Throughout the history of the United States of America, Native Americans have been represented in many different ways through various media sources. In films, they are depicted as evil savages who are out for blood with a tomahawk in one hand and a scalping knife in the other. In novels, they are all put together in one monolithic body with one set of practices and beliefs. Media giants are out to do whatever they can to draw in audiences, so they will resort to all sorts of measures in order to achieve that. However, not only were they portrayed incorrectly but also were forced to go to boarding school to eliminate their traditional ways of life. So at the end of it all, people are misguided and expected to see them as tomahawk carrying savages while their roots slowly diminish from their lives. In her novel, “Miko Kings: An Indian Baseball Story”, LeAnne Howe tells the story of a Native American baseball team by using original and fictive documents, like newspaper clippings and journal entries. Throughout her story, we see many instances of misrepresentation of Native Americans and their culture, like certain expectations to act or dress according to stereotypical depictions. By doing so, Howe is able to emphasize the vast amounts of misrepresentations and assimilations that Native Americans had to endure while living in the United States and throughout its time periods.
To start off, Native Americans starred in films that completely misrepresented their culture and overall appearances. In Miko Kings, the opening prelude describes a film set getting ready for the movie of the baseball team. The producer, Carl Laemmle, got the team to wear modern clothes to “represent savagery gone civilized” (Howe, p.7). He then tells “the Choctaws to ‘act jolly’ as if they were enjoying wearing long johns, socks, and tight shoes” (Howe, p.7). Here, we can see that in order for the film to be shot, the Native American baseball team must wear normal clothes because that symbolized a civilized society. This is an example of the misrepresentation of Native Americans during that time period because they were seen as savages because they did not conform to society’s expectations, like wearing jeans and shoes. The obvious truth is, no one was savage, it was just the ideas of the film industry to make people assume that. Moreover, in the actual film, His Last Game (1909), an Indian star pitcher, Bill Going is killed by “swift Western justice” after enacting self-defense (“His Last Game (1909)”), according to centuryfilmproject.com. This is important because Bill was never allowed a trial, let alone a lawyer to properly accuse him of his actions. This shows how Native Americans were shown in films, as uncivilized people that are only served “swift Western justice”. If Western justice includes the amendments to a trial and legal representation, then were these not applied to Native Americans? Overall, it seems that the point of films was to label Native Americans as people of barbaric cultures that are simply worth their stereotypes to help earn money for the box offices.
Not only were films an issue to Native American representations, but also boarding schools posed a problem as well. Boarding schools were created by the American government to eliminate traditional ways of Native American life and replace them with mainstream American culture. According to the National Museum of the American Indian, boarding schools separated Indian children “from their families and cultural ways for long periods, sometimes four or more years” (“Native Words Native Warriors”, 2007). These children were then subjected to erasing their cultural identity, by cutting their hair and wearing modern clothes. The effects of this are life long because not only were they no longer connected to their culture, but also they were humiliated for it. Hair was a symbol of identity to them and when cut, it erases that. They were even forced to give up their Native names and take on English ones. Basically, their culture and self-representation were all slowly being diminished while they were in these schools. Furthermore, in Miko Kings, Howe writes, “Hope’s the kind that needs someone around to tell him what to do. Damn boarding schools” (Howe, p.196). Clearly, Hope’s experience at the boarding school has made him completely dependent on others, which restricted him to think for himself. Another example is in Ezol’s journal, specifically during her days at boarding school. Ezol writes, “The girls of our school are taught to sit quietly and learn good habits of sewing and cooking” (Howe, p.138). It is clear that the boarding school pushes modern American influences onto these girls at a young age without letting them embrace even a modicum of their own culture. All in all, these boarding schools were created by the American government to erase all traces of tradition and assimilate everyone into American society.
So how do these items go on to affect the future of Native Americans, like today? Well, we already see some of the effects in Miko Kings, like Hope’s inability to think for himself and Ezol’s inevitable assimilation with American influences. However, there is more to this than just the two people in the book. According to The National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition, the impacts of boarding schools include “loss of language, loss of parental power, loss of sense of community, and weakened nation structure” (“Impact of Historical Trauma”). In addition, the 2014 White House Native Youth Report lists the major issues, like suicide rates and poverty. The report states that “Native children are also 70 percent more likely to be identified in school as students with an emotional disturbance […] suicide is the second leading cause of death for Native male youth in the 15 to 24-year-old age group” (2014 Native Youth Report, p. 24). This is significant because emotional disturbances in schools can be caused by bullying or simply the feeling of being left out. All of this can then be summed up to how Native Americans are being mistreated by how society views them, leading to humiliation or torment. The report also states that “The poverty rate among American Indians and Alaska Natives was 27 percent compared to 15 percent for the nation” (2014 Native Youth Report, p. 22). The reason for this is because of the designated reservation lands due to assimilation and so while everyone else’s income rises, the income of American Indians continues to stagnate. So we see that there are many negative effects that comes with decades of societal oppression and forced assimilation with educational progress at the center being hindered by poor infrastructure.
Ever since the start of our nation, Native Americans have been subjected to our harsh, cruel actions and policies. Powerless and unable to fight back, they endured our nation’s horrible policies, like boarding schools, and our society’s negative views. Even after overcoming these obstacles, they still were met with a plethora of issues, like health and socioeconomic status. Authors like LeAnne Howe was able to give readers insight into what Native American life was like during the 1900s through her book, Miko Kings. Government reports and organizations, like the White House Youth Report and National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition, presented statistical data that showed the poor conditions that Native Americans have, despite living in a country that is supposed to have prosperity and success. The difference between one hundred years ago and today is really not significant. However, federal and state officials are making improvements in a number of areas, including education and health, but lack a significant increase in financial investment and political support, so the path forward is uncertain. We as a nation have progressed through many tough times, like the Great Depression or the World Wars, but we have yet helped progress the ones that have been here since the beginning.