When thinking about the conglomeration of the countless variations of the people in our society, it makes one wonder why there is even such a problem like discrimination and segregation when all of us are equally unique. After growing up in a small suburb that is rarely known to anyone not native to the area, it would almost be an understatement to say that my town is filled with prejudice and racism. There are basically only two types of people from good ole Wilson County according to the locals whose families have been there centuries. In their eyes you have your whites, and you have everyone else compiled into a giant non-white class. Since racism was so prevalent where I am from when I finally left for college I realized what a closed minded place I was forced to call home, but I also noticed something else. Even though I was raised around these vastly uneducated citizens I did not feel the same about other colored skin as everyone else did back home, to me a person is a person and all that counts is character. Once I came to this conclusion it was easy for me to see that I was one of the lucky ones who could live outside of the never ending hate that was not necessary. Then a few months later the opportunity to study, and write an ethnography presented itself to me and I knew this was my chance to bring my view on things to light.
After looking at the perspective I wanted to take for this project I assumed the most logical way to approach things would be from researching an ethnic group, so I decided that the East Carolina Native American Organization was a perfect fit, and so the research began. After a considerable amount of digging into the ECU libraries I was able to find a few credible sources that really capture the way Native Americans are depicted and bring to light the severity and injustice surrounding it. With this in mind I knew it would be pertinent to have plenty of hands on experience and sufficient knowledge to present the idea of racial equality based on simple logical, non-bias thinking.
The East Carolina Native American Organization (ECNAO) is an organization on campus that is moderately sized and has meetings at least a few times a month. While observing some of the organizations meetings I was able to gradually feel as though I was one of the members of the organization even though I was sitting very far back from the members. When considering just a regular meeting, the ECNAO is extremely predictable. When going to a ECNAO meeting there is no one set meeting place but there is a guarantee that it will be in an auditorium style room that seats around 100 people, making the room about 10 times larger than needed for the typical 10 member meetings. Just as predictable as the room and meeting size is the one thing that never fails is the meetings always start at least 10 minutes late followed by almost a ritual of near silence for another 10 minutes after the meetings have begun. During these 10 minutes of silence the members of the organization do this sort of gazing off as if they intentionally do not want to make eye contact with one another. After a short amount of time the last one in is usually the president of the club who begins to talk about the agenda for the day which is the only way to tell that the meeting has actually begun. During the time the agenda is being red you could easily hear a pin drop for those agonizing 10 minutes until finally the one of the young ladies will spark up a topic for conversation and then the atmosphere of the room does a complete transformation and it becomes near impossible to get in a single word. Like the meeting norms, the members of the organization also are very predictable and have many commonalities. On any given day there are usually 10 women present at the meetings and all of them have jet black hair and their skin is very tan in complexion. Along with these qualities the women also share some physical qualities, meaning that most of the women appear to be in their early 20’s, Native American, very petite in stature, and all around the same height at about 5’ 4”. Even though the women have so much in common already there is one attribute that this group of young ladies shares that is very surprising and very intense. All of the members of the group have extremely severe southern accents to the point of it being difficult to understand. This quality is very evident during the group meetings around 30 minutes in because out of nowhere a spark of energy seems to come about because everyone gets very loud and very hyper, filling the air with shrill southern accents and enthusiasm.
Despite all of this excitement and energy it was very easy to notice that I was an outsider when it came to the Native American Organization. While much of these festivities were happening amongst the tight knit group I sat off in the back of the room, not saying a word and observing all of their habits and mannerisms. Some of the things that played a role in making me more of an outsider were the size and closeness of the group, the obvious physical differences like sex, height, and skin color and the overall rambunctious, crazy vibe that the group gave off made me feel even more like an outsider to the group because things that they thought were entertaining I did not because of a number of things including like the way we were raised. Something else I feel played a factor into me being an outsider was that them being in a meeting was normal for them and the members of the group were nothing new, but what about me? I’m a quiet, distant person that is simply observing the things that they are doing without knowing exactly my reasoning for being there. Which is completely understandable, me observing them makes it seem like there is something different about them that interest me when really were one in the same.
Along with the usual meetings, once a year the ECNAO has their annual Pow Wow at Minges Coliseum. This year was my first time ever attending a pow wow and I went into it very curious and apprehensive. Once I got to the pow wow I was blown away by how interesting it was. I went in expecting things to be like the meetings, with just the same ole same ole routine, but I was far off. The pow wow was in this basketball arena that had to be over 150 feet long and nearly just as wide filled with all types of Native American culture. The main focus of the pow wow was to display the dancers in the middle who were taking part in traditional Native American dances. The ring they danced in was very large and surrounded by chairs. The dancers were generally middle aged men that were decked out head to toe in traditional costumes that were filled with all types of vibrant colors and patterns. Along with the dancers, were the drummer men who were seated about 25 feet behind the dancing circle and they played beats on their drums which made the event even more traditional and entertaining. At the pow wow the majority of people working there were Native American but the majority of audience members were Caucasian. While at the pow wow one artifact in particular kept catching my eye that made it easier for me to see the Native American culture with a little more focus. The dancers all had on very eccentric head dresses witch are symbolic of power and prestige in the Native American subculture. The reason these head dresses stuck out so much to me is because it can represent the entire life on a Native American and his tribe with just how it looks. The head dress is not only a representation of power, but also of the tribe and physical location of the tribe’s origin.
