Thursday, November 6, 2008

Cowboys and Indians, and Pilgrims, and Lions, and Tigers, and Bears, Oh My!

Most of you know that I am fairly conservative in my thought patterns and not really "touchy" about much. There is one thing that bugs me a bit and just might throw me for a brief moment into a "radical category". Then I will go back to normal, I promise!

The whole "Cowboys and Indians" thing really annoys me. Being that my Dad's family is made up of a whole bunch of American Indians (that's as close as "PC" as I can go), it just gets under my skin.

That being said, the kids came home from AWANA last night with an assignment for Thanksgiving. They are going to participate with a bunch of other AWANA clubs to collect canned food for a local food pantry (yeah!) and they are going to dress up as either pilgrims or Indians that night. At first I looked at my sweet little C'sa who has her grandfather's copper skin (in just a lighter undertone) and thought, "Cool. She will look cute if I dress her in Cherokee style". But then I thought a bit longer and probably way over analyzed it, but I thought longer nonetheless.

Indians are broken up into many many tribes and they are all different. I know the characteristics of my own tribe and a couple others, but most Americans know only the "Cigar Store Indian", the "Hollywood Indian" or thanks to Disney, the ridiculously characterized, "Pocahontas" (I won't even get started). So I am anticipating seeing all various forms of pilgrims and Indians that night, all in cute little get-ups taken right from ideas found on the internet.

Here is my issue. If I told you to dress your kid as a black civil rights protester, would you do it? How about dressing up as an Irishman right off the boat, immigrating to New York to escape the Potato Famine? A Chinese Christian? That may sound extreme, but Indians are not just a group of people who interacted with some of the earliest settlers. We are still here, with families, taxes to pay and cultural differences.

I am sure that some of the families at AWANA will have little Pocahontases running around (should they choose to dress as Indians in leiu of pilgrims), and not the Pokanoket Indians the pilgrims encountered. Which technically, if they were really dressing up as Pocohontas, they would have to have their girls topless, which is how the Powhatan tribe dressed their young daughters. Not quite what you would expect for an AWANA setting!).

This whole hang up started for me for the most part when I was in the business world. I grew up in a multi-culteral world, but the only Indians I knew were my own family members. I was excited when I worked with another lady who was mixed like I was. Her mother was a different tribe than my father's, but we had something in common anyway. One Halloween she came to the office dressed in her mother's
full tribal regalia, which is regulated to ceremonies and special occassions (weddings, pow-pows, etc.). I was annoyed and a little saddened that she would parade it around for a costume.

So now I have to decide if I want my kids to go along with the fun (which is what I
know was intended by the leaders who thought this up) or stand firm in my belief that you do not try and dress up as a race of people for an event.

And just a note to the people involved in our AWANA club (if they read this); this is my hang-up, not a "wag of the finger" to you
whatsoever. Just random thoughts from the point of view of the daughter of an Indian (who would probably tell me I am being too sensitive anyway...).


Jamie said...

You give me something to think on. My children are part 'American Indian' thanks to my husband. I never give it much thought...although at times roll my eyes at the endless "Indian dolls" his mom seems to give. But it is a part of who they are and I really need to embrace that and learn more about it to teach them (not just their 'Indian' blood but also the Polish, Finnish, French, etc)...

KeeperatHome said...

Wow, something that most of us wouldn't give a second thought about can be a charged issue, or at least a legitimate irritant to others. Your point was brought home for me with being asked to dress my child up as a Black civil rights protester. It does seem rather ridiculous, doesn't it?

In Christ, Talya

GDS said...

It's surprising to me that they are doing this considering the whole pilgrims and Indians Thanksgiving myth has been pretty well shattered by now. This is not about being politically correct, it's about being correct.
I think most people mean no harm and actually think they are just having fun. So I'm totally with you about not calling them out. Where it becomes a problem for (similar to what you said) -we end up dressing as Indian caricatures by sticking a feather our hair. This will inevitably lead to kids running around smacking their hands over their mouths in some kind of war chant. Total negative stereotype.
So, for me - I'd stay home - or depending on my relationship with the pastor or leaders involved, I might gently mention it to them and open a dialog.
I'm not sure where I stand on other Indian stereo-type/PC stuff. Take Mascots for instance - I think this can be done in a respectful manner. But having a team called the Redskins is akin to having one called the N-word.

