Cultural (Mis)Representation

By Marlette Grant-Jackson

I am a Yurok Tribal Member, with Karuk, Shasta and Abenaki blood and my three teenagers are enrolled Yurok Tribal Members.  I have seen what the mis-representation of our history has done to myself and my children.  We have learned that history is made and told by those in charge, so the history taught in school has been designed to be patriotic and ethnocentric.  Here, on this website, is an alternative view, the Native point of view.  This web site mirrors the Cultural (Mis)Representation presentation that I have given at Humboldt State University and the University of San Fransisco.   I hope it helps and if you have any questions or comments please feel free to contact me at .

Indian Stereotypes: Lessons and resources for Middle Schools


Myths and stereotypes are so widely used in the media one wonders what the effects truly are.  For me it was when my daughter was 6 and she told me she didn't want to be Indian after watching Pocahontas.  I asked her Why?  She said, "cause they are scary and mean!"  She was referring to the part in the Disney film where the folks at the fort were happily dancing in warm light, conveying a jolly time and goodness, while the Indians were dancing in the dark around a fire, scary and menacing.  It was also when my son asked, "are we going to see the "real" Indians." I then asked him what he meant, he said "real Indians wear feathers and no shoes."   I am saddened and know those things are taught as facts, they rob us of our humanity.

The words we see in print, hear, and are taught are internalized and we begin to oppress ourselves.  Our oppression is manifasted in situations like: tribal councils dis-enrolling its citizens based on where arbitrary boundaries were placed over our land, or because they believe that government imposed blood quantums define who we are.   As an Indian person observing my community I see how devastating "(mis)representation is to my people.

Bering Strait (migration) Theory 

Map of Land Bridge Theory

Myth of the Land Bridge Theory. "Early man reached the western hemisphere approximately 40,000 years ago via the Bering Strait land bridge between Asia and Alaska. This land bridge was created during the Ice Age when the receding water levels uncovered a massive expanse of land over 1,000 miles wide. This fertile land became lush with grasses. It is believed that early man traveled in small groups and followed the migration of herds like the woolly mammoth standing 13 feet high, the mastodon and the giant ground sloth. These large animals were man’s prey and without them they would have starved during the migration."                                   William Laughlin

Most all Native American Tribes, and/or Nations, have creation stories of 1) how the earth was created, 2) how the “spirit beings” prepared the earth for habitation, 3) how animals and the “spirit beings” communicated and understood one another,  and 4) how people came to be (from the ground, mist, sap of the trees, etc.). None of the tribes of California have oral histories that tell of a great migration across a frozen land.

The land bridge theory is just that, a theory. It compounds the (mis)information about our experience when used to tell of the origin of Native peoples.  I know that I lose respect for authors who use the land bridge theory as if it is the land bridge fact, needing no explanation.Prepresenting the Bering Strait “theory” as fact not only negates Idigenous teachings, but bypasses the scientific method. So eager were the political apologists of the 1930s to weaken the claim of land ownership by the indigenous people of the Americas, that they embraced a weak theory without the customary rigorous scientific inquiry.  This created the ideathat Native Americans were just earlier immigrants without original title to the land. For colonizing forces on th eAmericna continents, this theory became a convieneient political move to claim rights over land- one immigrant from another.  There is not enough room on this web page to discuss the mythological underpinnings of modern science itself or the mounting recent scientific evidence that the Bering Strait is not necessaily the freeway to life in the Americas.

For more information I would suggest the following books and sites.

The First Thanksgiving

Early Pilgrim Settlers

The myth of the first Thanksgiving: In 1621 English Pilgrims in Plymouth Massachusetts rejoiced for their bountiful crops and invited the local Wampanoag Indians to join them in the first of what is now our annual Thanksgiving day. And everyone was happy.






One of the falacies behind the “First Thanksgiving” is that the Pilgrim taught the Native how to give thanks by the example of a bountiful dinner.  In reality the 90 Wapanoag men attending the so called First Thanksgiving provided most of the meat that was offered at the three day event.  The first formal declaration of a Day of Thanksgiving was declared by President Lincoln in 1863,  and was used to bind the diverse American population into one united America.

Forever and ever, Native Americans have given thanks. We give thanks daily, not just once a year. Harvest celebrations such as the Green Corn Celebration, First Salmon Ceremony, Acorn Harvest Celebrations take place in our communities throughout the year. We acknowledge our relationships to the plants, animals, land, and water that offers life and materials for basketry, food, twine, clothing, etc. 


For more information I suggest the following books and sites:

  • Through Indian Eyes, by Beverly Slapin and Doris Seale
  • 1621: A new Look at Thanksgiving, by Grace; Brimberg and Plimoth Plantation
  • Thanksgiving: An alternative version, by Marlette Grant-Jackson & Phil Zastrow (this is a pdf document.)
  • Rethinking Columbus:  The Next 500 Years, Edited by Bill Bigelow and Bob Peterson
  • Teaching about Thanksgiving, Cathy Ross, Mary Robertson, Chuck Larsen, and Roger Fernandes



The myth behind Columbus:  That Columbus sailed the Ocean blue in 1492 and found a “new world,” which we now know as America.


