Native Americans have been stereotyped since the 1840s; during Buffalo Bull’s Wild West Show, through dime novels, Hollywood films and westerns. Natives participated in shows as an act of survival. Shows provided financial opportunity and an environment in which “being Indian” was acceptable. While Natives were creative in their acts of resistance in the past, this doesn’t mean we have to conform to the mold of the colonizer’s imagination today.
The mainstream tries to dictate what our culture is and what we should feel “honored” by. Our identities aren’t up for grabs. You cannot conquer and profit off our dignity without resistance.
The road to hell is paved with good intentions. Americans believed they could “save the man and kill the Indian” by erasing traditional culture. Americans still continue to replace positive and contemporary examples of Natives with their insulting stereotypes. With our historical burden to reflect upon, there’s no reason why Americans shouldn’t learn from their ancestor’s mistakes. We all have the ability to evolve from historical amnesia.
So many are willing to tell the world about the pity and guilt they feel for Natives, but how many are contributing to progress?
Johnny Depp mentioned his motivation of Lone Ranger was to:
“give some hope to kids on the reservations. They’re living without running water and seeing problems with drugs and booze. But I wanted to be able to show these kids, ‘Fuck that! You’re still warriors, man.”
While the sentiment of encouraging children is optimistic, Depp is still missing the mark. Warriors are not victims. Stereotypes effect Native children’s self esteem and world view negatively. Cultural revitalization, contributions for progress in communities, recognition of perseverance and positive Native accomplishments are effective ways to actually empower real life Natives.
Johnny Depp was adopted into the Comanche nation, which showed great potential for his future relations with tribes. All hope for Depp quickly dissipated with the Lone Ranger. Reviews stated that Tonto was depicted as a typical stoic, caricature sidekick, pervasive with stereotypes.
Soon after word of Lone Ranger filming, a video was released of Johnny Depp announcing the Gathering of Nations Pow wow. Was this truly an act of good faith, or just a Public Relations stunt meant to assuage his role of perpetuating red face? Many critiqued the video saying the way he acted seemed contrived. Others said his demeanor was an attempt to be cautious and respectful. My deduction of his actions is that Johnny Depp is misguided in his perceptions of Native Americans, like many celebrities and Americans.
Another rumor of a PR Stunt has created buzz online and through the moccasin telegraph; the claim that Johnny Depp is looking to buy Wounded Knee. In Episode 3 of “Rez Round up” Chase Iron Eyes was effective in summing up how many Natives feel about those claims. If this rumor was started as another PR stunt to generate buzz for Lone Ranger, then that is shameful. Of course if the purchase is made it will be appreciated. But it is very frustrating to see claims published with no action.
Chase made the great suggestion to Johnny Depp that he put money towards building an interpretive center to allow tribes to tell their stories. Allowing tribes to tell their own stories is very effective in healing from historical trauma and genocide. It is also effective in decreasing current instances of stereotyping and marginalization. That historical burden of our past is inevitable, but it’s not until we own our own history that we will truly be able to heal and move forward. Historical trauma doesn’t have to keep us feeling victimized or stagnant; it is a reminder to move forward and be empowered for the future we seek. Part of owning our history and identities is also about asserting respect for ourselves and how we are represented. Stereotypes erase culture; they keep natives stagnant and frozen in time. Stereotypes lead to dehumanization which escalates from racism to larger acts of violence. NOW is the time to address these issues to ensure respect, safety and equality for future generations.
In conclusion, some Natives are fans of Johnny Depp, and that’s what made the Lone Ranger so difficult to address. Opinions vary across communities. However, one can still be a fan of Johnny Depp while fighting for respectful representations of their people. True display of respect and honor is showing that you are willing to do what you can to correct situations of injustice. It’s never too late to do the right thing. Back in his 21 Jump Street Days, Johnny Depp wrote back to fan letters which thanked him for being a positive role model for children on the Rez. I hope that Johnny Depp still feels that connection between him and the community. Part of being Native isn’t about garb and the romanticism but realizing your role in the Native community. As a figure with much influence he has the ability to set the example, and help establish a foundation for a brighter future. These words are blunt, but an act of tough love. Our hearts and our minds open for healing and conversation. We are reaching out to you Mr. Depp and the opportunity for amends is in your hands.