Spirit In Action

Change IS coming. WE can make it GOOD.

Pan-Indianism in American Culture

Leave a comment

I found this article very interesting and thought provoking, and think it may interest some of you as well.
The original is found at http://oyate.weebly.com/meatless-pemican.html.

The main site is at http://oyate.weebly.com/index.html .

The main page has a listing for a 52 part Native music series, and there are links to individual musicians bios and mp3 samples you can listen to.

I get the impression after reading this article that the author is not particularly fond of Pan-Indianism, but seems to understand some of the benefits or good side despite the overall problems with it.

As mentioned in the article below, for many raised away from the reservations, Pan-Indianism is such a ubiquitous part of our experience of life in America that it was really interesting to me reading this, to try and separate this phenomena out and look at it.

I have always known, was taught while growing up, that preserving and respecting our ancestors cultures and using the cultural knowledge and perspective to create your own life and actions is important.

But being separated from the living culture by generations and physical distance we also know we do not have our ancestors culture, even in modern form, we have some hybrid of colonizer culture, our own ancestors cultures, and the cultures of those who influenced our parents and grandparents.

For those of us who are “mixed blood” we have the added dilution of having more than one Native culture, or a Native culture and European, or African or Asian culture or cultures-all diluted by long contact with the colonizers.

You cannot make a generic Native culture because obviously our cultures are as different as any in the world from one another and from the other world cultures.

The way I grew up with my Mom having friends from many different tribes/nations here and many nations and cultures from around the world what I saw was a lot of respect for others cultures, as well as a tendency to share, to use one anothers languages, to celebrate together with elements from everyone’s cultural perspective on holidays. Musicians making music together that shared elements from different traditions, people just being very open to one another while retaining their own history and culture.

Maybe it was the time period, or the kind of friends (I was a little kid in the early 70’s, and my Mom’s friends were activists in civil rights, AIM, environmental movement and artists, writers, musicians, creative people and law students-the kind of people who really wanted with all their hearts to create a better world and a better future)

I think to a certain degree EVERY generation recreates their culture, but for most of history that recreation was very very similar to the culture they inherited in cultures all over the world.

With colonization you get insane outside influence not only from the invader culture(s) but from trauma, so often there are big changes.

What we have now is somewhat unique at least in recorded history-you have not only the pressures of colonization, but also the pressures of globalization and cultural contact between cultures all over the world. You have a concerted media effort by the colonizer elites to program everyone to their way of thinking, whether thru domination, co-optation or anything else they can get away with.

But we also have a strong resistance to that homogenizing influence. We have a lot of people concerned with cultural preservation, and with cultural renewal and cultural sharing and learning between peoples across the whole planet.

We stand up together against the Belo Monte, the Tar sands, Keystone XL and the many similar genocidal resource extraction projects in indigenous areas around the globe.

The challenges we face, in preserving cultures, in preserving LIFE in the face of utterly insane assaults, and in joining together to co-create a new global post colonizer global culture are great, but not insurmountable.

In graduate school my specialization was Globalization, Indigenous Peoples and the Environment. What I found is that people are meeting these challenges very effectively worldwide. Indigenous people are resilient people because they do have much that the fully assimilated and colonized have lost.

This is not to say the problems are not horrifying and heartbreaking, or that the colonizers are not still making absurd amounts of headway in their destruction, murder and mayhem-but the people are not bowing before them! We may die, but we do not do it on our knees.

(Why yes, Blackfire IS my favourite band in the whole world;-) I promise a post on just them very soon!)

What I see happening, and what I believe will occur, is that people are going to preserve their ancestral cultures. Other than where the last who spoke the language or knew the history have passed away without being able to pass on their knowledge, people are working to record these things, and for the younger generations to learn and be involved culturally-and this is great not only for preserving culture but for preserving sanity and joy in the people alive now.

People like Tai Alfred are showing us clearly how our cultures are not dead, or outdated, they are in fact the way of the future. Using the knowledge and wisdom handed down, people are effectively addressing 21st century problems and coming up with solutions far better than any the colonized society can provide.

Indigenous cultures globally are still under incredible pressures from colonization, resource extraction and the internal problems caused by these things; by intergenerational trauma, and by the near ubiquitous poverty, as well as the illness caused by the environmental problems.

Those who admire Native American culture from the pan-indianism they have been exposed to may dig deeper and learn about real cultures, real people and the real issues they face, and those who are serious may even put their actions where their hearts are and work alongside the indigenous people to stop the destruction and heal our communities.

They may not too-but I have hope that most people when exposed to the truth will choose the path with heart instead of the path of greed and disrespect.

Again maybe it is the way I was raised but I feel like people all around the world are waking up and looking for the truth, they are coming together across old, false boundaries to forge friendships, and to solve the many problems we face together.

If Pan-Indianism was (as the colonizer surely intends) to replace or displace ancient cultures, then it would be a *very* bad thing, but as it stands it (imho) has many negative elements but it also has benefits.

I think the article below gives a much more detailed understanding of the issue, and is full of references you can look into to learn more about it. I learned from it, and have things I want to look up now and I’ve been studying these types of issues for decades!

