New England baskets: a case study. Or, a Basket-case study

Basket-weaving became one of the more important practices and crafts practiced by the Indian peoples in and around New England as their other sources of income were shifted into American hands and they were continually marginalized. But why was this one craft saved for them? What about basket-weaving was inherently ‘native’ to non-native New Englanders? Surely baskets had been made throughout the world as long as there have been reeds and the practice should have been brought over with them when they moved to this side of the Atlantic. A comparative study of Euro-American and American-Indian (the groups in and around New England) could help illuminate the differences between the two, and why it became a native practice as it did.
These questions tie into the broader themes of the course as much of what we have studied has been cultural continuity, and evolutions for different groups to continue to live even though the circumstances they found themselves in had changed. Basket-weaving and its importance falls into this well for, while containers have always been important to human life, it was only in the later 18th and 19th century that it began to become one of the more important crafts practiced by the native peoples of New England. This adaptation was a way to survive against an increasingly powerful and insistent New England culture that found little use for Indians or their skills.
To begin this research, I would study the craft itself. I would do my best to learn how to basket-weave from books and, if I found someone willing, study under (or at least interview) a native person who still practices the craft, such as the woman I spoke to in Maine last fall. Afterwards, and I would proceed in this order to keep the monographs and primary sources out of my head when I am talking to someone, I would read Laurel thatcher Ulrich’s The Age of Homespun to study more of Euro-American crafts, and, using the knowledge I picked up while studying how to actually build them, go through the footnotes of “Basketry as an Economic Enterprise and Cultural Revitalization” and “They were Here all along” to discover more of the primary sources. A third option I would consider would be to call up the many many historical societies of New England to find out the stories of individual artifacts and piece together a picture of what baskets were used for, when they were most often made, etc. there is not very much in the way of study on basket-weaving or baskets themselves but piecing together a mosaic of the surviving 18th and 19th century Indian basktetry could illuminate more of the prevalence and use of baskets in New England.

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Historical Memory: Implementing Native Voices in Schools

In 2007, Sherman Alexie published The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, but I read it in 2011. I took a class in high school that focused on Native American, African American, and Latino literature and was appropriately named Silenced VoicesWe spent the majority of our class discussing Native stereotypes and living conditions today as a result of their oppression in the past. It was only a half year course and we discussed Natives when the boarding schools were implemented and how that affected them. She really wanted to emphasize the issue with our school, Algonquin and our mascot, the Tomahawk. A lot of students, including myself, did not understand how wearing a headdress to sporting events and doing the tomahawk chop were disrespectful to natives because honestly, none of our classes ever discussed natives.

This class honestly opened up my eyes to the stories we never hear in class and Sherman Alexie was her book of choice to introduce us to the reality of 22% of Natives who live on the reservations which are comparable to third world countries according to the Native American Aid. In his book, Alexie talks in detail about the poor living conditions on the reservation. For example, his high school math class is using the same text book his mom used. In addition to that, he discussing the alcoholism on his reservation. His story is based on his own experiences and tells of a boy who leaves the reservation to school and the obstacles he faces. Before he made the decision to leave the reservation for high school, he talks with his teacher, Mr. P who tells him about the boarding schools and explains that his original job on the reservation was to “make [Natives] give up being Indian. [Their] songs and stories and language and dancing. Everything. We weren’t trying to kill Indian people. We were trying to kill Indian culture”.[1] When talking with this parents, he asks them “Who has the most hope” to which they respond, “White people.[1] He also talks about how he feels like he’s poor because he’s Indian. The whole idea behind Alexie’s book is to show how Natives viewed the world off the reservation. At his new school, they have computer labs, a gym, new textbook, etc, but on the reservation, most kids drop out of school and they don’t want to succeed their stereotypes and Arnold (the main character whose reservation name is Junior) has a hard time fitting into both worlds. It was because of this book that I became interested in learning about Natives.

Alexie also creates a character named “Billionaire Ted” who’s white and appropriates native culture. Arnold explains it as sickening and boring but then realizes he and Billionaire Ted aren’t much different. Just like Arnold/Junior will never belong in Reardan because of his race, Billionaire Ted will never be fully accepted on the reservation because of his race. Neither of them will ever know what it’s really like being each other’s race.

