The Boston Tea Party, Boy Scouts of America and Grateful Dead concerts may have more influence on American culture than the history books read.
All of these events influence the misrepresentation of Native Americans, according to Philip Deloria, one of the leading scholars for American Indian and cultural history. And in his book, “Playing Indian,” Deloria confronts the mainstream assumptions of the native population and the misrepresentations that reflect them.
“Mainly, I just want people to think about the world more carefully, the people in the world and about their practices,” Deloria said.
He wrote “Playing Indian” to increase awareness of ways in which Native Americans have been, and continue to be, misrepresented in modern society, he said.
In his book, the misrepresentation begins with the Boston Tea Party, a historical event in which white men dressed up as American Indians in order to sabotage a ship and, era-by-era, it moves on to discuss how Native Americans are misrepresented in today’s society, such as in practices performed by Boy Scouts.
He also brings to light how various groups of Native Americans have reacted, or failed to react, to the imitations of them in mainstream society.
The idea for his book came to him in a graduate school lecture about native culture, Deloria said.
The lecture made him think about how sometimes native people drop off the map, allowing people to misrepresent them and assume that they know about native culture.
In fact, after thinking about the ideas presented during the class, the entire book unfolded in about 60 seconds, he said, though it took him some time before he put his pen to paper.
Although Deloria grew up in a family that was very active in Native American studies –his dad is considered one of the preeminent Native American intellectual of the 20th century– it took him a long time to come back around to the issue, he said.
Deloria is a renowned scholar in his own right and his family’s name is one of the most important in Native American history, said history assistant professor Greg Smoak, making him an obvious candidate to increase understanding on campus for Native American Awareness Month.
“I just wanted to make people think about what they assume. Pause for second. Think about what you think you know because that might not be right. That’s the best we can do, the best we can hope for,” Deloria said.
Deloria will be speaking about his book, his experiences and his family’s history as Native American cultural activists. The speech will take place at 7p.m in room 104 in Yates Hall.
“This is our way of educating the public because all year we get questions about this stuff,” said assistant director of Native American Student Services Seraphina Wall. “We also want to build those campus and community networks.”
Senior reporter Cece Wildeman can be reached at email@example.com.