Native Identity: Stereotypes

image description Photo Credit: Horia Varlan
When I first started college in Seattle, Washington, I started making a lot of new friends. One was a boy I will call Scott. He was non-Native, a lover of running, electronic music, and other extracurricular pass times. We started doing more and more activities together, especially in groups of friends. He had one overriding racist tendency though: he hated Native Americans. I remember the distinct conversation that stuck with me, enraged me, and made me want to advocate for Native rights — not paternalistic, but partnership advocacy.

“What is that smell?” his girlfriend asked him as we drove in Seattle.

“Does it smell like frybread and alcoholism?” he asked. “Cause that’s just the reservation.”

He then turned to me and said, “You’re the first Native girl I’ve ever liked. Probably because you’re not like them.”

“You are mistaken,” I replied. “I am exactly like them. Stop the car.”

He spoke this way because he didn’t understand who “they” were. He groundlessly believed that Native people were all alcoholics. He dehumanized us, turned us into people upon whom there can be no compassion. But the Native people I know are spiritual beings who care more for the honor of their family than some strong drink. They are powerful leaders, warriors who wear eagle feathers in their hair. Far from complimenting me by saying that I am the one exception to his racism, he insulted me all the more by saying that I was not like my own people.

When you are confronted with a stereotype, one way to resist it is through education, both of the racist individual, and of yourself. You must live a life that discredits stereotypes. A life of courage and purpose.

Written By: Misty Lynn Ellingburg (Shoalwater Bay) is a student at Seattle Pacific University, majoring in English (concentration Literature) and minoring in Professional Writing. She has two brothers and two sisters--Brandt, Shana, Hope, and Hunter. Her mom, Lory, is a Tribal artist, and her dad, Todd, is becoming fluent in Salish, a local Tribal language.
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