Portraying the Historic Alongside the Contemporary Native American


Portrayingthe Historic Alongside the Contemporary Native American Stereotypes

Native American stereotypes


Museums and Cultural Centers on tribal lands should present storiesthat captures the positive aspects of the local community and serveas an informative experience to national and international visitors.Misunderstanding and dissatisfaction may arise when visitorsexpectations are not met with regard to prior knowledge held by thevisitors concerning the local people. One area that may contribute todissatisfaction to non-native visitors is the established NativeAmerican Stereotypes as projected through social, media and politicalchannels. In this case, the purpose of this presentation is toelucidate on negative stereotypes associated with Native Americansand dispel the negative stereotypes by explaining how NativeAmericans have been successful in fine arts and crafts.

The early and contemporary representation of Native Americans in theMedia and social sphere is misleading and created by individuals withmonetary interests. The Hollywood depiction of Native Americans as‘Savage Indians’ has for long etched a predominant, andmisleading untrue facts about Native Americans. The negativeportrayal of Native Americans by the media has unfortunately etched adominant negative image on the minds of people who are unfamiliarwith the nature of American lifestyle today. Whether it is artifactsfrom the past, contemporary artwork or photography from accomplishedtribal members the expectation of the visitor may not be in sync withthat of the curators thus the visitor may feel displeased anddetached (Devon, 1996).

Contrary to the misleading stereotypes, the Native Americans havecontributed enormously towards Museums and Cultural Centers withtheir several successful exhibits, fine pottery and the currentexhibit of historic pottery celebrates this fact (Metaand Sanchez, 2012). In this museum there are contemporary artexhibits celebrating the fine works of two tribal members whosemediums consist of acrylic, oils, and multi-media which arenon-traditional forms (Howe, 2006). Tothis end, I wish to portray the historic nature of Native Americansalongside the contemporary Native Americans in order to createequilibrium with all involved.

Historical Native American depiction and stereotypes

Long before Columbus discovered the ‘New World’, there were noIndians but ‘other’ inhabitants. It is resumed Columbus calledthe inhabitants ‘Indians’ because he thought that he had landedin India. Fast-forward to European immigration, the North Americanland was inhibited by an estimated 300 distinct Indians dialects(Devon, 1996). However, collectivestereotyping led to the imposition of a collective identity of theinhabitants as Indians. It is this stereotyping that led theinhabitants to believe that they were one race as defined by thewhites. The Whites ascribed stereotypes such as Sioux, Navajo,Cheyenne and Blackfoot among others to the Native Americans.

As more white immigration infiltrated the North American region, theperception held about the ‘Red Indians’ significantly changed astheir usefulness in perpetuating the white race interest through warand farming increased (Howe, 2006). Itis this impetus that influenced the new stereotypes against theNatives as brave, savages, warriors and primitive beasts. When the‘Indians’ felt threatened and challenged the White race, theywere thought of as ‘bloodthirsty’ and animal savages (Devon,1996).

In the seventeenth century, most Indians were assimilated by thewhite race. Over years, the Native Indians became dependent on modernlife and tools brought by the Europeans guns, knives and fish-hook.Slowly, as land expansion and immigration progressed, most nativeinhabitants (Indians) lost their forest skills and their culturesimilarly adapted to the technological modern life. Most Indians wereused as laborers and in most cases the whites looked down upon the‘domesticated ‘Indians as ‘savages’(Meta and Sanchez, 2012).

Fast forward towards 18th and 19th century, theWest attracted White race especially from Britain, Ireland and Italywho viewed the North American as ripe for economic exploitation andthe local inhabitants were considered less harmful towards therealization of this dream (Devon, 1996).Based on this, in order to justify white depredations against theNative Inhabitants (Indians), the White race created self-justifyingstereotypes against Indians as inferior beings and that the ‘Indian’race would vanish from the face of earth. Individual native Indianscould be viewed as good but a collective negative stereotype wereused to justify the superiority of the white (European) race(Blackhorse, 2015).

The negative stereotyping of the Natives as hostile savage beastshelped assuage and encourage the white immigrants’ concept of landacquisition. It was one way of creating favorable conditions s wellas ‘preparing’ the white race against any violent response by thenative Indians. To this end, the Natives were stereotyped as Beast,savages, Spartans, brutal and barbarian and this was to justify thegenocide that followed (Howe, 2006). Anexcerpt from Theodore Roosevelt explains more about this, “Idon’t go so far as to think that the only good Indian is the deadIndian, but I believe nine out of every ten are, and I shouldn’tlike to inquire too closely into the case of the tenth. The mostvicious cowboy has more moral principle than the average Indian.”January 1886 (Devon, 1996).

