"Shit People Say to Natives": Bypassing Traditional Entertainment and Pedagogic Systems with 58,000 Hits and Counting.

Curator's Note

This video clip shows a Native American culture far from static and one that appears far from being understood by mainstream America. What is an Indigenous sound? It is the voice of an Indigenous kid, wearing jeans and a hoodie, driving down a modern city street, filming on an i-device in 2012. The speaker uses classic “trickster” tactics, teasing and barraging the audience with questions. These questions act as a mirror to the inquisitors, reflecting their views of Native Americans stuck in the 1800s.

What prevents an understanding of this kid’s vibrant culture? Americans have not suspended other cultures in a 19th century time capsule. No one thinks the French still dress like Napoleon Bonaparte, do they? Scholars place blame on U. S. educational texts. The history books used in schools rarely cover Native cultures past the point of post-contact. School children appear to have left the Native Americans in chapter one, also leaving behind the multiplicity of Native cultures, amalgamating all tribes into one. Then came the portrayal of the “Savage Indian” on the big screen. Hollywood, in the early 1900s formed a major American film genre—the Western. These movies further cemented the stereotypes that, oddly, the YouTube filmmaker is asked to explain.

In addition to textbooks and movies, many people form impressions of others from information gleaned from TV/news. Most current coverage, however, either ignores Native cultural stories completely or tends to focus on the negative aspects, “victimizing” Native Americans. Harsher realities of alcoholism and poverty play only parts in otherwise rich and flourishing cultures. As we hear in the clip, modern-day stereotypes fuel the question, “So, I saw a drunk guy yesterday, he kinda looked like you. Is he your father?”

Is an i-movie on YouTube the new Hollywood documentary? Is the Internet the new history book? The last real democracy capable of bringing 21st century Native Americans into the minds of the mainstream may be the Internet. The tone of this video suggests it’s not the filmmaker’s responsibility to knock on every door in America to educate. Instead, he rhetorically urges viewers to act. Thanks to the Internet, we can hear his cultural voice—with real-time evidence of Indigenous cultures resisting assimilation, yet, participating and thriving in America today. This Native American youth narrates his story to the world with the indigenous sound edging its way into the cultural conversation.

Comments

Siobhan Senier's picture

Ethical Soundscapes for Indigenous Counterpublics

I love your title for highlighting that this video “bypasses” mainstream media and education; it’s always struck me that Native people have been skillfully and quickly appropriating digital media to get their stories out, when conventional publishing and film venues have tended to ignore or marginalize some of the most talented Native artists.

There is a fascinating book about Islamic cassette sermons, which anthropologist Charles Hirschkind describes as forming an “ethical soundscape.” He finds cassette sermons suffusing Islamic life in the Middle East: they’re played in taxis, in shops, in homes; they’re played and re-played, sometimes memorized and “talked back” to. Hirschkind argues that cassette sermons thus provide a space for an “islamic counterpublic,” where Muslims actively debate and reshape their traditions, practices, and communities.

It is such an interesting thesis, one that has me wondering where and how we use sound in the U.S. in counterpublic formation. Most people I know do not consume spoken word recordings independent of video. If they do (i.e., on podcast or radio), they tend to listen to it privately—in their cars or using headphones, e.g. Would love to know if my acquaintances are anomalous!

But maybe YouTube can be more social. 58,000-plus hits shows that people are sharing this video widely, sometimes via platforms like Facebook, sometimes on their mobile phones. They are probably quoting it, laughing about it, discussing it. In this sense, YouTube offers a powerful vehicle for creating indigenous counterpublics. In this realm, Native voice can, as you so nicely put it, “edge its way into the cultural conversation.”

Jonathan Hill's picture

The voice.

I appreciate this post and the points made about the impacts of historicization of Native voices. It reminds me that expectations regarding Native voices often keep these perspectives from being enregistered or framed, as “political” discourses or “subaltern” “minority” discourses that have become standardized, even though most of these are still ignored or trivialized.

These narratives in the video show how removed Native voices are from having a place in even the most marginalized narratives, as a discursive genre. Many of these utterances are aimed at highlighting that absence of a common footing outside of the stereotypes, even when it is approached by others who claim to have Native identity. I thought this was very inventive, as he adopts the voices that continually reference historicized and stifling “types” in order to voice his own identity.

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