"For a subject worked and reworked so often in novels, motion pictures, and television, American Indians remain probably the least understood and most misunderstood Americans of us all."

-John F. Kennedy in
the introduction to The American Heritage Book of Indians

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Tim the Fur Trade Reenactment Indian

We all have our unique hobbies. Some people are bird watchers. Others collect stamps. Still others restore classic cars.

And some get dressed up and pretend they are living in the 1700s.

This past weekend I visited the annual Voyageur Encampment at Metro Beach Metropark in metropolitan Detroit, Michigan. I have attended these events before but this was the first one here in my home state of Michigan.

The Living History Encampment

For those of you who are not familiar with Fur Trade reenactors or even reenacting in general, I'll let Wikipedia do the talking:  “Historical reenactment is a type of roleplay in which participants attempt to recreate some aspects of a historical event or period.”  In this case, the Great Lakes Fur Trade of the 1700s.

There are as many reasons for participating in reenactments as there are reenactors. It is usually some combination of love of history, love of the reenactment community, and love of dressing up and getting away from it all. I met several fascinating individuals this weekend but there is one in particular who fits right in here at Drawing on Indians.

Tim is just your average midwestern blue collar worker pulling down his 40 hours and a steady paycheck as a pipefitter for General Motors. It's only on the occasional weekend during the summer that you realize Tim is somehow different.

Here's Tim:

(click to enlarge)

Tim immediately caught my attention because of the hair.  I jokingly asked him if he had cut it especially for the event or if this was a permanent style choice.  He told me this was a summer ritual where he would cut it into the Mohawk style when the reenactments started.

I then asked what type of individual he was portraying.  He told me he dressed to represent a Great Lakes Fur Trade era Indian.  He said he didn't know his history as well as others and was representing a more generic Great Lakes Indian and not a specific tribe.  I then of course had to ask politely if he was indeed Native himself.  The answer was both expected and unexpected.  (and I paraphrase)

"Yeah, well I'm French and Native, maybe like 1/32nd Indian but mostly French."

Tim explained how he first became interested in primitive living skills and Indian material culture back in the day which eventually led to his involvement in Fur Trade reenacting.  He actively participates in the group Great Lakes Primitives whose facebook page explains:

Primitive skills teachers and participants gather to share knowledge of our ancestors’ ancient art forms and survival technologies to preserve and pass on these traditions with new friends and renew old friendships.

The group sounds like many of the other survival schools I profiled in my post Cody Lundin and Surviving like an Indian.  These groups draw upon indigenous cultures including American Indians to teach primitive living skills.  Something new I spotted on the Great Lakes Primitives page which surprised me was the following line:

We respect all religious beliefs and practices. Due to the diversity of participants’ spiritual beliefs and the nature of this event, we ask that attendees be respectful of differences as we share our time together.

Between the line "our ancestors’ ancient art form" and the note on religious diversity, I'm wondering if there aren't active Indian members in this group.  Then again, the group could swing the other direction and simply idealize a primitive Indian lifestyle to which it makes false attachments.  All I know is that Tim did refer to some of its members as "those natural people" which made me chuckle.

Now, before anyone starts condemning Tim as a wannabe or shameless hack consider this.  One of the main goals of the Fur Trade reenactment community is to faithfully recreate the look, feel, sights, sounds, smells, and even tastes of the era.  Reenactors put hundreds of hours and hundreds of dollars into their tents, gear, and clothing so that you the visitor can walk into the encampment and literally walk back in time.

From my experience, the Indian presence in the Fur Trade reenactment community is quite small and even non-existent in some places.  How then does one faithfully reenact and represent this era of exploration, trade, and cultural interaction without one half of the equation?

When talking to reenactors or listening to presentations a common phrase was "The Native Americans wore this" or "The Indians traded those" or "The Natives believed in that."  The combined effect was to reinforce the fact that there were no Indians at the event to answer these questions for themselves!

A Group of Reenactors

In an ideal world, every historic reenactment would have reenactors represent their own ethnicity or culture  (a group of French-Canadians as voyageurs, English and Scotsmen as traders, Métis as Métis, and Indians as Indians).  But such restrictions limit the openness and inclusivity of these groups.  After all, it's a hobby not a movie set!

Which brings me back to Tim.

