When I was a little kid in the 1960s the only TV shows my mother wouldn’t let me watch was The Twighlight Zone and The Outer Limits (she thought they had something to do with the occult and were possibly satanic) and the Custer TV show.
It annoyed me that my mother wouldn’t let me watch the Custer show. Because the kids I hung out with at school used to watch it, and they’d all discuss the latest episode the next day in the cafeteria at lunch. So I felt like I was out of the loop. But my mother was adamant. No Custer. “I don’t like that they portray someone like THAT as a hero,” she said, in an uncharacteristically serious tone.
My mother felt it was “demeaning” in its depiction of Indians (as they were called back then). Which was odd. Because in all the years growing up that was the only time I ever heard her voice an opinion on the Indian issue. Her grandfather was a full-blooded Iraquoian Indian. And she was a quarter Indian and had an Indian maiden name, which is still on my birth certificate to this day. But she never really talking about it while I was growing up.
I think maybe because, when I was growing up in the late-50s, early-60s, America was such a homogenized culture — it was nearly 90% white. And there was a lot of pressure to fit into this mass culture. “The Conformist 50s” as they came to be known. And you deviated from the norm at your own risk. The complete opposite of today’s fragmented culture where everyone is proclaiming “identity politics” (and everyone is just as desperate to conform to THAT, ha ha).
When I was a little kid I used to play “Cowboys and Indians” like all the other kids. But none of us kids looked at it as a good guy-bad guy thing. We all respected the Noble Injuns just as much as the Cowboys. Because we knew they were the underdogs and were vastly out-numbered. And they were more like “rebels” than “outlaws.” And we all respected how they could put their ear to the ground and hear the Calvary coming, or send smoke signals (how cool was THAT?), and how they used every part of the buffalo, and especially how they were so quiet and stealthy that they could sneak up to you in the woods without disturbing a pebble and slit your throat. And what kid didn’t want to live in one of those awesome teepees. Not to mention smoking the old peace pipe.
The story of what happened to my family is largely the story of what eventually happened to Native Americans in the U.S. They weren’t so much assimilated as they were absorbed. 70% of Native Americans marry outside their race. The highest percentage by far of any race in the U.S. What happened in my family is fairly typical. My mother’s grandfather was a full-blooded Native American. But by the time it got to me four generations later that aspect had pretty much been washed out.
Happy Indigenous People’s Day, everybody!!