Final Thoughts

While on the phone with my mom the other day we began talking about the crazy winter we had. Snow was on the ground behind our house well into the typical spring months. She mentioned the deer that had been in our yard looking for food when I was home for break over March and how they had been there for weeks afterwards. Still hungry, still looking for food. Through all of this I remarked how lucky we are to have all the luxuries we are afforded; never worried about where our next meal will be from, a roof to protect us from the cold elements at night, and electricity to make everything easier and more comfortable.

And then I started thinking about this class. I thought about the fact that my little town back in Massachusetts used to be a home for Native Americans (the Agawam to be specific). I also thought about how although this past winter was not completely the norm, we have had extra long winters before. It made me gain such an appreciation and amazement for the Native American groups that lived on this land for so many years, most of those without similar luxuries that we have today. Thinking about their ability to stay present through so many difficult feats –unpredictable weather, Europeans and colonialism, illnesses– has made me realize that they should not just be allowed to maintain their culture and sovereignty because they’ve been here before us and didn’t have a say in colonization, but because their ability to maintain culture and society despite so many hardships is something to celebrate and admire, and with that admiration should come freedom from rules set by governments that don’t understand who they are or why they should be their own peoples. Also, I think that there should be more of an emphasis placed on how truly remarkable the various Native American groups are for their ability to last longer than so many other groups, and that this emphasis should be taught more in school to foster more acceptance and understanding.

While I think our world still has a long way to go in terms of treatment of Native Americans, I think that if everyone was taught more about their culture and survival, despite our ancestors actively trying to get rid of them, there could be an increased respect and appreciation for these various groups of people.

9

I think much like the culture area concept post we had a few weeks ago, I think that for an anthropological study of Native America to be most complete and thorough it needs to first address and teach the basic cultural components of various groups (to allow for a better understanding of the vast and numerous groups present and to dispel any stereotypes) and then teach about the modern day issues these groups are facing today. Essentially, the way that our anthropology class was taught should be the way that Native American groups should be studied anthropologically.

It’s easy to watch movies or see images that are related to Native Americans without realizing how offensive they can be. When you don’t know a complete history of groups as well as the struggles and hardships faced by many still today, it’s difficult to truly see the issues with certain images we use today. Like the Starn article and Dr. Lewis discussed, the movie Avatar is actually a horrible misrepresentation of Native Americans and involves a white man coming in and saving their group. This type of story is one that has been present since Europeans arrived in America; that the only way for these “savages” that they encountered to continue living and surviving, they needed to change everything about their culture and assimilate to white culture. I think that within an anthropology of Native America it needs to discuss the negative treatment and general ethnocentrism that Europeans had and exhibited through their treatment of Natives. I think also important with anthropology of Native America is the outcome within each person who studies it; I think that for it to be effective a person who studies this anthropology should be affected in everything else they see. Watching movies, seeing ads, hearing names of sports team should all trigger reactions when they are disrespectful of Native Americans and when a person has studied an effective and efficient anthropology of Native America these things should raise awareness and discomfort. Also, I think that a successful anthropology just raises general cultural knowledge and acceptance, which I believe will come naturally when groups are studied through both their history and their present.

8

I think the most important thing I learned from the conversation with Mr. Francisco wasn’t as much a specific fact or idea, but was instead just the general awareness and experience of getting to speak with someone who is Native American and is so connected to one of the cultures we’ve read about. It’s easy to read chapters in a book or articles about what modern culture is like for Native Americans but it’s a whole other thing to actually get to communicate with someone. This may seem like a naive or uncultured answer, and in some ways it is, but as someone who has never actually spoken to a Native American active on a reservation, having Mr. Francisco come was enlightening and a great new experience.

If I had to pick one thing that he discussed that I felt was most informative or important, it would probably be the discussion about education and the recent wave of desire young people now have to be in school and go on and get college educations. This is probably in part because I enjoy learning about children and youth (I hope to work with children one day), but I also found it to be important because these are the next generation of Native Americans. It is this age group that will either continue to identify and align themselves with the culture of their families, or they will choose to leave and immerse themselves in white American culture. Hearing Mr. Francisco discuss the desire for youth to go to college through Native American scholarships leads me to believe that the connection to their group and culture will continue.