After talking with him briefly, he seemed to have a well rounded view of historic and modern Native Americans.  He readily acknowledged the centuries of injustice against Indian people and expressed genuine concern for the loss of Indian culture, language, and traditions.  He even mentioned several acquaintances who actively work with native communities to preserve their language and culture.  Furthermore, he didn't assume a first person identity as an Indian or started lecturing me on native culture as if he'd just walked off the rez, which is always a good thing.

Then again, my conversation with him was rather short and I will never know the truth behind his claim of Indian heritage.  Therefore the question remains...

Can you or should you ever faithfully recreate the look and material culture of American Indians by dressing as an Indian?

My thoughts:

As with most issues of native appropriation, it all depends on the context.  In this particular case, I'm just not sure.

Is Tim's motivation for dressing as an Indian primarily educational to teach others about primitive skills and Indian material culture or is he simply dressing up to "be" an Indian, a human prop on display in the living history encampment.

He certainly has the authentic clothes and gear to represent a Great Lakes Indian of the 1700s (expect for the bow which he acknowledged was not quite period authentic).  Sure is a refreshing change from the stereotypical Plains Indian with full warbonnet and face paint!

I honestly see both sides on this...

What do you think?

Is this a harmless hobby or questionable cultural appropriation?

or something completely different altogether?

<Let me know!>

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Digital Empires: Civilization Indians

I started this blog many months ago to continue the critical analysis that began during my college years.  I had the wonderful opportunity to work with some great professors who challenged every one of my preconceived notions about U.S. History and Native America.  In so many ways, this blog is an attempt to continue this process and come to terms with my own thoughts and feelings about Native America.

Here's why:

I grew up in the suburbs of Detroit, far from Indian Country but not from Indians.  Despite this, I didn't know a single Native person.  My exposure to Native America was limited to the usual things- history textbooks, films, television, and videogames.  In my mind, American Indians sort of were those historic exotic far off people who existed on paper and on celluloid but not in real life.

I was recently reminded of one item that had a huge impact on my upbringing and prominently featured American Indians.  It wasn't a movie or television show or book, it was that most modern of mediums- the videogame.


As a prototypical pre-teen and teenage male, I played my share of videogames.  While I occasionally dabbled in racing simulations, first person shooters, and sports games, nothing could beat a good strategy game.  Among many great titles, nothing could compare to the critically acclaimed Civilization series.

The gameplay involves controlling a distinct civilization from the stone age through the atomic age.  It's like the board game Risk on steroids where you move your armies and expand your empire across the entire world.  You research technologies, conduct diplomacy, and build Wonders of the World.

The Civilization series is also a perfect example of "greatest hits" history.  Just as musicians release their greatest hits album, so have popular forces created a "greatest hits" list of history.  I'm talking the Pyramids of Giza, Roman armies, Alexander the Great, medieval knights, the Great Wall of China, the Renaissance, the Enlightenment etc. etc.   All the best-known names, ideas, and objects that just scream Civilization!

How many Wonders can you identify from this Civilization III screenshot?

The Civilization series has always included real civilizations in its format.  You can explore the world as the ancient Romans, sail the high seas as the English, or develop the atomic bomb as the Sioux!

Wait... what?


The American Indian in Civilization

On one hand, I fault the Civilization series for essentially stereotyping every major civilization and history in general.  This became most apparent with Civilization III when each civilization was given two unique qualities and a unique unit which provided bonuses and affected gameplay.  Previous to this, each civilization was essentially equal with just superficial differences in naming and color.

So for example, the Egyptians are considered a "religious" and "industrious" civilization, (cause they built big pyramids and had big temples), the English are "expansionist" and "commercial" (cause they had a big empire and were good merchants), and the Germans are "scientific" and "militaristic" (cause they invented stuff and liked to invade countries).  Check out the full chart here to see what I mean: Civ III chart

Here are the Civilization III stats for the 4 Native civilizations:

Aztecs- militaristic and religious (later changed to agricultural and militaristic)
Iroquois- expansionist and religious (later changed to agricultural and commercial)

Hiawatha- leader of the Iroquois from Civilization III

Incans- expansionist and agricultural
Mayans- agricultural and industrious

(notice how they're all termed agricultural but otherwise follow the pattern seen above)

Here are the unique units for the 4 Native civilizations:

Aztecs- Jaguar warrior (OK)

Iroquois- mounted warrior (Really?  Apparently, the Iroquois stood in to represent all of Native America in Civ III.  So their "great leaders" include Tecumseh, Red Cloud, and Sitting Bull.  Click here)

"Iroquois mounted warrior"

Incans- chasqui scout (OK)

Mayans- javelin thrower (nothing more unique?)

