"Indian" Stereotypes in TV Science Fiction: First Nations' Voices Speak Out

"Indian" Stereotypes in TV Science Fiction: First Nations' Voices Speak Out

"Indian" Stereotypes in TV Science Fiction: First Nations' Voices Speak Out

"Indian" Stereotypes in TV Science Fiction: First Nations' Voices Speak Out

Synopsis

"These shows made me sad, reminding me of all my people have lost due to forced or voluntary assimilation into white society. Our language, our traditions, our history, our stories, our identity, they have all been diminished." - A study participant According to an early 1990s study, 95 percent of what college students know about Native Americans was acquired through the media, leading to widespread misunderstandings of First Nations peoples. Sierra Adare contends that negative "Indian" stereotypes do physical, mental, emotional, and financial harm to First Nations individuals. At its core, this book is a social study whose purpose is to explore the responses of First Nations peoples to representative "Indian" stereotypes portrayed within the TV science fiction genre. Participants in Adare' study viewed episodes from My Favorite Martian , Star Trek , Star Trek: Voyager , Quantum Leap , The Adventures of Superman , and Star Trek: The Next Generation. Reactions by viewers range from optimism to a deep-rooted sadness. The strongest responses came after viewing a Superman episode' depiction of an "evil medicine man" who uses a ceremonial pipe to kill a warrior. The significance of First Nations peoples' responses and reactions are both surprising and profound. After publication of "Indian" Stereotypes in TV Science Fiction , ignorance can no longer be used as an excuse for Hollywood' irresponsible depiction of First Nations peoples' culture, traditions, elders, religious beliefs, and sacred objects.

Excerpt

Like feature films, television confined Native
Americans to a handful of tribes and cultures and then
redrafted them to suit popular conceptions. Screen
Indians belonged only to Plains tribes, spoke the same
language, dressed in the same clothes, and practiced
the same religion
.

—ANNETTE M. TAYLOR

Cultural Heritage in Northern Exposure

I remember how excited I got when the Star Trek episode “The Paradise Syndrome” aired because I could lose myself in the story, and, for a single hour that Friday night it was OK for me to be me, the Indigenous me. It didn't matter that the “Indian” characters had as much depth as a sheet of onionskin or that the way they were represented on our new color TV reeked of inaccuracy, stupidity, and that generic jumble of which Annette M. Taylor speaks. None of that mattered. It was the only time I could remember seeing TV “Indians” who were not being chased by the cavalry or shot by cowboys and whose intent was not to massacre innocent settlers. That Star Trek episode had a profound affect on me as a young girl whose people were hardly mentioned in American history books in school, whose classmates were overwhelmingly white, whose way of looking at and interacting with the world was “different” from that of the other kids, and whose daily life included having to coexist with “Indian” stereotypes that had no grounding in reality but were ones the dominant society expected me to resemble because they passionately believed the stereotypes.

Euro-Americans appear not to realize that the “Indian” stereotypes they are constantly bombarded with on television are stereotypes rather than realistic depictions of First Nations peoples. Movie and television viewers have had a steady diet of the feathers and the fantasy for over a hundred years, through which they have learned what it supposedly means to be a “real Indian.”

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