When I was going over the book before writing this blog post, I noticed something funny. In class we talked about pain in Native culture and how the Europeans thought the Natives were less civilized because they didn’t scream out in pain and at one point of the story, Arnold says, “And what’s more, our white dentist believed that Indians only felt half as much pain as white people did, so he only gave us half the Novocain”.[1]

Alexie also wrote the screen play for Smoke Signals, and in that movie, Thomas asks Victory why the cowboys always win and Victor ends up making fun of John Wayne’s teeth. Any way to wrap this up, Sherman Alexie is great because he talks about Native perspectives of stereotypes and how the Natives he knows don’t really try to succeed those stereotypes because they don’t want to lose their culture and let the white people win. Also, it’s really important that we try to implement Native voices in U.S. History rather than white washing it. Eurocentrism is the devil just ask Howard Zinn.

Word Count: 676

[1] Alexie, Sherman. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. New York: Little, Brown, 2007.

Hi-Neighbor! Cheap beer and the power of a name

Ah, Nastygansett. Er, Narragansett. Sorry. That wonderful Rhode Island cheap beer that, if I may quote my sister “tastes like bread.” This beer, known for the best nickname of all beer and its resemblance to mashed wonderbread, shares its name with the Narragansett Indians who have inhabited the south shore of New England since before the people of Plimouth Colony landed. Now, these people still exist, and still live in what is now Rhode Island, but in Google they are overshadowed by the beer company. The exact order if you type in “Narragansett” is as follows:
1. The beer company
2. Narragansett, RI (the city) gov’t website.
3. Wikipedia article on the city.
4. And finally, fourth down, is a Wikipedia article to the tribe from which both the city and the beer get their name.


9. The Narragansett tribe’s website.
The actual webpage regarding the tribe is so far down Google’s list that it is nearly relegated to the second page. A truly sad place for a self-governing people to be:
Second page of google results XKCD(From XKCD.com)
This company is proud of its history, dating from 1890, and celebrated its 125th anniversary recently. Looking on their website, however, there is little or no connection made between the company and the tribe whose name they bear. A passing reference to the “Gansett Tribal Rock Festival” from the days when Led Zeppelin was still touring. The poster from the period the company is probably happy to forget had ever been made considering recent controversy over the Redskins, etc.
Led Zeppline Rock Festival http://narragansettbeer.com/newsite/tag/the-gansett-tribal-rock-festival/?age-verified=f693e3a9cb
(Looks a little stereotypical? The buffalo horns for a New England tribe really makes the getup.)
Of course, the Narragansett tribal website (as wonderful as any small gov’t website http://www.narragansett-tribe.org/) makes no mention of the beer company either. This is probably because they have more important things to do (keeping track of an HTML is hard work. Holliston’s website still has 2015 info on there) than worry about the beer company, but it should, and does matter. Native names surround us throughout the U.S. and we should pay more attention to that. Learn about the people who names these places, why they named them, and who lived there. Looking at street and town names, we don’t need to think hard to realize that we are still in Indian Country. I have an album by Johnny Cash called “Ride this Train” described on the record as ‘A Stirring Travelogue of America in Song and Story’ where he starts by narrating for the White Man about regret over what has been done to the Indian peoples. He proceeds to list, in a musical chant, cities and towns with native names. Cash falls into the stereotype of teepee’s and buffalo, but proceeds to say that “There were already millions of people living… but the Indians’ hearts must have been full of music for they left names with me [as America] that seem to sing. Names like Mohawk, Mandan, Kickapoo, Cree, Yacoma, Seminole, Crow, Shawnee…” He finished by saying that many of the Indians are still with him [again, speaking as America] but that their names always will be.
Names are important. They have power, and and it’s no real coincidence that a great many of the States, counties, townships, and roads of the U.S. have the names given to those regions by the languages of the American Indian. The important thing for us to do is to educate ourselves about these names, what they mean. Who made them and why. For if Americans remember that the places they live had, and have, other peoples who also belong to this land, and named this land, we as a country will learn to treat the American Indians with the respect they deserve.

