Native Americans in the media – incorporating outside interviews into lesson design

4 Dec

Into a unit on Sherman Alexie and the representation of Native Americans in the media, it became clear that a number of students believed that appropriation of Native American sacred objects and imagery – such as a popular musician wearing a headdress in a music video – could be a respectful homage rather than stereotyping. I contacted members of UNL’s Native Daughters organization and pitched the story as a feature for the Daily Nebraskan newspaper, centered around several recent news stories about Native American stereotypes in the media. In class, I played audio clips of my conversations wherein I asked for reactions to quotes that reflected our students’ (and common) mindsets and misconceptions.

Below are a sampling of some of the quotes which I played (along with the transcript) in class, and I’ve attached the final Daily Nebraskan PDF article which utilized these quotes. Based on the lively discussions during and after this lesson, it was clear that several students shifted in their thinking during this lesson.

“I feel like right now, we’re not really in control of our image in the media. There are other people who have more power in the media who are able to portray Native people, and they don’t do it in a very accurate way. I don’t know why that is. I think we’re starting to take that back. I see social media as a means for that. With the No Doubt video, they released it the second day of Native Heritage month. The day after that, after Twitter, Facebook and YouTube complained, they took it down. And the Paul Frank thing as well. Within a relatively short period of time with that, they took the pictures down immediately and issued an apology a while later. Now they’ve set up a fund for a Native cause and they’re hiring a Native artist to do their work. So I see that inaccuracies are still happening, but I kind of feel like it’s going in a positive way where we’re using social media and other forms of expression to have a voice to express ourselves, that it’s not okay to do that.” –Racheal Whitehawk Strong

“The problem is that the Wall Street Journal terms it as they took the video off for racism. But I don’t think that the members of No Doubt are racists. I think the general frustration with the video was that there was a lot of misuse of culturally sacred objects. Like the eagle feather staff and the headdress. In order to understand why that’s offensive to Native people, you have to understand what place those things hold in Native culture. For Lakota people, the eagle feather in itself is a very important object. People would wear it on their regalia…During ceremonies, they used eagle feather stands. The eagle in itself in Lakota culture is a really important symbol. It symbolizes strength, fortitude, bravery. It’s a proud thing to have an eagle feather. You really do not mistreat it at Powwows. With little kids, parents will tie really tightly the eagle feathers onto their regalia. Because if you drop the eagle feather at a powwow, you can’t just pick it up. They have to do a dance and special ceremony before you can even pick it up off the ground. Because you’ve mistreated it, and that feather no longer belongs to you. You have to give it to somebody else. You give it away because you’ve dishonored that.” –Racheal Whitehawk Strong

“I think they miss the point completely. It’s not an honor to our culture to mock our sacred and respected ways of life by objectifying it. It may be personal to her and what she believes but how does that honor the “spirit of dance and freedom” when it’s ripped, copied and duplicated in mass quantity? It losses this spirit when it becomes an object worn by a non-native with no conception of what it’s intended for in the first place. It’s perceived as harmless because America is a melting pot and we have shared cultures in diversity. This is not diversity this is a bastardization of Native culture.” –Princella Parker, Omaha Tribe of Nebraska

“In Lakota culture, in the Great Plains tribes where those war bonnets are used, traditionally the person who wears it earns each and every eagle feather that goes into it. Nowadays, it’s the veterans or people who have done significant acts in the community that earn those feathers and earn the right to wear those things. I know those things aren’t real, but for me it doesn’t make a difference whether it’s an eagle feather or turkey feather, what have you. It’s meant to look like the real deal. In the music video, she’s holding a gun to her head and dancing around scantily clad. The bottom line is it’s totally disrespectful and it’s not the way that anybody who has a headdress would behave or act. Whether she had earned it or not, there would certainly not be anyone in the native community acting that way wearing a headdress, because that’s the significance given to it. It’s not like an article of clothing you just put on to wear around. –Princella Parker

Daily Nebraskan article: “Crime of Fashion”

PowerPoint lesson (includes quotes)


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