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Ethics of Native Reenacting
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Capt John Black
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Real Name: Ron Black

PostPosted: Mon Oct 19, 2009 8:27 pm    Post subject: Ethics of Native Reenacting Reply with quote

I have always had an issue with this area of reenacting. I just have a few questions for everyone involved.

1. How many of you who are portraying Native Americans are in fact Native Americans?

2. Do you see a problem with Non-Native Americans portraying Native Americans?

Personally I would never do it. It seems wrong to me. Our organization is currently trying to get Native American involvement because we don't feel that it is ethical to have "white-men" portraying Natives.

I would really like others' opinions on this topic. Thanks.

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okie
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PostPosted: Mon Oct 19, 2009 11:35 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Depends to me on how it is portrayed. I am 1/4 cherokee, m family is on the roll, in the process of getting my mother her card so i can get mine as well as my childrens. Personally, I look like the other 3/4s which is english, so i am out. For those that do it and do it well I have no problems, but there are several out there that are sloppy and to hollywoodish in their appearance. Don't know if being 1/4 is enough to answer your question, but there it is. If a person really trys and works at it I am all for it.

Sam
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Don Abbott
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PostPosted: Tue Oct 20, 2009 6:44 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I don't have any problem with some guy of Norwegian extraction portraying a Scot, or someone with a French heritage portraying an Englishman.

Don't see why there should be any ethical hang-ups in a predominately European guy pretending to be an Indian, as long as he does justice to the portrayal.

'Course you gotta admit, a fat white guy in a breech clout can be as disturbing as it is humorous. But that should fall under the heading of common sense and decency, not ethics.

My $.02

Don
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Capt John Black
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PostPosted: Tue Oct 20, 2009 6:52 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Europeans portraying Europeans is not a big stretch. How would you feel if a white person wanted to portray a Black person? Free or slave? I think someone would take offense to that.

Its not that I am an overly politically correct person or over sensitive, I couldn't be further from that. It is just that I have a great respect for the American Indian peoples, I would hate to do them any injustice.

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Isaac
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PostPosted: Tue Oct 20, 2009 8:16 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Capt. Black,

For a lot of back and forth on this, you may want to check out this... http://frontierfolk.net/phpBB/viewtopic.php?t=19915 it started in 2008 and still has postings from this week (however they have morphed into something different).

IW

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Mario
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PostPosted: Tue Oct 20, 2009 11:02 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Capt John Black wrote:
Europeans portraying Europeans is not a big stretch. How would you feel if a white person wanted to portray a Black person? Free or slave? I think someone would take offense to that.


How about Europeans portraying Indians that by the 1750s already had a pretty good proprtion of Euro blood anyway? Which is the case throughout the North East at the time.

White portraying black I wouldn't find offensive, just silly. Completely different physical characteristics. Put a fair-skinned white boy in paint with a dyed scalplock and he can fit right in.

Mario

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Isaac
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PostPosted: Tue Oct 20, 2009 11:30 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

What if you are Indian of fairly high blood quantum, are recognized by a federally recognized tribe, but have a light complexion with blonde hair and blue eyes? I know of people like this and they would look as odd as a non-native blondie. Is this based on "race" and looks or based on heritage and culture? If it is heritage or culture, what about if an Ojibwe wants to portray Mohawk, or a Washoe wants to portray Seneca (sorry Mike ;-P ). I guess what I am trying to ask is what is the stem of the ethical problem and to what extent do we take it.

As I have said elsewhere about my PERSONAL thoughts...Although I did dress as a white captive for a couple events WAY back, I have not done anything the like in almost a decade. The reason for me is that I feel weird doing so. Here in WI and MN where I do the majority of my events, there are strong Indian communities still present and I inevitably come into contact with folks from these communities (sometimes as visitors/public, sometimes as fellow reenactors). Sometimes it is hard even portraying a canadien with some native stuff and explaining it, say nothing about portraying an Indian and trying to explain that! Additionally, I have a lot of friends, colleagues, and acquaintances that are from these communities that I think would think oddly of me and perhaps not fully approve. That alone is enought to make me back off. Anyway, I think the experience is different if you live in a place with few skins, but around here...

Anyway, I have no ethical problems with others doing it, but I am not very comfortable doing it myself. That said, there has been part of me that has lately been thinking of going against my better judgment and for a particular event, making an appearance as a particular figure, temporarily, to make a historical point. That said... I will probably never do it.

Isaac

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Don Abbott
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PostPosted: Tue Oct 20, 2009 11:34 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Quote:
It is just that I have a great respect for the American Indian peoples, I would hate to do them any injustice.


I couldn't agree with you more. However, I have a great deal of respect for all other peoples, and would think that our standards of equality should be just that... equal.

