Tuesday, December 18, 2007


Published in 1996, Mihesuah's book, American Indians: Stereotypes & Realities has, fortunately, been reprinted several times. Studying its listings in WorldCat, it looks like universities throughout the country have the book, but, not many public or school libraries.

I urge you to get a copy for your library. It is a very reader-friendly book and will help teachers, librarians, and parents spot stereotypes and counter them in their conversations with children and adults. And, it will be helpful to, in book selection and lesson planning.

In her Introduction, Mihesuah notes that old movies such as The Searchers, The Unforgiven, and White Comanche were filled with blatant racism, but more recent films such as Dances With Wolves miss the mark, too. Specifically, she says this about Dances With Wolves:

"...the Lakotas, a tribe popular among hobbyists and New Agers, are positively portrayed as people with human emotions, values, and spirituality, whereas Pawnees, whose culture is no less humane than that of the Lakotas, were insultingly characterized as barbaric. As so few movies portray Indians in their current circumstances, a movie so widely popular as this one tends to perpetuate the image of Indians as living in the world of the past, and however inadvertently, reinforces the belief tha all Indians were just like the Lakotas of the northern Plains" (p. 10).

Each chapter begins with a stereotypical statement, immediately followed by a "Reality" in boldface.

For example, chapter [14] starts like this:

Indians get a free ride from the government

The benefits Indians receive from the government derive from treaty agreements, which purport to compensate them for the surrender of some or all of their invaluable lands

It is followed by a discussion and, in most chapters, a list of recommended readings. The chapters are a few pages each and include maps and photographs, too.

Here's the entire Table of Contents:

[1] Indians are all alike

[2] Indians were conquered because they were inferior

[3] If Indians had united, they could have prevented the European invasion

[4] Indians have no civilization until Europeans brought it to them

[5] Indians arrived in this hemisphere via the Siberian Land Bridge

[6] Indians were warlike and treacherous

[7] Indians had nothing to contribute to Europeans or to the growth of America

[8] Indians did not value or empower women

[9] Indians have no religion

[10] Indians welcome outsiders to study and participate in their religious ceremonies

[11] Indians are a vanished race

[12] Indians are confined to reservations, live in tipis, wear braids, and ride horses

[13] Indians have no reason to be unpatriotic

[14] Indians get a free ride from the government

[15] Indians' affairs are managed for them by the B.I.A.

[16] Indians are not capable of completing school

[17] Indians cannot vote or hold office

[18] Indians have a tendency toward alcoholism

[19] "My grandmother was an Indian"

[20] Indians are all fullbloods

[21] All Indians have an "Indian name"

[22] Indians know the histories, languages, and cultural aspects of their own tribe and all other tribes

[23] Indians are stoic and have no sense of humor

[24] Indians like having their picture taken

And, there's great material in her appendices:

APPENDIX A: Do's and don't for those who teach American Indian history and culture

APPENDIX B: Suggested guidelines for institutions with scholars who conduct research on American Indians

APPENDIX C: Course outline for American Indian history and culture survey with suggested projects

APPENDIX D: Outline for course "American Indian Women in History"

Mihesuah is Choctaw, and is currently a professor at the University of Kansas. Click here to visit her webpage at KU.

1 comment:

Cristina said...


Thanks for this useful description. I'm teaching the book this week and your introduction and comments are very useful.