7

Tiger Lily as depicted in the original Peter Pan
Tiger Lily as depicted in the original Peter Pan
A poster for Pan showing Rooney Mara as Tiger Lily
A poster for Pan showing Rooney Mara as Tiger Lily

Coming out this summer is a remake/prequel of Peter Pan, which in it has the character Tiger Lily, a young Native American girl whose appearance is as stereotypical as it can get (her tribe is even called the Picaninny tribe–a racial slur). However, the original Peter Pan came out in the 1950s and while it doesn’t excuse the poor depiction, it does somewhat explain it. When it was then announced that there would be a remake created, there was a fair bit of attention put on the casting of Tiger Lily. Would they cast a Native American actress? Or would a white actress portray her? Needless to say, since the casting of Rooney Mara (a clearly white actress), there has been a fair bit of controversy. Some hopefuls had assumed that maybe the casting agents would make the entire tribe she is apart of be white (which wouldn’t have been better but would’ve at least made it all equal) but instead, they made her the only white member of her tribe (with her cast father being an Australian aboriginal who looks nothing like her). I’ve included a clip at the bottom of this post showing a preview of the movie with a few moments showing the tribe.

In this brief preview of Pan, the Natives are portrayed as a colorfully dressed tribe, immediately pointing their weapons at Peter upon their first encounter with him and then later seen potentially cheering on fighting. Both of these continue the stereotype that Native Americans are violent and dangerous. While it’s hard to say for sure how they are shown throughout the whole film (it hasn’t come out yet), by only showing the members as violent, chanting, half naked people, the movie is perpetuating every stereotype. If they were trying to recreate the images in the original cartoon version, they should have cast a Native American actress to play Tiger Lily. Instead, I think it ends up being far more offensive to cast a white actress as the only ‘civilized’ appear Native American. In my opinion it ends up looking like the rest of the tribe is less well behaved because they are Native Americans whereas Tiger Lily is better because she’s actually white. If they had created these images using an entirely Native American casting of the Picaninny tribe, while it still would’ve been offensive they could have at least said it was done to completely recreate the images from the cartoon version. After reading some discussion boards about the decision to cast a white actress for a Native American role, some people believe it is because there will be some plot twist that Tiger Lily was actually adopted into the tribe rather than being born into it. Regardless, the preview of the movie grossly misrepresents the values and behaviors that Native Americans both have today and had throughout history.

(A link to the preview of Pan)

6

Map of the Culture Areas in the US
Map of the Culture Areas in the US

I think that there is a lot of benefit in teaching and educating from a culture area concept. While I was thinking through this question, my initial response was to say that there is mostly bad outcomes of teaching students about Native American cultures through this framework; I thought that it would continue to perpetuate stereotypes and would keep students from learning about individual societies in great detail. However, after thinking it through and keeping in mind that most of my friends have absolutely zero knowledge about any Native American groups, I think that it is better for this framework to be continued in order to provide basic information on all of the groups rather than no information at all. I do, however, think that there should be an additional lesson in this framework when teaching students: there must be information given on what is happening within culture areas today as well as the negative impacts the government has had on various groups.

During my time in this class I’ve occasionally brought up different topics from class among my friends to see how they’ve responded. Their utter lack of knowledge is astounding. While I think that there could be a loss of depth and full understanding through teaching in the culture area concept framework, I think it is still more valuable and useful than whatever is being used in classes today. The fact that my friends who all received great educations before college (I consider anyone who is a student at Wake to have had a great high school education) know so little about current Native American cultures says a lot about the lack of quality education in today’s schools. I believe that people who are going to want to learn about various groups in great detail are going to take the time and initiative to do so on their own. Unfortunately, I think that most students fail to see the use in exploring societies in great detail; by teaching based on culture areas, students will be provided with more information than they might be otherwise. Also, I think there is a lot of use in adding into this framework more information on the current standings of various groups and how the government has impacted them.

