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"I" ISN'T FOR "INDIAN" is in the collection of essays by Michael Dorris, Paper Trail, pp. 120-121, published by HarperCollins Publishers, 1994, reproduced on this web site for educational purposes only.

"I" isn't for "Indian," but it is often for "ignorance." In the never-never land of glib stereotypes and caricature, the rich histories, cultures, and the contemporary complexities of the diverse indigenous peoples of the Western Hemisphere are obscured, misrepresented, and rendered trivial. Native Americans appear not as human beings but as whooping, silly, one-dimensional cartoons. On occasion they are presented as marauding, blood-thirsty savages, bogeys from the nightmares of "pioneers" who invaded their lands and feared for the consequences. At other times they seem veritable angels, pure of heart, mindlessly ecological, brave and true. And worst of all, they are often merely cute, the special property of small children.

A society that chooses to make a running joke of its victims embalms both its conscience and its obligations, relegating a tragic chronology of culture contact to ersatz mythology. It's hard to take seriously, to empathize with, a group of people portrayed as speaking an ungrammatical language, as dressing in Halloween costumes, as acting "wild," as being undependable in their promises or gifts. Frozen in a kind of pejorative past tense, these make-believe Indians are not allowed to change or in any other way be like real people. They are denied the dignity and dynamism of their history, the validity of their contributions to modern society, the distinctiveness of their multiple ethnicities.

Let "I" be for somebody else.

Introduction to
Indian Stereotypes and Children's Literature