Arts & Entertainment

Do Native Americans have a place in contemporary art and entertainment? By observation, they're hard to find within mainstream media. It is is a difficult task to find their presence in this field of interest--however they are rising in recognition. Slowly, their presence is pushed in traditional art, music, and literature. In each of the following sections, you will be able to observe for yourself how strong (or weak) their representation in the media is. It's a subjective decision for you the viewer to make.

Native Americans and Art

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Native American art does not solely consist of, pottery, dream catchers and sand art. Today, there are dozens of contemporary Native American artists.

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Some of which use their historical background to influence their artwork today, and some who don’t let the fact that they are Native American influence their artistic valor and creativity.

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One fantastic group of artists in a collaborative group called the Continuum 12, are all natives of, Hawaii, the pacific islands, and the Americas. They are paving an incredible pathway for all “invisible” native Americans today.

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I say “invisible” because, like mentioned before, the only images modern Americans view the Native American culture is a historical one, and let’s face it, there are native Americans living in American now who may only have one image of native’s themselves.

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This can be a lost confusing feeling to have when the only influence you have of your background is a portrayal of a tribe dancing around a fire or making pottery out of river clay.

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For native Americans today, knowing that there are well known, respected, and professional artists can help paint a new picture for how natives are viewed as a whole.

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Of the artists of the Continuum 12 is george Longfish. His art iis particularly unique. He combines historical native American images and images found in the societal media.

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His native roots seem to shine through but in an unexpected way. He uses these historical images to get his point across and to express the idea’s of ownership of one’s culture, injustice, and the passing of traditions onto future generations

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Today, Longfish is striving to expand modertorn native American culture ideas. After college in Chicago, longfish was persued by many school to hire him as a native American studies professors. When confronted he simply replied,

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- “I didn’t look at Native American studies as a viable position," he said, explaining that he believed the department provided training for lawyers and others who would work with Native Americans. "I was trained as an artist."-

This piece of work in particular to me speaks very litteraly and at the same time symbolically about American and its organized corruption.
Fast food, brain wash, lies and manifest destinally are all flagrant lies that America is knows for. They are lies in the sence that they all happen and the leaders of American media all know it, but our children and our childrens children will all be told a sugar coated fary tail version of the events that realy happened. This peace shows all of this propaganda in one simple negative message. The colors and the medium are all so sharp and negative. It glows with injustice as well as all of his other works. They are simply brilliant.


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Native Americans in the Film/Movie Industry

Pocahontas, Native American Stereotype
Pocahontas, Native American Stereotype

When and individual imagines a Native American in a movie, they always think of Pocahontas or a character with the name along the lines of Wind in His Hair, Runs with the Wolf, etc. However, the way Native Americans are portrayed in mainstream films over time is of a colony of Native Americans and their homeland from the early times and their battle with “Spain, France, England, and Portugal claiming ownership of ‘America’ and the ‘New World’” (Singer). The portrayal of the Native American character in movies has created this stereotype that continues to uphold an interest. Over time, the movie industry coined a new term of “American West” which contained content of the white settlers and the wild “Indians” in the 1930s-40s. The “Indians” were being displayed as violent and uncivilized (Singer).

external image P3636.jpgNative American and Western films peaked during the World War II. During this time, “commercial availability of television in the late 1940s led to a reduction in the number of big-budget westerns filmed on location” (Singer). Displaying authentic Native Americans in Hollywood westerns as “Indians” were turned into “victims of exploitation by white filmmakers” who had transported the Native Americans from their reservations and used them to work in Hollywood. For their work in battle scenes, the Native Americans were paid with alcohol and tobacco. Yet, the white filmmakers were mistreating and exploiting the Native Americans (Singer).

In the United States and Canada, the term “Indians” became associated with culture, behavior, language, and social organization. People viewed “Indians” as savages, uncivilized, and dangerous. Nevertheless, the Native Americans are hard at work trying to dig themselves out of this ditch by working with the film industry and correct the false perceptions and “stock image” of Indians. The only acting roles available for Native Americans were to represent Indians in western films with costumes including feathers and buckskin dresses. There were essentially four tribes; Apache, Cheyenne, Comanche, and Sioux. In the 1950s-60s western films featured Indians played by white actors (i.e. Jeff Chandler of Broken Arrow (1950) who played the Apache leader, Cochise).

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In the 1990s, Dances with Wolves became the most popular decade that included Indians. Kevin Costner directed and starred in this film that changed the location of earlier westerns. Rather than the Monument Valley, Costner used “some one thousand buffalo, five hundred Indians, and as many horses in the high plains of South Dakota, the homeland of the Sioux” (Singer). The film also included natives who spoke the Lakota tongue (the language of the Sioux people). The film had features that made it more authentic and also made apparent that there are no real changes in Native Americans in the film industry. White domination and colonization still continued to plotline the movies (Singer).

Native-Made Films

A Native American film movement was born between 1990 and 2000. During this time, many Native Americans enrolled in film schools along with many others who had tried to complete college with various forms of study.