Meatless Pemmican: Indian Tribes, Identity, and Pan-Indianism in 20th Century American Culture

by Joseph R. McGeshick
American culture harbors a continuing fascination with the idea of the Indian, a fascination so salient in character, that mainstream thought, politics, economics, and art often exploit their particular constructed image of the Indian in order to empower themselves and, in many instances without knowing it, victimize others. Pan-Indianism, the driving force behind that empowerment and victimization, is a physical, and arguably a spiritual, relationsh­ip that is quite often misunderstood in its intentions and effects. Twenty-first century Pan-Indianism draws its strength and stamina from over a half a millennium of evolu­tion and functions today with such certainty that it even seeps into the minds and wills of those who claim and recognize them­selves as “Indians.” From Cotton Mather to Robert Redford, the Euro-American ageless interest in Native America runs so deep in mainstream American culture that, for all groups, fantasy fre­quently overshadows reality.

Initially, during the first few hundred years of contact and accommodation, Pan-Indian movements and thought functioned as a vanguard against European and Euroamerican encroachment. At that time, Pan-Indian movements acted, not only out of desperation, but also out of a basic need to survive and accommodate change between themselves and foreign powers. Early Pan-Indian leaders, such as Pontiac and Tecumseh, were motivated by historic issues that were continually shaped by Europe and America’s imperial stretching. Those eighteenth century attempts drew heavily upon the dynamics of the cultural, material, and geo-political changes which occurred in the midst of European and Euroamerican economic and physical pressure.(White:269-314:510-523) Conversely, twenty-first century Pan-India­nism draws from the immense pool of American mainstream culture(i.e. science, history, literature, art, poli-tics, and the media, especially film); a rich, but often hegemonic in nature, montage of power and knowledge.(Said,


Pontiac’s rebellion, or as one historian put it, Pontiac’s conspiracy, was actually a response to the tide of English en-croachment into the Old Northwest and to the changes they insti­tuted as French economic and military influence waned.(Jac­obs:75-93;Josephy:95-174) About a generation later, Tecumseh, a Shawnee from the Ohio River Valley, preached unity among tribes, not only from the Ohio area, but also from other eastern culture areas. He, along with his brother, Tenskwatawa, or the Prophet, urged that all tribal groups restore their cultures and they even went so far as to “establish [a] headquarters of an intertribal con-federacy on the banks of the Tippecanoe [River] in Indiana.” (Drinnon:91-92) Much like Ponti­ac, Tecumse­h’s efforts failed to produce a surviv­ing Pan-Indian movement de­signed to halt white settlement.

Obviously, different forms of power compelled Pan-Indianism in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Although just as complicated as the twenty-first century fields, the surface of early Pan-Indianism is much easier to survey. Today­, Pan-Indianism exists and operates internally and externally throughout the whole of American culture. Its nature has changed, though still partially defensive in character, Pan-Indianism in the twenty-first century is much more powerful.

Pan-Indianism is not only sanctioned by the dominant cul­ture, it is mandated through multiple processes of cultural power.(Said,1993:1-55) Twenty-first century American culture demands and perpetuates Pan-Indian images. From the myth of the drunken Indian to Sotheby’s auctions, America wallows in the world of Pan-Indianism.

By the first forty years of the nineteenth century and as the US moved closer and closer to industrialization and incorpo­ration, Pan-Indianism established a beachhead in the American mainstream psyche. Writers, naturalists, artists, and even a few European aristocrats began the subversion of native identities. James Fenimore Cooper; one writer who had an unmeasurable affect on Pan-Indian constructions, created some of the basic binaries that exist today in the American mind. Indians for Cooper were mostly blood thirsty savages, who raped white women and killed children, or, a special few, were loyal companions, who willingly gave their lives for their white brethren in the face of certain death; usually at the hands of some deadly tribal war party. Using tribes like the Sioux, Pawnee, and Delaware, Cooper warped readers’ minds with images that persist well into the twenty-first century.(Drinnon:160-64) Despite Cooper’s utiliza­tion of multi­ple tribes and culture areas, his characters remained generic; easy to manipulate and imagine. Since his accuracy in describing dynamic cultures fell far from its mark, his static view comfortably supplanted itself in the American mind. The power of his and other writers’ words created illusions that became the foundations of Pan-Indianism.

Similarly, William Gilmore Simms, often called the Cooper of the South, painted his Indians with the same brush and stroke as his New England contemporary. In his The Wigwam and the Cabin (1845), Simms characterized his Catawba’s and other tribes as a wretched people constantly plagued by disease and alcohol. His references to “ugly squaws” sentenced all Indian women to the lowest condition of human existence; an existence which persists even today. In a sense, Simms was the Southern Cooper, his false and over-romanticized images differed little from the Indians in The Last of the Mohicans(1826).

In a much less romantic tone, Herman Melville’s The Confi­dence Man(1857) mapped out the firmly grounded racial hatred America projected toward tribal people. His work articulated, what Richard Drinnon called, the “cant of Pan-Indian thought;” a thought rooted deep in “doctrinal hate” and driven by a “collec­tive abhorrence” of Indians and their cultures.(Drinnon:12-14) Melville’s “Metaphysics of Indian-Hating” could simply not exist without Pan-Indian themes and false images.