Contemporary depiction of Native Americans

Red face is a creation and a propagation of racial sentiments againstthe Native American Indians. It is a systemic bias used to whenhiring the real Native Americans to play active roles in moderntelevision shows and films owned and dicterd by white race (Howe,2006). In part, the historical depiction of Native AmericanIndians through stereotyping has had important cultural consequences(Blackhorse, 2015). Common stereotypesas projected through media is portraying American Native Indians as‘Chiefs’ most native Indians were not chiefs but it was astereotype coined by whites to refer to native Indian leaders(Devon, 1996). The Princes stereotypesas depicted by the modern white race while advertising products is afallacy in reality the princess stereotype was used to legitimizefemale natives as sexual objects of fantasy by white males. Thestereotype about Native Indians bravity is associated with males whoexhibit great courage in battles. The Indian Squaw stereotype wasused to refer to female natives as housewives(Devon, 1996).

Today, due to the increased social and economic development among theNative Indians especially the proliferation of Indian sports, Casinosand Indian lands, the white race still stereotypes Native Indians asgreedy and corrupt race. Like the Jews, Native Americans haveevolved against negative stereotypes to amass wealth and thus seen as‘corrupt’ ‘rich’ or ‘greedy.’ However, the truth is thatmost Native Indians are wallowing in heavy debts, discrimination insocial, political and economic participation (Blackhorse,2015).

By 1950s Western movies were developed generalizing Native Indianstraditions with such aspects as feather headdresses and hunting.These films generalized all Native Indians as a homogenized entity(Howe, 2006). Males were depicted aswearing ‘buckskin, feathers, beads, pinto pony’ to illustratethat they are savages, brutal and uncaring. This was a shallow imagesince the films never portrayed the day-to-day life in family set upsto assess if they are caring or if they have a since of community orspiritual orientation (Devon, 1996).

Media depiction of Native Americans

As years pass, one media after the other newspapers, books, novels,photographs, films, radio and televisions have used the Native IndianStereotypes to depict the heroism of the white race in its questdestiny track (Howe, 2006). The mediahas long depicted the native Indians according to the followingstereotypes

  • Mental Native Americans are viewed and represented as intellectually inferior ‘dirty redskin, filthy heathen.’

  • Sexual Native American males are depicted as bestial creatures who are lustful savages and hell-bent on attacking white females only to be maimed by the white male (Blackhorse, 2015).

  • Nobel red men Some media projects Native Indians as ‘good’ and ‘ecologists’ living sustainable life with earth (Howe, 2006).

Film and televisions are powerful visual media that have thepotential of evoking great emotional influences. This explains whythe long-lasting stereotypes of Native Indians as projected throughHollywood (Howe, 2006). Since theinvention of film making, more Native Indian films have beendeveloped. In 1920 to 1970 an approximate 350 Euro-American actorsportrayed Native Americans. Early films, depicted American Indians ashalf-clothed savages, screaming war songs astride horses as they tookbow shots at white heroes. The Battle of Elder brush Gulch 1914portrayed Native Indians as savages (Devon,1996).

The Native Indian women were portrayed as ‘Squaw’ or ‘princess’in films such as the Deerslayer,1943, Indian Fighter,1955 and Buffalo Bill, 1943 films. In 1956, a film TheSearchers and Stagecoach, by John Ford portrayed Indians assavages who killed innocent white settlers, kidnapped and raped theirwives. It was not until 1970 that a real Indian tribal member filmLittle Big Man was produced depicting some Native Indians as‘good’ while others as not good. Although most films depictedNatives in negative forms, film like A man called horse andDances with Wolves depicted native Indians as benevolentwhile the whites were evil (Blackhorse, 2015).

Modern Hollywood films have perpetuated the historical stereotypes ofNative Americans. Since the 1970s, there have been minimal attemptsto project a more nuanced and realistic image of Native Americanlives. However, despite the proliferation of these stereotypes,Native Indians are powerful and successful people (Howe,2006).