Lacrosse: The Game of Lost Meaning

(Above Image) 2014 Lacrosse Magazine paying homage to Native Players 

 

The game of Lacrosse has been growing in popularity since 1999. I myself have been personally affected by this expansion as I was a lacrosse player in high school as either a point and cover point on the field. After the creation of the Major League Lacrosse Organization (MLL) in 2001, the growth, promotion and expansion of the game has been on the up and up and doing its best to attract more and more participants to play this great game. The sport itself originates from Native Americans being that it was created by the Iroquois. The game was played for multiple reasons, whether it be to heal the sick, get men ready for battle, or as a celebration[1], there was great versatility in the native community for this game. The pride behind the game continues in Native Communities to this day.

One would expect that there are significant ties to the native culture that created this sport but this has proven not be the case. The controversy behind the MLL that some have brought to light is the fact that by-in-large the league has ignored its Native roots. The sheer facts that in the MLL a very small percentage of their players are actual Native Americans concern some [2]. The lack of Native American players in the league leads to a bit of backlash in the misrepresentation of the game among Natives. Native player on the Hamilton Nationals Cody Jamieson claimed that although being a native didn’t give him more of an edge in playing the sport, but it did give him a deeper knowledge, understanding and respect for the game that he worries is being lost on other players. Jamieson has boasted that he plays with the “Native American Way” which mainly means that he plays to be happy, not to win or lose per say[3]. He claims that there is a lot of pride in the game that resides in the fact that it is more a way a life than simply a game. The idea that playing the game is more for strengthening a community, a family and a person with this deeper meaning is lost on the majority white players in the MLL and this cause controversy.

Some of the controversy also hits the fact that the lack of native players in the league stems from native players not attending college. The circumstance that native persons have to overcome in order to get to college is very complicated. With the constant effects of drug use, alcoholism and lack of incentive to go to school, other native professional players have made it their mission to be positive influences among their people. By showing the benefits of going to college, getting the chance to do great things and reach a higher place in life through higher education is something that profession native lacrosse players try to show in their game every time they hit the field[4].

This story connects to the theme of our class because it shows the cultural effects that have occurred with whites misunderstanding native culture. Although it is not a severe as some other instances of cultural appropriation, the creation of the professional Lacrosse League that does not pay much homage to it’s roots with Native Americans is allowing for the misunderstanding the purposes behind the game. Like Cody Jamieson said, he worries that the real purposes behind Lacrosse are lost on other players. He had the benefit of growing up with the real culture of the game and he wants the “Native American Way” of playing the game to become more prominent. He and many other players wish for the true purposes behind the game to be more exposed and not commercialized to make more money. The tradition is what they want to be the focus as well as the passion for the game.

Word Count: 620

 

[1] – Mike Fox, “MLL Honor Native American Day”, last modified March 2016. https://www.majorleaguelacrosse.com/articles/mll-honors-native-american-day.

[2] – Micheal Cohan, “As Lacrosse Grows, the Diversity of Players Remains Largely Unchanged”. last modified May 2013. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/25/sports/as-lacrosse-keeps-growing-the-diversity-of-players-remains-largely-unchanged.html.

[3] – “MLL Honor Native American Day.”

[4] – Inside Lacrosse. “Native Americans in today’s lacrosse game”. Filmed 2006. YouTube video. 5:01. Posted Dec 2007. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mJJmnnsKDNk.

_________________________________________________________________

Video on Natives in College Lacrosse Today: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mJJmnnsKDNk 

Article by the MLL for Native Americans Day: https://www.majorleaguelacrosse.com/articles/mll-honors-native-american-day

Tonto & The Lone Ranger

The Lone Ranger

In recent years rebooting old and forgotten franchises and movies has been all the rage. Some of these films do incredible at the box office, while others tend to fall rather flat. One example of a redoing of an old property was the 2013 Disney film The Lone Ranger. The original Lone Ranger was a 1920’s radio program that was then made into a 1950’s TV show. Both follow the adventures of the Lone Ranger and his Native American sidekick and tracker Tonto.  Now back in the 20’s and 50’s the depiction of Tonto was what helped the media stereotypes of Native Americans today.  He spoke in the deep voiced broken English that most cliché native characters now do, and even used the term kemosabe to the point it became part of the American vocabulary.  And the idea that the name Tonto given to the character on the shows is derived from the Spanish word for stupid, some also say kemosabe is a Native American name for stupid, but no one can actually seem to figure out where it came from.[1]

But in the new Disney reboot there was to be none of these derogatory ideals attached to the new Tonto. But this new Tonto was played by, Johnny Depp..?    Johnny Depp as I’m sure many of you may know is not Native American however. And this is an example of Native Americans being portrayed by people not of their race in Hollywood. (The original Tonto was portrayed by Jay Silverheels, a First Nation actor).[2] In the new reboot the character of Tonto is still not very progressive,  despite the studio’s attempt to do so. [3]  The blame for this though is not really falling on Johnny Depp as an actor, as Kevin Gover (Pawnee) is the director of the National Museum of the American Indian, states “”The Lone Ranger” should be understood simply as a vehicle for Johnny Depp to create an iconic character and carry a summer blockbuster, no more, no less.” [4]. The actor is not the problem but, it’s the material itself.

