Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Kevin Gover, NMAI Director, on MSNBC TV ! [ Scott Brown staffers caught in offensive tape ]

Melissa Harris-Perry   |  Aired on September 30, 2012

Melissa Harris-Perry responds to a video depicting staffers of Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown making offensive actions against Native Americans. Kevin Gover, director of the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of the American Indian joins to react.


This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> that was a rally in boston last week where scott brown and elizabeth warren supporters were both presents. amazingly, some making the offensive tomahawk chops and war cries were staffers for senator scott brown . the bottom line, it is not okay to represent indigenous people as funny little indians .

>>> joining me from washington, d.c. is kevin gover, he's the director of the smithsonian's institution national museum of the american indian and a member of the pawnee association. he served as assistant secretary for indiana fairs under president clinton . thank you for joining me.

>> you're welcome. glad to be here.

>>> if you could weigh in a little bit on the massachusetts senate race. i know there are mixed opinions within indian communities about the claims to native heritage that we're hearing.

>> they are mixed. indian people aren't monolithic in their beliefs or attitudes or political judgments. i would say a couple of inninthings. the thing that comes to me from watching all this happen is the casual nature of the evolution into stereotyping and the appropriation of native identity by all involved. you know, a drop of indian blood does not an indian make. it looks very odd for many of us to see someone who has never associated with the community or affiliated herself with a particular native nation to assert in any format that they are an indian. on the other hand, as you and your panel have pointed out earlier, it's equally jarring for us to hear somebody say you don't look like an indian because indians look a lot of driven ways these days. i know indians of every shape, size and shade. as i say, it has evolved to stereotypin stereotyping.

>> let me ask you about, particularly about that evolution of the stereotyping. the video that we just showed was, i think, for me it was really appalling to watch on the one hand. this representation of folks in that crowd doing the tomahawk chop . but part of the reason they think that's okay is because we perpetuate that in american sports teams at the collegiate level , at the national level. it felt suddenly like see, this is exactly the cost of turning human beings into mascots.

>> i think that's right. it is the sports mascots, it's also our formal education system. it's also the popular culture at large which feels free to define indians for itself. of course, what they're really showing are imaginary indians , the indians that they are imitating never existed. they don't exist today. it's at the expense of real indians that this is the popular -- the culture, the society at large really works to create this image of indians to define indians and it's something that's been going on for a very long time. i should say quickly that i don't think that this kind much -- i think that these acts are racist in nature, but i don't think that makes the people who engage in that conduct racist. i think we've sort of all been victimized, we've been bamboozled by the education system , by the culture into believing these things about indians and many indians believe these things as well.

>> that's a youthful distinction. the distinction between casual racist acts, the representations that are racist are not necessarily inherent to the human beings who are doing them. but that should give us a little space for people to feel less defensive so that we can in fact root out those acts and behaviors. i wanted to ask a little bit about your work at the museum because obviously as you point out, these are imaginary representations of indian. talk to me about how the actual historic work that you're doing at the museum in d.c. helps to counter these images.

>> well, we have museums in both washington and new york, and in both of these museums, we're trying to represent native cultures in an appropriate way. when i say in an appropriate way, what we really mean is that we involve the indigenous nations themselves in the representations of their cultures and histories. for many, many years, educational institutions , including museums, took it upon themselves to say we're the experts and we know who -- what these people are. we do a very different thing and most museums do now. say you can't have an authentic representation of native people unless you involve them in the creation of these exhibitions and programs. so in both of our museums, we're just trying to get people to take another look and if you spend any time at all, and i would encourage both senator brown's staff and were ms. warren to win, her staff, to come to our museum and you'll very quickly lose the idea that there is some kind of -- that there's any image that represents all indians . because there simply isn't.

>> i love this idea. it's a very nerdland idea. let's get senator brown's staff and warren's staff down to the museum together. thank you for joining me this morning.

>> thank you so much.

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