate native sovereignty and Wild West shows cemented the image of Indians as plains warriors. (No wonder all of these mascots resemble plains Indians, even when they represent teams in Washington, Florida and Ohio.)

What’s more, social science research suggests not only that some native people recognize the word “Redskins” as a racial slur and are offended by it, but that exposure to mascots and other stereotypes of Native Americans has a negative impact on American Indian young people. According to a study by Tulalip psychologist Stephanie Fryberg, such mascots “remind American Indians of the limited ways others see them and, in this way, constrain how they can see themselves.” Likewise, in 2005, the American Psychological Association called for the retirement of all Indian mascots, symbols and images, citing the harmful effects of racial stereotyping on the social identity and self-esteem of American Indian youth.


Originally published on 2017-11-22

About the author: Kevin Gover, a citizen of the Pawnee Tribe of Oklahoma, is the director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian.

Source: The Washington Post

Read our Disclaimer/Legal Statement!

Donate to Support Us

We would like to ask you to consider a small donation to help our team keep working. We accept no advertising and rely only on you, our readers, to keep us digging the truth on history, global politics and international relations.

Save

Save 

READ MORE!
The Worst Mistake in U.S. History
The worst mistake in U.S. history was the conversion after World War II of the U.S. government from a constitutional, limited-government republic to a national-security state. Nothing has done more to warp and distort the conscience, principles, and values of the American people, including those who serve in the U.S. military.A good example of how the national-security state has adversely affected the thinking of U.S. soldiers was reflected in an op-ed entitled “What We’re Fighting For” that appeared in the February 10, 2017, issue of the New York Times. Authored by an Iraq War veteran named Phil Klay, the article ...
READ MORE
The USA from 1776 onward
Read our Disclaimer/Legal Statement!Donate to Support UsWe would like to ask you to consider a small donation to help our team keep working. We accept no advertising and rely only on you, our readers, to keep us digging the truth on history, global politics and international relations.SaveSave
READ MORE
A Collection Of Thoughts About American Foreign Policy
Louis XVI needed a revolution, Napoleon needed two historic military defeats, the Spanish Empire in the New World needed multiple revolutions, the Russian Czar needed a communist revolution, the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman Empires needed World War I, Nazi Germany needed World War II, Imperial Japan needed two atomic bombs, the Portuguese Empire in Africa needed a military coup at home, the Soviet Empire needed Mikhail Gorbachev … What will the American Empire need?I don’t believe anyone will consciously launch World War III. The situation now is more like the eve of World War I, when great powers were armed and ...
READ MORE
Making Balkan Caliphate: The Wahhabies – A New Danger For The Balkan And European Security
Editor’s note:This article was written and originally published in January 2015.      „God is our objective, the Quran is our Constitution, the Prophet is our leader, struggle is our way, and death for sake of God is the highest of our aspirations“Jihadi credoThe West Europe before the 2014 Christmas became once again a target of several mini-terrorist acts by the radical Islamists among whom the Wahabbies are the most active and dangerous. On Tuesday, December 23rd, Germany’s security service warn of highest terrorist threat in decades as the German participation in the anti-ISIS struggle became the reason for potential terrorism. ...
READ MORE
Ending NATO, a Monstrous Institution
Their anxiety about the future of NATO, recently on full display again when the American president was in Europe, could not be bettered as a measure of the incapacity of Europe’s top politicians to guide their continent and represent its populations. Through its provocations of Moscow, NATO systematically helps increase the risk of a military confrontation. By thus sabotaging its declared purpose of preserving collective security for the countries on either side of the Atlantic, it erases its fundamental reason for being and right to exist.Grasping these facts ought be enough to fuel moves aimed at quickly doing away with ...
READ MORE
Journey to Aleppo: Exposing the Truth Buried under NATO Propaganda
Aleppo has become synonymous with destruction and “Syrian state-generated” violence among those whose perception of the situation in the war-torn nation is contained within the prism of mainstream media narratives.The NATO-aligned media maintains a tight grip on information coming out of this beleaguered city, ensuring that whatever comes out is tailored to meet State Department requirements and advocacy for regime change. The propaganda mill churns out familiar tales of chemical weapons, siege, starvation, and bombs targeting civilians–all of which are attributed to the Syrian government and military, with little variation on this theme.The purpose of this photo essay and my ...
READ MORE
The War on Yugoslavia, Kosovo “Self-Determination” and EU-NATO Support of KLA Terrorists: Dietmar Hartwig’s Warning Letters to Angela Merkel