After spending several hours amongst the ECNAO it was obvious that as I previously expected, their skin color and nationality made no difference to me, they are still human. One way to fully grasp the way Native Americans are viewed by Americans is to find out what exactly do we find so different about them and their culture. In an article by G. Sider titled, “The Walls Came Tumbling Up: The Production of Culture, Class and Native American Societies” the author explains that there is really only a handful of things that separates any given individuals but especially Native Americans. Mr. Sider explains that because of the way America has progressed over the years, the only way to create equality amongst us all is to get rid of something called class (Sider). Sider defines class as nothing more than race, nationality, gender, tribal and peasant communities. (Sider) When looking at these characteristics of class the first thing that pops into mind is that all of these are physical qualities, illustrating that just because someone looks different from the social norm of a certain physical location shouldn’t make them substandard to the majority, but in many cases it does. (Sider)
Something that has been big in the lives of Americans for countless years is sports. There are not many Americans out there who do not have at least one sport that they wouldn’t mind sitting down and watching, which gives off a lot of publicity. So it makes you wonder why you have yet to see a sports team who has a mascot that is part of the majority population. I enjoy watching sports of all types and can just about promise you I have never seen a mascot for a team that has a middle aged Caucasian who is slightly overweight and balding. I’m not sure the reason for this while there is countless numbers of Native American mascots all over college and major league sports teams. In the article “NATIVE AMERICAN MASCOTS IN CONTEMPORARY HIGHER EDUCATION” by B. Reamey, the author goes through several examples of sports teams like the Indians, and the Seminoles who have decided to have a Native American as their mascot. When thinking further into this, it makes you realize a subliminal message.(Reamey) Sports teams only have one goal and that is to win at any cost, almost as if they are willing to kill for a win, which is savage to say the least. When putting this back into view every time that spots team his the field they are giving off a hidden meaning saying that like a Native American, they will stop at nothing, they are the toughest, most maniacal team out there and the best way they can represent that is by having a mascot to fit the mentality. Which almost seems non ethical when considering the subliminal message that is being sent out strait at a group of individuals who helps make up our society just as any other ethnic group would, so why is it fair that Native Americans be stereotyped on National television for nothing, knowing that our modern day society will believe anything on television, implanting yet more racial thoughts into already distraught minds. (Reamey)
Along with our beloved sports teams, there is yet another major way in which the mass media can affect the way America views Native Americans starting at a young and vulnerable age. In the recent years, racism has started to make its way onto the television screen more and more and now it is not uncommon to see prejudice jokes of all kinds on children’s cartoon shows. When children are exposed to such a concept over and over again at such a young age, like it or not the facts are the child will pick up on the racism and it will more than likely stick with them and eventually they will carry what they pick up from television to school and the vicious cycle starts all over again. In an article written by C. Lacroix titled “High Stakes Stereotypes: The Emergence of the ‘Casino Indian’ Trope in Television Depictions of Contemporary Native Americans” the author does an outstanding job of showing how some of the most popular television shows that reach out to millions make racist comments and innuendos about Native Americans and leave the way that the network felt appropriate to depict them stuck in the head of millions on a regular basis. Some of the television shows that are pointed out in the article are, “Family Guy”, “South Park”, “The Sopranos’”, and “Saturday Night Live.” (Lacroix) Of these shows the one that is easy to relate to is “Family Guy” because it is a conventional family of four who has their problems but for the most part is a good family. In one of their episodes, the women of the family gets out of the car to use the restroom and goes inside and is confronted by a Native American named “Sees you Coming.” The reason she is named this in the show because of the stereotype that Native Americans are associated with gambling and she is trying to get money off of the middle class white woman by using this and the show implies that the Native American woman tries to manipulate Lois into playing more because of the genocide of Native Americans since the 1830’s. As far as the mass media is concerned they have one goal, to get the highest rankings possible, and if it means capitalizing on part of the American culture because it is a minority then it will do so. (Larcoix)
When absorbing all of the things that represent what racism and prejudice are it is hard to think of any reason of why two individuals of the same origin just born in different places can’t live a peaceful life. As author O. Meranto explains in his article titled, “From Buckskin to Calico and Back Again: An Historical Interpretation of American Indian Feminism.” Things in the world we live in today were not always as they are now. Several centuries ago back before the Native Americans were stripped of their land, the women were the ones who owned all of the land, not the men. (Meranto) Once the government began stripping women of their land they had nothing else to show seniority in the community which in essence is when sexism began. As time progressed the Native American culture has endured everything from being the rightful owners of the majority of land, then to the Trail Of Tears, and now they are the victim of prejudice representation and remarks all over the mass media. When looking at all that has been done to them and comparing to what they have done in response, it brings into respect that not only were Native Americans the original Americans but that they have also been vastly more mature than even our most intelligent politician. (Meranto)
In conclusion, the fight for equality for the Native American people will be a fight that may never end, but on the opposite spectrum it could end tomorrow. One thing that must change in order for not just Native Americans but all subcultures to become one is together we need a more educated society that can embrace the concept that we are all of a common decent and should be treated as such. Something that will always be a question surround Native Americans is why are they in fact a subculture if they were the original owners of this beautiful land we call home? In my eyes, Native Americans were the original Americans, they were the ones who made the land suffice as a home and I think it is illogical and immoral to use a Supreme Court ruling to remove the Native Americans from their land because the government wanted to use it for other things. Here we are a few generations later mocking their prided culture on cartoon shows and making them our mascots. Eventually there will be equality and well earned respect for the Native Americans, and when that happens maybe we can stop making subcultures in order to feel at home and just be one as the American culture.