'Pocahontas' is a mean-spirited lie


I really didn't want to do it. But since the national media has made such to do about it - and as an American Indian journalist - I feel it is necessary to get my two cents into the hype.

People magazine displayed its special brand of ignorance with a cutline under the photo of Pocahontas that read: "Pocahontas: the squaw that stirs the drink; at last, a heroine who knows the ways of nature and the art of belting show tunes."

There is not an American Indian woman alive in this land who is not immediately repulsed by the word squaw. It is the literal translation of an Algonquin word referring to a woman's private parts. As the mostly male settlers moved west, they brought this word with them and used it to describe all Indian women, relegating them to nothing more than whores.

And yet we have places like Squaw Valley in California and Squaw Peak in Phoenix. The original name of Squaw Peak, and, please forgive me for being so blunt, was Squaw Tit Peak. It seems some Christians were highly offended by the word tit, so they had it dropped from the map. Isn't it strange they left in the other sexually explicit word?

Burger King decided to get into the Pocahontas bonanza with a commercial that went something like this: "After seeing Pocahontas, all kids want to be John Smith."

John Smith? Is this the impression left with the ad writers for Burger King? Do any of the young girls want to be Pocahontas?

Interviewed on local television, one Indian woman said, and, I'm sure her simple deductions are accepted by most white and black Americans, "It is only a movie with cartoon characters, not a documentary."

This supposedly explains away the historical inaccuracies and the Hollywoodizing of a real event. Little Black Sambo was just a cartoon character, too, but he was found to be a very repugnant cartoon character by most African Americans. When is the last time you saw this repulsive character on television or in the movies?

Creating a cartoon character based on a real human being, a member of a minority race to boot, does not excuse the historical largesse taken by the Disney people. Is it all right to give children a skewed version of history?

Many Indian women found the cartoon character of Pocahontas very un-Indian like. Her figure was sketched from memories of a white woman's body. Her attire was most suggestive and not accurately based on what the Indian women of that century wore.

As one Hispanic woman put it, "She sees John Smith, pursues him and basically attacks him. She also slithers and crawls around like a sex kitten. What is this telling the general public about Indian women?" It's telling them that Indian women are, indeed, "squaws."

The theme music repeatedly refers to Indians as savages. Savage is a name Indians have had to live with from the day the first book was written about them.

Would any movie made today have a theme song that referred to African Americans as niggers? The word savage has similar meanings to American Indians.

Most Indian people interviewed after emerging from the theater in Rapid City, S.D., were totally turned off by the movie.

It's a travesty that a once-powerful Indian activist like Russell Means touts the movie as the best thing ever done on Indians. Mr. Means has become a typical actor by deed and lifestyle. His main concern today is the bottom line: How much am I going to get paid? When it comes to taking parts in movies, any part, his actions speak louder than words.

Have any of my readers seen him in Wagons East or Natural Born Killers? In one he plays an idiot in a war bonnet and in the other he desecrates a sacred rite of the Navajo people.

Everybody who knew Russell when he was an activist believed he was acting even back then. Now we all know for sure. This is one case of the white man's dollar turning an activist into a pussy cat. Can you see a Huey Newton or a Malcolm X - if they were alive today - selling out to play a stereotypical black man for the sake of a few pieces of silver?

Not in this lifetime.

I know, lighten up, but hey, I guess I'm entitled to say whether I like a movie or not and why. No one has to agree with me because I certainly am not a bona fide movie critic.

No. I'm just an American Indian journalist who detests seeing Indians denigrated in cartoons and history distorted by the Disney folks.

I'll just fade into the darkness as the cartoon characters sing, "I'll kill myself an Indian, maybe two or three." Of course, if the words were changed to, "I'll just kill myself a white man, maybe two or three," the mass media would raise a stink.

Such a wonderful lesson for the little tykes.

Born on the Pine Ridge Reservation, Tim Giago is publisher of Indian Country Today, where this column originally appeared, as well as a syndicated columnist. He works in Rapid City, South Dakota.

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