Native Village
Youth and Education news
Volume 1 October, 2011

Misconceptions, biases a part of
daily life

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Condensed by Native Village

Indiana:  A statue of William Henry Harrison stands in the heart of downtown Indianapolis. Engraved below it is his claim to fame: "Conqueror of the Indian Confederacy."

This refers to the Battle of Tippecanoe in 1811. When Harrison was governor of the Indiana territory, he defeated the Shawnee at Prophetstown. The victory made him a hero, while Native Americans were essentially wiped out of the region.

To American Indians living in Indiana, the statue is a harsh reminder of old wounds not so easily healed.

"I find it very offensive," Sally Tuttle said of the inscription. "It's like there's never been an equal playing field for us."

For Tuttle and others, it also signifies life for American Indians in Indiana today: isolation, treated as caricatures,  feeling unwelcome in their homeland.

Tuttle, a member of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, moved to Indiana more than 30 years ago. She drove around the state searching for people she could culturally identify with.

"When I moved here, I knew nobody," said Tuttle, a retired computer instructor. "When my son got older, I had no one."

Just 0.3%  of Indiana residents are American Indians.

In Indianapolis, the state's American Indians are finding each other and a place to express their frustrations. The American Indian Center of Indiana (AICI) hosts monthly informal gatherings for the state's American Indians. They talk about issues affecting their community -- health, education and, of course, stereotypes.

White Wolf James, 55, assistant curator of Native American Art and Culture at the Eiteljorg Museum, has white-wolf arm tattoos. White Wolf was the name of an ancestor.
James Wolf's tattoos are to honor White Wolf, an ancestor.

"I had a 4-year-old boy walk up to me and said, 'Are you a real Indian?'  I said 'Yes, I'm a real Indian,' and he said, 'Where's the rest of your team?"  Kylo Prince, a Long Plain First Nation Indian

"'They're all dead,'  she told me. "And I'm sitting there looking at her."
  Argentina Hayes, Chiricahua Apache, about being told that American Indians no longer existed.

"People say, 'Oh, you're Indian, so you sit around in your dance regalia all day eating fry bread?' No. We're professors, we're doctors, we're lawyers, we're museum curators." 
White Wolf James, Pomo, curator at the Eiteljorg Museum

"My name was not Teresa. My name was Pocahontas."
Teresa Webb, Anishinaabe, about what her classmates called her.

Teresa Webb is Anishinaabe and grew up in Indiana. In 1st grade, she had the habit of flipping back her braids. The Anishinaabe revere their hair as a source of strength and power. But the boy behind her grew annoyed and took

Teresa Webb uses handmade rattles to make music and to help accompany her storytelling.
Theresa Webb uses handmade rattles for her music and in storytelling

matters -- and scissors -- in his own hands.

"The whole class started laughing, and I turned around and looked at him, and there on his desk was my braid," she said.

"I took my braid and ran out the door. I ran home, and I showed the braid to my mother. So she went to the school and talked to the principal."

Later, the boy's older brother came to their house with a blank check from their mother. On the check was a handwritten note:

     "Even though you are who you are, I trust you to be honest to put the right numbers in to go get the girl's hair fixed."

Webb's mother tore up the check.

Today, Webb is storyteller at the Eiteljorg Museum. She also is recovering from breast cancer. The chemotherapy took her precious hair. 

Webb says the AICI get-togethers  for American Indians are essential. Otherwise, she said, "we'll lose ourselves, we'll lose who we are and what we represent.  It's important for us to keep our traditions alive for our children and their children and their children."

Historically, Indiana was home to the Miami, Shawnee, Illini and other tribes. Today, about 6,000 from the Miami Nation still live there. There are no reservations or federally recognized tribes based in Indiana.

Many of Indiana's American Indians have migrated there to work or be with family. Some spent significant time living on reservations. They have much common with other transplants.

"We all have mortgages. We have bills. We have jobs. Our children are in public or private schools," James said. "We eat hamburgers and hot dogs and pizzas, everything else that everybody eats -- not always buffalo meat."

The difference, Tuttle said, is that they aren't immigrants. Their ancestral homelands aren't in Ireland or Germany or Mexico.

"This is our home," Tuttle said. "This is where our ancestors were buried."

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