Monday, February 6, 2012

What should an Indian look like? Iconic old or iconic new?

I was driving down Main street Winnipeg the other day and I saw this mural on the wall. It was a scene of two Indians on horseback, by a shoreline, and dressed in breechcloth, as they were looking over at the water. It got me thinking, is that the only image there is of Indians/Aboriginal people?
Title: Invocation--Sioux. Date Created/Published: c1907 December 26. Summary: Dakota man, wearing breechcloth, holding pipe, with right hand raised skyward. Photograph by Edward S. Curtis, Curtis (Edward S.) Collection, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C.

I mean that is good to have pride in our Ancestors. I am not sure about the Edward Curtis images, since he staged a lot of pictures and carried around the clothing styles, but anyway, he did take some pretty good pictures. What I am thinking, is it our heritage or our culture that of being an Indian stuck in time, or we are tied to an image?I think we are more than an image. Although the image is easily recognizable, but is it who we are?

Native American woman from Plains region, half-length portrait, facing right, with baby on her back / Beach, N.Y

If you look at many artists, they to tend to grab the iconic Native image; the warrior, the woods, the "look" if you know what I mean. Don't get me wrong that image is awesome! There are so many damn good looking Natives in those images. Women looking all regal and men looking so cool. You don't see no Natives smiling or laughing ( a great joke by Charlie Hill - ""See all that land, son?"
"Yeah, Dad.""Do you realize that one day none of this will be yours?") and that is a shame. After all we are known for our humour as well (or maybe only in Indian country).

Canada's Hugh Fisher (left) and Alwyn Morris celebrate a gold medal win in the men's kayak K-2 event at the 1984 Olympic games in Los Angeles. (CP PHOTO/ COA/)
Some of the more contemporary images I like are that of an Indian (Native, Aboriginal, First Nations) who is seen as successful in today's world. Like that of Alwyin Morris. Now that is cool. In his Canada Olympic outfit, holding his hand raised by his teammate and holding an Eagle Feather in his other hand.

Waneek Horn-Miller, captain of the Canadian Water Polo Team
circa 2000
But you know the most iconic image of a proud Indian is that of Waneek Horn-Miller, Mohawk and Olympic champion.  Still with that noble savage stoic Indian look, all brown and cool. You have to say wow!

I like the way things are going. We may have the old image to keep reminding where we come from, but we have new images as well.

We are from the Stars and one of our own people went to the Stars - John Herrington. How cool is that image?
Even our artists are mixing the aged with the new.

So I didn't answer what an Indian should look like. I am not sure of what we should look like. But I am the wrong person to answer than anyway, as I don't measure up, that is for sure. I like to think that Indians are more than an image. They are everlasting. They are time immemorial. We are all beautiful... after all it was Peter Tosh who said "there are many beautiful flowers in God's garden".


  1. A couple summers ago I talked to a local Nanaimo Snuneymuxw artist who does the iconic west coast designs, but goes beyond the traditional reds and blacks to include a rainbow of colors and images and objects. In a short conversation I asked him how this was accepted by the tradionalists within his own circles and he said that he gets all sorts of reactions - some positive but some saying he shouldn't be doing this. So, I was interested to come upon your post today.

  2. When I was a kid the Elders took me for a gathering and put a scarf on my eyes. My Grandmother told me it’s important I sense people not see people. The energy they are, the energy they bring.

  3. this is such a great post Steve . I've not been here for a time it seems !
    I love the guys in the jump suits ☺ I have seen some great work like the shoes etc. I think isn't that how people survive , we evolve . We learn the tradi ways but then also make them our own . I've been reading about the ghost dance a lot lately and it seems even that dance when given by the first tribe to others each took it and it evolved into what it was for their tribe . I'm glad you shared the new images with the old .Thanks ♥