Those writers and dozens of others like Irving, Bird, and Longfellow created the groundwork from which writers, as well as the rest of America, in the last half of the nine­teenth and early twentieth centu­ries drew much of their knowledge and imagery. Very little changed over the course of a hundred years. In fact, most American institutions, organizations, political movements and agencies, and artists defined and sus­tained the Pan-Indian images which emerged out of the pens of those early American literary canons.

In an attempt at a more objective view of Indians, or so he thought, historian Francis Parkman similarly created more false characterizations. His work, The Oregon Trail(1849), examined the lives of Indians and whites on the frontier, while his much later publica­tion, The Conspiracy of Pontiac(1896), gave the American mind nothing new nor dynamic. Parkman’s Indians rein­forced many of the Pan-Indian images created in the early nine­teenth century. A homogenous, monolithic, static identity easily eclipsed the vast diver­sity which existed and continued to evolve, accommo­date, and change, despite the dominant culture’s efforts at subversion and redefinition of identity. Parkman’s pen created an even more profound image; one which moved away from romanticism and toward a more scientific characterization; a characterization which bordered on the racist.(Berkhofer:96)

The last half of the nineteenth century was a time of extremes, not only concerning the mere survival of tribal groups, but also in terms of Pan-Indianism. One extreme, despite its immense literary shortcomings, found its way to the literate masses creating even more vivid images; all the while adding to the Pan-Indian reserve. Dime novelists like Ned Buntline, the “ten cent” millionaire who discovered Buffalo Bill and gave him his first break in show business, began a cultural movement that rooted itself deep in the American tradition of myth making. Those melodramas, both in print and on stage, became Ameri­can cultural productions design­ed for and marketed to a precondi­tioned public. Consequently, it seemed that those late nineteenth century audiences did experience the making of the American Wild West. American Studies scholar, Alan Trachtenberg, describes that experience:

“Through dime novels, themselves a modern artifact

of mass production, and traveling Wild West shows

such as Buffalo Bill’s, the image impressed itself:

the West was exotic romance. Especially through

the dime novels,… These popular fantasies appeal-

ed to a broad stratum of Eastern readers, for whom

the West [and the Indian] served as an image of con-

trast to Eastern society.”(23-24)

In fact, as tribal diversity waned the “‘Indian’ remained the utmost antithesis to [White America]… an America dedicated to productivity, profit, and private property.”(Trachtenberg:37)

Another extreme was the new sensitivity projected toward Indian groups in general. Eastern organizations, like the Friends of the Indian, criticized the continuity of violence and extermi­na­tion, as well as the graft ridden Indian Bureau, that charac­ter­ized the government’s relationship with Indian tribes. In 1881, Helen Hunt Jackson, tried to accomplish for Indians, what Harriet Beecher Stowe did for blacks. Jackson’s novel, Ramona

(1884), set in the California culture area, and her preceding work, A Century of Dishonor(1885), attempted to expose the physical and mental stress endured when culture and identity become subverted. Despite those shifts toward cultural aware­ness, Pan-Indianism persisted. Those groups and individuals, fueled by Judeo-Chris­tian morality, remained true to the Pan-Indian image.

Ramona reads more like a Southern Californian “Romeo and Juliet” romance than a novel with the intention of propagand­izing the dark and broken existence of the California tribes. Although the novel is based on a true story, the romantic encoun­ter “domi­nates… [the story] …so dramatically that the Indian cause espoused by Jackson is easily overlooked by readers.” (Stedman: 19­5)

In the wake of that late nineteenth century sentiment, individual Indians initiated their own literary experiences and by the first quarter of the twentieth century many writers from many different culture areas produced works which eventually evolved into the genre of Native American Literature. Those early texts fell mostly into the area of autobiography. In 1916, Dr. Charles Eastman, “Ohiyesa,” wrote From Deep Woods to Civili­za­tion: Chapters in the Autobiography of an Indian, which out­lined his assimilation into Euroamerican culture. Eastman’s agenda focused on the importance of Western education and he became the prototype of the Indian success story. His very title suggests a homogenized identity; yet surprisingly empowering for his time and place.

A little over ten years later, Mourning Dove, an Okanogan from the Plateau area, collaborated with L.V. McWhorter and published the “first novel written by an American Indian woman.” (Mourning Dove:v) The novel, titled Cogewea: The Half-Blood, written in much of the same style of Owen Wister’s The Virginian, is a western romance, which often confuses the reader as to which voice, Morning Dove’s or McWhorter’s, is being authentically articulated. Despite the debate over voice and authenticity, the novel itself is a contribution to Pan-Indianism and also forms the beginnings, along with Eastman and Luther Standing Bear’s My People the Sioux(1928) and others, of what is labeled early Nati­ve American Literature.

