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Appropriation of American Indian Identities

Here is a video of the famous “crying Indian” anti-littering PSA from the early 1970s:

The actor, Iron Eyes Cody, was not actually Native American, he was Italian American. You can read more about him at

In case you didn’t know, the famous “Chief Seattle” speech about the need to honor the earth and care for the environment was written by a white guy, also in the early 1970s.

These could be interesting for discussions of environmentalism and American Indians. Why do environmental messages somehow have more authority if they supposedly come from an Indian? Would the “Chief Seattle” speech be less meaningful if we knew a white guy wrote it? Why?
They could also be used in discussions about the appropriation of Native American culture and the use of non-Indian actors to play Indian roles. It’s also interesting as an example of how American Indians are often depicted as historic throwbacks who are still living in the 1800s (and are all from plains tribes and wear big headdresses): even though it was 1971 and the guy was standing next to a highway full of cars, he was dressed in buckskin and feathers. Because, you know, that’s what Native Americans wear, all the time. Believe me, back in Oklahoma, that’s all you see.

NEW: Another fallacious Native American environmentalist was Grey Owl. Grey Owl was a Britain named Archibald Belaney who adopted an Indian identity and became famous in Canada for his conservationist stance. Here is his wikipedia entry.
Gwen Sharp is an associate professor of sociology at Nevada State College. You can follow her on Twitter at @gwensharpnv.

Related posts: Potowatamis didn’t have a word for “global business center,” “discovering” Newfoundland, appropriation of Native Americans in fashion, teaching kids how to be American Indians, marketing the Vancouver Olympics, ice skaters dress up like Australian aborigines, native cultures in Avatar, Poca-Hotness, Indian costume for your dog, Indian Halloween costumes, Disney depicts Native Americans, “my skin is dark but my heart is white,” American Indians on t-shirts, sports mascots, Playmobil’s American Indian family, Howe Nissan’s American Indian statue, the “crying Indian” anti-litter PSA, Native Americans in Italian anti-immigration posters, and more American Indian dolls


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