It seems that the recent developments in Europe, and in particular the rising secessionism (Catalonia, Flandreau, Corsica, Veneto, Scotland), rings a bell, or rather is reminiscent of certain events. The ensuing ones are shedding more light on the roles of the EU (EEC), the USA, Great Britain and Germany. One wonders to what extent those democracies have been guided by the principles of international law and democracy pertaining to the Kosovo crisis. How much did they appreciate the reports of their (expensive) missions in Kosovo and Metohija (КDОМ, КVМ, ЕCMM) depicting the realities on the ground? To what extent have ...
READ MORE
Who was US Special Representative to Kosovo Frank G. Wisner?
On December 19, 2005, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced the appointment of Ambassador Frank G. Wisner as the Special Representative of the US Secretary of State to the Kosovo Status Talks.Who is Frank G. Wisner, Jr.?If his name sounds familiar that is because he is the son of Frank Gardiner Wisner, Sr., the CIA agent most responsible for the recruitment of Nazis by the US government after World War II. A former member of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the World War II precursor to the CIA, Frank G. Wisner, Sr., was one of the most infamous ...
READ MORE
“We have the right to live”: NATO’s war on Yugoslavia and the expulsion of Serbs from Kosovo
In the period before the 1999 NATO attack on Yugoslavia, the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) waged a campaign to secede and establish an independent Kosovo dominated by Albanians and purged of every other ethnic group. In October 1998, KLA spokesman Bardhyl Mahmuti spelled the KLA’s vision: “We will never change our position. The independence of Kosovo is the only solution…We cannot live together [with Serbs]. That is excluded.”Once NATO’s war came to an end, the KLA set about driving out of Kosovo every non-Albanian and every pro-Yugoslav Albanian it could lay its hands on. The KLA left in its wake ...
READ MORE
America Now Preparing For World War III
Because this article states so many things that might be likely to contradict what most people in Western countries have been led to believe, readers here are especially strongly encouraged to click onto any allegation which seems at all questionable, in order to get to the sources behind any given questionable allegation. And wherever a clicked-onto source turns out to be another article, one is encouraged similarly to do the same there, so that the reader will be able, in this way, to probe down to the ultimate sources, which are the sources upon which this article is finally based.After ...
READ MORE
Kosovo: America’s Mafia State
The unilateral independence of Kosovo was declared in February 2008.Kosovo is a member of  The Bretton Woods institutions. Kosovo seeks membership of NATO, the EU and now Interpol.The Interpol Executive Committee has decided that the application of Kosovo for membership in Interpol would be put on the agenda of the General Assembly to be held in Beijing, China, from 26 to 29 September 2017, Government of Kosovo stated Monday.In a bitter irony, Kosovo president Hashim Thaci is still on the list of Interpol in relation to his links to organized crimes and the drug trade. Last February president Thaci requested the secretary-general ...
READ MORE
Five Times Corporate Media Got Caught Publishing “Fake News” Causing The Death And Suffering Of Millions
A now-notorious list of ostensibly “fake” news sites — created by a liberal professor, seemingly out of thin air — spread like wildfire online in the past two days and was eagerly reprinted by corporate media presstitutes hoping to vindicate their own failed reporting on the 2016 election.But branding perfectly legitimate outlets with the same scarlet letter as those devoid of integrity deemed the professor’s list a spurious attempt to defame alternative and independent media — anyone dissenting from the left’s mainstream narrative — as a whole.This is, in no uncertain terms, a hit list — or, at least, a laughable attempt — and ...
READ MORE
US Sponsored Coups and Regime Change, NATO Expansionism, Washington Interferes Globally: Ukraine, Mexico, Korea, Venezuela…
On February 2014, a United States-sponsored coup was initiated in the Ukraine in which President Viktor Yanukovych was illegally ousted from power. (1) Over three years later, the putsch has done nothing but plunge the Ukraine, a tortured country plundered throughout modern history (by the West), into another abyss. In a 2015 interview with CNN, then US president Barack Obama openly confessed that “we had brokered a deal to transition power in Ukraine”.Around 10,000 people have been killed in the time since, with the conflict generating 2.5 million refugees who relocated to Russia. The putsch led to Crimea’s annexation a month after ...
READ MORE
The U.S. is not a Democracy, It Never was
One of the most steadfast beliefs regarding the United States is that it is a democracy. Whenever this conviction waivers slightly, it is almost always to point out detrimental exceptions to core American values or foundational principles. For instance, aspiring critics frequently bemoan a “loss of democracy” due to the election of clownish autocrats, draconian measures on the part of the state, the revelation of extraordinary malfeasance or corruption, deadly foreign interventions, or other such activities that are considered undemocratic exceptions. The same is true for those whose critical framework consists in always juxtaposing the actions of the U.S. government ...
