Good Indian/Bad Indian

Isn't it funny how Indian people have been portrayed throughout the years? I remember watching those old westerns on TV. Damn, we were some bloodthirsty SOBs back then weren't we? Then somewhere in the late 1980s or early 1990s, things took a 180º turn. I got a e-mail from a lady in Portugal who said it better than I ever could:

"Now to the stereotypes. Either you are the nasty beasts - the monstrous savages that revel on bloodshed - or are the very nice fellows that are one step to being living angels. Hardly are you folks being seen as people, with good and bad things like everyone else. Even I had to force myself to accept this, so strong are the myths."

Ain't it the truth. Thanks Emilia.

To top it off, we are usually seen within the context of the past. Seldom are we seen in the modern world. The way I see it, if you want to live like a people did in the old days, perhaps you'd be better off pulling a Tarzan and live among the apes. I'm sure that you can find a couple of them that still live the way they did two centuries ago. Let's look at the some of the "new thinking" concerning Native Americans. Please understand. My point of all this is not to dwell or focus in on the bad things that go on in Indian country. The whole reason for this exercise is to point out, that like all people, we run the gamut of the good , the bad , and the ugly.


All Indians care for "Mother Earth" and would never hurt her. Really? Then explain to me why, when a powwow is over, the grounds look like a garbage dump. Could it be that, maybe just maybe, some of our people simply won't get off their butts and put their trash in the litter barrels that are located across the grounds? Sure there are clean-up crews after the dance, but wouldn't a people that had this great reverence for the Earth not thrown their garbage on the ground in the first place? I'm not saying that all are litter bugs, but certainly many are. I have yet to see the "Old Indian with a Tear in His Eye" thing (remember that old commercial?)

All Indians care for each other and have great sense of community. Right. That's why we have some tribal leaders who have pilfered funds that are supposed to go to the members of their tribe. Why we have bands of the same nation who go for each others jugular in order to be the only true band of that tribe (and receive more Federal money). There have even been some tribes who have gone out of their way to destroy the federal recognition of another distinct tribe. The lesson here is -- follow the money. 

All Indians are noble people. Sure. Check the Federal Prison roles. You'll find several of these noble Indians among the ranks of murderers, thieves, rapists, drug pushers, and wife and child abusers. This is also why an Indian "sham-man" would NEVER take advantage of NewAgers.

All Indians are spiritual people. Nope. Some are; some aren't. Some are traditional, some are Christians (either devout or nominally so), some are agnostics, some are atheists, and some just don't care. You know you're an Indian when you've been a Catholic your whole life, but they still try to save you from the heathen Sun Dance.

By the way, one thing that I have noticed about true Native holy men -- They don't wear their spirituality on their sleeve for the whole world to stand up and take notice. You won't see the real thing blaze into town and say, "Hi I'm Singing Wolf Spirit. I'm a Native Holy Person. Please come to the sweat lodge tonight. We're giving out door prizes...I mean sacred healing earth stones found in the creek behind my house by my brother-in law Clem... er...excuse me, found at Sacred Horse Mountain back on the rez to the first 50 customers, ...uhm...that is.., I mean spiritual seekers." And you sure as hell won't see them advertising to everyone in the world how wonderful, holy, and spiritual they are on the NET!!!

"Well Rick, you sure are being harsh on your own people." No, I'm just telling you the way it is. Truth is hard sometimes. "But Rick, surely the reason these things happen because of the influence of the white man. In the old days none of this would have happened!" I don't know. I wasn't there. But I will ask you these questions concerning the "Old Days" of Edenesque Indian life prior to long term contact with the whites. Compare with the non-Indian examples following each question.

  • Why was it that the Chippewa "relocated" the Sioux out of the Great Lakes region and into the Missouri River area? (American Army on order from President Jackson forces the relocation of the Five Civilized tribes to Oklahoma)
  • Explain to me why the Comanches (who are originally from the North) destroyed any tribe who got in their way as they headed south to Texas? (Germanic tribes destroy all things on their way to the sacking of Rome.)
  • I'm sure the Apaches were only asking for food donations from their Pima neighbors when they raided Pima farms.  (Saddam Hussein invades Kuwait for their oil reserves.)
  • Why was it that Sitting Bull was killed by his own people? Wouldn't a noble person have said, "No, I'm not gonna do that no matter the personal cost"? (Malcolm X is assassinated by his own people.)
  • Could petty tribal rivalries and jealousies have kept the nations from uniting under Tecumseh to defeat a greater enemy? (The several Scottish Nobles were so busy fighting amongst themselves, they could have never defeated their English conquerors despite William Wallace's attempts to unite them.)
  • Surely the only reason that the Tlingit traded or raided for slaves (from California tribes especially) was to give them their culture and raise them from their unhappy state. (If I need to give you the non-Indian example for this, then there is no hope for you.)


Think about these things. You see Indian people are:

Honest and Liars
Greedy and Generous
Spiritual and Worldly
Noble and Ignominious
Enterprising and Idle
Sober and Intoxicated
Self-Supporting and Dependent

We don't have the answers to the world's problems. We're not a panacea. We suffer from the same things everyone else does. I don't think that it's any coincidence that many true tribal names mean "human beings." We are very much that. I've actually heard people say, "If we could only just be like the Indians." My answer to that is --You already are.


To really get a good look at Native perspective concerning Indian stereotypes check out this article.


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