Native American stereotypes have affected my life, negatively and positively. The most important and perhaps the most offensive stereotypes are of the “drunk Indian” and of Indians as drug users. And some people refer to us as “wagon burners.”
Growing up, I‘ve been surrounded by the often harsh interplay between stereotype and reality. Some of my family could easily be classified as stereotypical Native Americans, being aggressive drunks.
Opinion: Facing and fighting the stereotype • Published by ThreeSixty, re-published by permission.
However, that stereotype has motivated me to follow a different path. I did a little research and found that Native Americans have one of the highest incidences of chronic alcoholism.
My uncle’s death symbolizes the cost of alcoholism. A few years ago, I found out my uncle had been drinking. He ended up going for a walk, got hit by a car and later died. I had rarely seen or spoken to my uncle, but I was devastated to know that his death could have been prevented. I truly think if he hadn’t been drinking he would still be alive.
I don’t want to end up like my uncle and go down that path. I want to change how people see us by keeping myself healthy and helping others do the same.
The next important and offensive stereotype is that of the “wagon burner.” This refers to the image of Native Americans burning settlers’ wagons to get them to leave Native land. Friends have called me a “wagon burner” as a joke, but I always say it is disrespectful and offensive. Once one person feels comfortable using that language, soon many will.
I have decided to view the stereotypes of Native Americans as alcoholics, drug abusers and “wagon burners” as a challenge to prove small-minded people wrong. I’m proud to be who I am and look forward to the future ahead of me.
Amanda Donovan-Larson graduated from Washburn High School in Minneapolis in 2007.