What is it with Indians?
Why are Indians so popular? What’s the attraction? Why are they so popular now, when in previous generations they were the untouchables of North America?
Part has to do with the western myth. The romanticism with the west and the “noble savage.” Not only in the US, but also in Europe. 19th Century German author Karl May inspired millions of Germans with his western novels that got them hooked in to the romantic western myth. Today it continues in Germany with festivals and recreated camps of Indian tribes. Over on our side of the pond, we are aware that a whole generation of Americans grew up watching cowboys and Indians on TV and in the movies. In some ways the cultures and myths of the Native Americans has become inseparable in the minds of Americans.
Image (below): The cover of a book I have about Alabama Indians starts off on the wrong foot with an image of the mythical, western Hollywood Indian instead of a real Southeast Native.
Then there was the social movements in the 1960’s. American thought they had to right every wrong in the world and protest big government and big business. Those who had been wronged, persecuted, and killed by the government in previous history were elevated to sainthood. Activists took it upon themselves to right the wrongs of the past. Part of this hooked onto the injustices that the Native Americans have received, in the past and the present times. And there certainly where social injustices going on between the Native American communities and the federal government in the 1960s and 70s.
Okay, those are two obvious reasons. But I think there is a third reason, which I will expound upon instead. Most of the younger generation today do not really remember the Hollywood westerns of the 50s, or the social activism of the 60s. So what is the attraction for them?
The first point is that our parents passed onto us their sense of who the Native American Indians are. From Hollywood westerns to social causes, whichever points you want to choose. I think that in many ways, in the minds of most people, Native Americans came to represent ideals that they themselves never created. We developed a reverence for them that made us emulate everything Native.
Our society has become detached with its surrounding environment. We live in a city where we don’t have to hunt or farm to survive. Everything is provided. We do not have to live off the land and seek out food and shelter. Before the American Civil War and industrial age, people had to know all the native plants and animals to survive. Now, everything is artificial, and we live in an artificial world were everything is manufactured and created. I am told that today, 90 percent of our time is spent in air-conditioned environments. Grandpa no longer sits out on the front porch drinking ice tea, but inside watching Entertainment Tonight. People are seeking to get reattached to the natural earth that they lost.
Giving up our natural world for our plastic bubble, we have become detached from the natural world. Our society is losing its sense of being connected to its surroundings. When you have to survive in the natural environment, you have an intuitiveness of your surroundings. Native, aboriginal people seem much more intuitive. Our modern society has sought to discard our intuition that we were born with. Not only are we seeking to be reattached to our natural environment, we are seeking to recapture the intuitiveness that we have as a connection to the land. We want to get reattached to their roots. To understand the environment around us, or what is left of it.
People have lost the sense of who they are, why they are here, and where they are going.
Maybe if they emulate the Native Americans, they will find an answer to their search. Maybe they are looking for the connection that the Native Americans had with their natural surroundings. If they can find the connection, they might be able to have these questions answered; these questions that are burning into their soul.
People are looking to the Native people for healing in their soul.
Image (below): Robert Morgan with Ingram Billie and wife, about 1980. Not only was Ingram in touch with his natural surroundings; he knew who he was, why he was here, and where he was going.
i think you have it exactly. we have lost touch with something very vital to ourselves as people and as individuals, something that we have attached to the image of the Native American as we see it today. what leaves me shaking my head and feeling frustration, bexilderment, and great sorrow is that "we" seem to put such value on these things, and yet continue to destroy our natural resources at such an alarming rate.