Once those tribal writers broke the ice, a whole new genera­tion of Indian writers emerged. One of the first was a Cree/

adopted Salish(Flathead), who worked for the BIA before his writing career took off. D’Arcy McNickle’s novel, The Sur­rounded, also dealt with identity and the compromising of tradi­tional beliefs and after much urging from his publisher, McNick­le wrote a second novel, Wind From an Enemy Sky; a story of two brothers who belong to the Little Elk tribe. Although published forty years later, the work has all the trap­pings of the post-modern Native American novel: white encroach­ment on sacred land, medicine men, medicine bundles, struggle for identi­ty, and cultural survival.(­Rawls:204)

The next generation of writers after McNickle; those who came of age after WWII and into the 1970s, initiated and contin­ued to sustain a renais­sance in Native American Literature. Literary canons such as Momaday, Welch, Silko, Ortiz, Vizenor and Erdri­ch; and of which Deloria, although more politically focused, can not be left out, support the genre and their combined cultur­al, political, economic and spiritual experi­ences make Native American Litera­ture what it is today as tribal communities move into the twenty-first century. Consequently, their audience, mostly non-Indi­ans, buy what is marketed as Indian. Once their produc­tions are market­ed and consumed, their mainstream identi­ties as “Indians” often over­shadows their diverse and separate identi­ties as Kiowa, Gros Ventre, Laguana, Acoma and Chippewa. Their field of cultural production is a restricted field, both cultu­rally and political­ly, in which the symbolic power of their productions are sus­tained by an encom­pass­ing social process and relationship; that of Pan-Indianism.(­­Bordeau:15) Their genre often ends up as an invention designed to serve a pre-conditioned consumer; as does their collected identity.

The model of Native American Literature is Western in nature; which will require canons, as well as new and fresh writers. However, one extremely interesting phenomenon in this cultural field are the “Great Pretenders,” of whom Carlos Castenada and Highmake Highwa­ter lead the parade.(R­ose:403-421) Castenada, an anthropologist who pulled the wool over the eyes of a major segment of academia with his claim of encounter and apprenticeship with the fictitious Don Juan, a Yaqui medicine man, gained immense popularity with the counterculture and New Age movements of the 1960s and early 1970s.(Rawls:23­7) Similarly, Highwater (aka: Jay Marks, an Italian-American) used his invented identity as a Blackfoot(Blackfeet)/C­herokee to peddle his Pan-Indian writ­ing.(Rose:405)

Literature is not alone in the world of Pan-Indianism, the field of science also contributes. History, anthropology, ethnography, archeology, ethnohistory and linguistics produce a plethora of data designed to interpret different people and their cultures. At the turn of the century, a flood of anthropologists ventured onto Indian reservations taking down information as if those tribes were really a “vanishing race.” Men and women like Alfred Kroebe­r, James Mooney, Franz Boas, Clark Wissler, Robert Lowie, Alice Fletcher, Ruth Benedict and countless others went from tribe to tribe and observed, measured, record­ed, and con­cluded to the point of nuisance their efforts at understanding, scientifically no doubt, the Indian. However, in that effort, they too created a Pan-Indian image; an image, despite its “basic presuppositions of cultural pluralism and relativism,” perpetu­ated a “timeless ethnograhic present” and neglected any major changes in tribal life­styles over time.(Berkhofer:65-67) Under the guise of many early anthropologists, whether they realized it or not, the idea of the “traditional Indian” emerged out their of their studies; an idea which created a static view of the Indian. In reality, their empirical data became the gauge, even for local reservation communities and tribal individuals. Each ceremony, each song, and each custom was carefully recorded and deposited in the permanent record. Those scientific minds unintentionally left little room for change and accommoda­tion.

In the same fashion, American historiography constructed the Pan-Indian images of Pocahontas and Squanto; not to mention the direct connections between the Iroquois Confederation’s political model for the Constitution.(Ceci:49-128) Despite the generational revisions, American history books and teachers continue to present and perpetuate those Pan-Indian images.

Another form of written invention developed alongside the serious and scientific literature of middle of the twentieth century. Much like the dime novels of the late nine­teenth cen­tury, a section of American writers; those who produced litera­ture for the American masses, generated throw-back Pan-Indian images. Louie Lamour, the best selling Western writer in American history, though credited with deviating “significantly from the stereotypical treatment of Indian-as-savage,” nonetheless used conventional Pan-Indian images in his work.(Rawls:234) Other Western writers, like Zane Grey, shaped millions of readers’ images and implanted the Pan-Indian image, especially the charac­terizations of Plains tribes and the Apaches of the Southwest. For writers like Lamour and Grey and their audiences those groups; the tribes who paraded eagle feather war bonnets and fought white soldiers and cowboys, were the real Indians.

