If You Go
Date: June 12, 2006

Modern Indian Identity

Peace Chiefs at Work: Stories About Remarkable American Indian Leadership in This Generation

Twenty-first-century Indian people face a particular and peculiar dilemma with history and time. Novelists and filmmakers have had extraordinary success in romanticizing the Western past, and one result is this: in the minds of many non-Indians, the only “real Indians” are nineteenth-century Plains horsemen riding after bison and circling around emigrant wagon trains. This stereotype leaves no room for two crucial facts: first, Indian people, in the past and present, made their livings in hundreds of different ways, from corn-farming to salmon-fishing, from the gathering of acorns to the trading of goods from one region to another; second, Indian people in our times both carry on ancient cultural traditions and live, with familiarity and ease, in the modern world.

Hoping to make at least a small contribution to the cause of better understanding between Indians and non-Indians, the Center now launches a series of speakers: contemporary Indian people telling their stories in ways that confirm the compatibility of tradition with innovation. The speakers have profound ties to their peoples’ pasts, and they have also adapted with agility and enterprise to the conditions of our times. They have, in other words, triumphed over the stereotypes of “real Indians” as people sequestered and set apart in a lost past.