When I was a child and gaining consciousness of the fact that I actually was a tiny person walking the Earth (and not secretly a Barbie princess), a thought came from out of the blue and smacked me right in the nose. One, how do I become a Barbie princess, and two, I don’t exactly look like Barbie…
Then watching Disney’s Lilo and Stitch for the first time, a second thought came and slapped me in the back of my head: I look a hell of a lot more like Lilo… and I was born in Hawaii too!
That only lasted mere minutes as my mother reminded me, I am in fact not of Hawaiian descent, I am Native American, my Hawaiian birthplace was just a happy coincidence. It was a confusing day for a five-year-old to say the least.
But she was right.
Growing up I gravitated toward cartoons and movies with someone that physically looked like me; Lilo, Velma, The Incredibles’ Violet, really any girl with dark hair (if they had brown eyes, I had won the lottery). Then I found her: Pocahontas, black hair and Indigenous? Naivety won the battle that day and I was overjoyed… till I discovered that her life was really sad and not an actually a musical with a temperamental raccoon. Another confusing day.
Was I supposed to pretend that Barbie looked like me?
Why are Indigenous stories only told through the lens of calamity and catastrophe, backdropped by heroic cowboys and knights coming to save the world from our evil mysticism and “savagery”?
I have never once had detention and yet I’m supposed to be the bad guy? How is that fair?
Throughout Hollywood’s history, Indigenous stories have been reduced to black and white, an eternal struggle between good and evil, and we don’t have too many wins under our belt. Where’s the happily ever after? If I’m watching a show or a movie and a fleet of ululating men come bounding over a ridge armed with longbows and riding horses… I can’t change the channel fast enough. Quite frankly, I’ve never even been close enough to a horse to look it in the eyes, much less ride it into battle.
Indigenous people didn’t miraculously disappear into the bloodstained pages of history books, swept away by the wind. History may be written in the blood of the losers, but we have survived. We are the not the bad guy, the background bandits, or the boogiemen that go bump in the night. Every corner of the globe is home to a group of Indigenous people, people who are more than just a colonized and antiquated ideology.
Just picture it, a coming-of-age romance, or a comedy where the protagonist’s entire persona isn’t diluted and stripped away to simply being the token Native, they just happen to be Native. No romanticism of Pocahontas, no celebration when the last “reskinned savage” falls in war, and no shamans turning into beasts under a full moon.
Five-year-old me would have loved a princess who was Native, not a “Native princess”.