Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Thanksgiving: time to challenge the stereotypes

Yesterday I was one of the group recipients of an email image (as part of a joke) that another person on the list found offensive but didn't say why. I asked her to spell it out and low and behold!-- it was a stereotype that hadn't even crossed my mind, although there'd been a different aspect of the image with which I was uncomfortable. This just goes to show that self-education and the education of our peers is ongoing and essential.

Thanksgiving brings out the worst of the stereotypes as regards American Indians. Somehow non-Indians can only think of indigenous people as they existed in the past. I'm sure sociologists have a word for it, but I call it the "frozen in time" syndrome. Once the European culture intersected the development path of American Indians, it became impossible to know how the culture would have developed without our presence. Would American Indians have developed a technology which would eventually bring them into conflict with their environment? The themes in Jared Diamond's Collapse suggest that as a possibility. (See a short video at Treehugger.) On the other hand they may have found a way to successfully integrate their spiritual values with their economic and social development . We will never know for sure, but we certainly can know that they would not have remained as they were 400 years ago. Even the image of American Indians astride their horses is an image of the interference of the European culture-- horses are not indigenous to the Americas.

American Indians understand this all too well and have their own struggle for authenticity. I found the picture in this postat Sociological Images.

A few years ago I had the great good fortune to attend the National Day of Mourning, held every year since 1970 in Plymouth, Massachusetts and sponsored by the United American Indians of New England. Young and old, white and black, native and non-native, fat and thin, women and men, limber and lame, pretty and plain, all of us there and everywhere stood on one side of the river and not the other-- and yet we stood together, knowing there was much we did not understand, yet oh so willing. The remarkable time in which we find ourselves now gives us room to explore our differences and our commonality. Let us not allow fear of mistakes keep us from walking this road together.

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