5 Most Appalling Misconceptions about Northwest Native Americans

Here, for your edification, are 5 most common ways people can (and do) embarrass themselves in front of a Northwest Native American (as witnessed by Riel):

tonto1. Don’t you get money from the government?

No. Some tribes have casinos or fishing income and distribute money to tribal members, but not all tribes have that.

2. Go back to Mexico. (Yes, people actually say this)

You shouldn’t be saying this to anyone, much less a Native American who didn’t cross any borders to get here (neither did their great-great-great-great-great grandparents – and that’s more than you can say).

3. Do you speak Native American?

No. Native American is not a language. Each tribe has its own language, though some tribes speak similar dialects.

4.  Any comment related to tipis.

Northwest tribes never had tipis. They have longhouses. It rains here.

5. Do you know how to do a rain dance?

Why in the world, would tribes need to do a rain dance in Western Washington? If anything, they would do a stop-the-rain dance.

My husband frequently endures many of these comments. The Native Americans pictured in films are often inaccurate portrayals of plains tribes, which have an entirely different way of life than coastal tribes. Too many people have learned all they know about Native Americans through movies. If you would like to learn more, you can watch the documentary Reel Injun, which is available on Netflix.


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