Wednesday, March 04, 2009

"Indian Day"

I'm at the Beinecke Rare Book Library at Yale, reading the American Indian Magazine, Vol. IV, No. 2, April-June, 1916, I came across an article about Indian Day. It is on page 189. The magazine was published by the Society of American Indians, which was formed by influential Native people in 1911.

"The First Indian Day"

May 13, American Indian Day. For the first time the race which roamed the western continent before the white man set foot on its shores is being honored with a day which bears that race's name. The event gives occasion for comment as tardy national recognition of a people who have to a large extent proved their worth. But how well and how comprehensively he proved it is a matter about which a great many persons still need enlightenment.

There is yet a widespread tendency to think of the American Indian as he used to be, rather than as he now is. Where is the small boy who does not picture the Indian as a savage in war paint and feathers, ready to sally forth with tomahawk and spear to avenge himself upon his foes? Where is the small girl who does not avoid reading the Indian stories which so delight her brother, and does not feel sorry for other little girls who live on prairies where they are liable to an unexpected visit from the Indians almost any hour of the day or night? Where is the father who does not enjoy getting an Indian costume for his little boy and even take pleasure in helping him put up a wigwam in the back yard? And where is the mother who does not clap her hands over her ears when that same small son and his pals chase one another round the house, "yelling like Indians"?

In the evening perhaps the family go to the nearest motion picture house. The most exciting film is a story of hairbreadth escapes from the Indians. There is usually nothing to indicate when the events are supposed to have taken place, but the impression gained is that they are comparatively recent. The children go home and dream the story over again that night to repeat its details next day at school or elsewhere.

Next week the circus comes to town. Flaring posters show in advance the "Wild West" show which is to be such a prominent part of the program, and describe in graphic terms the side show in which several Indian families are to be on exhibition. Emphasis is laid on the war dance with which those who pay ten cents admission will be regaled.

In the summer there come those happy days when the family go on a picnic to some near-by resort. Among the attractions along the main boulevard there is probably an Indian shop. Here may be purchased little birchbark canoes, moccasins, bows and arrows, and beads of many colors. If the shop is somewhat pretentious is may even offer for sale Navajo blankets and specimens of basketry and pottery. Perhaps these were made by American Indians, but more likely they were not.

Written almost 100 years ago, it could have been written yesterday...

The day to honor Native peoples? That'd be "American Indian Day" celebrated the day after Thanksgiving.

The small boy of today, if asked to draw an Indian, would certainly draw one in paint and feathers.

The small girl takes great delight in reading Little House on the Prairie.

The father getting an Indian costume and wigwam for his son? Hmm... Boy Scouts, maybe? Order of the Arrow?

And the mother who asks her small son and his pals to stop "yelling like Indians"? If you search Google blogs with "wild Indians" you'll find Todd, writing on March 1st, 2009 "...I would not tolerate them acting like a couple of wild Indians..." and Heather, on March 2nd, "I told the boys to settle down and quit acting like wild Indians..." and Raj, on March 3rd, "...Newton and Pye, running around the house like a pair of wild Indians."

The movies? How about Mel Gibson's Apocalypto...

Wild West shows? Not on tour or on stage that I know of in the U.S., but visit Disney Village in Paris and you can see that show this evening, at 6:30 or 9:30! If you want a preview, there's one on Youtube.

As for birchbark canoes, moccasins, bows and arrows, and beads and the like, your local toy store will have what you need...

Clearly, we haven't made much progress in the last 100 years. What are you doing to change that?

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