Native Americans

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When growing up, it was common to encounter a variety of stereotypes about Native Americans. Most of these were negative and probably stemmed from the fact that the notion that was propagated at the time retained the colonial undertone. Most of my early understanding of Native Americans has changed, and shockingly so. In fact, I have come to realize that most of what I learned from my family members, school, and the mass media were discriminative and somewhat undermined Native Americans.

In school, for instance, concerning the removal of American-Indians, I was taught that President Andrew Jackson signed into law an Act, which facilitated the forceful exit of the Cherokee where millions of the people died. What I gleaned from this is that the Native Americans are an undermined and persecuted population that has to endure suffering from majority races because they are a minority. In as much as I have come to realize that it is not only the Cherokee that were removed from their lands at the time, the view of oppression remains. American Indians and Alaska Natives continue to face a wide range of oppression, almost similar to those they encountered during the colonial times.[1] It is notable that while conditions are slowly improving in various sectors of life, Native Americans, for instance, continue to be discriminated economically, politically, and even in the education sector.

I first encountered the extent of Native Americans’ destitution from the mainstream media. While I was growing up, the media portrayed Native Americans as poor and primitive people who neither valued education nor interested in taking part in politics. The justification for this portrayal was the fact that the community had endured brutality, which, apart from taking away their lands, made them too skeptical about wanting to interact with the rest of the world in the education sector, and took away their interest in governance or associated issues. The trauma associated with past oppression made Native Americans feel inferior and unable to govern. At the same time, taking away their land deprived them of most cultural economic activities, thus rendering them poor and incapable of accessing such services as basic education. Among my family members, information about Native Americans was scanty. The little that existed stated that the community lived in far-flung areas of America, and it would be hard to meet any of them - much like aliens. Even so, I have come to learn that a majority of these claims were accurate at the time but no longer hold water. Native Americans are currently facing economic empowerment, have programs that facilitate their education, including free universities,[2] and a majority live in cities across America and the world over.

Native American artists have taken to illustrate some of these stereotypes in their work. In the Liberation of Aunt Jemima by Betye Saar, Jemima is holding a broom and a pistol.[3] The example of aunt Jemima symbolizes someone vulnerable but ready to defend themselves. It creates a picture of the situation of Native Americans who, despite being poor and vulnerable, did all they could to protect their culture from invaders. James Luna, in The Artifact Piece of 1986, protested the longstanding portrayal by the rest of American cultures that his native culture is dead and extinct.[4] Perhaps this is what came out when my family members thought it would be hard to meet a Native American. The artist notes that even the museums that should facilitate cultural knowledge have misrepresented the Native American culture. As a result, most of the stereotypes doing rounds probably stem from such systemic dysfunction. Several other artists are also fighting to change the past erratic notion of Native Americans. 

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GradShark (2023). Native Americans. GradShark.

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