Native Indian stereotypes in sports

Towards the 1960s, the American government through the congress begancampaigns aimed at eliminating negative stereotyping of Native IndianAmericans in the media. The main focus was on films and cartoons butfocus shifted to sports. Today, the American community has beenworking hard to end negative depiction of Native American imagesthrough sport names such as Cleveland Indians, Kansas City Chiefs,Washington Redskins and Atlanta Braves (Devon,1996). In particular, the Cleveland Indians’ Chief logooffends most Native Indians people.

To date American Indian stereotype images are still prevalent insports. There have been considerable debates over the dropping ofWashing Redskin name and the club owner has been adamant in changingthe name for what is presumed to be monetary interests. Objection tosport names such as ‘Braves,’ ‘Chiefs,’ ‘Warriors,’Patriots’ and ‘Cowboys’ has also gained considerable focus inan effort to eliminate ‘positive’ stereotyping associated withthem (Blackhorse, 2015). As a result,several college teams have changed the names ‘redskins’ despitethe ‘honor’ or ‘heritage’ associated with them(King and Fruehling,2001). A more recent triumph over eliminating this scourge ofstereotyping Native Americans was the cancelling of the ‘Redskin’Trademark patent in 2014. Reports indicates that individuals whoregister sport teams under such names as ‘redskins’ ‘warriors’and ‘Brave hearts’ only do so for monetary interests.

The use of native imagery and nicknames in sport teams does not inany way signify ‘honor’ or ‘heritage’ as claimed by ownersbut perpetuate negative stereotype against Native Americans. The useof native logos such as ‘warriorism’ is not honorable. Whetherused to promote teams, fans, social media or stadiums, the use ofnative nicknames only does more harm than good. Even if the Nativelogo is created by the Native tribesmen for positive purpose, the useof such native logos as mascot only reinforce the existing negativestereotypes (Blackhorse, 2015).

Furthermore, even if the nickname was used for positive purpose,there is high chance that the name will be used to perpetuateridicule, manipulate and vandalize Native Americans. As such, thepervasive and persistent use of Native mascot’s logos in sportssuch as Kansas Chiefs, Cleveland Indians, Chicago Blackhawks andAtlanta Braves only promotes historical and media stereotypes againstNative Indians (Howe, 2006). The logosdo nothing to enhance positive growth of the Native Americans cultureand people. To this end, whether used in promoting ‘positive’stereotypes, no stereotype is good and intended to mean ‘positive’things about Native Americans (Devon, 1996).

The dignity of indigenous people must not be hinged on fewscholarships, cultural events and few football successes(King and Fruehling,2001). Money should not be exchanged in the name ofperpetuating ‘positive’ stereotypes as nothing exists as‘positive stereotypes.’ To this end, all ‘positive stereotypes’against Native Americans must be stopped as this is a selfish way ofassuming ‘positive assimilation’ while in real since it isperpetuating negative stereotypes carried down from history(Blackhorse, 2015).

The success of Native Indians despite stereotypes

Despite several decades and the prevalent of negative stereotypesagainst the Native Americans in the contemporary post-industrialAmerican society, today, Native Indians are more successful, rich,learned and iconic in most economic, social and political spheres. Inpart, most Native Americans have contributed immensely in arts,crafts and sports. Particularly, most American tribally owned museumscarries vast successful art and crafts exhibits courtesy of theNative Americans (Howe, 2006). Visitorsacross national and international borders are thrilled by finepottery, acrylic, oils and multi-media exhibits by Native Americansas will be shown in this current exhibit. Based on this artworks andcrafts, it is justifiable to say that the negative depiction ofNative Indians is farfetched and aimed at demeaning the rich culturalheritage that Native Indians contribute to the American society.


Blackhorse Amanda, (2015). Mascots Are AlsoMeant to Be Ridiculed. Indiana Country. Accessed fromhttp://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2015/07/29/blackhorse-mascots-are-also-meant-be-ridiculed-161230

Devon Mihesuah, (1996), AmericanIndians: Stereotypes and Realities.Clarity Press

Howe LeAnne, (2006). “Identity andAssimilation Stereotypes.” Indian Country Diaries. NativeAmerican Public Telecommunications.Accessed from


KingC. Richard, FruehlingCharles Springwood.(2001), Team Spirits: The NativeAmerican Mascots Controversy. U ofNebraska Press.

Meta G Carstarphen, John P. Sanchez. (October1, 2012), AmericanIndians and the Mass Media. University of Oklahoma Press