In a more contemporary sense, the Indian as literary subject became a favorite for just about every writer. For example, Ruth Beebee Hill’s Hanta Yo(1979), supposedly based on years of research of a Lakota group in the early nineteenth century, fell victim to the disapproval of very people she described. The Lakota claimed she “falsified Lakota religion and sexuality.” (R­awls:241) Other writers like Tony Hillerman, although adopted into the Navajo tribe for his sensitive portrayals of the Dineh, paved the way for dozens of writers who felt the urge to write either about or for Indians. One interesting writer is Gerald Hausma­n, a Native American Studies enthusiast, who writes some of the most Pan-Indian texts in America today. Hausman, who lives and writes just outside Santa Fe, produced over a dozen books on Native Americans. Texts like, Turtle Island Alphabet: A Lexicon of Native American Symbols and Culture(1992) and Tunkashila: From the Birth of Turtle Island to the Blood of Wounded Knee (1993), contribute to the strength of post-modern Pan-Indianism. His Turtle Island Alphabet, ranks as one of the most condescend­ing texts produced on the subject of Indians. His lexicon is the epitome of Pan-Indian thought, while his Tunkas­hila, attempts, in one sweeping narrative, to corral the epic story of Indian mythology; as if one really existed. His efforts reduce diverse and dynamic mythologies to a fairy-tale form that lolls in Pan-Indianism.

Another writer is Ken Nerburn, author of Native American Wisdom, which is a collection of quotes and speeches by famous Indians such as Chief Seattle and Chief Joseph. Some of his chapter titles are: “The Ways of the Land”; “The Ways of the Heart;” “The Betrayal of the Land;” and “Heed These Words.” Nerburn’s motives, as sincere as they are, and the power of his literature are grounded firmly in the founda­tion of Pan-Indianism. Nerburn also edits The Soul of the Indian, a collec­tion of Charles Eastman’s writings and The Wisdom of the Great Chiefs. Those three titles are part of series of “classic” philosophical writings published as the Classic Wisdom Collection of the New World Library located at San Rafael, California. One extremely interesting work is his Neither Wolf Nor Dog: On Forgotten Roads with an Indian Elder(1994); of which his pub­lisher markets as “An unlikely cross between Jack Kerouac and Black Elk Speaks.” Although many enthusiastic and honest writers have no control over what publishers paste on their works, their writing and stories nevertheless often fall victim to the power of Pan-Indianism.

Euroameicans are not the only brokers of Pan-Indian imagery, many who claim tribal ancestry and as well as tribally recognized members from all culture areas use Pan-Indianism for empow­er­ment. Joseph Bruchac, a Cornell/Syracuse educated New Yorker, who claims Abenaki ancestry through his grandfather, writes, edits and publishes adult literature and co-author’s a series of children’s literature with titles such as: Keepers of the Earth: Native American Stories and Activi­ties for Chil­dren; Keepers of the Animals: Native American Stories and Wildlife Activities for Children; Keepers of the Night: Native American Stories and Nocturnal Activities for Children and All Our Relatives: Native American Animal Stories and Activities for Children. Bruchac is also known for his Native anthologies which introduced a “new generation” of Indian writers, “almost all of whom have gone on to win major critical acclaim.”(Dictionary of Native American Literature:401-04) In his latest production, as managing editor, titled Smoke Rising: The Native North American Literary Compan­ion, Bruchac gathers the canons of the genre. Little doubt exists that when his audienc­es, both child and adult, read his produc­tions empowerment occurs. They entertain and teach, however, it is accomplished through and based on Pan-Indian thought and imagery.

The list of tribally recognized producers of Pan-Indian literature is endless. Why? Because in last ten years, as publi­cation dates, movies, the consumer market, and other areas of American society show, the popularity of being any way connect­ed to “Indianness,” through literature, art, academics, New Age spiritualism, whatever, is at its highest point within post-modern American culture and will no doubt retain; and even gain more of, its power well into the twenty-first century. Pan-Indian popularity even creates all encompassing illustrated histories and encyclopedias; texts designed to give the mainstream consumer everything in a five-hundred page volume. One text, The Native Americans: An Illustrated History, is marketed as, “Spanning a thousand generations and beautifully written by five well-known authorities …, … illustrated with photographs, maps, and work of both historic and contemporary artists.” Dozens of these “coffee-table” history and cultural texts are produced each year. Time/Life even published a whole American Indian series.

When or where will it end? Well in her article, “The Tribe Called Wannabee: Playing Indian in America and Europe,” Cherokee folklorist Rayna Green describes the images and the processes of Pan-Indianism as a “cultural epidemic which appears to get worse.”(Green:143-166) However, the idea of culturally better or worse is moot when dealing with Pan-Indianism; it functions equally powerful in any cultural binary.

Since the last half of the 1980s, the magnitude of printed material, with Indians as product or even as producers, is overwhelm­ing. Through journals and magazines the popularity and marketa­bility of Pan-Indian material seems almost endless. Journals such as: Spirit Talk: A Publication in Celebration of Indian Culture; Native Americans; Native Peoples Magazine and Winds of Change have a definite audience. Despite the cultural and artistic character they espouse and despite the creativity and cultural awareness they promote, by nature they are Pan-Indian and through that relationship they are empowered. The act of producing one’s own interpretation of culture, either through story, song, art, or some other cultural exercise, for a precon­ditioned consumer, is commonplace among the hundreds of tribal communities, both on reservations and in urban areas. Pan-Indianism operates as a cultural and social license that empow­ers tribal members in post-modern American culture.(Said:1978) As American culture moves into the twenty-first century and takes hundreds of tribal groups with them, it seems quite safe to say, “It is a good time to be and Indian.”

