Did you hear the news today? The Standing Rock Sioux and their supporter’s have successfully (for the time being) halted the Dakota Access Pipeline!
But maybe you didn’t hear. Because Big Media is silent on the issue.
Well, as 1) an expensively-trained and former journalist, as 2) a Native American and as 3) an expert on intercultural communication (toot! toot!), I’ll tell you why Big Media has been ignoring The Standing Rock Sioux Protest:
Big Media has no f*ucking idea how to cover it.
Did you know that there are over 500 federally recognized tribes in the United States? And many unrecognized (their numbers are too small, because they were, you know, successfully decimated a few hundred years ago). Did you know that there are many complicated and vitally important treaties with tribes along the Canadian and Mexican borders, where traditional tribal lands have been separated by modern borders? My own tribe included? Although I was born and raised in the U.S., less than 10 miles south of the Canadian border, my tribal affiliation is in British Columbia and that gives me certain rights: I can cross the border with my tribal ID instead of a U.S. passport. I can’t be denied entry (as long as I have my tribal ID) and I can also move to British Columbia without a visa (but still with paperwork).
You must know that the U.S. has many complicated, and often broken, treaties with all of these tribes, don’t you?
Take a look at the map below. The russet colored area is the current Colville Reservation in the Washington State. The Colvilles are a sort of sister-tribe to my tribe, the Okanagans. Many U.S. born Okanagans have enrolled with the Colvilles for the convenience of being on the same side of the border as their tribal affiliation. That russet-colored area on the map is what is left of the Colville reservation. The shaded in area immediately above it is the former North territory of the Colville reservation (and the area I grew up in). Notice the straight, straight line dividing the two? That’s where the U.S. government amputated the northern territory when gold was discovered in that part of the reservation. The government broke the treaty and stole the land (again) when gold was discovered.
And in case you’re picturing an 1800’s gold rush? This was, if my memory serves me, in the 1950’s.
Aren’t Indians Extinct?
There’s this romantic idea that Native Americans are extinct. You probably don’t even realize you subscribe to this idea. Native Americans/Indians are forever relegated to the Wild Wild West where they disappeared into the sunset or happily married tough cowboys and had half-breed children, who went on to have even whiter children and now Indians have been bred out except for maybe a small handful on this far flung corner or another. And these anomalies stick to their reservations and are poor uneducated souls just clinging to a way of life that died 200 years ago.
Native Americans are out in the world, with smartphones, doing what you’re doing. Working, creating, grinding out 9-5 jobs, traveling the world, and more! Native Americans! They’re Just Like Us!
There’s a whole secret hashtag for Natives like me who live abroad. #nativesabroad
Don’t tell anyone I told you.
But it’s just so much easier to sleep at night when we think Indians are dead. When they are the things of fairy tales (the Indians in Peter Pan, anyone?) When they are a fantastical fucking Halloween costume.
Side rant: You CANNOT be an Indian for Halloween. It’s racist bullshit in that it propels the myth that we are a fantasy of the past and not real living beings. Yes, you can be a football player for Halloween. Yes, football players are real living beings too. What’s the difference? A man can CHOOSE to be a football player and then go home and take the uniform off and even one day retire from football. A Native American is a Native American no matter what they are wearing and for their entire life. It’s not a choice. It’s a heritage.
These are my opinions on why Big Media is not covering the pipeline protests. I also think corporate greed and interests are at play, but these other elements make it that much easier to go along with corporate policy.
But in short? Big Media isn’t covering The Standing Rock Sioux protest because they don’t believe their audience is interested. They don’t believe YOU are interested. After all, there are, like, maybe 20 Native Americans in the whole world and the rest have been whisked away to fairy land. Right?
Ouch. How did we get here?
Ten years ago yesterday (!) I wrote an editorial piece for an Illinois newspaper that I was working for. That article was more about the issues of Native American sports mascots, but I think my arguments still stand and are even directly related to The Standing Rock Sioux protests and the media coverage (or lack thereof).
Chief is reflection of American Indian education
By Darla M. Wiese
September 16, 2006
The controversy over the University of Illinois’ mascot, Chief Illiniwek, has heated up in recent weeks as the tradition’s demise may be imminent. If I were to look at the problem from a strictly black-and-white point of view, my stance on the issue would be simple: If area tribes approve of the use of an Indian mascot, great. If area tribes don’t approve, find a new mascot.
Unfortunately, this issue runs a little bit deeper than that. The real issue, I believe, has less to do with Indian mascots, and more to do with the representations of American Indians in both the public education system and the mass media.
Last summer my husband and I spent a long weekend in Washington D.C. As a member of the Okanagan Indian Band of southern British Columbia, visiting the new National Museum of the American Indian was on the top of my list of sights to see.
As we walked into an exhibit, a large screen flashed images of American Indians. One was a construction worker, another a young professional and another a farmer. As the images were displayed a voice overlay said something to the effect of “Everyday you may come in contact with an American Indian and not even know it. They’re workers, teachers. . .” etc.
My first thought was, “Um, duh?”
My second thought was a little heavier. I remembered doing research a year earlier for a college paper about the Washington Redskins and the sports mascot debate. For many people, the portrayals of American Indians in movies, television, halftime shows, books and cartoons may be the only “contact” they ever have with the American Indian culture. The context of the stories told about American Indians is almost always in the past tense, in a past time, contributing to a subconscious thought that American Indians no longer exist and/or are part of fairy tales.
That’s why the exhibit at the museum felt compelled to explain to its visitors that American Indians exist today — you just might not recognize them because they’re in hard hats and suits.
As a young girl trying to establish an identity, I absorbed these mass media images about American Indians. I devoured books such as The Indian in the Cupboard and though no one in my family watched sports, I sought out and learned the “Tomahawk Chop,” all for mainstream cultural validation. It was no different than looking to the mass media for society’s ideals on beauty and athleticism, except I couldn’t find any American Indians there so I had turn to these other representations.
America needs to reevaluate the mass media messages and images we send about American Indians, and we can start in the public school system. Last year, the American Psychologist Association stated that the continued use of American Indian mascots “establishes an unwelcome and often times hostile learning environment for American Indian students that affirms negative images/stereotypes that are promoted in mainstream society.”
We also need to look at how we’re teaching out teachers. My college roommate, an elementary education major, came home one day with an American Indian paper doll and told me her assignment was to decorate the doll’s dress and give her “an Indian name.” She brought the assignment home because, in all seriousness, she thought it was cute and that I’d enjoy it.
“I’m going to draw little daisies on the dress and call her ‘Likes to Shop a lot Girl’,” she said to me.
“How about you teach your students about genocide and forced assimilation, instead of shopping” I replied.
“Relax, it’s just a doll.”
As a child, I thought for sure I had come from a long line of blood thirsty, vengeful people who didn’t know enough to recognize the U.S. government had only their best interests in mind and as a result the government had no choice but to use force, deadly force. Today I know that these feelings, this subconscious learning, are wrong, but I also know that millions of other students and adults, native and non-native alike, don’t know that, and may never know that.
I know you’ve got a lot of sentimental attachment to your Chief Illiniwek. I know that that attachment has nothing to do with racism. But Chief Illiniwek is a thing from the past, a part of a fairy tale, and it’s time to let him go. To too many people, of all races, he doesn’t honor or represent American Indians, he defines them.
I’m not going to relax.
Check out Indian Country Today, the largest national news magazine written by and for Native Americans, and Native America Calling, a nationally syndicated public radio program also produced by and for Native Americans, to really educate yourself on Native America. And yes, I’m a proud former journalist/producer for both outlets.