By Santee Ross, University of Montana
“So do you smoke peyote?” “Are you the feather or dot kind of Indian?” “What’s your spirit animal?” “Do you still live in a tipi?”
Yes these are real questions that people ask all – and I do mean ALL – Native people constantly, possibly daily, in their lives.
Paper Rocket Productions recently uploaded onto YouTube a video that compiles a lot, if not most, of the questions people ask Natives, another in an ongoing Internet meme of “Shit People Say …” videos. Paper Rocket Production is a company based in Flagstaff, Ariz., that is dedicated to show the indigenous perspective through filmmaking, according to their YouTube profile.
I know that these types of questions from non-Natives mostly arise from curiosity. These people are usually just trying to become more aware of a different culture.
However, there are always those people who are just plain rude or ignorant. Their questions are worded in a blatantly offensive way.
So whenever people ask these questions I always feel forced into an awkward situation that could fall one of two ways. They could be simply curious, in which case I can politely share some information about my culture or they could be rude and offensive, in which case you might want to alert security—my blood begins to boil.
The trouble with these situations is that outsiders usually take any Native person they know, as the “national spokesperson for Native Americans everywhere.”
All of a sudden because I’m Native, I’m supposed to know everything about every tribe. If I don’t know the answer to their questions they are genuinely disappointed or think that I’m lying.
Of course I don’t know everything about every tribe because I’m not from every tribe—although I know a few people on the rez they could ask. I can’t be the spokesperson they want because I can only account for my own experiences.
In the end outsiders have to take into account that the Native American person they know isn’t the “national spokesperson for the Native Americans everywhere”—that title is reserved for Victor and Thomas from “Smoke Signals.”
Santee Ross (Hopi/Lakota) is from Lander, Wyoming.