How to Unmake Indigenous Stereotypes

"Rarely are we seen as complicated, interesting, funny, loving human beings."

 |  Transcript [PDF]

We’ve all seen popular representations of indigenous peoples.  How about that Native tribe in Disney’s original rendition of Peter Pan?  Or the ridiculous portrayal of Apache culture that caused a cast walk-out from the set of Adam Sandler’s movie The Ridiculous 6?

Why is this always the way we portray indigenous people in the mainstream media?  Why does it always seem like they are primitive, backward, or in some way inferior?

Daniel Justice, Professor and Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Literature and Expressive Culture at the University of British Columbia, asks these questions.  He wants to unmake this oppressive settler-colonial reality that we’re living.

“..rarely are we seen as fully-fleshed, complicated, interesting, funny, and loving human beings.  We’re denied that in the popular representations,” says Professor Justice.  He believes that indigenous literatures and other artistic productions can give indigenous people back that sense of wholeness.

Professor Justice himself authored “Our Fire Survives the Storm: A Cherokee Literary History”, “The Way of Thorn and Thunder”, an Indigenous epic fantasy series, and numerous other essays in the field of Indigenous literary studies.

Indigenous peoples are not fundamentally flawed, rather we don’t have a proper understanding of their culture or history.

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Daniel Heath Justice is a Colorado-born Canadian citizen of the Cherokee Nation. He received his B.A. from the University of Northern Colorado and his M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Before coming to UBC, he spent ten years as a faculty member in the Department of English at the University of Toronto, where he was also an affiliate of the Aboriginal Studies Program.

Daniel currently holds the Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Literature and Expressive Culture. He is the author of Our Fire Survives the Storm: A Cherokee Literary History and numerous essays in the field of Indigenous literary studies, as well as co-editor of a number of critical and creative anthologies and journals, including The Oxford Handbook of Indigenous American Literature (with James H. Cox) and the award-winning Sovereign Erotics: A Collection of Two-Spirit Literature (with Qwo-Li Driskill, Deborah Miranda, and Lisa Tatonetti). He is also the author of Badger in the celebrated Animal series from Reaktion Books (UK).

2015 marks the tenth publication anniversary of the first volume in Daniel’s Indigenous epic fantasy series, The Way of Thorn and Thunder, which was published under that title in an omnibus edition in 2011. His current projects include Why Indigenous Literatures Matter, a literary manifesto forthcoming from Wilfrid Laurier University Press in 2016, a collection of essays and short stories titled Imagining Otherwise: Reflections on Indigenous Belonging and Desire, as well as a new dark fantasy trilogy, a cultural history of raccoons, and a critical monograph on other-than-human kinship in Indigenous writing.