An ethnic stereotype is a generalized image of an ethnic group based on bias, emotional assessment, and insufficient knowledge. These images are often misleading and offensive because they promote stereotypes. Several factors that aid the development of stereotypes include misinterpretation of the customs, traditions, and behavior, as well as stereotyping in literature, cinema, and mass media. The status of Native Americans has been alienated for the most part in the American society. When it comes to ethnic diversity and tolerance, the US and Canada are seen as role models, however, native people still continue to attract excessive attraction when compared to other ethnic groups living there, and their stereotypes have spread all across the world (Danchevskaya 112).
The History of Native Americans Stereotyping
In 1492, Columbus found America, and when he encountered the aboriginals, he called them “Indians.” Columbus was certain that he had landed in India. Later on all Natives that belonged to the three parts of America were called “Indians”. This period marked the commencement of stereotyping Native Americans, and despite the fact that Columbus was not aware of the presence of several different Native American groups, his followers did not put this into consideration (Danchevskaya 112).
Two other stereotypes emerged when the colonization of the new continent began: “Cruel warrior” and “noble savage.” Native Americans rapidly became a hindrance to the Europeans’ fight for new lands, and once the former realized it, the hostility with the raiders started. The native countries had fought with each other for a long time, and their victory gave them fame and honor. Consequently, as they were raised courageous, skillful and robust warriors from childhood, it was understandable that the Native Americans put up a strong fight to defend their homeland as any other group would. However, Europeans did not share the same view, they claimed that Native Americans became cruel, bloodthirsty warriors, although those were just necessary measures of self-defense. In the day-to-day life, the same individuals could be peaceful farmers, hunters, as well as fishers (Danchevskaya 112).
Gradually, the thoughts of Enlightenment humanitarianism intensified in the continent, and the picture of a noble savage substituted the aggressive stereotype. The new image emerged from the observation of the native warriors’ lifestyle in peaceful times. A “noble savage” Indian lived in harmony with nature, was kind, dedicated, selfless, innocent, sincere, and courageous. The stereotype is contrary to the previous one and is the great idealization of the Native Americans (Danchevskaya 113).
Cinema has contributed towards the creation of present romantic stereotypes. It is portrayed that all Native Americans look alike, this leads to a majority of people perceiving the idea. Moreover, their look is illustrated as swarthy-bronze skin, long straight or braided black hair, and dark-brown eyes. However, increased interracial marriages have influenced their appearance. Currently, some Native Americans cannot be easily differentiated from Europeans (Danchevskaya 113).
There is a similar perception in several objects, specifically clothes and horses. In Hollywood, the stereotype that all Native Americans wore national costumes and war bonnets crafted from feathers is rampant, along with the idea that they rode horses while howling a distinguish war-cry. Nonetheless, only exceptional individuals of the tribe who had differentiated themselves in war put on war bonnets in some formal occasions and sometimes at war. The Europeans preconceived the idea that it was a traditional dress. In the current society, those who belong to the Native American ethnicity hardly ride horses more than a farmer. Besides, they don the same attire as any other American (Danchevskaya 113).
Another stereotyped misconstruction is that if an individual is a Native American, he/she needs to have an Indian name. However, this is the case but not a rule. Besides, nearly every person has a Euro-American name. A repeat of the “noble savage” impression is exhibited in the majorities’ belief that all Native Americans are deeply spiritual and are the keepers of the original beliefs, wisdom, and traditions of their nation. Individuals believe that the Native Americans converse with the spirits of nature, and perform all rites and observances often. However, not all Native Americans understand their mother tongue, as well as the old spiritual life of their country (Danchevskaya 114).
Another common misconception is that all Native Americans reside in Indian reservations, which are legally designated areas for the recognized Native tribes. However, that is not the case, as 64% of the Native American population resides in towns. Some of them do visit their reservations but only during holidays, whereas others are not in contact with them or were born and raised outside. Among the newest stereotypes is gambling, whereby many people believe that it is a major source of revenue for most of the Native population that resides in North America. Casinos are mostly associated with this region. However, among all the countries that own casinos, Native Americans comprise 40% of these and only a few have prospered. Therefore, this trade is gainful for few Native Americans (Danchevskaya 114).
Other misleading stereotypes about American Indians are those of an idler and epidemic alcoholism. Sadly, this phenomenon is present on reservations, whereby the standard of living is lower than in cities. However, several tribal and governmental programs intended for an active struggle with it exist. Moreover, it is not so “epidemic” (Danchevskaya 114).
The Fight against Harmful Native American Stereotyping
The National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) is an American Indian and Alaska Native advocacy group that disputes the utilization of “Indian” stereotypes, such as mascots and symbols in games, advertisements, and cultural institutions. NCAI has enabled many groups to collaborate and promote the abolition of Native American stereotyping (National Congress of American Indians 6).
Many states have developed measures of ending the racist stereotypes propagated by “Indian” mascots as well as images in their learning institutions. For example, the Wisconsin State administration approved the 2009 Wisconsin Act 250 that permits individuals to forward their complaints to the state’s Unit of Public Instruction, which is allowed to instruct the change discriminative name and mascot in the mentioned institutions. The Michigan State Board of Education ratified a decree that requires all learning institutions to stop using American Indian references, for example, nicknames as well as logos (National Congress of American Indians 8).
Stereotypes damage the victims, as well as those who propagate them and negatively affect the society. The victims experience emotional pain: annoyance, disappointment, self-doubt, and feelings of despair. Besides, Native American kids subjected to these general impressions at a young age learn the stereotypes together with the images, leading to lower self-esteem that also causes several challenges that Native Americans go through.
As a result of historical events, Native Americans have suffered immensely from stereotypes; causing both moral and material harm to the ethnic group. Literature and cinema have contributed much to the development of stereotyping. The major cause of stereotyping is the lack of information because of the system of education which limits familiarity with the history and culture of global Native individuals to a concise, general set of stereotyped details
Danchevskaya Y. Oksana. Stereotyping American Indians. Moscow State Pedagogical University, 2008, file:///C:/Users/edu/Desktop/NATIVE%201.pdf. Accessed 6 Feb. 2018.
National Congress of American Indians. Ending the Legacy of Racism in Sports & the Era of Harmful “Indian” Sports Mascots. October 2013, http://www.ncai.org/attachments/policypaper_mijapmouwdbjqftjayzqwlqldrwzvsyfakbwthpmatcoroyolpn_ncai_harmful_mascots_report_ending_the_legacy_of_racism_10_2013.pdf. Accessed 26 February 2018.