Great Indian Moments















bent arrowExhibit: "Injun Song" (the Accordion Version)

This song from a 1952 method book, so stereotypical and appropriational, is stark proof of Vine Deloria, Jr.'s claim that mainstream U.S. culture has always been smugly comfortable in the "fact" that it "knows" the Indians (when the true fact is that this is hardly ever the case).

I know what the Injuns know.
I go where the Injuns go.
I watch Big Chief smoke his peace pipe.
To the papoose I am a friend.
For the squaws I carry candy,
On me Injuns all depend.
I know what the Injuns know.
I go where the Injuns go.

Without even picking up my guitar, I can recognize the clichéd perfect fifths of the harmony and the pentatonic minor key of the melody's first two phrases. (And I'm sure it sounds just lovely on an accordion.) As for the lyrics, feeding "candy" to the "squaws" is certainly the most curious line. But whether the handout is candy or food stamps & government cheese, that "all" the "Injuns . . . depend" on the generous and all-knowing Anglo benefactor is certainly a self-congratulatory gesture.

(Thanks to a former student—Rachel Palmer—for the idea & the scans. She has also assured me that she is not related to the Palmer of the cover page. The cover is rather disturbing in context, too: what are these kids learning, given songs like this one—besides the fact that it's great fun cavorting on a giant keyboard?)

Book Cover

Injun Song--part 1
Injun Song--part 2
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bent arrowExhibit: "Kaw-Liga"

The stoic—or "wooden"—Indian has been a central fixture among Native stereotypes. (Uh—like, there was no LANGUAGE problem?) This is Hank Williams' original version (1952), complete with tom-tom. (Charlie Pride's later version [1969] is even more histrionic & reprehensible, especially since Charlie is African-American.)

MP3 excerpt from "Kaw-Liga"
(music & lyrics: Hank Williams[1952])

Kaw-liga was a wooden Indian standing by the door--
He fell in love with an Indian maid over in the antique store--
Kaw-liga--just stood there and never let it show,
So she could never answer "yes" or "no."

He always wore his Sunday feathers and held a tommy-hawk--
The maiden wore her beads and braids and hoped some day he'd talk--
Kaw-liga--too stubborn to ever show a sign,
Because his heart was made of knotty pine. . . .

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bent arrowExhibit: Why does the "Injun" say "How"? (I mean, "Hau"?)

Among the many troublesome Native stereotypes in Disney's Peter Pan (1953), the worst involve that insipid tune, "What Made the Red Man Red?" (Hau is Lakota for "Hello," etc., but also the crux of many an egregious Euro-American movie misunderstanding or pun.) . . . The chorus, with its "nonsense" words, simply reduces indigenous languages (and semantics) to sheer gibberish.

MP3 excerpt from "What Made the Red Man Red?"
(music: Sammy Fain; lyrics: Sammy Cahn [1951])

Why does he ask you "How?"
Why does he ask you "How?"
Once the Injun didn't know
All the things that he know now,
But the Injun, he sure learn a lot,
And it's all from asking "How?

Hana Mana Ganda—
Hana Mana Ganda—

We translate for you—
Hana means what mana means,
And ganda means that, too.  

Or watch the YouTube video.
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bent arrowExhibit: Crayola Crayons

From 1949 to 1962, Crayola's crayon choices included "Flesh," eventually renamed "Peach," as "a way of recognizing that skin comes in a variety of shades[!]." From 1958 to 1999, the "Indian Red" crayon was available, renamed "Chestnut," despite feeble disclaimers that the epithet actually referred to an oil pigment associated with India. But the ideology was obvious: there was "regular/normal" skin, and there was "red-skin." (Thankfully "Oriental Yellow" and "Niger Black" never made it past the brainstorming stage?!)



FLESH (#F5BC89) INDIAN RED (#954535)
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bent arrowExhibit: Leave It to Beaver

America's beloved sitcom from the late 1950's and early 1960's seemed so innocuously "homey" that passing exchanges like this could fly under the radar and sound perfectly "natural" within a bourgeois discourse of saccharine domesticity [dialogue recalled from memory]:

--JUNE CLEAVER: Ward, didn't your great-uncle sell guns to the Indians?

--WARD CLEAVER [somewhat indignant]: No, he sold whiskey to the Indians. That just put them in the mood to buy guns.

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