On the other hand, despite being based on real history, the beauty of the Civilization series is your ability to write a new history.  It's every history buff's dream come true.  You can send the Spanish Armada to invade China, surprise Germany with a "blitzkrieg" of French tanks, or send your Iroquois musketeers to subject the native English population on some newly discovered continent!  Gotta love anachronisms!

Iroquois leader Hiawatha circa the European Renaissance

The series did hit a bump in the road with Civilization IV: Beyond the Sword which represents the 550+ distinct Native North American nations as one generic Native American Civilization.  As the official game website explains:

The "Native American" civilization in the game represents the empire that would have formed had these disparate people ever united.

Ouch!  But if you read the rest of the text it comes off a little better.  Click the link > civilizations > Native American Empire


Still, this didn't stop some enterprising modders from correcting this wrong with their new mod:

Annoyed about the fact that Native America got bundled into one? Thought the Totem Pole was inappropriate? Then I give you: Native America Expanded for VD 6


 The Apache Empire: a user-created civilization

In the latest reiteration, Civilization V the series has gotten better in expanding beyond the Western world.  You can play as India, Japan, China, Songhai, Siam, Aztecs, and Iroquois.  Despite the attempts to define each civilization with two distinct qualities, the series otherwise treats each civilization equally.  Everyone starts in the Stone Age and so has an equal chance of ruling the world.  It's a refreshing take on history that Iroquois and Aztec civilization is placed on the same level as Roman or American civilization.

Civilization IV: Colonization

The Civilization series has numerous expansion packs and spin offs that recreate distinct historical periods ranging from the Ancient World to World War II.  One recent stand-alone release was Civilization IV: Colonization.  Here's a description from the game's website:

Sid Meier's Civilization IV: Colonization is a total conversion of the Civilization IV engine into a game experience in which players will lead a European nation on their quest to colonize and thrive in the New World. Players will be challenged to guide their people from the oppressive motherland, discover a New World, negotiate, trade and fight as they acquire great power and battle for their freedom and independence.

Essentially, this is the standard American historical narrative in video game form.  Europeans come to the Americas to flee oppression and strike it rich, all while engaging in the exciting activities of discovery, trading, and fighting.  You must:

Sustain peace and support your followers as you engage in advanced negotiations with natives, other colonists and the hostile homeland -- Trade resources, gold and land as you build the foundation for a self sufficient and powerful colony.

I have never played this specific game but am sad to see the Native civilizations treated as minor characters.  I remember one "New World" scenario for Civilization III where you could play as either a European power or one of several Native civilizations, each fighting for territory with a real chance of winning.  Now that's historically accurate!

"Chief of Teton - Sioux" from Civilization IV: Colonization

I played these games throughout my youth without giving them much thought.  I know they definitely spurred my interest in history but did they influence me in any other way?  Are my views and feelings toward real peoples and "civilizations" affected by years of building digital empires and waging artificial wars?  I can only wonder...


Here's a good take on Civilization IV: Colonization from the Newspaper Rock blog:

And one from Variety.com:

And for a more general look at American Indians in video games:

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Former WWE Superstar 'Tatanka' Talks about Being Professional Wrestling's "Real-Life Native American"

Chris Chavis is a professional wrestling superstar who is also descended from the Lumbee Native American tribe in North Carolina.  He began wrestling in 1990 and immediately made use of his Native heritage to create the wrestling persona "Tatanka."  More info can be found at his Wikipedia page and personal website.


Here's a great interview with Chris on the Miami Herald website.  He was in town to wrestle at the Coastal Championship Wrestling indie show at the Miccosukee Resort & Gaming (a tribal casino outside Miami).  I've posted some of the highlights below but I recommend reading the full article to get his whole background.

Former WWE superstar Tatanka talks Native American

Q: What is the history of the Miccosukee, Seminole and Lumbee tribes getting along? Any battles?

A: No. No battles.  I have a contact list of all tribes throughout the U.S. (including Alaska) and Canada. People don't realize there are actually 1,838 tribes. Huge. There's approximately 600 in Canada, 425 in Alaska and and around 1,000 in the U.S. People don't realize that because TV has programmed people to see only the Apache, the Navajo, the Cherokee, and TV always depicted the Native Americans not in a proper way.

That's why it's good we finally have movies that came along -- like "Dances with Wolves" -- that really portrayed the Native Americans as they truly are. Not like the John Wayne movies.

