Saturday, August 06, 2011

Playing Indian and Catherine Bateson's BEING BEE

A reader of AICL wrote to tell me that the main character in Catherine Bateson's Being Bee plays Indian at one point in the novel. On page 65, Bee puts a feather in her hair:
That made me an Indian so I whooped around for a while and pretended to stalk some buffalo, but then Honey, the dog from next door, spotted me, so she stopped being a buffalo.
Bateson is Australian. Being Bee won the Children's Book Council of Australia Award in 2007. Obviously, Bateson is relying on stereotypes of American Indians that circulate around the world.

Bateson is portraying something that kids do (play Indian). Several weeks ago, I used Survey Monkey to see how common the activity is, not knowing that Survey Monkey's free service only applies to the first 100 responses, which I got within a couple of days.  Survey Monkey would let me see additional responses if I subscribed to their service, which is quite expensive!

I immediately closed the Survey Monkey survey and sent out an email letting people know I'd closed it. Several readers replied, suggesting I use Google's survey option next time. I'm grateful for the suggestion and will look into it.

Reading the 100 responses I got gave me some info about the "play Indian" activity, but it also taught me a bit about constructing surveys. For now, here's a summary.
12 of 100 said they've seen it in the last year. Three provided details. One said it was at a school event at Thanksgiving, and one said it was at a girl scout event and the third one person said it was teens, not young children.

12 of 100 saw it within the last ten years.  One provided details, saying it was at a birthday party for a five-year old.

23 of 100 saw it longer than 10 years ago.

20 of 100 saw it longer than 30 years ago.

33 of 100 respondents said they have never seen a child playing Indian at playtime.  Five said they did see it at a school Thanksgiving event, and two saw it at Halloween.

96 respondents saw the playing Indian activity in the US. Two respondents saw it in Australia and 2 saw it in Canada, with all four seeing it over 10 years ago.

What can we conclude from these responses? I could say that almost 10% of the respondents saw it in the last year. For me, that suggests the activity is common--more common amongst young children than I thought.

I see it at the University of Illinois all the time. Adults put on headdresses to go to Illinois basketball and football games, even though the "Indian" mascot is no longer being used here. There were people in headdresses at the World Cup games. My mother has been ill (her illness is the reason my website was not updated for so long), and as I sat with her in the hospital, I saw a patient watching The Price is Right game show. A contestant (is that the right word?!) was wearing a headdress. And the new fashion trend "hipster" is using a lot of "Indian" motifs...

All-in-all, discouraging.