Beyond the Crying Indian: NMAI Launches Environmental Website

Remember this PSA? It tells us all about pollution and littering vs “people [who] have a deep abiding respect for the natural beauty that was once this country” (a.k.a. American Indians. obvi). Yeah, Native Americans all paddle around in canoes and wear buckskin just like grandpa did in The Last of the Mohicans. And they cry when unsympathetic white people (who can’t even paint with all the colors of the wind!) throw trash out of their mechanical horses.

The Crying Indian commercial, though possibly effective in 1970, portrays Native American responses to the environment as passive and obsolete. Does the Crying Indian pick up any of the trash? No! He’s too pure and noble to do that shit! Us privileged modern people have to save him from the pollution!

This outdated image of Native American culture is being revised by a site recently launched by the National Museum of the American Indian. From Artdaily:

“Although many people tend to think of American Indians as historical figures, we are still here today, participating in vital communities that deal with many kinds of important contemporary issues, such as the sustainability of our cultures, languages and homeland environments,” said Kevin Gover (Pawnee), director of the museum.

For thousands of years, Native American communities across the Western Hemisphere have thrived on, respected and protected their surroundings. Continued stewardship of the environment remains important to American Indians today. “The work these tribes are doing shows that we can do something about our endangered planet, and that their cultures are still vibrant and adaptable,” said associate director for museum programs Tim Johnson (Mohawk). “With this website, we hope to not only bring attention to their work, but begin to change the way that students see American Indian people.”

The site, American Indian Responses to Environmental Challenges, uses video, activities, and quizzes to engage visitors with the current environmental efforts of four American Indian groups: the Akwesasne Mohawk, Campo Kumeyaay Nation, Leech Lake Ojibwe, and Lummi Nation.

While I am still dubious of ghettoizing sub-cultures into separate museum organizations (because seriously, aren’t all histories intertwined?) I laud NMAI’s efforts and hope they continue to engage the public by expanding outreach projects.



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