Stereotypes | Ruth A. Myers Center for Indigenous Education
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Required Profile of Learning
To achieve a diploma a student must show an appropriate level of achievement in each of the following elements:
Understand what they read, hear and see. Comprehending, interpreting, and evaluating information received through reading, listening, and viewing.
Write and speak effectively. Writing and speaking in English clearly for academic, technical, and personal purposes with a variety of audiences.
Gather and use information. Applying methods of inquiry needed to conduct research, draw conclusions, and communicate and apply findings.
Understand interactions between people, their world and their cultures. Understanding how principles of interaction and interdependence affect physical and social situations.
Make informed decisions. Applying informed decision–making processes to promote personal growth and the well–being of society.
- recognize and relate the causes and effect of stereotyping American Indians, their culture and history.
- Develop and recommend processes to reduce eliminate stereotyping.
This outcome includes:
- uncovering knowledge of American Indian stereotypes in modern society.
- understanding the impact of such stereotypes on American Indians within their society and on society as a whole.
People have continued to stereotype American Indians due to lack of knowledge. American Indians have been deeply affected by the stereotypes that continue to be promoted in American popular culture. Contemporary American Indians view stereotyping as a major problem that needs to be resolved. Stereotyped images damage the self–esteem of American Indian children and lead to increased discrimination and racism. In order to be responsible citizens, all students must learn causes and effects of stereotyping as well as ways to reduce and eliminate stereotyping.
The image of American Indians as horse–riding, buffalo–hunting warriors living in tipis and wearing war paint and feathers is so fixed in the American imagination it is difficult for American Indian and non–Indian children to escape from it. This stereotyped image evolved out of the 19th century. Beginning a century or two earlier, many American Indian tribes who had formerly lived in woodland country arrived on the Great Plains to pursue a buffalo hunting economy on a mote full time basis. This transition was made possible by the coming of the horse to North America. With the horse, buffalo hunting became far more efficient. However, a way of life that was practiced by some Plains tribes for a short period in their history became the image of all American Indians in the American, imagination. The perpetuation of this image does not allow students to understand the great variety of tribal cultures that existed in North America historically nor does it allow them to consider that American Indians are contemporary people.
Teacher Background Information
A stereotype has been defined as a fixed and often mistaken notion of how a whole group of people thinks, dresses or behaves. Some people view stereotyping as harmless when in fact the creation of a stereotype is often the first step in the process that leads to prejudice and outright discrimination against an entire race or ethnic group. Far from being harmless, the promotion of stereotypes is a form of racism.
Stereotyped images of American Indians are so pervasive in American popular culture it is nearly impossible to escape from them. Most non–Indian children enter school with a fixed image of what the word "Indian" means. For these children, an Indian is not a human being but a fantasy created for them by the media. Several years ago, the Council on Interracial Books for Children created a curriculum called Unlearning Indian Stereotypes. One of the activities suggested in this book is to have students "draw an Indian and a house that an Indian lives in." Whenever this activity is carried out, the results are almost always the same. Students draw a tipi and only occasionally another type of traditional Indian dwelling or rarely a modern house. Their idea of an Indian person is usually an adult male complete with braided hair, war paint, a feather bonnet or single feather worn in the hair, buckskin clothing and moccasins. Many drawings include a horse or buffalo in the background or weapons such as the bow and arrow or hatchet. Students rarely draw a woman or child or a contemporary Indian person dressed like themselves. When students draw an "Indian" they faithfully reproduce the most predominant of many stereotypes about American Indians. Throughout the history of contact, Europeans and Euro–Americans have fostered two opposing images of American Indians. The first is a negative image of American Indians as warlike heathen savages. Modem versions of this negative stereotype include mistaken notions that all American Indians live on welfare, are lazy and have a problem with alcohol. The second is the romantic image of Indians as noble savages. The romantic notion includes the idea that American Indians once had a noble yet doomed way of life. The Indian "princess" of YMCA groups, the "chiefs" and "braves" of Boy Scout troops are extensions of this romantic image.
Stereotypes of American Indians, especially the Plains Indian warrior image, can be found everywhere. This image appears as mascots and logos for sports teams. It appears in children´s books, cartoons, movies and television programs. It appears in advertisements, greeting cards, children´s toys and tourist attractions. This particular stereotype can be traced back to the 19th century.
The Plains warrior image was popularized by dime novels and western artists. The image became all–pervasive late in the 19th century when Buffalo Bill, a self–proclaimed American Indian fighter, created his famous Wild West Show. This show, with a circus–like atmosphere, traveled throughout the United States and Europe. Buffalo Bill recruited American Indian people to supposedly play themselves complete with ponies, feathers and war paint. Prominent Lakota (Sioux) men such as Sitting Bull and Black Elk participated in these shows because it provided them with much needed incomes for their families. In the 20th century, Hollywood movies and other media embraced these stereotypes of American Indians and promoted those images to a new generation.
These negative images prevent and limit other people from seeing American Indians as real human beings. All too often, American Indians are either locked into the past orate portrayed as unfortunate victims. In reality, American Indians are the descendants of America´s original population. These individuals are members of tribes. They are not simply American Indian or Native American but more importantly they are Anishinabeg, Dakota or members of one of over 500 federally recognized American Indian tribes in the United States. As sovereign nations, American Indians have the right to determine their own membership. American Indians look, dress and behave in many different ways. There are American Indians who live on reservations, in rural areas, in small towns and large urban centers throughout Minnesota. American Indians work in a variety of occupations. All students need to understand that American Indians are real human beings, descendants of the original people of the Americas, members of American Indian tribes, and most importantly, American Indians are individuals who act, dress and behave in as many varied ways as any other group of people.
When stereotypes that affect American Indians are pointed out to students, they have little trouble recognizing the images they see as stereotypes. They have more trouble in understanding what is wrong with stereotypes. Students and people in general sometimes have difficulty with the notion that the victims of stereotyping have the right to decide what is offensive. Most American Indian educators agree that all forms of "playing Indian" is offensive because it dehumanizes.
Teachers can help students to understand that American Indians are contemporary and not just "in the past." Teaching strategies can enable students to:
- understand American Indian perspectives.
- realize the far reaching implications of stereotyping that, for example, puts American Indians in the position of having to defend and/or explain.