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User Name Thread Name Subject Posted
John C. Bunnell Lyr Req: We are the Indians (24) RE: Lyr Req: We are the Indians 16 Apr 20


Context first: I'm not of Native American extraction, but my family has significant history with some of the Native cultures here in the US Pacific Northwest (one grandfather published a book of Klickitat legends gathered from primary sources, much to the approval of his contacts among the local Native peoples; the other ran a sawmill and later a mid-sized farm in NE Washington which were visited regularly by the Native locals there).

Now, first lesson: irrespective of naming conventions, almost every non-Native's first mistake is to think of Indians in the North American sense as a mono-culture. Pre-contact, you'd have been looking at thousands of distinct micro-cultures in as many as a dozen major linguistic clusters; nowadays, even with greatly diminished populations and many reservations where multiple tribes have been consolidated, the number is still at least in the high hundreds.

For labeling/conversational purposes, the best thing is to be aware of your subject's particular tribal affiliation and use that. In practice, "Indian" was acceptable in my grandparents' day; nowadays, best broad usage seems to be "Native" in the US and "First Peoples" in Canada.

As to music: I think it's a stretch, for the most part, to consider the above-quoted lyrics consciously racist, but I also agree that the current lyric isn't a camp song I'd teach or repeat today, at least not without a careful edit. (It's worth noting that at least one Oregon high school with a Native mascot has had a sufficiently good relationship with the relevant local tribe that both school and tribe resisted implementation of a state-level ban on such mascots a couple of years ago.)

And as to matters of authenticity: besides the "artifakes" CB mentions above, there's a substantial body of supposed "Indian" lore in modern circulation that actually originated from within "New Age" spiritualism in the 1960s and '70s -- and that, I'm led to believe, includes a fair bit of music that's likewise described as Native but may have originated from other sources. Further complicating this is the musical niche occupied by the "Native American flute" -- there's at least some documentation that supports instances of Native flute construction by various individual cultures, but it's not clear to me how much of the music being performed on these nowadays is genuinely informed by localized Native tradition. [One of the problems, with music as well as the myths my grandfather collected, is that there are significant gaps in the chain of transmission in many post-contact tribal populations, where a combination of disease and assimilation essentially created generational breaks where old knowledge was flat-out lost.]


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