Respect Page 6 of 17

identification with the Indians, most likely out of our own distress or oppression, our disenfranchised desire. Indians become the "utopic other" holding the dreams we wish were true, whatever they may be. And here the romantic stereotypes take over. So for example, we might say, "In tribal cultures…women were held in respect." In tribal cultures…everything was shared communally." "In tribal cultures…people lived in harmony with the earth." And so on, filling in the blanks. We desire the utopia, want to be those romanticized Indians.


The other similar trap I call "guilt seeking redemption." In this trap, we are aware of and acknowledge what White culture has done and reject that, but get stuck in the feeling of guilt. We desire release from the guilt of association with White culture. And so we seek out Indians to say we're okay, to offer forgiveness, and welcome us, adopt [us] into their own better ways.

We can see an example of this trap in current movies about Indians. Movies went from those portraying Indians as the bad guys who threatened the survival of the White heroes, to a movie like "Dances with Wolves," where the White hero is the exception to the destructiveness of White culture, and is adopted by the Indians. This trap explains the appeal of an Indian like Sun Bear who taught spirituality to White people, and started a non-Indian entity called the Bear Tribe. He was considered a sell-out by many traditional Native people. However, many White people felt welcomed and assumed a new identity as "tribal" members of a so-called Rainbow Tribe.

So What's The Problem

What are the problems with these traps?

First of all, this redemption we find is really a cheap grace. It makes us feel better but doesn't transform the situation of Native peoples. The injustices keep happening.

Secondly, by denying the spiritual and political autonomy of Indian people, the New Age "rainbow" people subvert whatever good intentions they may have about multi-cultural community. What gets created is multi-cultural white middle class dominance in yet another form.

Thirdly, these options perpetuate the fantasy image of the Indian, and distort the real picture. They prevent us from seeing the real lives of Native people. They obscure and drown out their voices and expression of self.

Pam Colorado, Oneida activist, says, "The process is ultimately intended to supplant Indians, even in areas of their own customs and spirituality. In the end, non-Indians will have complete power to define what is and is not Indian. Even for 8/18/01