Since joining the online community, I’ve often been asked by well-meaning or well-intentioned people various questions about “Native American” culture. For those of you who are not familiar with Native culture or who have never met a Native person before, I have written this mini-FAQ. If you have any questions, feel free to comment below!
- There is no such thing as “Native American culture”. There are over 500 tribes on the North American continent alone, each with its own distinctive language, culture, beliefs, history, traditions, dances, foods and so on.
- Reading a book or seeing a movie about Natives does not make you an expert. A great deal of the media about Natives is by non-natives who often use other (erroneous) media as their source or who meet one person or family and suddenly think they’re an expert on “Native American culture”.
- Natives are not flattered when you use tribal names (or worse – clichés like “brave” “redman” or “squaw”) for your sports teams, your Boy Scout or Girl Scout troupe, or your pets.
- Please do not make up Indian names for yourself or for others. A naming ceremony is done within a certain context by certain people. Just as you wouldn’t perform a Catholic mass for yourself (unless you happen to be a priest), please don’t attempt to perform your own naming ceremony. For similar reasons, please do not attempt a sweat lodge, sun dance or vision quest on your own.
- Natives are people, just like you are. Don’t assume that all natives are spiritual wise men, nature children or drunks – that is stereotyping. Treat Natives like the individuals they are.
- When greeting a Native person please do not use “woo woo” “how, kemo sabay” or any other Hollywood terms. Most Natives are nothing like “Hollywood Indians”.
- Don’t ask us if we still live in tipis, and we promise we won’t ask you if you still live in log cabins
- Your great-grand-aunt’s second cousin’s daughter-in-law who was a “Cherokee Princess” is probably only of interest to you. Natives meet the blonde-haired, blue-eyed descendants of these princesses on a regular basis.