Friday, March 11, 2005

Survey says..."lil teepees and straw houses"

So I was searching for something today and came across this poll in another blog. (I did try to post my own answers, but got an error message, so if someone from the original blog comes across this post, feel free to comment in the comments section or email me. I'd love to hear from you.)

The answers are somewhat predictable, and a few are disturbing. Some folks did manage to give decent answers, so I won't go all militant on them, but let's take a look:

Q #1. Name Five Famous American Indians: typical answers were Sitting Bull, Sacajawea, Crazy Horse, Geronimo, Pocahontis, Red Cloud, Chief Joseph, etc. (I kept their spellings)

Answers gets 1 of 5. This gets a bad rating because all these people have been dead for generations. What, there are no famous Indians from this century? This perpetuates the stereotype that Indians are a thing of the past and not a present and vibrant people now. They do get one point because Crazy Horse, Red Cloud and Geronimo were badasses, and there were two women consistently on the list.

But a better list would have read something like :Leonard Peltier, Tex Hall, Wilma Mankiller, Russell Means, John Trudell, Chris Eyre, Sherman Alexie, N. Scott Momaday, Leslie Silko, Ella Carla Deloria, Vine get the picture. To the bloggers' credit, they did get Jim Thorpe, Ira Hayes, and Graham Greene. Someone even said Cher. Cher? I always thought she was Armenian. (?)

Q #2. Name some qualities that you would associate with American Indians: By far the most common answers were "proud" and "spiritual", but to cover both ends of the spectrum, we also got some "respectful" and "drunk".

Answers gets 3 of 5. They are OK answers, but pretty stereotypical. Positive stereotypes are better than negative ones, but they are still stereotypes. Using them does not allow the person in question to be fully human.

Q #3. What do you think about the future of American Indians?: Hey, that's a pretty good question! And the answers were mixed. We got "I see the American Indian going the way of the Samurai", "it doesnt look good".

Answers get 4 out of 5. OK, the Samurai thing is silly and dramatic, and some of the opinions just show an ignorance of things in Indian Country, but overall the answers were pretty good. My favorite answer was "Same as mine".

Q #4. Where do you think Indians live?: Best answers were "Live? they live in houses. I would imagine just like everyone else.." and "eerie music plays in the background:: 'They live among us…'".

Answers get 4 out of 5. Most were good, even clever, like the ones above. But we also see "arizona,nevada,places where the desert is in there lil teepees and straw houses". That person brought down the whole group with that stupid answer. Let's hope that was a joke, eh?

Q #5. What do you think they wear?: Most rightly said clothes and thought this was a silly question.

Answers get 5 out of 5.

Q #6. Name three things from their culture that you have heard of and explain it the way you understand it: Every single answer mentions either something religious or tobacco oriented. I was a little dismayed to see so much "spiritual" stuff. I would have liked to see more industry and innovation, inventions and artwork mentioned. One blogger did mention traditional crops, but what about boat building; Anasazi and Pueblo architecture; various tribal art like jewelry, paintings, pottery, stitching and weaving; contributions to medicine, botany, geometry, astronomy, etc.

Answers get 1 out of 5.

Q #6. Do you know the difference between a clan and a tribe, please explain?: This seemed like a weird question to me. I wouldnt expect good answers on this one, and the understanding of clan membership varies according to tribes. Overall, the answers were OK, but special bad award goes for this answer: "Clan, from what I know, seems to be a group of individuals who give up just that, their individuality, and believe in a ONE idea, and a ONE God/Leader. Giving up all they are for that one belief."

I think he means "cult".

Answers get 4 out of 5.

So that's my take. Bad in some places, but decent in others. Now the question becomes, how would you have done? Be honest.


Anonymous Yehecatl said...

Some of the answers are pretty dismal, others are funny ("they live among us" was my personal favorite), but I did want to play a little devil's advocate here as far as the famous American Indians question. It is unfortunate that more people aren't familiar with the achievements of modern indigenous people, and I do very much see a tendency to think of Indians as a thing of the past who do not have a current presence.

However, as far as famous people go, I think you would get similar answers if you asked about most any group that someone doesn't have a direct personal connection with. To give you an example, I was once playing a trivia game with some of my friends. One of the questions another player got was "Name three famous French people." We all had to write our answers and then see how many of them matched with each other. I wrote down Napoleon, the Marquis de Sade, and Marie Antoinette. Everyone else's answers were similarly historical (with one of my friends not even being able to name three), except for the person who asked the question, who put modern French people like the current president of France. None of the rest of us had heard of any of those people. She had an interest in France and had even been there, while the rest of us were pretty neutral about the subject and so didn't possess much knowledge about it. I still couldn't tell you who the president of France is.

It is a little different with indigenous people because they are a part of American society, and yet there are active barriers preventing them from many of the same opportunities other people have. But the tendency to think of historical figures is probably more of a symptom of people not being "up" on subjects they don't have a personal investment in, and really only having the basic familiarity with the subject they learned in High School.

12:34 PM  
Blogger themarigoldtrail said...

Hi Yehecatl

Sorry it's taken me so long to respond to you very good point. It's been a little busy around here the past few days.

So let's take a closer look at what you are saying:

However, as far as famous people go, I think you would get similar answers if you asked about most any group that someone doesn't have a direct personal connection with.Well, let's try it. Name five famous Black people. I am guessin' you are more likely to say Martin Luther King than Fredrick Douglass. You may even throw in a celebrity or two. And what about Condi or Colin?

Now perhaps the wording of the question is misleading and implies historical people rather than contemporary Native Americans, but let's just re-ask the question a little more specifically. I still highly doubt that the people who answered that poll, or very few people in the general population could name *one* contemporary Native American, much less five. But my goal is not to bag on these specific people, or any people really. My point is to show exactly the point you made in the first paragraph: that Indians do not have a presence in mainstream America and are very much thought of as a people of the past. All dead. No more.

And I think your point about it being different with indigenous people is a good one. It IS different when we are talking about a subset of American citizens. I would not expect to know who Jacques Chirac is. OK, that's a lie; I do expect everyone to know. ;P But the point is that people don't have to know history, to dig back to what they learned in high school. Gods, and if you remember what we learned in high school about Indians, maybe that "knowledge" should stay in the past. But what I would want is for people to realize the Indians around them in the here and now. The ones making movies and hip hop and punk rock. The ones serving as senators and ceos. The ones that are, as aptly pointed out, all around you.

10:54 AM  

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