Or so it might appear. Under all the current interest and cultural fashion lies the reality. What is for sale in this country is the image and the illusion, in which Pan-Indianism suppresses reality by empowering and victimizing real people. Is it a good time to be an Indian? Quite definitely, yes. However, is it a good time to be a Chippewa on the Mole Lake Indian Reservation in northern Wisconsin? Or, is a good time to be a Mashantuckett Pequot from Connecticut? Those are the questions which operate on a level far from the romanticism, glamour and fantasy of Pan-Indianism.

Pan-Indianism is one of the many identifiable hegemonic forces which operate within and outside American culture. Countless American economic and social systems and institutions continually utilized Pan-Indian imagery as a means of empower­ment. That process subverts individual and tribal identity, while reinforcing and adding to the reserve of Pan-Indianism. (Said: 1978)

In the world of art, both high and low brow, from George Catlin’s 1840s portraits and landscapes and Santa Fe museums to Robert Redford’s Sundance catalogs and dreamcatchers;, Pan-Indianism is a dominant force in those cultural fields. It operates just as freely as consumers believe the little cards’ descriptions of the origins of the dreamcatcher; which either begin with, “Indians believed…” or “Native Americans thought…,” followed by an origin story of some sort. Everyone might not have an original George Catlin, however, many Americans now eagerly tie dreamcatchers on their rearview mirrors and no doubt many even put the object over their beds. The point is not that dreamcatchers will or will not work, but that dreamcatchers are part of the Pan-Indian consumerism that operates in American culture. When people read those cards, through the process of Pan-Indianism, their reality is that all Indians make and use dreamcatchers.

The Indian art which falls into the “fine art” or high brow category remains one of the most sophisticated areas of Pan-Indianism and certainly one of the most affluent. Auction houses, especially Sotheby’s, and museums broker individual tribal artifacts to the rich, who are usually anonymous or unspeci­fied buyers. The more antiquated, the more expensive. Sotheby’s recently auctioned off a Plains scalp shirt for the amazing amount of $230,000. Its price inflated due to its unsubstantiat­ed connection to Crazy Horse.

If consumers’ tastes fall into a much less expensive catego­ry, buyers can flip through Redford’s Sundance catalog and buy the ever popular dreamcather, SW jewelry in which Kokapelli appears as a favorite subject, birch bark baskets inlaid with SW turquoise, Katchina spirit candle holders, a roaming buffalo lamp or buffalo book ends, an Iron Eyes Cody throw rug, or the Spirit Caller; a stick scepter marketed as “used by a shaman to ensure the well being of the tribe.” And continues:”Passed along from one generation to the next, the spirit caller would gain in power as each shaman added his knowledge though symbolic beads, carv­ings, and fetishes.”(Summer 94:18) The products go on and on. Similarly, dozens of those gift catalogs market as much Indian merchandise as the public will buy, giving the consumer a super-ficial sense of connection.

It does not end there, by no means. The American film and television industry would be unthinkable without the Pan-Indian imagery which is so visible in that cultural field. Hollywood’s bread and butter is the Western, producing thousands of titles which perpetuate historic Pan-Indian constructions. Those con­structions include the myth of the drunken Indian, “Tarzan” English, and certainly the binary of the bloodthirsty savage and noble companion. Simultaneously, as for the Indian woman, Holly­wood, in line with early American writers, has sen­tenced her to the lowest condi­tion of human existence; the Indian “squaw” who expects and even desires physical abuse. From the early silent movies to Dances With Wolves, the film industry relies upon a vast pool of Pan-Indianism. That does not include the television industry; an industry in which consum­ers have made moguls like Ted Turner and Ken Burns; as far apart as they might be in mission and purpose, the brokers of Pan-Indianism and its cul­ture. Mainstream America consumes their productions just as they consumer American fast food; with instant gratifica­tion. And look what Disney has done with Pocahontas, again supplanting Pan-Indian fantasy on the most vulnerable American minds – chil­dren, all in name of profit.

Don’t change that channel! In the cultural field of religion and spirituality, the power of Pan-Indianism is frighten­ing. The New Age movements continually appropriate the diverse forms of symbolism from any culture area which appeals to their visions and melt them into one of the most profound elements of Pan-Indian culture. Some of the most duplicated ceremonies and activities which New Agers borrow are drumming, singing, the Sweat Lodge, naming ceremonies, and vision quests. During the last quarter of the twentieth century and even more so in the last ten years, in many areas of the country, those who found themselves in a spiritual void or felt unfulfilled with their present spiritual condition, turned toward tribal spitituality. Although their general sincerity is not in the most pressing concern; the problem surfaces when ceremonies and symbolism are misappropriated and staged for less than sincere means.

