Politics, United States

Native American Stereotypes

Do you believe that in our society all Native Americans are savages? Many forms of media in America portray Native Americans as savages, murderers, redskins, . This is shown through many western movies, artwork, and even literature. Some famous movies that depict Native American stereotypes are “Lone Ranger” and “Peter Pan.” So how are Native Americans portrayed in our society through media?

Many famous western movies make many mistakes in the way they portray Native Americans. Making them dress up in feathers and red paint to make them look like warriors to  try and make them look like savages. According to one actor Brian Young , “I felt shameful for mocking my spirituality. I promised myself I’d never play “Indian” again.” Young had felt terrible about his role in the movie “The Ridiculous Six”. Wearing a costume with feathers and warpaint to make his character look like a savage in the movie. Young also says that the movie had jokes depicting Natives as dirty animals. Showing how society portrays Natives as savage or animal like people. Another movie that makes stereotypes is “Peter Pan.” When Peter Pan meets with the chief they make him look red. Which refers to stereotypical name of calling Native Americans “Red skins.” There is even a song in the movie they play called “What makes the red man red.”  The word redskin became a slur when the colonists were fighting with the Native Americans. It was first discovered by a British Lieutenant Colonel who translated a letter from a Chief in the Mississippi valley who allowed the Colonel to visit his tribe. The letter read, “I shall be pleased to have you come to speak to me yourself if you pity our women and our children; and, if any redskins do you harm, I shall be able to look out for you even at the peril of my life.” Ever since then colonists and our society believed it to be acceptable to call Native Americans “red skins.” Especially with professional football names like the Washington Redskins.  

There were many different tribes who had different beliefs, traditions, and lifestyles. Based on where they were located like for example if a tribe was near a coast they would usually fish rather than farm. Like the Tlingit tribe who were skilled fishman, located in southern Alaska surviving off of the resources of the Pacific Ocean and other near by coastal areas. Early Native Americans wouldn’t hunt until the Europeans brought horses so most Native Americans were farmers. Examples of farming groups were the Cherokees who were located on the east side of the United States they grew corn, beans, squash, sunflowers, and pumpkins. The religion that Native Americans practiced was called animism which was the belief that nature or objects had it’s own spirit separate from the body. Since Native Americans believed in animism they believed that the sun, rain, and storms were controlled by spirits.  Since Native Americans had this belief they were usually very quiet or calm for the respect of nature, people, and their differences. Even though we picture Native Americans as being very loud, crazy, and savage like. If they were ever communicating with people they wouldn’t express their anger or emotions they would just be silent. Compared to people today who would yell or act out of their anger. Native Americans for this reason were also very good listeners especially for when they told stories that had life lessons. This is how many Native Americans were educated through storytelling.

While there are other media like movies that portray Native Americans in a bad way, art such as paintings or drawing show negative visions of a Native American. When the colonists were trying to obtain more land in America, they had a problem with Native Americans “being in the way” of claiming the land. While many colonists tried, there were others who contributed to art such as paintings and drawings to show others how the Native Americans acted and what they wanted to do. For Example, Native Americans would be shown trying to kill or killing white people especially showing women or children. According to an article on the website called “Indians of the Midwest”,  it has said that “The most prevalent negative images of the Midwest Indians in the 18th and 19th century showed them killing and/or capturing White people, especially women”. This quote is basically saying that most of the popular art back then of the Natives were very negative images of them committing harsh doings such as killing or capturing white people. On the other hand, scenes where non-indians were killing Native Americans was not a popular subject to many artists. Ironically, the non-indians were the ones who were actually killing off the Native Americans and they would also go rape the women in their tribes. With this being said, more information to support these statements again comes from the website “Indians of the Midwest” saying, “This message was a one-sided one, that is, the brutality of war was ascribed to Indians alone. In reality, non-indians killed many defenseless Indian women and children, took captives (whom they often killed), and tortured Indians; however, these images were not popular subjects to artists”. The art that had been created has a lot controversy the more you really look into it. The art really shows how non-Natives were “blind” to what their doings were. Being said, Native Americans were trying to fight for their rights as people of the America, but had been having those rights taken away from them. More information from “Indians of the Midwest” says that “Native people were fighting for their homelands, farms, and their rights to territory they needed in order to make a living for their families. Usually, these regions had been guaranteed them by the federal government in treaties, but many Americans violated the law and trespassed, often attacking Indians in the process, as happened in the Ohio Valley”. With all of this information provided, it has shown how media other than movies or television shows like art such as paintings or drawings portray Native Americans in a very negative way. Putting them in this negative way puts them in a box of stereotypes which are to be how a Native looks, feels, and does as an individual human being. Also, people assume that they are a savages by being portrayed that way by saying that the Natives had been in the way of obtaining land for the colonists and showed them killing non-natives when in reality only killed them as self-defense.

With all this said, Native Americans have been put in this box where people “expect or believe” that they are the way they are. Media such as movies or art have shown Native Americans being “savages” by putting them in a scene where they hurt a white women or even raped too while the total opposite was happening where the white people were actually killing the Native Americans. They would only attack as an act of self-defense and they only started hunting when the Europeans arrived in the Americans because most of them were farmers to begin with. Overall, Native Americans are depicted to an ideal that in reality is not how they actually are as a people. What our society needs to do in order to stop these stereotypes of the Natives is by treating them with equal respect as we do towards other races and cultures. These stereotypes will continue to be a thing if we do not eliminate these problems of equality towards the Natives and equality towards all.

Article by Vincent Sinclair and Grant Friesen

Works Citied

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“Stereotypes | Indians of the Midwest.” Indians of the Midwest RSS,

     publications.newberry.org/indiansofthemidwest/indian-imagery/stereotypes/.

Nittle, Nadra Kareem. “5 Common Native American Stereotypes in Film and

     Television.”ThoughtCo, www.thoughtco.com/native-american-stereotypes-in-film-

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“California Native Americans.” California Native Americans ***,

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