Director, Chris Eyre, teamed up with writer-producer, Sherman Alexie, and started a film project that was only made possible due to many unsuccessful Native American films. Alexie’s novel, The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fist Fight in Heaven (1993), was the backbone of Eyre’s film Smoke Signals (1998). This film was about a modern native community and it was purchased by Miramax Films. They both continued to make films independently including Eyre’s Skins (2002) and Skinwalkers (2002), and Alexie’s The Business of Fancydancing (2002). With anticipation, these native-made films will help with stereotypes on Native Americans and clear up any historical misconceptions (Singer).

John Ford Movies

Producer, John Ford
Producer, John Ford

John Ford was a master European American filmmaker who produced a lot of western films. His most famous silent western was The Iron Horse (1924). The film featured “eight hundred Pawnee, Sioux, and Cheyenne Indians along with twenty-eight hundred horses, thirteen hundred buffalo, and ten thousand Texas steers” (Singer). With this film Ford had, at this point, remade the American Western with the western genre.

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Ford’s film, The Searchers (1956) was in the viewpoint of the white European American perspective. The story tells the story of “Indian” raiders who murder white families and children. In the film, Ethan Edwards (John Wayne) comes home after the Civil War to live with his family but the “Indian” raiders kidnap his niece. Edwards and his nephew, Martin, who is partially Indian, set out to find his niece but Edwards’ true colors and racism, begin to show as does his desire for revenge. There are many negative stereotypes of the Indians in the film including a confusing section of the movie where Edwards tries to get revenge on the Indians and points a gun and shoots into the eyes of a dead Comanche warrior. According to the Indian belief, because of this act he can no longer be admitted into heaven. However, the next scene shows the Christian burial for a white man. Because of all the negative portrayals of Indians, people begin to think that “Indians deserve to be punished or exterminated to make way for white settlement” (Singer).

Ford’s other Films:

  • Stagecoach (1939)
  • Drums Along the Mohawk (1939)
  • My Darling Clementine (1946)
  • Fort Apache (1948)
  • She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949)
  • Rio Grande (1950)
  • Cheyenne Autumn (1964)

Singer, Beverly R. Native Americans and Cinema. 2007. 25 Apr. 2008 <
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Native Americans in Contemporary Music

For the Native Americans, music plays a very important role in their culture. Today, in addition to their traditional music, Native Americans are involved in many other contemporary styles, such as rock, reggae, blues, hip-hop, and punk rock. They also have a Grammy Award for Best Native American Music Album and their very own music awards called the Native American Music Awards, which are also known as the Nammys. Some contemporary American Indians musical groups are Indigenous, Blackfoot , Redbone, Ulali XIT Lakota Thunder , and Blackfire. Blackfire is one of the most predominant Native American bands in the music world. Blackfire is a punk rock band that operates out of Arizona. They are comprised of two brothers and their sister, Clayson, Jeneda, and Klee. Their style incorporates traditional music with a 90s style of punk rock. Their lyrics are very politically driven and have a lot to do with government oppression, relocation of indigenous people, eco-cide, genocide, domestic violence and human rights. They have also recently been awarded “Group of the Year”.


This is footage form a Blackfire concert. They give a little speech showing there animosity towards the government and the current situation that many Native Americans are in. After this they do a traditional Native American Dance for the audience.

This is a Blackfire music video entitled, “It Ain’t Over”. This video shows them playing with some protest and police brutality clips. Similar to what you might see with bands like, Rage Against the Machine and Public Enemy.

Sherman Alexie--The Contemporary Voice

Prominent Native American author: Sherman Alexie
Prominent Native American author: Sherman Alexie

Sherman Alexie (above) is a profoundly influential literary figure of the Native American population. Known for his blunt, but realistic depiction of contemporary Native Americans and reservations, he has been both praised and criticized by his own people, as well as the rest of society. His works are known for his natural ability to discuss serious topics while simultaneously weaving humor through out his stories (FallsApart).


Alexie comments on the fact that Native American’s don’t really have a voice within the writing industry—due to the fact that Indian society is poor, and hence has poor education and culture (which consists of TV and alcohol). His father taught him to read at the age of three, but the only literature his school provided him with was written by Caucasians.

The concept of Native American literature wasn’t revealed until he was in his 20s and was exposed to well known Native American authors. He originally intended to pursue his medical interests, but after passing out during several anatomy classes, he decided to find a new path—and he discovered his talents in poetry and writing (Campbell)


Alexie reading
Alexie reading
One of the biggest issues Alexie addresses through his humorous writings is the serious subject about the identity of Native Americans today. He feels that all the images of Indians that people have, are ones that were not created by the Indians themselves. Through his writing, Alexie creates characters that reflect the Native society, searching for their identity and struggling to keep their culture while living in the modern day world.

This is the focus in one of Alexie's recent collection of short stories, Ten Little Indians . Each story depicts a Native American who is ordinary and commonplace, yet is in search of ceremonies and ties to their culture that gives their lives meaning.

Upon being “[asked, he] says that at times he does feel "trapped by other people's ideas of who I am and who I'm supposed to be . . . there are so many ideas about Indians, none of which we created. It's a special situation being colonized people where the colonizers always get to define us—and that still happens."