The casting of non-Native Americans to play Native American characters has its roots in the earliest days of cinema. Though rarer today, it is not unheard of. My friends have always said they have never met a Native American before, let alone having one as a friend. I am not offended in any way, because I carry my teachings and cultural values as a member of the Anishinaabe Nation. We as friends teach each other our experiences to be better human beings.
This is the purpose of this letter. No anger, only truth and my lived experience. For the past years, Native peoples have been forced to assimilate. Native spiritual practices were outlawed. Those Natives who continued to practice ceremony were jailed, and even killed. Native children were taken away from their families and placed in residential and boarding schools. Their hair was shorn, they were given European names, and they were made to wear western clothes. Native children were beaten for speaking their own Native languages and abuse was rampant.
Children were not allowed to see their families, and some did not survive the beatings or harsh living conditions of these horrific places. These tragic events continued to play out well into the s. Many Native communities are still plagued by problems that stem directly from the historical trauma caused by the theft of tribal lands and resources as well as forced assimilation.
Our identity is our birthright. There is no need to cast non-Native performers and actresses in Native roles. This is not The practice of whitewashing is unnecessary, unacceptable and discriminatory. It promotes the erasure of communities of color. Natives are often typecast in stereotypical roles or removed from the narrative entirely.
Eyre consults on history and contemporary appropriation of Native culture through www. Incidentally, claiming Native ancestry without proof makes one a fraud. Even if we overlook tribal enrollment or the Indian status cards that legally identify one as Native in the United States and Canada, there are other markers of Native identity, like kinship and community bonds.
One is Native their entire life. It is a not a costume that we can remove. These are some of the topics that my wife Summer Tiger and I speak about on a daily basis.
Only a Native knows what it is to be Native, because they have the life experience to show it, in all its nuanced complexities. Hollywood profits off of telling our stories, using us as backdrops in their white savior narratives, sending the message to our people that we are disposable. The least Hollywood could do is cast Natives who are actually connected to their tribe. I was now with the big boys. However, with the respect I have for our Native peoples I put my integrity before my career and told my manager that the studio had to get permission from the Navajo Nation for me to be hired to play the role of a Code Talker.
Everyone thought I was crazy to put my career on the line, but this is who I am. My next phone call was from my manager saying that the Navajo Nation has approved, with one condition: Roger Willie was hired to play my friend.
He taught me so much about the history of the Navajo people, which I still hold in my heart to this very day. Audiences are being robbed by false representation of Native identity and the chance to bear witness to our truth. In truth, many of our tribal nations are matrilineal and our women hold power and stature.
Just a few weeks ago, a young Native woman in North Dakota who was eight months pregnant went missing and her remains were later discovered in a nearby river.
Her child had been ripped from her womb and taken by her alleged killers. Her story is not uncommon. Right now there are thousands of missing Native women and others whose murder cases remain unsolved.
Not selecting a Native woman to embody the bravery of these women is a disgrace. This particular story reminds me of my mother Sally, who was killed by a drunk driver in front of my house. She died in a ditch and was eight months pregnant with a baby girl, who also died.
I was 8 years old. We are tired of others telling us who we are. We know who we are and what we look like as Native people.