Native American stereotypes
Recently, I have been reading about/on stereotypes regarding Native American people. And I find it sad, frustrating and disheartening that those stereotypes still exist. I think they stem from a lack of knowledge. A lack of knowledge of the history of the people, a history that took place right in our backyard. A history, I feel we cannot hide. Through this site, I am trying to share that history, the history of trauma but also the beauty and the healing that is taking place.
What are those stereotypes you ask? Well let’s start with the one of the “drunk indian who cannot hold his liquor”. Well maybe if alcohol, a spirit, had not been introduced on reserves by the Europeans, as a way to steal the land from the native people, the stereotype would not even exist. Alcohol was introduced and given to natives as a trade for furs, tools, land, you name it. They did not know what it was. They were at times rendered drunk during trading with European, affecting their judgment in their trades. They could then easily be influenced. Their body was not accustomed to it.
How about “indians get everything for free”? Well guess what, indians do NOT get everything for free. Land was stolen from them generations ago, they were forced to live on reserves due to unfair treaties, reserves they were not even free to operate and could not leave without permission. The lands they knew as home, lands where they would hunt, fish, get food, were taken, their access being restricted. They could not hunt or fish like before, they needed permission to do so on their own land. And contrary to popular belief, Native people do pay taxes. They earn money and do not get everything for free. They have paid for what they have, with the lost of their land, their rights (some places did not allow Native people to vote until the 1960’s) and their dignity.
Keep wanting more
What about “indians just keep asking and asking and asking, they are greedy”? Well let’s look at it this way. For more than a century, the Native people were not allowed to practice their traditions, for fear of being killed. Their songs, their music, their ceremonies, were banned, being perceived as “evil”. When in fact, they represented the total opposite of “evil”. Traditions, language and ceremonies are a way to honor one’s ancestors and the Creator, to be thankful, mindful, spiritually connected. But out of ignorance, songs and traditional languages were banished.
For more than a century, native children were taken away from their homes, their communities, stripped of their cultural identity and were placed in Indian residential schools, or Indian boarding schools, operated by the church. The goal? “To take the indian out of the child” or more accurately “to beat the indian out of the child”. Children were dressed in a uniform, punished if they spoke their language or practiced their traditions. They were physically, verbally, emotionally and sexually abused. An inordinate amount of children lost their lives while attending residential schools. They returned to their communities in the summer as strangers. They could not relate to their parents anymore nor could their parents relate to them. Villages without any kids for months at a time. Can you imagine how traumatizing it must have been for families?
Yes it is true that the Native American population has a higher incidence of substance abuse. Considering what I just said about alcohol as well as the history of trauma in families, is it really surprising? Children were taken away, parents robbed of the chance to be parents, children were scarred for life, families were split apart, abuse of any type was rampant and rights were restricted. Parents were then seen as being unfit and children were taken away by the government, placing them in foster families. In an event referred to as the “Sixties Scoop”, Canadian Aboriginal children were literally “scooped” from their families to be placed either in residential schools, in Caucasian Canadian families or placed for adoption in the United States or Western Europe. An estimated 20 000 children were “scooped” over a period of 20 years. The goal? Cultural assimilation. The result? Intergenerational trauma. For all members of the family, the tribe, the nation. Trauma, including repeating the abuse suffered in residential school, was passed down from generation to generation with no coping skills. A higher incidence of missing or murdered Aboriginal women in Canada, a high incidence of native people in our prison system.
It is said that what we do affect the next seven generations. But it goes both ways, i.e. positive changes can also affect the next seven generations. I think we are starting to see positive changes. By going back to the traditional ways, to the Red Road principles. By living a honest and simple life. But I get frustrated when I hear some say about native people “why don’t they just get over it”? Would you say that to a Jewish person whose family had died at Auschwitz? I did not think so.
Take the time to watch the video below addressing stereotypes about Native people. Very powerful