This is a topic that came up in conversation yesterday.
Many or most “white” depictions of Native Americans will be seen as offensive by some or many actual Native Americans.
The depiction may cast them as primitive savages or villains, especially in the books and movies up until the 70s(?). As noble savages or heroes. As damaged alcoholics. Or as wise people in tune with nature, as in the modern new age mythology.
In most cases, the depiction will be of an imagined Native American which may not ever have existed in that way. It’s a generalization, a cardboard cutout, often based on myths and fears and/or wishful thinking. And this generalization is across time, groups, or individuals.
That’s almost a given since few westerners have actual and in-depth personal familiarity with their lives and culture, either in the past or now, and there is also a great deal of cultural and individual variation among Native Americans, as there is within any reasonably large and diverse groups of people.
And due to the Native American history with Europeans, they are understandably sensitive to how they are treated and depicted. If they were and had been the “top dog” in the relationship, they would probably see it as mildly amusing, but as it is, it’s understandable if some or many of them are more sensitive to this.
(When I see how Norwegians, or vikings, are depicted in popular culture outside of Norway, I see the misconceptions and often find it amusing. And that’s because it’s not a sensitive topic for me. Norwegians do well, and there is no history there for me that would make it a sensitive topic.)
It’s understandable if this is quite emotional for some, and come out in the form of anger.
It may hurt even more since what’s happening *can* be seen as a continued colonization. White people use the imagined Native American as subject of books, movies, music and visual art, and make it into entertainment, and also make money on it. That may be experienced, by some, as rubbing salt in the wound.
There is another aspect to this. For many of European heritage, and especially those who idolize or feel connected to the (imagined?) Native American, it’s well intentioned. They see something there that’s attractive and they would like to bring more alive in their own life. It could be a simple life, connected to and in tune with nature, and with close connections to your tribe. All of that is lacking for many in the modern world, so no wonder that many wish for it, and the traditional Native American is a good projection object for this type of life.
It may not be entirely accurate. It may sometimes be experienced as offensive. And yet, it’s often well intentioned, and comes from caring about a certain way of life.
In other cases, the projection will be more of a shadow projection, as in the old west books and movies where Native Americans are the primitive savages. I assume that’s happening even now, through stereotypes of contemporary Native Americans on reservations as lazy, or alcoholics, or running ethically dubious operations such as casinos.
One may even shift into the other, for some. Some who idealize the wise and nature-connected Native American may be disappointed by the reality today, and even get caught in shadow projections. And the reverse may be possible too.
I imagine there are a few ways for Native Americans to relate to this. In a reactive way, publicly rejecting it and seeing these people as having malicious intent. Rejecting it from seeing it as misguided and not “getting it”. Ignoring it, as much as possible, and perhaps only talking about it in private. Actively educating people about the reality, as you see and experience it. Recognizing it as projections. And I am sure there are other ways too.
I am very aware that what I have written here can also be seen as offensive. For instance, I could have used the term First Nations instead of Native Americans. I make many assumptions here, which may not be accurate. I am getting into a topic that’s not really my business. (Apart from being aware of my own imaginations and projections, and how it may be perceived.) And I am exploring this without having checked with people of Native American heritage. (Their responses would probably make me change how I write about this, and would probably also be quite varied.)