There is so much misinformation about NA’s that it’s not surprising that many people believe that certain stereotypes are actually facts. Take the idea of stoicism which I mentioned on the list of NA stereotypes, many non-Indians believe that that is a fact rather than a stereotype. Oh, and my other favorite one, which I need to add to the list, and this is my all time favorite. The stereotype that says if you can prove you’re NA on paper that this means you’ll be guaranteed a huge chunk of money. This is an absolute falsehood, but there are many people who have some Indian heritage that believe it, and their sole reason for proving this portion of their ancestry is because they want their piece of the financial pie so to speak.
So, how do you tell fact from fiction when it comes to writing about NA’s in your books? That’s the big question, and unfortunately, there are authors that really don’t care if what they write is factual or not, and that’s really sad. Not only do they do themselves a disservice when they do this, but they do a disservice to those who read their books, because they are spreading the stereotypes they write about as truth to another generation of readers who then pass it on and so on as fact. In addition, they really tick off those of us who do our best to write factually about NA’s, because for every step we take forward in abolishing stereotypes when we publish a book that has realistic NA characters, their book forces us to take another step backwards. This can be super frustrating. I hate it when I purchase a book that on the surface appears to have realistic NA characters and then twenty pages into the book I realize that not only did the author not bother to do any research, or if she did, she consulted the wrong sources, but she bought into all the stereotypes that she grew up with and threw those into the book too.
So, how do you write realistic NA characters in your books and avoid the stereotypes? Here are some tips to get you started.
• Take the time to experience NA culture first hand. Go to a powwow or other cultural event and participate as much as you can. We often invite those who come to dance with us during Intertribal dances. Once you’ve experienced the culture first hand, you will be in a much better position to create and write about NA characters.
• Talk to and interview real NA’s when you’re given the opportunity to do so. Be aware there are some things that we aren’t allowed to talk about so if an elder or another NA refuses to answer a question you have, this may be why. This is especially true when it comes to some ceremonies and spiritual topics. However, this is rare, and if you are sincere then in most cases any questions you have will be answered.
• When researching for your NA characters, pick a specific tribe for that character to be, and then doing your research choose sources written by members of that tribe whenever possible. After that choose sources that the members of the tribe say are reputable and accurate.
• Don’t believe everything that you read, whether online or offline. Remember anyone can put anything on their website, and there are lot of books written about NA’s that are completely, totally wrong. Non-Indian anthropologists and archeologists, as well as, historians mean well and they try, but at least part of the time they are flat out wrong. For example, my husband is Nez Perce and there is a book titled War Chief Joseph, and it has a lot of incorrect information, but there are many authorities that swear by it.
Keeping all of these things in mind will help you to avoid adding stereotypes about NA’s into your books. Honestly, experiencing the culture firsthand through a cultural or spiritual event if you’re fortunate enough to be invited, is bar none the best way to write realistic NA characters because you have experienced what you are writing about; you’ve been there.
Create an NA character. Then if you don’t know anything about the tribe of your character, do some research and see how much factual information you can find. Then write a paragraph describing him or her based on the information you uncovered. If you’re comfortable doing so, post your paragraph to the discussion for me and others to take a look at. Keep in mind that if you’re writing a historical character this will be a bit different than if you’re writing an NA character for present day. You might have to do a bit more research.