By Dr. Devon A. Mihesuah
Book Review by Kam Williams
Between Hollywood movies and history books, most of our minds are filled with misconceptions about Native Americans. For instance, the film The Last of the Mohicans gives the erroneous impression that that tribe has disappeared entirely. Meanwhile, the picture Pocahontas suggests that the 12 year-old Indian princess had a romantic relationship with a much older white man named John Smith, when they never married and weren’t ever even lovers. An accurate account of what transpired would relate how he was one of the settlers who participated in the extermination of Pocahontas’ people, the Powhatans.
Dr. Devon A. Mihesuah, a professor of International Cultural Understanding at the University of Kansas, also happens to be a citizen of the Choctaw Nation. And as the author of over a dozen books on Indigenous history, it has been her life’s mission to set the record straight about Native Americans. In American Indians: Stereotypes & Realities she corrects 25 common mistaken notions, ranging from “Indians had no civilization until Europeans brought it to them” to “Indians have no religion” to “Indians are a vanished race” to “Indians get a free ride from the government” to “Indians have a tendency towards alcoholism” to “Indians were conquered because they were inferior” to “Indians have no reason to be unpatriotic.”
Consider the chapter debunking the stereotype of Indians as warlike, where the author matter-of-factly explains that they were understandably fighting “to defend their lands, sovereignty and way of life from invaders.” She goes on to point out that movies and history books have generally portrayed her people as wild savages, when it really was generals like George Washington and Andrew Jackson who were the bloodthirsty aggressors. But unfortunately, the ethnic cleansing on the part of the conquerors continues to be celebrated as great military victories instead of massacres.
A precious primer on Native Americans for anyone who can handle the truth about how the West was won.