In her series of articles for Indian Country Today, Lakota journalist, Avis Little Eagle reveals the extend of White Shaman­ism or “Plastic Medicine Men.” Her series, titled, “Prophets for Profit,” exposes the sale of tribal rituals by non-Indians, as well as tribal members. Her reports outline how twentieth century confidence-men sold Pan-Indian ceremonies to the uniformed public. Some of her titles: “Medicine Men for Rent,” “After the Sweat: Caviar, Wine and Cheese” and “Sundances Take Place on Artificial Turf,” describe the absurd level at which Pan-Indian­ spirituality operated in late twentieth century American culture. She details how New Age charlatans incorporated marijuana and other drugs into their Pan-Indian ceremonies; how even sex became involved and how self-proclaimed holy men, many tribal members themselves, took advan­tage of the misinformed public. Two of those “real Indians” who Little Eagle names as the major contri­butors to this activity were Sun Bear (aka:Vincent LaDuke), a Chippewa from Minnesota and Wallace Black Elk, a Lakota. They sold their ceremonies, or rather their Pan-Indian versions, to non-Indian consumers at a disturbing rate.(Little Eagle:191-231)­

When the Environmental movement began to sprout in the early 1970s, the Keep America Beautiful campaign employed Iron Eyes Cody, a self-proclaimed Cherokee who was an extra in dozens of Hollywood Westerns, as “Indian” as natural environmentalist in Plains regalia.(Rawls:254) Who better than the Indian; the Plains Pan-Indian no less, to serve as a metaphor of the American environmental conscience. Since then, the idea of the Indian is used with great success as a tool for marketing environmental awareness. The Pan-Indian goddess of Mother Earth is one of the most effective models. It empowers non-Indians in their efforts to promote and raise social awareness and it also allows Indians to be more Indian.(Gill:??) Since the American public accepts the Pan-Indian Mother Earth myth, tribal individuals who seek empow­erment in that sphere willingly spout the Mother Earth rhetoric, many in contrast to their linguistic and cultural traditions. Mother Earth becomes a badge of cultural identity, rooted in Pan- Indianism and fashioned to fit any individual or tribal group.

In the political sphere a number of Pan-Indian forces dominate individual tribes and their members. The first is the reserva­tion system itself and then the boarding school system, which began in the late nineteenth century. Boarding schools forced tribal families to send their children to govern­ment and Christian schools in order to speed up nineteenth century assim-ilation. The whole system was a forced cultural process designed to homogenize the minds and bodies of diverse groups of people.

Another, the federal Relocation Program of 1950s, though purely voluntary, contributed to a Pan-Indian environment in urban settings. Since hundreds of tribes participated, those families sought social refuge in each other and as time went by, what became important and empowering were Pan-Indian constructions. Those constructions helped families in crisis deal with the change and accommodation which was taking place in their lives.(Parman:142-44,149)

The most profound area of political Pan-Indianism rests in the blood quantum phenomenon, a mandated mechanism based on the concept of pedigree. The phenomenon attempts to measure identity and culture through blood percentage. Although this is far from scientific, as a political tool, it works as well as any Pan-Indian cultural tool. This is one of the final stage in the homoge­nization of tribal identity. According to the federal govern­ment, if individuals do not measure up, then simply the govern­ment does not recognize them as Indians for political, and in most cases economic, purposes. Unfortunately, most tribes and government agencies who provide services to tribal people also use the blood quantum standard, leaving very little room to maneuver­, either as a member of a community or as an autonomous individual.

A rather new development in the Pan-Indian sphere of influ­ence is the “parenthesied” Indian, someone who signifies their specific tribal affiliation in parentheses following their Christian name. What is important is not the name of the tribe, but the act. The parentheses serve as a metaphor for claiming Indian heritage.

In a collective sense, and as an individual, the Indian is an Euroameri­can cultural produc­tion functioning as the nucleus of a much larger and refined cultural relationship and process which converts fantasy into reality. Pan-Indianism is an American hege-monic tool; empowering and victimizing in the same instant and that is why it is so effective and powerful. Beneath the cultural surface Pan-Indianism reveals little, however, its greatest utility rests as a tool for studying Ameri­can culture; a culture which uses Pan-Indianism in every corner of its society.


Berkhofer, Robert, F., Jr. The White Man’s Indian: Images of

the American Indian from Columbus to the Present. NY:

Vintage Books. 1978.

Bordeau, Michael. The Production of Culture.

Bruchac, Joseph. All Our Relatives: Native American Animal

Stories and Activities for Children. :Fulcrum Publishers.


—–. Keepers of the Animals: Native American Stories and

Wildlife Activities for Children. :Fulcrum Publishers. 1997.

—–. Keepers of the Earth: Native American Stories and

Activities for Children. :Fulcrum Publishers. 1991.

—–. Keepers of the Night: Native American Stories and

Nocturnal Activities for Children. :Fulcrum Publishers.


Ceci, Lynn. “Squanto and the Pilgrims: On Planting Corn in the

manner of the Indians.” In The Invented Indian: Cultural

Fictions and Government Policies. James A. Clifton, ed. New

Brunswick: Transaction Publishers. 1990.

Cooper, James, Fenimore. The Last of the Mohicans. New York.