Anyway - ya'll might like this link.


Anonymous said...

to amlp311: being of indian heritage yourself, do you find the term Redskin to have as negative a connotation as the N-word is thought to be?

Aduladi' said...


The word "redskin" does not bother me or anyone I know who is Indian. It is kind of a laughable title, but in a joking kind of way, not too terribly offensive. It is like calling people white or black. Indians were called "red" or "redman". It is not a phrase that is common anymore. There are far worse things that Indians have been called akin to the "N" word, but redskin is not one I was brought up to give any thought to.

macokjc said...

I have to say that I am somewhat surprised at your take on this, but not sure if I'm offended. I don't like the idea of dressing up either, but mainly because I am lazy. In response to the post above. The whole separatist/pilgrim thing is not myth. It is well-documented in the writings of the early settlers that without the indians, led by Squanto, the pilgrims would not have lasted through the winter. It was truly a celebration of Thanksgiving. It is not dressing up as a race, it is celebrating the holiday, to make us all think back to where it started, and to remember why we have it in the first place. With all of the stores and other commercial venues basically skipping right over it, I am glad that there are still institutions that want to remember it correctly for what it was. I would be proud to represent such a part of American history, for if it wasn't for the generosity of Squanto, how many of us would be here today?

GDS said...

Sorry - gang - didn't mean to create a an argument - even if a friendly one. The Thanksgiving myth I'm talking about is the concept that this festival between the Wampanoag and Pilgrims was the first T-giving. The holiday itself was created much later - and the part of the story left out for me as a child was exactly what macokjc mentions. It just seems oversimplistic to do it the way I understood as being described.
Of course it can be done respectfully, but are the Indians dressed with feather caps, war paint and scalpels, or more realistic garb? Is it worthwhile to honor Squanto as a hero (he was) without mentioning what happened just a few years later?

A - I certainly won't argue with you about the Redskins. All I can tell you is that in my experience, other Native American's I've known (such as my step-great grandmother who used to live on a reservation) have shared stories about being called Redskin and Injun in not so nice contexts. So, I can only go by my experience.
But given your background - I'll take your word for it - it's not an across the board concern.

Aduladi' said...

macokjc- I was a little surprised as well as the thoughts that came to my mind after thinking about it. That is why I kind of prefaced it with what I did. You know me and know that for me my faith comes absolutely first, then a myriad of things and then race.

But I am proud of my Dad's race (and my Mom's, which is different) and this is a topic that comes up A LOT in the Indian community. I have always dismissed it as "not my issue", but for some reason, this time it just made me think about it longer.

There are very conservative Indians who will say you should never dress as an Indian if you are not one, and even if you are, you have to have the utmost respect for what you put on (regalia wise). Then there are the Indians (like my Dad) who do not put much emphasis on regalia and the like and would get a kick out of kids dressing up as the Indians who met up with and helped the pilgrims. I guess I fall somewhere in the middle.

My struggle now is deciding what road to take on it, as the kids are excited to dress up. It would be hard to forbid it unless we skip AWANA that night.

It was not my hope to even come close to offending you, it was just thoughts that came to my brain and that is why I like to blog. It's somewhere to put them, even if they are not too popular!

macokjc said...

If it's a problem, then can't they just dress up as pilgrims?

Anonymous said...

"...for me my faith comes absolutely first, then a myriad of things and then race..."

this is the statement that struck home with me. we all have items we feel strongly about. but where they fall on our list of priorities says a lot about who we are. for me, faith and family come above all else. with the Lord's guidance, i have no doubt the answer to what you should do about AWANA will become clear.

Mrs. Sam said...

Isn't the whole term 'Indian' incorrect anyway? I believe John Cabot was sailing to find India and hit North America instead. Seeing First Nations people and thinking he was in India said...oh, those people must be Indian. Am I wrong there? But not only that, I live very near great amounts of First Nations areas and even live on land settled by Original Canadians...I'm so sad by what happened in our history and how horribly we still treat the people we stole our land from. It breaks my heart. Dressing up would be to me, another dagger.