The Oppressed are Never the First to Shoot

We talked about in the stereotypes of Native Americans faced with being aggressive and it made me think of this documentary I had to watch for my history of the 1970s class. It talks about the Wounded Knee incident. It was a protest of a tribal leader not being impeached and the failure of the United States states to fulfill treaties. One thing that I picked up from the documentary was that the native people felt like arming themselves was the only way that was going to make a change at this point. As they exhausted all other efforts to make a change. Going back to what we said in class the oppressed is never the first to shoot.

Memes and the American West

A meme, as we know it, is a funny image, idea, or video that circulates widely on the internet as a joke that anyone with the right sense of humor can get in on. The Merriam-Webster dictionary online defines a meme as “an idea, behavior, style, or usage that spreads from person to person within a culture,” with other dictionaries giving similar statements. I have observed that while memes may just be little jokes to laugh at, they often carry political meaning and weight. With this definition, the American West sounds much like a meme itself.

The idea and style of the American West, curated by Frederick Jackson Turner, has spread from person to person through education and media. The West as an idea, rather than a place or movement is, of course a matter of opinion, but I will share my own thoughts. In January of 2017, an image was spread of a dog wearing a cowboy hat with the caption “what in tarnation.” Although this phrase may not explicitly be a part of any vernacular, it has become largely synonymous with the Southern and Western United States and is used to express surprise. The meme was shared on various forms of social media and in referencing it today, most people around my own age still get the joke. The dog’s choice of fashion provides a visual representation of what we have come to associate cowboys with wearing. But what did cowboys actually wear? Did they wear cowboy hats at all? I personally do not know and it would take searches through reputable sources to find out. What I do know is that dogs in hats with very un-dog like narration is funny to me and much of the internet.

Perhaps an education system that teaches something other than tough white men in cowboys hats parading around and declaring bewilderment could have enlightened me on such subjects. As we seek to understand the West, we must deconstruct our own notions of what that West is. Memes perpetuate the myth of the West just as dime novels and John Wayne movies did in the past. The West could be a dog in a cowboy hat forever if we let it be, but hopefully further study against the dominate narrative can change that.   Much like authors changing or defining the idea of the West after Turner, memes may also help redefine the idea and style of the West.

Visibility of Transgender People in Historical Accounts

I really enjoyed reading the articles for class about transgender people in the history of the American West. I am a Gender and Women’s Studies major, so pretty much every time I read something I am constantly searching for how the author discusses gender and who is left out of a discussion. When thinking about the articles and pieces that I have read on the American West and the movement of Europeans into and through the continent, I realize that those readings leave out people who don’t fit into the gender binary. These readings do not do that. In fact, they describe how transgender people fit into this history and remind readers that transgender people exist and have existed throughout history. These pieces give space to people who are, a lot of the time, left out of historical accounts because of a belief that transgender people did not exist.

Changing Dominant Narratives: Museums & The West

While doing research for one of my other classes, I stumbled upon an article about the Smithsonian’s 1991 exhibit “The West as America, Reinterpreting Images of the Frontier, 1820–1920.” The article was originally published in Western Historical Quarterly, and therefore was not without bias, but I was still really excited to read about a large scale museum taking a stand against the harmful dominant narrative surrounding the American West. According to this article, the exhibit’s curatorial premise condemned the art that has informed historians as racist, sexist, and imperialist, and condemned historians for allowing our history to be dominated by the same beliefs.

I was so excited to read this article because, as someone that wants to enter the museum field after graduation, this seemed like a positive impact and something that I could try and emulate. I want to be part of changing harmful dominant narratives. Unfortunately, reading the article was kind of disheartening.

As we’ve learned in class, historical revisionism was a popular topic at the time; the Smithsonian wasn’t unique for suggesting a reinterpretation of the American West (the exhibit built off of Henry Nash Smith, for example). However, the Smithsonian was engaging the public, not just academia. The exhibit therefore faced intense criticism. Funding got pulled for a tour that would have made these ideas more accessible, and two Republicans on the Senate Appropriations Committee actually tried to cut funding to the Smithsonian Institute as a whole, citing the dangers of liberalism. The timing played a key role. With the Gulf War ending and the Soviet Union collapsing, the mythology of American West was rearing its ugly head as a tool of propaganda to represent American Exceptionalism. People didn’t want to hear that frontier life was actually genocidal. On the other hand, is there a time that people do want to hear that they’re living on stolen land or that their ancestors committed any number of other atrocities?

I really struggled while reading this because all term I’ve walked out of class and wondered: What do I do with this information? How do I stop being a part of the problem and start being part of the solution? I thought maybe museums would be part of my answer, but this article makes me wonder.