Dictionary of Native American Literature. Andrew Wiget ed. NY:

Garland Publishing, Inc. 1994.

Drinnon, Richard. Facing West: The Metaphysics of Indian Hating

and Empire Building. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota

Press. 1980.

Eastman, Dr. Charles, “Oheyisa.” From Deep Woods to Civilization:

Chapters in the Autobiography of an Indian. Lincoln: Univer-

sity of Nebraska Press. 1916.

Gill, Sam. “Mother Earth: An American Myth,” in The Invented

Indian: Cultural Fictions and Government Policies. In James A.Clifton, ed. New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers. 1990.

Feest, Christian, F. “Pride and Prejudice: The Pocahontas Myth

and the Pamunkey.” In The Invented Indian: Cultural

Fictions and Government Policies. James A. Clifton, ed.

New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers. 1990.

Hausman, Gerald. Turtle Island Alphabet: A Lexicon of Native

American Symbols and Culture. NY: St. Martin’s Press. 1992.

—–. Tunkashila: From the Birth of Turtle Island to the Blood

of Wounded Knee. NY: St. Martin’s Press. 1993.

Hill, Ruth, Beebee. Hanta Yo: An American Saga. NY: Doubleday.


Jackson, Helen, Hunt. Romona. Boston: Roberts Brothers. 1884.

—–. A Century of Dishonor: A Sketch Of The United States

Government’s Dealing With Some Of The Indian Tribes. Boston:

Roberts Brothers. 1886.

Jacobs, Wilbur, R. Dispossessing The American Indian: Indians

and Whites on the Colonial Frontier. NY: Charles Scribner’s

Sons. 1972.

Josephy, Alvin, M., Jr. The Patriot Chiefs. NY: The Viking

Press. 1961.

Little Eagle, Avis. “Prophets for Profit.” In Visions of An

Enduring People: Introduction To Native American Studies.

Walter C. Fleming and John G. Watts, eds. Dubuque, Iowa:

Kendal/Hunt Publishing Company. 1994.

McNickle, D’Arcy. The Surrounded. Albuquerque: University of New

Mexico Press. 1936.

—–. Wind From An Enemy Sky. Albuquerque: University of New

Mexico Press. 1978.

Melville, Herman. The Confidence Man. London: J. Lehmann. 1857.

Mouring Dove (Hum-ishu-ma). Cogowea: The Half-Blood. Lincoln:

University of Nebraska Press. 1991.

The Native Americans: An Illustrated History. Betty Ballantine &

Ian Ballatine, eds. Atlanta: Turner Publishing, Inc. 1993.

Nerburn, Kent, and Louise Mengelkoch, eds. Native American

Wisdom: The Classic Wisdom Collection. San Rafael, Califor­nia: New World Library. 1991.

—–. The Soul of the Indian: An Other Writings From Ohiyesa

(Charles Alexander Eastman). San Rafael, California: New

World Library. 1993.

—–. The Wisdom of the Great Chiefs: The Classic Speeches of

Chief Red Jacket, Chief Joseph and Chief Seattle. San

Rafael, California: New World Library.1993

—–. Neither Wolf Nor Dog: On Forgotten Roads with an Indian

Elder. San Rafael, California: New World Library. 1994.

New World Library. Fall Catalog. San Rafael, California. 1995.

Parkman, Francis. The Oregon Trail: sketchets of prairie and

Rocky-Mountain life. NY: The Macmillan Company. 1849.

—–. The Conspiracy of Pontiac and the Indian War after the,

Conquest of Canada. Boston: Little, Brown and Company. 1896.

Parman, Donald, L. Indians And The American West In The Twenti-

eth Century. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. 1994.

Pearson, Edmund. Dime Novels Or, Following An Old Trail In Pop-

ular Literature. Port Washington, NY: Kennikat Press, Inc.


Rawls, James, J. Chief Red Fox Is Dead: A History of Native

Americans Since 1945. NY: Harcourt Brace College Publish-

ers. 1996.

Rose, Wendy. “The Great Pretenders: Further Reflections on

White Shamanism.” In The State of Native America: Genocide,

Colonialism, and Resistance. M. Annette Jaimes, ed. Boston:

South End Press. 1992.

Said, Edward, W. Orientalism. NY: Vintage Books. 1978.

—–. Culture And Imperialism. NY: Vintage Books. 1993.

Simms, William, Gilmore. The Wigwam and the Cabin. Wiley &

Putnam. 1846.

Smoke Rising: The Native North American Literary Companion.

Joseph Bruchac, ed. Detroit: Visible Ink Press. 1995.

Standing Bear, Luther. My People The Sioux. Lincoln: University

of Nebraska Press. 1975.

Stedman, Raymond, William. Shadows of the Indian: Stereotypes in

American Culture. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press,


Trachtenberg, Alan. The Incorporation of America: Culture and

Society in the Gilded Age. NY: Hill and Wang. 1982.

Wister, Owen. The Virginian: A Horseman of the Plains. NY:

Penguin Books. 1988.

Author: ohnwentsya

Be the change you wish to see, let's co-create the win-win future we know is possible together!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s