READ MORE
The Empire Wants Ms. Clinton, The Conqueror!
What a fine race it has become! Both Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump are competing in it as a who is the ‘tougher guy/gal’ in what could be easily described as a 21st Century Tarantino-style (or Scorsese-style) political pulp fiction gore.What they both utter, may often sound like some staged bluff: “Are you talking to me? Hey, there’s nobody else here… Are you talking to me?”But just think for a moment what would really happen if one of them sticks to his or her ‘promises’ and ‘principles’, after getting elected! (The bullets would be flying, the nukes exploding, and millions ...
READ MORE
Neocon Imperialism, 9/11, and the Attacks on Afghanistan and Iraq
One way to understand the effect of 9/11, in most general terms, is to see that it allowed the agenda developed in the 1990s by neoconservatives—-often called simply “neocons”—to be implemented. There is agreement on this point across the political spectrum. From the right, for example, Stefan Halper and Jonathan Clarke say that 9/11 allowed the “preexisting ideological agenda” of the neoconservatives to be “taken off the shelf . . . and relabeled as the response to terror.”1 Stephen Sniegoski, writing from the left, says that “it was only the traumatic effects of the 9/11 terrorism that enabled the agenda ...
READ MORE
The U.S. Wars and Hostile Actions around the Globe: A Preliminary List
There is a reason that most countries polled in December 2013 by Gallup called the United States the greatest threat to peace in the world, and why Pew found that viewpoint increased in 2017.But it is a reason that eludes that strain of U.S. academia that first defines war as something that nations and groups other than the United States do, and then concludes that war has nearly vanished from the earth.Since World War II, during a supposed golden age of peace, the United States military has killed or helped kill some 20 million people, overthrown at least 36 governments, ...
READ MORE
Hillary Comes Out as the War Party Candidate
On June 2 (2016), a few days before the California primary, Hillary Clinton gave up trying to compete with Bernie Sanders on domestic policy. Instead, she zeroed in on the soft target of Donald Trump’s most “bizarre rants” in order to present herself as experienced and reasonable. Evidently taking her Democratic Party nomination for granted, she is positioning herself as the perfect candidate for hawkish Republicans.Choosing to speak in San Diego, home base of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, on a platform draped with 19 American flags and preceded by half an hour of military marching music, Hillary Clinton was certain ...
READ MORE
Deconstructing Russophobia
Imagine that Vladimir Putin were not a murderous autocrat and kleptocrat who has spent his fourteen years in power living up to his KGB past and dragging Russia ever back towards Communist autocracy, illiberalism, and expansionism. Imagine that instead he were one of the greatest leaders that Russia has had, whose policies have helped produce a massive rise in living standards and life expectancy, recuperation of national pride, and enforcement of the rule of law, who has tackled kleptocrats and gangsters wisely and well, whose foreign policy has on balance been realistic, diplomatic, and conducive to peace, who has presided ...
READ MORE
The United States: Destroyer of Nations
After the Donald Trump administration’s decision to recognize the disputed city of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move the US embassy there from Tel Aviv, the national aspirations of the Palestinian people to live in their own state have been severely dashed by Washington’s move. Ever since the formation of the United States, it has been American policy to destroy aspirant nations like the internationally-recognized State of Palestine.The first nation destroyed by the United States was the Cherokee Nation, or Tsalagihi Ayeli, which, beginning in 1794, was slowly decimated by forced removals from territory in Georgia, the Carolinas, Tennessee, Alabama, ...
READ MORE
The Worst Mistake in U.S. History
The USA from 1776 onward
A Collection Of Thoughts About American Foreign Policy
Making Balkan Caliphate: The Wahhabies – A New Danger For The Balkan And European Security
Ending NATO, a Monstrous Institution
Journey to Aleppo: Exposing the Truth Buried under NATO Propaganda
The War on Yugoslavia, Kosovo “Self-Determination” and EU-NATO Support of KLA Terrorists: Dietmar Hartwig’s Warning Letters to Angela Merkel
Who was US Special Representative to Kosovo Frank G. Wisner?
“We have the right to live”: NATO’s war on Yugoslavia and the expulsion of Serbs from Kosovo
America Now Preparing For World War III
Kosovo: America’s Mafia State
Five Times Corporate Media Got Caught Publishing “Fake News” Causing The Death And Suffering Of Millions
US Sponsored Coups and Regime Change, NATO Expansionism, Washington Interferes Globally: Ukraine, Mexico, Korea, Venezuela…
The U.S. is not a Democracy, It Never was
The Empire Wants Ms. Clinton, The Conqueror!
Neocon Imperialism, 9/11, and the Attacks on Afghanistan and Iraq
The U.S. Wars and Hostile Actions around the Globe: A Preliminary List
Hillary Comes Out as the War Party Candidate
Deconstructing Russophobia
The United States: Destroyer of Nations