American mega-celebrity Leonardo DiCaprio won a Golden Globe award for Best Actor for his role in the new film “The Revenant” which also won Best Picture. The story follows the struggles of his character to never give up despite the unrelenting challenges throughout the film which is also based on a true story. It’s an awesome film and you should see it. DiCaprio is the man. Native people become extremely excited when they are mentioned in the mainstream of western, American media especially by celebrities in that demographic. Native people have been waiting for a mega-celebrity actor to replace Marlon Brando as the go-to for an ally-voice with a platform we are consistently left out of prior to Ashley Calling Bull becoming Miss Universe. Many of us are also waiting for our own mega-Indian celebrity to be the one to recognize us & provide their voice but it is tremendously more impactful to have this recognition come from a member of the ultra-privileged European class. Sad but true. DiCaprio had this to say in his acceptance speech:
“Lastly I want to share this award with all the first nations people represented in this film and all the indigenous communities around the world. It is time that we recognize your history and that we protect your indigenous lands from corporate interests and people out there to exploit them. It is time we heard your voice and protected this planet for future generations.”
That is good but that is not our narrative. Those are not our awards. We are objects in that arena; the camera is directed at us not by us. We are consistently dressed out of time and out of place for their marketability, indeed our marketability as well. Our place in their media is as our ancestors pre-1900: feathers, leathers, plains-people the whole bit. That’s where we fit as Reel Injuns. We’ll keep taking those roles, that’s part of our survival and evolution. Much could be said about the portrayal of Natives in the Revenant or the very act of celebrating other people in idolatrous fashion when Natives show more allegiance to NFL teams than their own Tribal Nations but that’s none of my business.
We clamor to any recognition given where previously we have been ignored, or objectified. Look at all the Natives clawing at DiCaprio to leech of any social capital even mentioning his name will bring much less asking DiCaprio to recognize them. Reminds me of those hordes of Natives clamoring for a picture of President Obama because he hosted Tribal Nation conferences. These are huge steps no doubt but steps whose true character must be appreciated, must be kept in perspective when our great-grandfathers refused to even meet the President of the United States.
What good does it do us to have celebrities recognize us & why do we so fondly receive that? Well, it does a tremendous amount of good considering the creation of pop-culture, the manufacturing of “cool” and the lot we Natives find ourselves in. That lot aptly described as the most dis-empowered, disenfranchised lot in history. However, it behooves us to celebrate our own creative action, our own hard work to revive our languages, the evolution of ceremony, strengthening of land-people-animal-being ecosystem connections, developing our own abilities, our own adaptations. Don’t get caught too long in the allure of celebrity, in others.
“The important thing in strategy is to suppress the enemy’s useful actions but allow his useless actions.” *Miyamoto Musashi
Our useful actions are self-reliance, providing our own water, food, energy, housing, owning our own land in our patent, being able to trade freely and internationally, being able to receive the benefit of all of our economic impact, being able to protect our homelands and sacred sites as DiCaprio mentioned. Our useless actions are participating as bystanders in the manufactured cool of their world. While I do appreciate celebrity recognition of Natives I’d much rather have the ultra-privileged fund real life actions like @UnistotenCamp, Anonymous, Any Direct Action that involves potential jail-time, Any Direct Action or project that could lead the world to a more regenerative future like hemp for instance. I don’t think we have time to celebrate celebrity with disaster looming for our children. Nonetheless, thank you Leonardo DiCaprio for stepping up and using your celebrity for good as you did when you spoke to the United Nations and took part in the Peoples Climate March in NYC. We are all in this together; however, I do wonder why is it that just the poor people are generous. When it comes to funding liberation camps, sacred site and homeland protection direct actions, why can’t the DiCaprios, NCAIs, NIGAs, AFNs & other well-healed allies fund our liberation?