According to an analysis of the guestbook, the feedback for the exhibit was actually overall positive, especially with younger visitors. I hang onto this information to stay hopeful. In an effort to sustain my hope, I ask the rest of you for your input: how do you process the information from class? What do you plan on doing to create a better future?

 

Films depicting the Western Frontier

One of the most effective ways to look into the lives of people you don’t have the opportunities to interact with is to watch films that portray these lifestyles. That being said, historical fiction is one of the most intriguing genres of film — the costumes and props, set design, dialects, and sometimes narrative are depicted in a way that suggests how it may have been to experience a particular time period first-hand. Upon reading “Frontier Women” and “Sunbonnet and Calico,” I was reminded of the incredible cinematic design as well as narrative of Kevin Costner’s film Dances with Wolves because it brings to life a romance between a white woman who had been raised by a Lakota tribe and an American Lieutenant. I was unaware of how common it was for a white woman to be raised by Native Americans until I read these readings. To my surprise, the events in Dances with Wolves could have been an experience shared by many during the time the Western frontier was being explored and settled by white Europeans and “Americans.”

This got me wondering about the historical accuracy of other films of around the same time period. Films like The Last of the Mohicans or Amistad are supposed to represent events that actually happened. The purpose of Dances With Wolves is to portray likely events in the 1860s in South Dakota, rather than a specific event or series of events of historical impact. Yet it doesn’t butcher the historical accuracy of this space and time, nor does it give a highly fantasized version of a love story. This is what makes the film so unique, in my opinion.

So, those of you who haven’t seen this beauty, I highly recommend it. It may help you understand the ways of the Sioux Lakota as well as how some interactions between the white “Americans” and the natives looked.

What Changed?

 

Since we began this class we have read different viewpoints of the American West, and have discussed the romanticization of the West. In the first half of the 20th century, Hollywood was obsessed with making Western films. The stories of outlaws such as Jesse James, Billy the Kid, Wild Bill, and Wyatt Earp were a part of the Hollywood stories. Stars like John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, Roy Rogers, and Gene Autrey lead Hollywood by storm playing cowboys and lawmen of the American West and raking in millions of dollars. It is hard to refute the sensation for these stories/legends during this time in Hollywood, yet towards the end of the 20th century its popularity declines. Westerns are still being produced, however, they aren’t nearly as popular as they once were and no longer have big name stars.

During this time America has been in the Vietnam, Korean, and Cold Wars as well as going through a massive Civil Rights movement. Did these major political events affect the public’s need for Westerns? It might be a stretch, but the idea that just because these old stars got old and didn’t want to make any action Westerns anymore just doesn’t seem realistic. Had America wanted a high rate of Western films, Hollywood would have found new actors to lead the genre, just as Bruce Willis, Sylvester Stalone, and Arnold Schwarzenager lead the way for actors like Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson, and Daniel Craig. So what exactly happened to the Western? Did the American public have a sudden awakening that this idea of the “Old West” is more myth and fantasy than truth, or did the cultural influences of the time change the Hollywood focus to another genre. Furthermore, if there was a new take on Westerns, would Americans start to sensationalize the West again, or would it be a failure?

Canada’s Missing and Murdered Women

CBS News has put together a project to investigate the missing and murdered Indigenous women.  The project highlights the profiles of 306 missing or murdered Indigenous women in Canada. While the project contains the profile of 306 women it is thought that the number of missing and murdered women is much higher with estimates ranging as high as 4,000. women (The Guardian). Some of these women have had their deaths written off as suicides or death due to the weather. In many of these cases the police did not look more closely to see if there was foul play involved.

It appears as though often times the police are unwilling to spend a lot of time looking into these cases because they assume that the lifestyles of these women lead to their disappearance or death. Some of these assumptions made by police are based on racist ideas that they have of the Indigenous people of Canada. These racist ideas are perpetrated by the various dominant narratives that exist in both the United States and Canada. There is no basis for these narratives but there existence shapes the police response to these crimes (CBC News).

 

Rebecca Adamson

Rebecca Adamson was born 1949 to a Cherokee mother and a Swedish American Father in Akron, Ohio. Through spending summers with her Cherokee grandmother, Adamson learned of her Cherokee historical and cultural roots. Adamson left University of Akron in 1970 in order to begin pursuing her true passion in working with indigenous communities.

Adamson’s work in activism began as she left college. Her first work began with her involvement in a group fighting to prevent Native children from being forcibly placed into boarding schools outside of their communities. These curriculum within these schools lacked any sort of education on Native culture. However, through Adamson’s work Congress released the Indian Education Self-determination Act in 1975, allowing Native communities to run their own schools.