Q: Did you have to overcome any stereotypes growing up?

We really didn't have to deal with that.  Thank God I came from an area where it was accepted. I went to high school and college in Virginia.

North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, those areas have a lot of native tribes. You got the Cherokees. You have the Lumbees, the Iroquois, a lot of different tribes. So it wasn't a thing people wanted to stereotype. It was more accepted.

The stereotyping, yea, you still have that, but I think it's more from some of the areas in the country where you have certain races of people who are very hypocritical or anti.

Q: Did promoters ever want to give you a different character than your real-life persona as a Native American?

A: ...They said, "There's not a lot of natives in the business, but the natives who have been in the business have done great. You can be who you are. You're the real deal. Let's just shoot with you." George Scott was a promoter who believed what you do has to be believable. He would call it a shoot.

So they loved that I was Native American.

...When I went to the WWF, [owner] Vince [McMahon] loved it. He's said, "I loved that you're truly native. We can go right to your tribe. We can do vignettes right at your tribe. They can check your name. We're going to start you as Chris Chavis because Chris Chavis is really Native American. They can find out Chris Chavis is a proud member of the Lumbee Tribe."

Chris Chavis posing with our troops
(image source: www.nativetatanka.com)


Admittedly I don't know a whole lot about this "sporting theater" known as professional wrestling or even "Tatanka" the wrestling legend but I watched enough as a kid to know I don't much care for it.

Professional wrestling has never been known for its subtlety or nuance.  It's essentially a testosterone fueled sideshow with crazy characters and even crazier bodies.  (hairless, tanned, and oiled up like they should be...dammit!)  Then again as Chris Chavis demonstrates, it is also a forum for expressing your identity and heritage (albeit through an over-the-top wrestling persona).

Chris is also uniquely qualified to speak on this issue of Native representation in the media and popular culture since he literally was the face of Native America for countless young wrestling fans across America.  I don't know his character Tatanka or his routine to comment on specifics but I suspect it may be a mixture of his personal heritage and culture with some Hollywood thrown in.

Why you ask?

When the event promoters and managers say, "You can be who you are. You're the real deal." I can't help but wonder if they're thinking in the back of their heads "Wow, a real Indian!  We don't have to parade around those fake Indians anymore!"  From the promoters point of view, Chris brings the tantalizing qualities of his authentic native heritage to a public that time and time again has proven its insatiable thirst for the exotic Indian on display.

In my opinion, Tatanka looks like a Native American mascot brought to life.  He has donned the customary plains headdress, warpaint, and even dances.  Then again, all professional wrestlers are forced into a character niche, often stereotypical, to fulfill the demands of the business.

Well enough from me.  I'll let this video do the talking:

The article/interview also has some interesting language.  Whenever someone refers to a Native person as a "real-life Native American" I can't help but shake my head.  It's pretty sad that people have become so used to fake Indians that the "real deal" is so amazing!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Pemmican Brand Beef Jerky: Part II

In early July, I wrote a post about a strange TV encounter:

A Tale of Pemmican, an Indian, and the World Cup

I saw a billboard for "PEMMICAN" at the World Cup in South Africa which prominently featured a stereotypical Native American image.  I soon discovered it was a brand of beef jerky marketed in the US.

Michael G. Farley, marketing manager at Marfood USA Inc. the American producer of Pemmican Brand Beef Jerky, wrote a response in the comments section of that post.  He also sent me a photo of the billboard I saw at the World Cup:

Click to make big!
(Image courtesy Marfood USA)

Here is his response to my original post in full:


First, thank you for noticing Pemmican at the World Cup. Indeed, it would have been a surprise to most. As you noted, Pemmican is owned by Marfrig Group Brazil, as are the Seara and Moy Park Brands which could also be seen in World Cup matches.

As a part of the FIFA World Cup sponsorship, the Marfood USA division of Marfrig Group was given the opportunity to include the Pemmican Brand logo in the three United States matches. The intent was not to make Pemmican an international brand or market Beef Jerky globally under Seara. It was an opportunity created by our Corporate World Cup sponsorship.

Marfood USA is an American company located just outside Detroit Michigan. To have Pemmican, our only brand in the US, on the world stage alongside much larger brands inside our company - and even larger ones outside, was important to everyone here at Marfood USA. We are a newly established company striving to play a more important role within Marfrig Group and the Beef Jerky category in the US.

