Opinion

Leo Killsback: Indian activists taking on negative stereotypes





"The negative representations of American Indians have recently caught national attention in the news and on the Internet. As a professor in American Indian Studies, I always begin my introductory course with a basic training in stereotypes to prepare young minds about the power of imagery found in the media, movies, and the news. I also teach an upper division American Indian and Indigenous Film course that allows students to evaluate mainstream and independent films, and encourage their creativity in writing and filmmaking. In nearly all of my courses I emphasize the long-standing racist views of American Indians that have influenced Federal Indian Policy, Supreme Court Cases, and the current perceptions of Indians and our communities.

I am glad that controversies over stereotypes have become more popular especially because the Indian mascot issue has been ignored for so many years. Activists like Susan Shown Harjo (Cheyenne/Muscogee) have fought against stereotypes since the 1960s and, with the help of other equally talented activists, had made numerous advances in Federal Indian Policy and laws like the American Indian Religious Freedom Act and the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act.

Most agree that stereotyping is wrong, but the associated problems are much more destructive. Research by psychologist Dr. Stephanie Fryberg (Tulalip) at the University of Arizona reveals that not only do mascots lower the self-esteem of Indian children, but they also raise the self-esteem of white children. In other words, images like Chief Wahoo of the Cleveland Indians allows for white children to feel good about dehumanizing their Indian classmates. Such environments contribute to the low performance of Indian students, leading to high drop out rates and failure in other sectors of adult life."

Get the Story:
Leo Killsback: Today’s American Indian Activism (Indian Country Today 11/11)