Producer’s note: Someone on Quora asked: What are some things everyone should know about Native Americans? Here is one of the best answers that’s been pulled from the thread. Thank you to the team at Quora for making this happen!
This list can be very long, due to my bias (I am Native American).
So, to make this short and sweet, I will go with the top five myths regarding us.
1. We dont have to be replicas of 19th century mid-west indian cultures (which themselves were drastically different from their own ancestors of previous generations, due to the natural ebb and flow of cultural evolution/adaptation) in order to be “real.”
I can’t tell you how many times I have heard ignorant people say, “well, all the REAL native americans are gone now.” simply because we don’t run around in leather (not like MY ancestors ever did anyways, not our culture). Just like every other culture on the planet, we have evolved with each generation. The folks in Britain are still British even though they no longer run around in powdered wigs and panty-hose like their ancestors, right?
While on that note…there are 564 federally recognized Native American tribes, each with their own distinct culture. If we were one homogenous unit, we would only have one tribal government. We don’t. In fact, the only thing that makes us “we” is a common distant ancestry (much like how Europeans have distant common ancestry) and the state of being indigenous to the North American Continent. I am no more similar to the tribes in Georgia than the Scottish are to the Italian.
2. We do not, nor have we EVER received “government handouts” simply for being Native American. No free college, none of the mythical “government checks.” This is such a profoundly annoying myth that I don’t even want to bother writing more on the subject. I find it disturbing the lengths to which I have had to go to in order to convince people that my education was actually paid for…or that whatever income I receive was worked for. Just ridiculous. If anybody reading this needs proof that there are no “government checks” or “free college” for native americans, a simple google search will clear up your misconceptions.
3. Our cultures are not open for the taking. Those stupid feather headdresses hipsters wear are actually really offensive. So are mascots that demean us. Not going to argue this further because it SHOULD be common sense.
4. 1-in-3 Native American women will be raped in her lifetime. The majority of the perpetrators are non-native. 88% actually. Sexual violence against Native American women is at epidemic levels. Please do not engage in the fetishizing of Native Women. We are not themes, we are not trophies. We are not “Brave Maidens” or “Noble Savages”. We are women, alive in 2014. If you don’t believe that there is a correlation between sexualization and the rape epidemic of Native women, I challenge you to quickly google European Girl. Now, google African American Girl. Now….google American Indian Girl. What do you see? Exactly. According to social media and media in general…we either don’t exist in the present, or we only exist in a sexualized, stereotypical setting. In buckskin, no less.
5. We don’t look like clones of each other. Long black hair, brown skin, high cheekbones (etc) are far more uncommon than common among natives. We come in all shapes, sizes and colors, especially now that many of us are mixed. As citizenship to a tribe is determined on familial lines and direct affiliation to the tribe (no long lost great, great grandma nonsense) we don’t discriminate against members for enrollment based on whatever genes they inherited from what ever ancestor. I have a cousin who’s parents each have ONE non-native great-great grandfather. His brothers and sisters all came out the stereotypical “brown”, just like his mom and dad, and he came out blond, blue eyed and pale. Yet, he has more indigenous ancestry than I do, and I am “darker” than he.