Here is the important part:

The Native American association with Pemmican is an area we approach with careful thought and respect. If perceived as “drawing on Indians,” then we have failed.

The Pemmican Brand is over 40 years old and has strong meaning among core beef jerky users. It also happens to be the name of the Native American food source made popular by the Métis which eventually inspired the product we know today as Beef Jerky.

The Native American on the packaging is, and always has been, an important part of the brand. More importantly, it’s an important part of what the brand stands for. Pemmican Beef Jerky users are outdoorsmen. They hunt and fish and camp. They respect the outdoors, the freedom, and the tranquility it brings.

As you said, today’s beef jerky is different than original pemmican. The Tanka bar is a good product and with dried berries, closer to an original recipe. However, the tradition and continuing “the journey started by Native Americans” reference is not about the food - it’s about the great outdoors. It’s about the serenity of casting from the banks of the Au Sable, the workout of hiking the Cabin Creek Trail through the Blue Ridge Mountains, and the family together around a warming campfire under an uncountable number of stars.

We understand that Beef Jerky is like any other product; it’s produced for an audience and marketed. But we also believe there’s a significant disconnect between how Beef Jerky is marketed today and the heritage of where it all began: as a sustainable food source for those who respect, appreciate and spend time in the great outdoors. We’re simply trying to make our Beef Jerky the best choice for those who still understand that significance.

Thank you for the time to express our thoughts, and more importantly, thank you for the opportunity.

Michael G. Farley
Marfood USA I Marfrig Group


First, it was never my intention for the phrase "drawing on Indians" to be inherently negative as Michael Farley seems to imply.  The blog title actually has double meaning.  It refers to first the cultural trend of drawing upon Indians, that is adopting items from Native culture or Native Americans themselves.  Second, "drawing on Indians" refers to changing or manipulating the original source material (as when an artist draws over an image) so that the items better serve their new purposes.

It is perfectly reasonable and acceptable that someone who is inspired by another culture draws upon that culture in any number of ways whether it's fashion, music, art, religion, language, or even food.  Most of the contentious issues occur with the second definition when individuals begin to change or manipulate Native elements to fit their own needs.  Too often, people see this new variation on the cultural element but falsely attach it to the original Native people or culture.

Second, Michael Farley notes the connection between beef jerky and the Native food pemmican.  Michael admits that the two foods are different but goes on to claim that Marfood USA is still "continuing the journey started by Native Americans."  How?  His answer- "it's about the great outdoors."

He writes that the Native American on the packaging is "an important part of what the brand stands for" that is the great outdoors.  His logic goes that "Pemmican Beef Jerky users are outdoorsmen" and will therefore be attracted by those other great outdoorsmen, Native Americans.  While I know many Native people who love the great outdoors, none of them look like this:

This is where I still find some fault with the product logo and the logic behind it.  If they wanted to represent the great outdoors on their packaging why not use a mountain range, a forest scene, a fishing pole?

Instead, the marketers chose one of the most potent images in American culture that denotes the outdoors- the Indian.  In choosing a classical plains Indian with war bonnet (as opposed to other Native cultures) they acknowledged the cultural power of the stereotypical "Indian" in American culture, of what a simple image means for so many people.

It is typical of the marketers to forgo the more logical connection to the Métis or the native people of the Andes (from whom we get the name jerky) in favor of this more salient image. The American public would never recognize a cartoon Métis person or Native South American.  I don't even know how you would draw that!  The point is neither of these two groups carry as powerful a meaning as the classic image of the plains Indian.

Third, why bother?  Aren't there more important battles to fight?  Aren't there more egregious examples of native appropriation in our culture?

Yes and yes.  But to quote Adrienne Keene from the Native Appropriations blog:

"I still think it is important to interrogate and re-examine images we take at face value, and problematize how seemingly simple and benign words can carry much deeper meaning."

The Native American on the Pemmican package is pretty mundane and not inherently negative.  What interests me is the deeper meaning that resonates in this simple image and what that means for our present society.

There are certainly worse stereotypes for Native Americans than the outdoorsy Indian stuck out on the 19th century plains in his war bonnet.  Nevertheless, every small example in our culture continues to affect the way we all relate to this group of Americans.

To sum up the message from the package and the letter:

'Pemmican Brand Beef Jerky is a simple traditional outdoorsy food, just like Native Americans are simple traditional outdoorsy people.'

If this at least makes you pause and think, I've done my job.


