The Wannabe Tribe

By now, you’ve probably read about Margaret (Jones) Seltzer, author of a fictional account of growing up on the mean streets of LA…except that she passed it off as real. But being a gang-banger in LA apparently wasn’t enough; she also claimed to be “part Native American” unaccountably raised by a black family. Talk about minority envy! Did she also claim to be quadriplegic or a lesbian? David Treuer (Ojibwe) has a good piece at Slate on the long artistic history of fake Indians and some speculations on why so many non-Indians try to pass. Putting aside the obvious New Age charlatans who are in it for the money, I would add that I think many white people feel a desperate yearning for a sense of spirituality. Buying into the stereotype that all Indians are inherently spiritual/mystical/magical (what I call the Indian Elf syndrome), it follows that many of them then “discover” heretofore unknown “hidden ancestors.” This, frankly, is just as harmful as Seltzer’s blatant fakery as it reduces the profound cultural experience of being an Indian in America to the equivalent of deciding one day to switch churches. Also, as noted by one of the commenters at the Slate piece, many white people love to believe, or at least tell others, how oppressed or victimized they are, the Religious Right and Angry White Men being prime examples. Who could be more oppressed than Indians? Bottom line, there are enough problems with Indian Identity (something I am keenly personally aware of as a fully assimilated thin-blood) as is without further denigration by speculators, errant spiritual pilgrims and other wannabes.
Hat tip to Three Wise Men!

Published in: on March 10, 2008 at 11:45 pm  Comments (2)  

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  1. I heard something about her on NPR, but they didn’t mention her claimed heritage. Very, very irritating. Part of the reason people don’t understand what Indian life is like is because Indian culture is so badly mis-portrayed in film and in print. Further lies like hers certainly don’t help.

  2. True. And what Indian culture is presented is always generic, i.e., we all live in tipis, all wear warbonnets, etc. etc. And don’t you just KNOW she claimed her great great grandmother was a “Cherokee Princess”?

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