I run into this question a lot with people who aren’t familiar with Native Americans, American Indians, Indigenous Cultures (yes, I’m covering all the bases here LOL). There are lots of stereotypes with regards to NA’s, and I could spend all day listing them here, but instead I’ll give you some popular examples just to give you an idea. Basically, these are some of the wrong ideas and misconceptions people in mainstream society have about NA’s.
• Indians are stoic. Gotta love this one, for those of you who don’t know what stoic is, think of someone who is impervious to pain or pleasure and who probably never smiles. Webster’s states it as: “a member of a school of philosophy founded by Zeno of Citium about 300 b.c. holding that the wise man should be free from passion, unmoved by joy or grief, and submissive to natural law.” I think my favorite line, and I can’t remember what book or movie this comes from but, there’s this Indian guy and he deadpans, “This isn’t stoic, this is my face.” In other words don’t assume I’m not affected by what’s going on around me just because I don’t have a big ‘ole happy grin on, or a frown for that matter.
• All Indians know all about spirituality, and have this mystical relationship with nature. While it’s true there are some very spiritual people among the Native American tribes, and some do follow tenets that give them a close relationship with nature, not all Indians know or care about NA spirituality or how it was practiced in the past or the present for that matter. The fact is a lot of NA’s are Christian, and other religions just like the rest of mainstream society is.
• All Indians are the same, and have the same traditions, religions, and customs. While there are common threads among the tribes when it comes to traditions, religions and even some customs, every tribe is different and has its own language, spiritual traditions, customs, regalia (clothing) etc. The idea of there being a sort of pan-indian culture, philosophy, whatever is incorrect. A few things that you will find that are common between many tribes are the sweat lodge, the pipe, and the fact that dancing and singing play a big part in sharing and passing on traditions. But there are also some traditions that are only practiced in one tribe, take the Yuwipi which is a ceremony that is only practiced by the Lakota Sioux, for example.
• Most Indians are drunks and or drug addicts. I run into this one a lot, and while it is true that a lot of NA’s struggle with alcohol and drug addiction, this is also true of many in mainstream society. While the problems of NA’s such as 99% unemployment (yes, many reservations have this high of an unemployment rate), being terrified of leaving the reservation and living among all those “white people (imagine how you’d feel going to live on the reservation where it was 90% NA’s to 10% non-Indians),” single parenthood, and the problems of caring for elders who can no longer care for themselves are very real and can contribute to alcoholism, and drug addiction, many of these problems exist off the reservation and outside Indian communities too.
• Indians smoke marijuana in their pipes. Believe it or not I’ve heard this misconception/stereotype on more than one occasion. There seems to be some idea in mainstream society that pipestone pipes are used to smoke prime weed. The truth is anyone that knows anything about NA culture knows that would be like asking lightning to strike you down, and while I’m not saying it’s never been done, I would say it’s pretty rare. What is put in pipestone pipes is usually either regular tobacco you can buy at the grocery store, or a combination of cedar chips and tobacco or a similar combo. Pipes are seen as living beings, and to smoke weed in them, prime or not would be highly disrespectful.
I’ll bet if you think about it, you can think of a few more to add to the list here, but I think you get the idea.