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Native and culture if we are only

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Native studies scholar Robert Harding (Harding, 2005)
describes a function of the media as a means to “construct the common sense
that audiences use to interpret news.” According to the website Understand
Media (Understand Media, 2017), a purpose of the media is to convince its users
to buy ideologies. With the vast variety of media available, from television,
film, news, and printed works that surround us, the influence of these mediums
can be inescapable. This paper will explore the often inaccurate portrayals of
Indigenous peoples in the media and their relation to my own personal
experiences.

            I have always perceived the news
media as a means of acquiring information on current events and happenings in
the world. If others share this perception, the notion of the news as selling
an ideology can be worrisome. The Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples
(Canada, Government of, 1996) reported that many Canadians perceive Aboriginal
peoples as “noble environmentalists, angry warriors or pitiful victims”. Media
Smarts (MediaSmarts, 2017) states that “political and constitutional issues,
forest fires, poverty, sexual abuse and drug addiction appear to be the only
topics relating to Aboriginal communities that are reported in the news”. In my
own search of recent Canadian news stories, all stories pertaining to
Indigenous people described at least one of the previous mentioned topics. This
sends a powerful message to the society. How can we gain an accurate
understanding of Indigenous peoples and culture if we are only exposed to bad
news and stereotypes?

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            The pop culture industry have
largely portrayed Aboriginals as primitive, violent and devious, or passive and
submissive (MediaSmarts, 2017). This article describes Aboriginal portrayal in
the media as either the Indian Princess, Native Warrior, or Noble Savage.

The Indian Princess is the beautiful Native woman who is
“sympathetic enough to the white man’s quest to be lured away from her group to
marry into his culture and further his mission to civilize her people”.  We see this in Pocahontas and Peter Pan’s
Tiger Lily. Joseph Riverwind  (Riverwind,
2017) reports that royalty did not exist in Aboriginal culture and therefore the
concept of the Indian Princess was one that was invented by Europeans.

The Native Warrior is the fierce and formidable threat to
civilized society (MediaSmarts, 2017). With his war paint and weaponry, he
epitomizes Indian savagery and must
be overcome in the struggles to win the West. In addition to seeing this
depiction in film and television, this image is shown in the logos of sports
teams (Wikipedia, 2017) and municipal artworks.

MediaSmarts (MediaSmarts, 2017) describes the Noble Savage
image as an “effort to redress past wrongs”. This person is spiritually
connected to the land and places no value on material goods. The Lone Ranger
character, Tonto, and the popular Hollywood film Thunderheart exemplify this
portrayal. Indigenous actor, Gary Farmer, commented that, according to
Thunderheart, “every time you get half a dozen Native people in a room, you can
get a prophecy or a vision” (MediaSmarts, 2017).

            The American study Walking a Mile: The First Step Toward Mutual
Understanding (Doble & Yarrow, 2007) studied the attitudes of American
Indians and non-Indians about Indian heritage, historical roles, relationships,
contributions to society, and views about each other. Among the major findings,
the perceptions held by many of the non-Indigenous participants were often
inaccurate and based on media-perpetuated stereotypes.

In reflecting on my own personal experiences involving
Aboriginals in the media, I would agree that stereotypical portrayals is the
norm. As a child, I recall television showing the Indigenous peoples as a
violent, dangerous and primitive people. The “good guys” seemed to always be on
alert for an Indian attack. The toys
we played with supported this. The cowboys were always the “good guys” and had
the guns and the Indians had the more primitive bow and arrows.

Another damaging stereotype that I recall growing up with
was, what I understood as, the Indigenous practice of scalping its victims.
Scalping was the gruesome removal of the hair skin of one’s victim. This was
the ideology we had been exposed to in television and film. I had learned as I
grew older that this message was not entirely accurate. In fact, the practice
of removing the scalp of another person had been done for over a thousand years
by cultures in several areas of the world including the ancient Romans,
Persians and Germanic tribes (The Oxford Companion to the Body, 2017). It
explains that the practice of scalping was rare and had not been widely used by
North and South American indigenous peoples until warring Europeans began
offering rewards for scalps as a means of terrorizing their enemies. Even so,
the practice was not limited to the Indigenous people. By the 1800s, Americans
were very much involved in the exercise of scalping both Indigenous and white
people.

The Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (Government of
Canada, 1996) proposes some ways to more accurately represent the Indigenous in
the media. It states that all mainstream media should include greater
Aboriginal content in their offerings, especially in areas with significant
Aboriginal populations. Journalists for Human Rights (Pierro, 2013) report that
a mere 0.46 % of media coverage included First Nations content. Of that, only
20% were positive stories and 39% negative. Providing a possible reason, MediaSmarts
(MediaSmarts, 2017) describes a very low number of Aboriginal journalists in
the Canadian newspaper industry (1.3 %) and a lack of interest in Native
affairs by non-Aboriginal journalists covering these stories.  The Royal Commission further mentions that
the federal government support training of Aboriginal people for media
positions to reduce this gap. Finally, it states that the federal government
needs to provide funding for Aboriginal-controlled media and incentives for its
private support. Harding (2005) states that “Aboriginal stereotypes are alive
and well” and “routinely employed” in the media. Much work and effort is
required by all in order to change that.

 

 

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