The part of the word "reenacting" we need to remember is reenacting. We are playing a role in trying to teach respect for our collective history. When we get to the point that we need to have our genealogical credentials in order before portraying a character, we will all be hard pressed to continue in the hobby.

That said, I believe that everyone who is serious about what we do is respectful. Again, if it just looks stupid, it's not respectful, regardless of who the character is.

I have 200+ years of Southern Appalachian blood in my veins. Do you think I appreciate the stereotypical Hee-Haw hillbilly junk? No more than a person of Cherokee decent would appreciate the whole "How, pale-face" Tonto stereotype. However, if someone from another culture wants to do a respectful impression of my ancestors, more power to him.

I simply don't understand why one culture should deserve more respect than any other. All should be respected equally.
(unless they're Yankees, of course)

Don
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Capt John Black
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PostPosted: Tue Oct 20, 2009 12:08 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

The way I look at it is Race, not physical appearance. Lets face it a lot of people have set Ideas on what an "Indian" looks like, and in most cases they are wrong. Things like blond hair can be alter.

Early explores and settlers in New England made note of the fact that some Natives were born with Red hair and light skin, which tanned over time and the hair was dyed dark with berries.

What i am sensing here is that most of you do not have a problem with this, as long as it is done right and done well.

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Isaac
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PostPosted: Tue Oct 20, 2009 12:27 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Capt John Black wrote:
The way I look at it is Race, not physical appearance. Lets face it a lot of people have set Ideas on what an "Indian" looks like, and in most cases they are wrong. Things like blond hair can be alter. .


But race, essentially, is a societal construct based on physical traits. ??? If, "Things like blond hair can be alter." wouldn't the issue be more of ethnic/cultural origin and the rights you/others can claim of that heritage than our idea of "race." This is then where it gets sticky with the "Euros" doing other "Euros" thing gets weird. I agree that the issue with Euro-Americans portraying native (or for that matter any non-NDN portraying one) it IS more of a race thing (as is someone that is "White" portraying an African decent person), but... I think culture is a bigger part of the argument. Okay, I am now confusing myself.

Isaac, not arguing but trying to understand

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okie
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PostPosted: Wed Oct 21, 2009 12:44 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I don't see it as race or anything anymore, Here in OK there are several nations around. I am 1/4 cherokee, So my daughter would be 1/8th right? She is just as cute a little blonde haired blue eyed angel as can be. Now I was in Chickasha a year or so ago putting diesel in my bosses truck, there was a car load of people waiting on us to move. Boss is inside paying. Passenger of car nods at me as I walk past. I respond "que pasa?" He looks at me and says, "I am choctaw a$$ hole not a mexican" My response "no hablo ingles" Point being could a mexican portray a NA? I think if it is portrayed correctly and with sincerity go for it. If you are 350lbs and just want to wear a breech clout don't do it. As i said early with me being what I am would it be ok with you for me to portray a native? But like Isaac there are to many of my friends who are full blood cherokee around here for me to do it. I don't tell most of them that I am, unless we start talking Cherokee, which i am still working on.

Just my thoughts

Sam
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Steve Stanley
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Location: Somewhere between 21st century England & 18th century Acadia...........
Real Name: Steve Stanley

PostPosted: Wed Oct 21, 2009 9:13 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

A thought.....Some years ago,I was a member of a group portraying 18th cent Scots Jacobites(I'm English....)....We used to get regular bookings from prestigious venues in Scotland....Whilst grateful for the money,we took it on ourselves to ask why one of them didn't employ scots groups.
Reply was 'Because a lot of them have trouble keeping history & modern nationalism apart...You guys research it unemotionally & present the culture,warts and all'....which I guess is what historic re-enactment is all about......So,yes,we were sensitive about what we were doing,but that response justified us...I'm not saying people shouldn't portray their own historical culture.....Just that it's not a pre-requisite........
Steve
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Okwaho
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PostPosted: Wed Oct 21, 2009 11:52 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Isaac wrote:
What if you are Indian of fairly high blood quantum, are recognized by a federally recognized tribe, but have a light complexion with blonde hair and blue eyes? I know of people like this and they would look as odd as a non-native blondie. Is this based on "race" and looks or based on heritage and culture? If it is heritage or culture, what about if an Ojibwe wants to portray Mohawk, or a Washoe wants to portray Seneca (sorry Mike ;-P ). I guess what I am trying to ask is what is the stem of the ethical problem and to what extent do we take it.