The material itself is just from a different time, a time when sadly it was a lot more acceptable in American society to be racist and derogatory towards minorities.  It’s hard to take material that was written in such a different time and adopt it to a modern narrative, especially when a derogatory character was such a big part of it.  As Aisha Harris says “”Depp’sattempt to be a ‘warrior’ role modelto all the American Indian kids lucky enough to watch him save the day fails—and for the simple reason that the original material is too entrenched in an essentially racist ideology.” [3] And these sort of racist quirks then get applied to the whole of a the population because Tonto is one of the few native characters in pop culture so “Tonto is less of an individual character than he is a key piece of the popular image of a large and diverse population” [3], says Adrienne Keene of Native Appropriations.  The material itself being potentially to racist The depiction of natives in this sense in Hollywood and other forms of pop culture shows how not only America is able to accept the stereotypes that have been created but also how entrenched they’ve become in our culture, looking back to kemosabe as an example.  So in the end, the movie of the Lone Ranger may have been a cause for debate about a non Indian actor playing an Indian with potentially racist quirks in a reboot no-one really was asking for. But there is work being done to help fight these sort of stereotypes that continue to occur in Hollywood “The work of reforming the portrayal of Indians in the movies remains where it has long been: with the Indian actors and film-makers who labor—largely anonymously for the moment—to make movies that accurately portray Indians as they were and are.”[4]

[1]http://www.slate.com/blogs/browbeat/2013/06/26/kemosabe_meaning_origin_and_history_of_tonto_s_word_in_lone_ranger.html

[2]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jay_Silverheels

[3]http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2013/07/08/real-problem-lone-ranger-movie-its-racism-stupid-150323

[4]http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smithsonian-institution/johnny-depps-tonto-isnt-offensive-just-weird-says-the-director-of-the-american-indian-museum-7999455/?no-ist

Remembering Native America: The Indian in the Cupboard

The first example of American Pop Culture that I thought of for this assignment was the movie The Indian in the Cupboard. Though there is a book series behind this movie, I am only going to be talking about this particular movie in my blog post.

he Indian in the Cupboard is a popular movie from 1995 that focuses on the relationship between a young boy and a Native American man from the Iroquois tribe. I remember watching it in one of my history classes while growing up, though I am not sure if schools still show it to students today. In this movie, a 9-year-old named Omri receives a Native American plastic toy figure from one of his friends. When he places the Native American toy into a cupboard his mother has, the Native American man, named Little Bear, comes to life and begins talking and interacting with Omri. At first they don’t get along, but as the movie goes on the two become well-acquainted. Eventually Omri puts Little Bear back in the cupboard and sends him back to his home.

I used to love this movie and the characters, but, like most, I was unaware of the Native American stereotypes in this film. The one controversial stereotype that stuck out to me the most was the depiction of Native Americans as aggressive people. At the very beginning of the movie, when Omri first interacts with Little Bear, Little Bear calls Omri a demon spirit and attacks the boy’s hand with his knife (6:43). Little Bear even asks Omri for weapons throughout the movie, as if the only thing he does is use weapons and act aggressive. The depiction I found the most important in this movie was when Omri brings a cowboy to life and the first thing the cowboy says is “you better watch out about this savage” (56:48). This makes it sound like Native Americans are aggressive beings, while the white cowboy is intelligent and knows what he’s talking about.

Another controversial stereotype that stuck out to me was the depiction of Native Americans as mindless, or not as intelligent as white men. Throughout the movie, Little Bear questions almost everything Omri says to him. No matter what they are talking about, he always has to ask Omri what he means by what he says. While this could also go off of our theme of miscommunication in class, Omri is not depicted as nearly as confused as Little Bear. Whenever Omri asks Little Bear about his life back at home, the Native American man answers him in short, vague sentences. At various points, Little Bear also looks amazed when the light is turned on, as if he has never seen light before. He raises his arms, opens his mouth, and looks confused, and, like previously stated, mindless (22:21).