5

When we first started this class I was so certain that I knew a fair bit about Native American history and culture. I thought that the education my town provided me growing up made me so culturally aware and knowledgeable about lives of Native Americans. Reflecting on my time in the class so far though has only made me realize that while my education included more information on Native Americans than others, I was still completely ignorant to most issues we’ve discussed in class.

I think my biggest realization within this class has been that I continue to group Native Americans as one large group. My ePortfolio and first take home test feedback has always been that I am generalizing too much; if I should be learning anything in this class and in cultural anthropology classes in general, it should be that there is so much more complexity and distinguishing between groups. I am almost embarrassed that I, someone who claims to be so aware of people and their differences, was essentially failing to make note of differences between people, differences that are important to identity and culture.

Another big realization that I’ve had in this class is the utter lack of awareness that people have about Native Americans. Whenever I’ve mentioned this class around my friends who aren’t anthropology majors, they always seem to question not only why I would be taking it, but also why it’s an important topic within society today. I am suddenly much more aware of people making generalized, ignorant statements about various Native American topics, and how so many of my friends don’t understand how certain actions can be offensive. For example, my friends often call Native Americans “Indians”. While I think that Native American is too generalized (for there are so many groups of people who were here before Europeans so we should just call them by their Nations’ Name), I also think that it is the most respectful term we can use for them. Native American shows and acknowledges that they were here before Europeans; America was their land first. My friends, however, don’t see the harm or disrespect in such titles. They make stereotyped judgments with no reason or backing for such statements.

This class so far has made me so much more aware of what other people know about Native Americans. In terms of learning, I think that realizing how much more knowledgeable I was becoming in comparison to my friends and peers helped me to understand the importance of this class. I’m not sure I can pinpoint one exact fact that everyone should know but I do think that everyone should aim to learn something about a specific group. I think that once you start to learn information about one group, the differences (and similarities) between groups becomes more apparent. Then, rather than people being completely unaware of all groups and making western based assumptions about cultures, people might have more of an invested interest. Just simply knowing that Native Americans are more than just one mass of people who go by the same name and have the same beliefs can be helpful.

This map shows the wide variety of groups throughout the US
This map shows the wide variety of groups throughout the US

4

I think that while Native Americans are probably the first group of people to be actively conscious of their use and impact on the environment, I don’t think it was necessarily the same type of conservationist that we think of today. For Native Americans, I think that their need to conserve stemmed from their spiritual connection to the land; destruction of the land would be like a destruction of their moral and spiritual history (which is in part why removal from their lands had such a profound impact on traditions).

I think my biggest issue with calling Native Americans the original conservationists is that it puts a title on a practice that is just a way of life. The modern conservation movement is fairly recent in the U.S. and while I think we can gain a lot of insight from Native American groups and how they’ve successfully conserved land for centuries, I don’t think that we can contain them in a group when their conservation is out of tradition and spiritual practices. I think that there is already enough stereotyping of Native Americans and that depicting them as the original conservationists only continues to perpetuate the stereotype that they are living in the past.

In my Culture and Nature class with Dr. Thacker, we discussed the National Park System as a means of conservation in the U.S. and internationally. Part of our discussion was about how the system only allows use of the land if they adhere to strict rules set up by park rangers. In the class we discussed how this can lead to problems for people indigenous to the area because it not only removes them from land that they live off of, but it also removes them from spiritual connections they’ve made there. I think this is applicable to the question because these systems implicate that Native Americans don’t know how to conserve the land as well as governments and modern practices do, at least not with practices that are reliable or acceptable in society. Therefore, I think that calling Native Americans the original conservationists (especially without valuing and using their way of life and preservation), perpetuates the stereotype.

(This youtube clip shows the stereotype of Native Americans as stuck in the past being the most concerned with conservation relative to the rest of Euroamerican culture)

While I don’t think intentionality matters in the overall aims of conservation (i.e. to protect the environment from pollution and destruction), I don’t think that Native Americans can necessarily fall into the category of conservationists or be called the original conservationists not because they don’t practice conservationism (because they do) but because it’s not an abnormal way of life or choice that they’re making; it’s just what the traditions of their culture entails.