Additionally, due to Adamson’s resume in economics, she began working on a project to help Native communities build their way out of poverty through small businesses. Initially a small project in which Adamson traveled to get additional funding, this idea blossomed into The First Nations Development Institute. This has grown to have connections in over 20 states and 1,000 communities.

Adamson has shown her support for Native people by traveling all over the world to raise awareness. She has spread her interests to Natives also not from Turtle Island, traveling to Botswana and Australia. Paired with this she also serves as a U.S. delegate to the United Nations’ International Labor Organization for International Indigenous Rights. Through all of her non-profit work Rebecca Adamson provides hope that there are genuine people fighting to bring attention to the injustices Native people face all over the world.

Sources

https://www.makers.com/rebecca-adamson

Acknowledging Under-Appreciated Aboriginal Activists

 

SHANEEN KOOSTACHIN

Shaneen was born in 1994 and a citizen of the Attawapiskat First Nation located in modern day Canada. What makes Shaneen so amazing is her activism towards a better education for other children in her community. The primary school that Shaneen would go to was shut down in 2000 because of health issues caused by a diesel fuel leak from 1979. When Shaneen began her activism in 2007, her and other children were going to school in “portables” which are comparable to trailer homes converted into classrooms.

The federal government had promised a new school, but once the youth found out that the plan had been cancelled, there was a rebellion. The Attawapiskat youth reached out to students across the country(Canada) and formed the “largest youth driven rights campaign in Canadian history”. Shaneen quickly became the campaign’s face and was soon well known across the nation.

Shaneen inspired a documentary, was nominated for an International Children’s Peace Prize Award, a novel, and even a character in the DC comic’s Canadian Justice League. She and other students raised public awareness through social media and raised money for a new school. In 2008, Shaneen traveled to Ottawa with her class for the National Day of Action for Indigenous People. While there, she had the opportunity to speak to the Indian Affairs Minister Chuck Strahl. During the conversation between her, the Minister, and Elders from her community, Shaneen became very upset after Strahl didn’t show much concern for the lack of resources in the education system, nor did he want to visit the community. It was shortly after this meeting that Shaneen spoke publicly at Parliament Hill and reaffirmed her commitment and the Attawapiskat commitment to solving this problem and that they won’t give up.

A short two years later, Shaneen was killed in an unrelated car accident. She was 15. Even though it has been over 5 years since Shaneen’s death, her commitment to equal education still lives today. Shaneen’s Dream is a youth driven movement that works toward advancing the education funding for First Nation children.

 

http://www.californiaindianeducation.org/famous_indians/shannen_koostachin/

The bravery and the tragedy of Shannen Koostachin

Missing and Murdered Women

The REDress project is often called the Red Dress project, which while accurate, takes away from the play. To redress is to compensate, or to fix; providing a remedy for some ailment caused. Jaime Black, whose epithets always involve being ‘Winnipeg-based,’ started the project of hanging red dresses in public locations to bring attention to the “estimated 1,200 missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada” in the last thirty years (Toronto Life).

1,200 is the lowest estimate. The NWAC, or Native Women’s Association of Canada, argues that the number is closer to 4,000.

The reasons behind this disparity vary. One accusation holds that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police too often dismiss murders as suicides or drug-related deaths, even as relatives insist that there was “foul play” (New York Times). Similar charges of police oversight are suggested in a 2015 United Nations report on the treatment of aboriginal women by the government of Canada.

Yet there has been little redress. Along the stretch of road called the Highway of Tears, infamous for the amount of women who go missing, still lacks effective lighting or readily available public transportation to dissuade the prevalence of hitchhiking.

The reason for the impoverished state of aboriginal women in Canada has been tied to several sources, one of which was the residential schooling system we discussed in class. The forcible relocation of children in indigenous communities did not fully stop until the mid-1990s, and this is credited with helping to destroy “the social fabric of aboriginal society” (Cultural Survival).

Canada was not alone in the boarding school system. The United States employed this tactic as well, late into the 1970s, and has even less transparency regarding information on missing and murdered women. Native communities in the United States have a similar distrust of the police, and it is readily apparent why.

Take the case of  Edith Chavez. When Chavez went to the police after being abducted, the officers “refused to take [her] statement,” instead deciding to arrest Chavez on the charge of an parking violation years prior. After Chavez’s release, the department released a statement “claiming Chavez smelled of alcohol and had been to a casino” (The Guardian, full story here).

Not to mention that the rates of murder inflicted on indigenous women in the United States is still atrociously high. What steps should we take to redress?