There are other stereotypes portrayed in the movie, like Omri giving Little Bear and tee-pee and telling him to live in it. There is also a scene where Omri brings another Native American man back to life, but the man dies of a heart attack as soon as he sees how big the boy is. Little Bear starts singing what pop culture might call “tribal chants” in order to honor the Native American man (45:15). Even the name Little Bear is stereotypical.

Overall, it’s clear that the people in charge of the movie used pop culture to portray North American Native Americans. I think that our class could help contribute to the controversy of this movie by educating people on Native American culture. Native Americans are no more aggressive than any other people in this world, and they’re also not mindless. I think that if people read the articles we have read on Native American culture, then they would realize that there is an issue with how Native Americans are depicted in the media. People don’t see their actions or lack of action as offensive, because they are conditioned to think that these stereotypes portray Native people.

The movie: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WM5qvAR_Ebg

Historical Memory: The Changing of the $20 Bill

As we had discussed in class a couple of weeks ago, the secretary of the United States Treasury released that Harriet Tubman would replace Andrew Jackson on the twenty-dollar bill. Though I cannot quite remember if we drew the connection between Jackson and Native American history that day in class, the connection is solid. When remembering Jackson, a person may associate him with owning a number of slaves. In addition to relying on the labor of enslaved peoples, Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act, which “killed thousands of Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, and Seminole women, children, and men.” [1]

Understandably, many Native Americans detest the use $20 bills, as it reminds them of the Removal Act signed by Jackson that killed a number of their ancestors. In an article for the Chicago Tribune, an Oklahoma woman named Becky Hobbs remembered, “some of her Cherokee elders wouldn’t even touch a $20 bill because they so despised Andrew Jackson.” [2] For Native Americans, the removal of Jackson on the $20 is a relief and some conveyed this relief in news articles. Quartz published an article by Jacqueline Keeler in which Keeler expressed “as a Native American woman, [she] rejoiced when she learned Andrew Jackson was going to lose his prominent spot on the front of the $20.” [3] More importantly, Keeler addressed that Harriet Tubman would replace Jackson, “someone who represents the very best of what Americans can be, especially when faced with inhumanity on a scale that most of us can hardly imagine.” [4]

Both of these articles explore the controversy over the use of Jackson on the $20 bill among Native Americans and indicate the relief that these Natives have felt now that Jackson is being replaced. Keeler expressed her outrage over the US Treasury’s decision to keep Jackson on the back of the bill, as it “reminds Americans that we are still unwilling to fully grasp our nations history.” [5] The nation has largely ignored the fact that Jackson played such a large role in the killing of hundreds of Native Americans, as the Treasury has had Jackson on the $20, as a face to represent America. In the Chicago Tribune article Amrita Myers, a historian, remarked on the replacement of Tubman on the bill, suggesting, “We still live in a nation that doesn’t like to acknowledge its history of racial and gender oppression. Black women experience those things simultaneously.” [6]

Throughout the semester in this course, the work we have done may be helpful in contributing to this conversation. We have discussed the importance of learning about and remembering the actions made against Native Americans by Europeans in order to obtain the land we now live on. With our knowledge of Native practices and relations with Europeans, we can provide insight as to why the history of Natives needs to be studied. We understand that Natives had developed a society before the arrival of the Europeans, and were largely victims of a conquest.

[Word Count: 494]

[1] Jacqueline Keeler, “I’m a Native American activist, and my white ancestor painted Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill,” Quartz, April 29, 2016. http://qz.com/672786/im-a-native-american-activist-and-my-white-ancestor-painted-andrew-jackson-on-the-20-bill/

[2] Tribune news services, “Some Native Americans won’t even use $20 bills because of Andrew Jackson’s image,” Chicago Tribune, April 22, 2016. http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/ct-tubman-replacing-jackson-20-symbolism-20160422-story.html

[3] Keeler, “I’m a Native American activist.”

[4] Keeler, “I’m a Native American activist.”

[5] Keeler, “I’m a Native American activist.”

[6] Tribune, “Some Native Americans.”