Becoming the White Man's Indian: An Examination of Native American Tribal Web Sites

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

This paper examines Native Americans' self-representation on tribally maintained web sites. To investigate the motivation for the selection of one representative image over another, the content and expected audience of tribal web sites are examined, with particular attention given to any discernible patterning between these two variables. Based on a survey of all web sites maintained by federally recognized tribes, a correlation exists between audience and content. Specifically, web sites directed toward a broader audience use more stereotypical images of Native Americans, whereas sites used by a particular native community emphasize a more specific tribal identity. This pattern demonstrates the multifaceted nature of identity, i.e., identity is situational and adaptive and can serve multiple purposes.

Keywords: identity; representation; ethnicity; Internet.

Victor: God. Don't you even know how to be a real Indian?

Thomas: I guess not.

Victor: Well, shit, no wonder. Jeez, I guess I'll have to teach you then, enit? First of all, quit grinning like an idiot. Indians aren't supposed to smile like that. Get stoic . . . You got to look like a warrior. You got to look like you just got back from killing a buffalo.

Thomas: But our tribe never hunted buffalo. We were fishermen.

Victor: What? You want to look like you just came back from catching a fish? it ain't Dances With Salmon, you know? . . . Thomas, you got to look like a warrior.

Sherman Alexia, Smoke Signals

The Internet and World Wide Web are now major sources of information and communication, yet little research examines the use and impact of these technologies. In fact, we are still waiting for "cyber-anthropology" or an "anthropology of the Internet" to develop. The Internet, some claim, created a truly global community, putting millions of people in contact, and allowed anyone anywhere to make information about anything available to anybody who cares to visit their web site. One possible impact of this new "global village" is the creation or reinforcement of "imagined communities" (Anderson 1983). This paper concerns Native American self-representation, specifically the presence or absence of the White Man's Indian,1 on tribally maintained web sites2 within the "community" of the Indian Circle web ring. The White manipulation of "Indian" has been thoroughly investigated (Berkhofer 1978); however, little critical attention has been given to the motivating or agentive action behind self-representation, behind the selection of one representative image over another.3 To investigate this, the content and expected audience of tribal web sites are examined, giving particular attention to any discernible patterning between content and audience. Based on this research, it appears that a correlation exists between content and audience. Specifically, web sites directed toward a relatively larger audience tend to use more generalized images of Native Americans, whereas web sites used by a particular native community are likely to emphasize a more specific tribal identity. Possible explanations for these findings are found in the growing body of literature on identity and ethnic tourism, as well as in the literature that attempts to find a middle ground between resistance and accommodation.

THE INDIAN CIRCLE WEB RING

Millions of web sites on the Internet provide information on almost anything imaginable, but accessing this information can be frustrating. To alleviate some of the dissatisfaction that Internet users experience with traditional search engines, web rings4 were created. Web rings "offer easy access to hundreds of thousands of member web sites organized by related interest into easy to travel rings" (www.webring.org). Users "can move through the ring in either direction, going to the next or previous site, or listing the next five sites in the ring. They can jump to a random site in the ring, or survey all the sites that make up the ring" (www. …