As I have said elsewhere about my PERSONAL thoughts...Although I did dress as a white captive for a couple events WAY back, I have not done anything the like in almost a decade. The reason for me is that I feel weird doing so. Here in WI and MN where I do the majority of my events, there are strong Indian communities still present and I inevitably come into contact with folks from these communities (sometimes as visitors/public, sometimes as fellow reenactors). Sometimes it is hard even portraying a canadien with some native stuff and explaining it, say nothing about portraying an Indian and trying to explain that! Additionally, I have a lot of friends, colleagues, and acquaintances that are from these communities that I think would think oddly of me and perhaps not fully approve. That alone is enought to make me back off. Anyway, I think the experience is different if you live in a place with few skins, but around here...

Anyway, I have no ethical problems with others doing it, but I am not very comfortable doing it myself. That said, there has been part of me that has lately been thinking of going against my better judgment and for a particular event, making an appearance as a particular figure, temporarily, to make a historical point. That said... I will probably never do it.

Isaac


As always my good friend from the frozen north has written an excellent post especially the last paragraph.One of the great ironies here is the fact that Isaac ,for whom I have the highest respect, would ALWAYS be welcome in my lodge were he to portray a Native.

I have read through this thread several times and the original post ,although I'm sure it was unintended,reminds me of the Black/White dichotomy I see often here in the South where one hears the following,:

"I have nothing against Blacks;some of my best friends are blacks" One can alter this statement and substitute a plethora of other races and/or other nationalities in lieu of "Blacks".I am happy that Captain Black and his group are looking after us "Poor Natives".This reminds me of the twin concepts of the 19th and 20th centuries i.e."The little Brown Brother and The White Man's Burden."

My Native heritage is Monacan, a Siouan language pattern tribe from the James River Basin near Lynchburg,Virginia along with several other tribes.I usually portray a French allied Mohawk from Caughnawaga,Quebec. but have also portrayed other tribes in the South.

When doing various events I am often asked about Native reenacting in its various facets including ,"can I reenact Indian without Indian blood"?My answer is YES and I also add the following conditions applicable only to me.

1. That your heart be right
2. That you do honor to the tribe/clan which you are portraying.
3. That your gear/kit be as historically authentic as possible.

I know of several Native reenactors whom I believe to be without Native blood BUT who are more than welcome in my lodge .

As to the point raised by Isaac i.e. blue eyes,blonde hair,light complexion I would cite the number of captives/ adoptees who were assimilated into Native tribes,Eunice Williams-Mohawk, Mary Jemison-Seneca, and Cynthia Ann Parker-Comanche.

I am sorry that Captain Black and his group feel that it is unethical for non Natives reenactors to portray Natives and can only wonder how they intend to correct the problem and more importantly {and curiously},how are they going to determine who are the non Natives who are reenacting as Natives?
This is quite a kettle of fish. I look forward to the conclusion and I thought Pandoras' box would be exciting.
As always I welcome responsible opposing comments.
Tom Patton

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Last edited by Okwaho on Sun Jan 24, 2010 6:50 pm; edited 1 time in total
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Capt John Black
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PostPosted: Wed Oct 21, 2009 12:43 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I am sorry that Captain Black and his group feel that it is unethical for non Natives reenactors to portray Natives and can only wonder how they intend to correct the problem and more importantly {and curiously},how are they going to determine who are the non Natives who are reenacting as Natives?
This is quite a kettle of fish. I look forward to the conclusion and I thought Pandoras' box would be exciting.
As always I welcome responsible opposing comments.
Tom Patton[/quote]

The dilemma has been how to proceed. I wanted to get the perspective of at least on Native American, I got several. I wanted to see if Native Americans took offense to this, if the common consensus is NO, then we move on from there. My personal opinion is that I would not take on that kind of responsibility.

The group as a whole has been debating this subject and I was just looking for another point of view.

I'm not trying to "look out " for anyone, that's not my job in life. I just don't want to unintentionally pissed somebody off, then run into problems.

The way we have been trying to deal with this is by contacting the local Tribes and get them involved. It is not an easy process.

As usual when I try to be "PC" I end up on someone bad side. I hate to be PC, I'll stick with polite and nix the PC talk from now on.

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Isaac
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PostPosted: Wed Oct 21, 2009 12:53 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Capt John Black wrote:
The way we have been trying to deal with this is by contacting the local Tribes and get them involved. It is not an easy process.
.


This is a good way of going about this and I think, from what you just said, your reasons are good and well thought out.

The only problem that I find in the above is that depending on who you talk to, you will get a different response. If I went down to the HoChunk admin. building a few miles away, I could talk to a few dozen HoChunks that are pretty high up in tribal government. I would probably get a dozen different responses from "that sounds great" to "I am insulted, what the ^*@!" AND, the thoughts of these people in the tribal gov't. may not always correspond with the others in the Nation. Anyway, being sensitive and etc. is always a good thing.

IW

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