“The romanticization of our culture and our interactions with Europeans is pervasive, yet there was certainly nothing romantic about the genocide our grandparents endured.”
I hear answers similar to those from Bob McConnell of the Yurok tribe in California quite regularly when I talk to indigenous people when I introduce Karl May’s work to them. His novels, on the other hand, cannot be denied to have stimulated an interest in Native Americans among generations of Europeans.
“I was in Germany, and among the Germans there are many admirers of the original inhabitants of America. You can ask them anything about our culture and they’re down to science,” notes Maryann Robins of the Onondaga Nation.
“And I was also in the Czech Republic at your Indian pow-wow celebrations. My God! People there know so much about us. You go to England and the people there know more about us than the average American, than the people in our own country,” he adds with respect.
A romantic myth
Native Americans usually don’t know the character of Vinnetou, at least I haven’t met one yet. But they understandably perceive the romanticizing adventure films and books that are created about them in Western culture.
Chief Natosha Carmine of the Nanticoke Nation points out that a lot of literary and film works lack a real basis: “When people watch shows like this on TV, it doesn’t tell them anything about the reality of Native Americans. It’s just the actors and their roles. With books, you need to check if the author really studied Native American culture or just wrote a book.”
“Let people come to our celebrations, here they will get to know what we are really like,” Natosha Carmine offers the invitation.
It doesn’t hurt, but it doesn’t help either
And who would rather choose a movie or a book, according to Carmela Wilmore, another member of the Nanticoke nation, these days there are already solid options for choosing quality content that faithfully portrays the Native Americans. Unlike the golden era of Vinnetou in the last century.
“There will always be people who will believe the romanticized image of us they see in a movie like this and won’t think about what really happened. Not that it harms us, but it doesn’t help,” he states.
“However, there are more and more TV shows and movies being made that feature real Native Americans. So we finally get to show people who we really are, and that’s essential. So that people see the truth and don’t believe the lies,” he emphasizes Carmela Wilmore.
In just the first hundred years after their arrival in the Americas, Europeans killed about 55 million Native Americans by force or by introducing previously unknown diseases. Only ten percent of them survived and in the following centuries the Native Americans experienced genocide.
They still feel its consequences today, as well as the pollution of their water sources or the destruction of the sacred places of their ancestors. For example, the year before last, the federal government authorized the blowing up of Native American burial grounds near the border with Mexico.