Native cultures ignored by mainstream media

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Last Monday was Columbus Day.

When I was in elementary school, we celebrated Columbus Day in class. I remember illustrating a picture of Christopher Columbus—a smiling white guy on a boat, even though he was, in fact, a Spanish guy named Cristóbal Colón. The story as far as I knew it was that the settlers landed in Plymouth, where they would break bread with the natives and after a series of polite interactions, the United States came into being as a well-functioning melting pot of different cultures.

I hope they are not teaching this narrative anymore.

Now that we are older, many U.S. citizens celebrate Columbus Day by shopping at big name stores such as Walmart, Sears or Gap, all of which have special “Columbus Day sales.” And, of course, there is nothing more American than shopping through a Walmart sale rack, but I can’t help but feel that this day could be better spent.

While many of us are aware that the use of the word “discover” when referring to anything Columbus did in stumbling upon land that is now the United States is dubious at best, I would go so far as to say it is insulting that Columbus Day is still a holiday, printed on nearly every calendar and day planner in this country. It would be more beneficial to dedicate a day to honoring Native American cultures that are largely unrecognized in modern society. Surely, we can spare one day.

In mainstream American culture, Native Americans are nearly invisible. The only time they are featured on the news is when they hold a pow-wow, but they are rarely featured in regards to the political issues or social conditions that affect their everyday lives or land. The only time they are featured in blockbuster movies is when there is need for a stereotype such as a “noble savage” or a character who is wise and one with nature, but they are rarely portrayed as realistic people functioning in the modern world just as everyone else is. They have even been reduced to being mascots for national sports teams and all attempts to change this have been unsuccessful.

“I really haven’t seen anything modern about Native Americans, like what they’re doing today, what’s on our agenda, because it’s different from what’s on the agenda for the United States of America,” said Lois Kane, the Language and Culture Coordinator for the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony. “A lot of the issues that are in the community are not something that the United States of America even cares about.”

In Nevada, there are a number of American Indian reservations and quite a few different Native American tribes, including Paiute, Shoshone and Washo. And, although all of us readily live on land that was once exclusively their home, few Nevadans consider these people as part of Nevada culture.

Kane said she and other members of local tribes have gotten used to being left to their own devices when it comes to news coverage.

Where other marginalized groups seem to have people fighting in their corner, the Native American community seems to have none. It is very strange to me that the descendents of those who lived on this land first are now treated as if they do not belong here.

“I guess we’re not really worried about the United States of America and whether they cover it or not,” Kane said. “We’d like them to because we are part of America, but if they don’t, then they don’t, and that’s that.”

It is time for Nevada to take all of its citizens seriously in its media and government. And it is time for the United States to follow suit by giving the multitude of Native Americans nationwide the respect that they deserve.