For a great overview of the "Plains chief" stereotype check out The "honor" of a Plains chief.  For a compelling Native account of running into these stereotypes check out Accosted by racist costumes.

ALSO: Find me on facebook!!!: search for "Drawing on Indians"

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The Icelandic Indian Wannabe: Ólöf the Eskimo Lady

There's a new book out about yet another Indian wannabe.


By: Inga Dóra Björnsdóttir

Here's a brief summary of the book:

UCSB Anthropologist Tells the Story of 20th-Century Con Artist

(Santa Barbara, Calif.) –– From the late 1880's to the early 1900's, Ólöf Krarer regaled listeners with incredible stories about her native Greenland and her own Eskimo heritage. She crossed the country, giving lectures and presentations –– more than 2,500 in all –– to audiences that included such luminaries as senator and presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan.

There was one catch, however: Krarer was not an Eskimo, and she had never set foot in Greenland. She was, in fact, a dwarf from Iceland who had immigrated to the United States at the age of 18. Unable to find steady employment outside of circus sideshows, she decided to reinvent herself as the Eskimo people assumed her to be.

Eventually, she changed her country of origin to Greenland –– there were no Eskimos in Iceland –– and took to the lecture circuit, sharing everything she knew about Eskimo culture. But nearly everything she said to the tens of thousands of people who flocked to hear her speak was a lie.

In her new book, "Ólöf the Eskimo Lady –– A Biography of an Icelandic Dwarf in America" (The University of Michigan Press, 2010), Inga Dóra Björnsdóttir, a lecturer in the Department of Anthropology at UC Santa Barbara, tells Krarer's life story and explores how one woman was able to fool so many people, including experts of the day. She places Krarer's story against the backdrop of America's fascination with the wild north and the expansion of the railroad, both of which propelled Krarer and her lies around the country.

"America at that time was the country with the greatest number of ethnic groups," Björnsdóttir said. "It was –– and perhaps still is –– the place where immigrants could most easily reinvent themselves and lead a life that would have been impossible in their native countries. At the same time, Americans were very ignorant about life and cultures in foreign lands, and harbored great prejudice against minorities and foreigners, a fact that Ólöf certainly used to her advantage."


Which came first: the "wannabe" or the public craving an up close look at the exotic Native?

Anyone with enough ignorance and guts can dress up as an Indian and claim to be 100% authentic.  It takes something else all together to make those people into full-fledged celebrities.  The throngs of adoring public that flocked to see Ólöf Krarer made her into that instant but short-lived celebrity.

I appreciate how the author, Inga Dóra Björnsdóttir, places Ólöf into the wider cultural context of the late nineteenth century with its fascination with foreign cultures, dramatic race to the North Pole, and transportation revolution which all factored into Ólöf's quick rise.

Her story also parallels other individuals who adopted Native identities.  She completely re-invented herself in America, from a disabled Icelandic dwarf into an accepted cultural icon.  While I appreciate this positive spin on the story, it doesn't change the underlying fact that she was a complete fraud.

"The Little Esquimaux Lady
Miss Olof Krarer
Age, 33 years. Height, 40 inches. Weight, 120 lbs."

...a great example of how NOT to go about drawing on Indians!

And lest you think this is only something that happened in the long ago days of the past, check out this July 30, 2010 article from Indian Country Today about a current hobbyist group dressing up and "playing Indian."

Playing Indian: Group presents native culture with fake fires and tipis, phony tribal ID

The highlight is an interview with Iowa Native leader Vicky Apala-Cuevas about the new Indian wannabes:

There have been many offenses to our peoples and cultures, and these are yet more. The desire to show us how to run a sweat lodge is an example of non-Natives feeling they can present Indian life better than the Indians. These people promulgate a mishmash of misinformation gleaned from Hollywood movies and similar sources. Believe me, being an Indian is the hardest thing anyone can do, and they are not up to it.

I’ve heard some claim descent from tribes or historic leaders, though the claims change – it’s Tecumseh, it’s his brother; one visited a Lakota reservation and, wouldn’t you know, he’s Lakota now. This is an insult and, simply put, fraud. Race is not the issue, though. There are those with good hearts who work for the People in a humble, respectful way, whether or not they have Native ancestry, whether or not they are enrolled in a federally recognized tribe.

Couldn't say it better myself.

For some more great analysis on the celebrity / Indian connection, check out this post from the Newspaper Rock blog:

Indian Wannabes = Celebrity Wannabes