There is an old joke that has the Lone Ranger and Tonto riding into a narrow canyon. Suddenly, hostile savages appear on the ridges above. The Lone Ranger turns to Tonto and says, “Looks like we’re in trouble.” To which Tonto replies, “What do you mean we, Kemo Sabe?” The joke can be viewed in many ways, but essentially the humour derives from the Lone Ranger (an oh so terribly white whiteman) not recognizing that his faithful sidekick is an Indian. Or, more correctly: Native or First Nations or Aboriginal.
In 1943 George Orwell wrote about the use of certain words to describe people of colour. He wrote: “Negro is habitually printed with a small n, a thing most Negros resent.” He compared the word native to chinaman or limey, cautioning against the use of such insulting nicknames. In recent years much has been made about using politically correct language and on the surface society has become more tolerant of minorities.
But my stepson, who is 1/2 Slavey, often tells people that he’s Mexican. “If I tell them I’m Native,” he explains. “They feel sorry for me.” Ironically, if he were living in one of the US states that borders Mexico, he’d be better off telling people the truth. Understandably, truth is in short supply when faced with a history rife with genocide, and environmental and cultural degradation. Not to mention cultural appropriation and misrepresentation - a good example being the bogus speech of Chief Seattle, which has been used by environmentalists to define a sustainable land ethic.
As Associate Editor for the trAce Online Writing Centre, I recently published an article about Mohawk artist and hip-hop musician Jackson 2bears, who has created a short animation called Ten Little Indians. The impetus for the article was twofold, prompted my own heritage, and a continuning desire to somehow address the colonization of the net by commercial interests and mainstream media.
'Nuff said, Kemo Sabe.