“Imagining: Creating Spaces for Indigenous Ontologies” reminded me of a video we watched in another one of my classes, Sociology 273. It’s called In Whose Honor? and focuses on the use of Native Americans as mascots in sports. (Here’s a link to a synopsis: http://www.pbs.org/pov/inwhosehonor/.) Particularly, it addressed the more derogatory ones such as the Washington Redskins. Charlene Teters is the woman behind the movement to abolish such practices in the documentary. She began protesting after seeing the University of Illinois mascot, Chief Illiniwek, dressed with inappropriate clothing and performing dances that did not represent any Native American culture.
The connection that I see between these two is that they are both concerned with the authenticity of Native American representations. On the one hand, Charlene Teters is endeavoring to ensure that cultural depictions of Native Americans are accurate. That covers a wide swath of things ranging from depictions on apparel—Illinois merchandise still have inaccurate representations of Native Americans—to halftime dances that don’t symbolize anything—Chief Illiniwek was “retired” but still has “unofficial” halftime appearances. On the other hand, “Imagining: Creating Spaces for Indigenous Ontologies” addresses the power that naming provides. Even the term “Native American,” the politically correct term, promotes the grouping of many different tribes as a single entity. Native Americans are referred to as “the invisible minority” for a reason. Mainly, they have been largely forgotten and their histories are entirely marred by a collective representation. I can’t tell you what tribes were forced into the West during the Trail of Tears. I can only tell you that Native Americans were forced.
That gets at the heart of what Duarte, Belarde-Lewis, and Teters are trying to say. The problem with current representations of Native Americans is that there is a single cohesive image, which is easily digested by nonindigenous people but largely inaccurate. I think the only solution to that issue is to let tribes teach and inform the majority for once. If you think about the progression of Native American naming, the majority has always dictated it. First it was Columbus who errantly referred to them as Indians. That name was perpetuated and gave way to far more derogatory names. Eventually that was curtailed somewhat and Indian was reinstated. Then American Indian was deemed more accurate. Finally, Indian was considered completely incorrect and Native American was popularized. All of this was done with little or no consultation of the indigenous peoples to which the name referred, more of a “Would this be good for you?” than an actual dialogue. So I think the only solution, and I think Duarte, Belarde-Lewis, and Teters would agree, is to allow Native Americans to teach and inform the majority on naming and every other cultural misinterpretation. And if nothing else, it produces a more accurate ontologies. Saying “Tell me about yourself” is a much better way to get to know someone than creating an image to guess and check with them.