Campaign to reclaim Indigenous peoples’ image and identity continues, researcher Seth Sutton tells BGSU audience – BG Independent News

By David Dupont

BG Independent News

Before Europeans arrived in what they considered the Americas, there were no Indians or Native Americans.

There were, however, human beings of ancient lineage who had lived in this “New” World in a multitude of nations and tribes. There are 574 federally recognized Native tribes in the United States, as well as others that have not been recognized.

Seth Thomas Sutton speaks at BGSU as the first event in the “In the Round” series featuring Indigenous creatives.

Seth Thomas Sutton, who teaches visual and critical studies at Montcalm Community College in Michigan, spoke last week at BGSU about how “the Indian,” or rather the image of the Indian, is appeared and how it persists in the popular imagination.

Sutton is an Odawa/Métis from the Wolf Clan Little Traverse Bands of Odawa Indians.

He introduced himself as a human being. “We are all related.”

All peoples have experienced colonization, he says. All were at one time members of tribes. “We’re taught to be amnesiacs about these things,” Sutton said. These layers of assumed identities must be removed so that we can recognize our common humanity.

As an academic and language student, Sutton language criticism. But society now sees criticism as dangerous. “Criticism is not a dirty word,” he said. “Part of our power is to take the language and the words that we use, to pull them out, to twist them slightly, to put them back together so that we can find the way we use our language, so that we can start to focus our energies and focus our powers.”

In “politically correct” times, people stumble over how to use this language correctly. But if “I have big chunks of nonsense falling out of my mouth” it’s just a learning experience.

What is just “Native American” or “Indian”? Neither exist, Sutton said. No term never had a basis in reality. These terms refer to people who existed long before these terms were invented. They are concepts built on errors. These concepts need to be deconstructed and removed so that Indigenous peoples can regain the energy and agency they lost through colonization.

The image of “the Indian” took shape from the Spanish invasion of what is now the Americas. “The ‘Indian’ is an accumulation of simulations and representations,” Sutton said.

These are found in the Declaration of Independence which speaks of “ruthless Indian savages”.

This construct of the Indian takes shape and refines in dime novels, Buffalo Bill’s Wild West shows, and Western movies, which he says are the largest genre of film with over 7,000 movies. long before the 2,000 War Movies, the second most popular film. kind.

Portrait of Chief Sauk Blackhawk, born Ma-ka-tai-me-she-kia-kiak, by George Caitlin. The portrait was painted while the Sauk was later held by the United States after the Black Hawks War. (Picture provided)

Artists and photographers contributed to the image. Although painter George Caitlin and photographer Edward Curtis claimed to document Indigenous peoples, they cultivated stereotypes by dressing and posing their subjects according to what their viewers expected to see.

The image is based on tropes depicting images of people with long hair, dark complexion, buckskin, pearls and feathers. Some indigenous people may look like this, which only confuses this issue, Sutton said.

This accumulation of stereotypes and caricatures has transcended current reality. People are no longer able to tell the difference between the imaginary image and reality.

These images have entered pop culture in the form of sports team mascots. These images give fans something to share and gather, a sense of togetherness that Sutton calls “visual communion.”

They also deprive indigenous peoples of their ability to shape their own identity, based on their current lived experiences.

Sutton noted with approval the naming of the Washington football team and the Cleveland baseball team.

Logo for the campaign to change the Chicago Blackhawks logo and mascot.
(Picture provided)

But why, he wonders, do the Chicago Blackhawks seem to have gotten a free pass?

Sutton has made getting rid of this mascot his mission. Last year he published “The Deconstruction of Chief Blackhawk. A critical analysis of Indian mascots and visual rhetoric. He also launched an online campaign on

The Blackhawks’ case is actually easier than most. Team founder Frederic McLaughlin named his team for the US Army’s Blackhawk Division, where he served in World War I. But that name did not refer to Blackhawk, the Sauk chief and warrior, whom the hockey team is supposed to honor. The division crest depicted a falcon. The original image of a chef was drawn by McLaughlin’s wife, famed ballroom dancer Irene Castle.

The transformation should be simple, Sutton said. The name should return to two words in reference to the fast predatory bird.

Anishinaabeg (Ojibwe) artist Mike Ivall designed a bird logo that retains the color palette, outline, and even feathers of the existing image.

Sutton’s speech was the university’s first In the Round: A Six-Part Speaker Series Featuring Native American Creatives. The series is a way to develop the university’s statement of land recognition. The next event will be a presentation by author Carole Lindstrom and illustrator Michaela Goad of the Caldecott Prize-winning book “We Are Water Protectors” on Friday, April 1 at 5:30 p.m.

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