Native American representation in popular media is slim to none. For Native American women, there is even less representation. The representation we do get, is often portrayed by non-Natives, and when a Native is cast, the material is deeply rooted in stereotype. When you ask someone to think of Native American women, generally three women come to mind: Pocahontas, Sacajawea and Tiger Lily. Two of which women are animated, and one of which of the animated women was not even a real person. Both animated films use racial stereotype to portray Native American culture, and have themes of settler colonialism and Native Americans being seen as savages. So, out of the only three Native American women that most people know, two of them are inaccurate portrayals and negative representations of Native American people and our culture.
Native American women are hardly represented in the media, and because of this, there is a general lack of understanding towards issues we face. When the only representation of Native American women in popular media is non-Native women donning red-face, a headdress and dressing in sexualized costumes, it is hard for outsiders to understand the complexity of the oppression that we face, and how race issues intertwine with our oppression as women. Many people do not know the statistics of abuse that Native American women face, like that Native American women are 2.5 times more likely to be sexually assaulted than all other races, and that 1 in 3 Native American women will be raped in their lifetime. (USDOJ). On top of these statistics, the Federal Violence Against Women Act did not apply to Native women residing on reservations until this year.
Native American women face highly sexualized stereotypes that are based on five centuries of sexual terrorism that colonialism has inflicted on Native American women. Despite being one of the smallest minorities in the United States, we are the most likely to be raped and sexually assaulted. This is no coincidence. This is a product of misrepresentation fetishizing us and our race, showing people that Native American women are animalistic and inherently deserving to be sexually abused. This directly leads to the disproportionally high sexual abuse statistics that Native American women face.
There are millions of Native Americans in the United States. There are plenty of role models, plenty of Native American voices and stories to be told. But still, mainstream society and media keeps casting non-Natives for our roles, and still uses the same old washed out narratives of Native American lives in their stories. There is no excuse to cast a white person as a Native American character. There are many Native American women actresses to play the parts of Native American roles. Yet, they still casted Rooney Mara for the role of Tiger Lily and recently cast Marilyn Manson as the role of a Native American hitman.
Native American culture is rich, and we have many stories to tell. We need more positive and accurate representation of Native Americans in mainstream media. We need non-Natives to hear our messages to understand and respect our ways of life. We are modern people, just like everyone else. We are in touch with our traditional ways and there are many things to learn from our voices and representation.