What do we know about Columbus?  That he wasn’t the first European to set foot on American soil; that he landed on an Island inhabited by the Taino people whom he called “indios” because he felt them to be “people of god,” not because he thought he was in India;  that his fourth trip to the “new world” set him on Central American soil, and that on each trip he abused the native populations in search of land and riches for the queen.  The story of Columbus “finding” America was created after the Revolutionary War to promote a united America and became mythologized as a symbol of American success. It is said that his history and discoveries were vague enough that politically motivated historians could spin his mythological rise as an American Success Story.

For more information please see the following Books and Sites:

Blood Quantum

The myth behind Blood Quantum: Is an umbrella term that describes legislation enacted to define membership in Native American groups. "Blood quantum" refers to attempts to calculate the degree of racial inheritance for a given individual.


Blood quantum is another way to acheive "White-ness" or non-Indian-ness.  Blood quantum was imposed by the Federal Government during the late 1800’s to limit Native American Indian Sovereignty. This practice began wholeheartedly with the Dawes Act (aka the General Allotment Act).  As honoring treaty obligations became troublesome to the US westward movement and budget, the notion of decreasing the native American popultaion by discounting their blood lines became popular. The idea being that if you were "White” enough you wouldn't have to move with your Tribe during any relocations.  And as a newley converted "White" you could could attain a land allotment and stay in your homeland. Census takers prior to 1800 just recorded if someone was Colored (Indian), Black, or White.. After the Dawes Act (Enacted in 2/8/1887, amended in 1891 & 1906 by the Burk Act and remained in effect until 1934)) census takers were told to ask “does the Indian have any White blood, if so how much?” The Dawes Act, had a tremendous effect on Native populations. California census takers were told to exclude all none California Indian Blood.


Native American People are the only people legally required to have a PEDIGREE to determine their ethnicity.  By pedigree, I mean, that federal legislation mnadates a person must document their Indian blood lines and that the blood line must represent enough (a 1/4. 1/2, 1/3 etc) of a recognized Tribe. This recognition gives dual citizenship and political status to them as Native Americans. No tribe in North America used blood quantum to determine its membership prior to the Dawes Act.  


For more Information please read the following books or sites

Indians With Casinos

The myth behind Indian Casinos: Is that 1) Every Tribe has a casino or can get one 2) the economic playing field has been leveled and Tribes should no longer get “special” treatment or benefits, 3) that the “rich” casino Indians should pull the other Indians out of poverty, and 4) that the dominant culture (White) allowed Tribes to have gaming.

Not every tribe in America has a casino.  Not every tribe in America wants a casino.  There are 557 Federally Recognized Tribes in the United States, yet only 220 run casinos. Of the 107 Federally Recognized Tribes in California, only 57 have casinos, yet fewer than half of the California casinos turn a profit. In 1988 Congress passed the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) to regulate the Tribal gaming industry. This act paved the way to force Tribes to negotiate with state governments instead of federal, and therefore undermine Tribal Sovereignty and the government-to-government relationship.Far from authorizing gaming on Indian Reservations, the IGRA limited the Tribes to offer only the types of games, facilities, and size of enterpreises allowed in each state.  It also obligates the Tribes to negotiate compacts with states, not at the fedral level.


Federally recognized Tribes are sovereign nations.  “Tribal sovereignty is recognized and protected by the U.S. Constitution, legal precedent, and treaties, as well as applicable principles of human rights.” (Kalt & Singer, 2004).  As sovereign nations Tribes have self-governance authority which distinguishes them as autonomous political entities to promote their citizens’ interests and wellbeing.  Tribes interact with the U.S. Federal Government at the same level as states governments. Some current thoughts are that Tribes are private businesses or exclusive clubs. If they are, the are the only private enterprises with their own courts, banks, schools, hosptials, worker's compensation, and constitutions..

For more Information please read the following books or sites


Disney's Pocahontas film

The myth behind Pocahontas: All young Indian women are beautiful nymphs who can and want to charm and teach the respectable and knowledgeable white man.  Of course all the young Indian men are striking, but they are dangerous, stoic, and full of anger and rage, a typical Warrior.  The young Indian Women are seen as Princesses, while her parents are normally fat, ugly, non-English speaking, and definitely not portrayed as kings and queens. In most portrayals, Young Natives are portrayed as indifferent to the plight of their own people and are overly worried about the survival of the white protagonists and their families.


First there are and were NO Kings and Queens in the Native tribes. Indian peoples traditonally leadership repsonsibliilies was and still is inherited or assigned by a group of decison makers. With the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934, most tribes adopted a constitution similar to that of the United States in order to be a federally recognized Tribe. With this, came the practice of elections for tribal chairs (sometimes called Tribal presidents) and councils to represent the tribe in everyday government-to- government, and business dealings.


As for Pocahontas she was 12 years old when she first met Europeans.  We don’t know if she ever did meet John Smith, the story we’ve all heard about her saving his life is thought to be a romanticized legend created by Captain Smith himself. It is told that she was married at 15 to Kocoum and lived along the Potomac. At 16 she was taken captive by Captain Samuel Argall, and held for ransom, which Powhatan (her father) returned captives and weapons but not to Argall’s satisfaction, he kept her for four more years.  Living in the settlement of Henrico, she was educated in Christianity, and christened Rebecca.  In 1614 John Rolfe, “for the good of the plantation, the honor of our country, for the glory of God, for mine own salvation…” married Pocahontas.  Pocahontas gave birth to their son Thomas, and traveled with Rolfe to England to meet the Royal Family.  She died, at 22, and is buried in a churchyard in Gravesend, England.


For more Information please read the following books or sites