Thursday, June 16, 2011

Playing Indian, and, THE LOST ONES: LONG JOURNEY HOME (documentary)

Periodically I have conversations with someone who is determined to figure out how to justify playing Indian. I understand the impetus. Movies, television shows, and many children's and young adult books have shown American Indians in such a way as to cause Americans to think about an Indian way of life as a thing to be desired.

American Indians "lived off the land" and their material artifacts (housing, weapons) were "so cool" and they lived "as one with Mother Nature."

There's powerful allure in all of that, and playing Indian seems a way to put in practice something one has learned about an Indian way of life, or is is seen as a way to honor American Indians in that particular pre-contact period of history.


If you take the stance of a Native person, however, who looks back on Native history, there's more to consider. If, for example, a non-Native person wants to play Indian, and do it "right" (accurately), he or she might choose the Lipan Apache and read books about the Lipan Apache.

My first questions are: What books did you read? Who are they written by? When were they written? Are they accurate? How do you know they are accurate? What time period of Lipan Apache life are you playing? 

I've selected Lipan Apache for a reason. Below is a clip from The Lost Ones: Long Journey Home. It is a documentary about two Lipan Apache children. Their people were being pursued by the army in the 1870s. The two children survived the attack and ended up in Carlisle, Pennsylvania at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School. They were among the first students to attend the school. For over 100 years, the Lipan Apaches have told stories about those attacks and about the two children, wondering what happened to them. The Lost Ones is about the children, and how the Lipan Apaches found out that the children ended up at Carlisle. A few years ago, tribal leaders went to Carlisle and visited the cemetery where the children are buried. 

As you watch the video, imagine yourself playing Lipan Apache prior to these pursuits by the army. Lots of people have cultural and religious ways of being that are different from, say, a mainstream American one.  Would you play Jew in the time period before the Holocaust? Would you play African before the slave ships arrived? 

I'm uneasy asking those questions but I'm grasping at straws, trying to get people to see us as people, not as romantic figures of the past.

Playing Indian, no matter how well intended, confines us in a past in a way that prevents people from learning that we're still here, and that we're part of today's society, just like anyone else. Just because we use modern tools does not mean we are no longer "Indian." And, doing all that research to play Indian "accurately" means you're not spending any time studying and thinking about something you could do that would actually be helpful to those Indians you want to emulate and honor. Instead, why not do some research into cases being heard by the Supreme Court this year? An excellent source for that information is Turtle Talk, a blog published by several Native lawyers. Another good source is the Native American Rights Fund.

If you're amongst those who want to play Indian or want to justify playing Indian, revisit that idea as you watch the video.

1 comment:

Beverly Slapin said...

Just watched "The Lost Ones: Long Journey Home." Wow, Debbie, thank you for posting it. What pain. What healing. What courage for the people to have put this together. Hearts would have to be made of stone not to be touched by this one.