Friday, August 1, 2008

teaching pocahontas

really great write up of the tensions associated with using images of pocahontas in the classroom. i found this quote especially interesting:

Again, we need to carefully review our historical past in order to understand the present, move on to the future, and not get caught up and trapped in old negative stereotypes of the American frontier past, freeze dried and recycled as modern cultural myths - all of which were mostly established by white inventors of Indian images. From experience I know that cartoons, movies and comics about Indians somehow find their way into the classrooms of America. Most common knowledge of Indians comes from the media and movies like Pocahontas, because the movies have a tremendous advantage in educating the critical masses of people. Therefore, in order for teachers to make the biggest impact on their general public, they must critically examine and screen out racism, sexism, and class bias in movie production. If left untouched, it remains a large body of culturally strip-mined material for another generation of American children to unlearn.

The transformation of indigenous spiritual knowledge, objects, and rituals into commodities, and their commercial exploitation constitute a concrete manifestation of the more general, and chronic, marketing of Native America (Whist, 1995). Indian people can perhaps be informed by what the Canadian Mounties did. They enlisted Disney to market their image in a more culturally responsive way. The Mounties spent a long time looking for licensing expertise, being fed up with exploitation of their image. The Disney corporation now oversees the licensing and marketing of the Mounties' image. What about Pocahontas? What about the images of American Indians?

My focus in the critical review of the movie Pocahontas is to stimulate teacher interest in the importance of the subject of American Indian images, particularly the paradox of many Indian heroines, images that too often have been marginalized in American history, and to raise the level of intellectual and cultural debate about Native people and their role in United States history. The overwhelming concern is how "accuracy" is defined, particularly how "historical accuracy. is defined, and by whom. Society must respond quickly with the complete eradication of such usage of stereotypic negative Indian images in public (Hatfield, 1996). As educators, we can all take steps to think about and counter the hegemonic images of racism that surround us all, committing ourselves to sorting out our collective multicultural heritage, past and present.

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