Dominant white culture will never seem to get over its unhealthy obsession with depicting Native Americans as dead and extinct. Cultural objects are whitewashed by acts of appropriation, celebrities and even the general public continues to wear imagery of dead Natives. This perpetual pattern to insult to Native American culture has become so intrinsic that I’m beginning to believe it is an unspoken element of capitalist identity and policy.
What does this say about American culture that it is so inundated with imagery which symbolically subjugates populations who have been oppressed and survived through attempted genocide? It speaks to the success colonization has had on indoctrinating our “color blind” “post racial” society into ongoing imperialism in such a matter that celebration of genocide is normalized. It speaks to the continued genocide that many are complicit in; from perpetuation of stereotypes through erasure, the pillaging of cultural identity through cultural appropriation to blatant exploitation of native resources. Ultimately these seemingly shallow “issues” of stereotypes have causation with statistics and realities of colonial violence.
Many mitigate dead Native depictions by saying well “they just look cool”. But the effects of erasure through Dead Native stereotype are explicit every time someone rejects a real living Native American’s identity by saying: “You don’t “look” like an Indian” or, “I thought all the Indians were dead”.
In light of the recent revoking of the Washington Redskins Trademark various Native American groups and speakers are still hard at work against the team name. Still, Dan Snyder continues to defend the name. Many articles, interviews and protest have provided historical evidence as well as current perspectives blatantly revealing the harm of Native mascots. But still, the stubbornness of bigotry and cognitive dissonance continues to govern the decision to cling to traditions of racism with reckless abandon.
The latest atrocity that has come to light is the creation of a “DeadSkins video game”. As many football fans know “Deadskins” is used as an insult to mock the Redsk*ns team after a loss, or it’s even just as an insult from rival team fans. Its one of the many reasons that Natives find the name to be offensive. Corporations such as the NFL are part of the reason such stereotypes and caricatures are normalized to the point that people categorize them as mere entertainment.
A former Hollywood makeup artist named Christopher Garnaas is developing a video game which features undead Native Americans. The erasure of Native Americans being pictured as undead isn’t all that’s problematic about this video game. The game has even been “green lighted” from the popular gaming platform “Steam Valve” corporation. According to the Facebook page this game will even be on XBOX One Live Arcade.
The Kickstarter campaign where he is raising funds for the game features game imagery of spirit animals, scalping and savage war party stereotypes. An image which includes reviews of the game are offensive: “You had me at capture the scalp,” “Looks like a bunch of Natives on LSD!”.
As if its not enough to see Native American gravesites desecrated in real life, it has to be taken a step further by being part of the script in this game. Another excerpt from the campaign states: “These tribal members will have a special map included in their game along with their own grave in the DEADSKINS tribal burial grounds.” The Game website includes pictures of a “war club” and “tomahawk” as weapons for the game. On the Facebook page there is also a clip featuring an undead White Buffalo from the game, yet another element of a sacred cultural symbol being disrespected.
While pop culture has fixated upon zombies with television shows such as The Walking Dead, this cannot be reduced as “just a zombie game”, it’s an act of exploitation. Not only is the creator insulting Native American culture but he is being given money to do so! So far he has raised $5,738.00 out of his $365,000.00 goal. Its amazing how nonnatives constantly bring up bigger issues when there are campaigns such as this receiving money only to continue to erase and degrade Native Americans. Also exploitative is the plans to continue to profit of the racist game. The Kickstarter campaign also features tee shirts designs, messenger bags and even a “Collectible Deadskins War Pipe” with a “tobacco pouch”…To take the insult a little further the video clip of the game also features music which appears to be Northern Cree War Cry. Music copyright is a serious issue even when it comes to video games, so if permission was not granted from the tribe there is potential for legal action to be pursued.
In the end we have to ask ourselves what is more valuable aesthetics and agreeability or the rejection of genocide, exploitation and erasure? These narratives sell the lie that Native Americans were defeated.
Every day I am empowered by the great things that Native Americans have accomplished and continue to accomplish. Many Natives reject the toxicity of conquest with their self-expression through education, activism, art, revitalization and preservation of their culture daily.
American culture is not a game to be trivialized or disrespected for white entertainment. WE EXIST, no matter how much mainstream media and Dominant White Culture tries to disrespect and erase us. Colonizers, settlers, appropriators, expect existence or expect resistance.