Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

How pop culture is changing indigenous narratives

Courtesy Creative Commons

With the popularity of Martin Scorsese’s newest movie “Killers of the Flower Moon,” a great deal of attention has been brought back to Indigenous populations all around the world. “Killers of the Flower Moon” follows the brutality enacted against the Osage Nation, especially the brutality women faced during the seizure of their land in an attempt to gain head rights to the land for oil money. Although Native American displacement is nothing new, Scorsese’s film ignited a spotlight on the issue. 

The film was incredibly dense and moving, but it does not even scratch the surface of the justice that Indigenous people deserve. 

In addition to offering a small glimpse into the violence Osage people faced, the film also depicts a lack of concern on behalf of the United States government until the death toll included a white man. This helps depict the severity of white ignorance when it comes to Native American genocide. 

Much like “Killers of the Flower Moon,” other movies and television shows, like “Blood Quantum,” “Dances with Wolves,” and “Dark Winds,” portray Indigenous hardships and help fuel the conversation of displacement and genocide. People tend to forget the history of Indigenous communities and seemingly do not care to be involved. Pop culture and the media force people to confront the horrors of America’s colonial past, whether they want to or not.
With a movie as popular and successful as “Killers of the Flower Moon,” the discussion about Native American genocide has been brought to the forefront. 

Although creating an award-winning movie does not make right the injustices faced by numerous Indigenous tribes, it confronts the erasure of these Indigenous identities from U.S. colonial history. 

Colonization has also resulted in the cultural appropriation of Indigenous identities. Sacred traditions that have been upheld for centuries became something to mock. From Halloween costumes to sports mascots, cultural appropriation has taken place for years and it is doubtful that it will ever end. 

Even at an institutional level, colleges have yet to address any flaws with their own cultural appropriation. For example, Florida State University’s (FSU) mascot is the Seminoles, which is based on the Native American tribe that previously occupied Florida until they were displaced and forced to move west. 

The university has yet to publicly acknowledge that its mascot is a form of cultural appropriation and has said nothing in terms of changing it. 

At sporting and campus events, the students also participate in “the Seminole chant,” where they copy a traditional Native American chant without acknowledging the roots of the tradition. The school and its students are mocking the Seminole traditions without any education or awareness of the tribe. 

In contrast, the previously named “Washington Redskins” NFL team announced they were renaming their team in July 2020 after the Native American Guardians Association (NAGA) advocated for the name change, and are now known as the “Washington Commanders.” 

Some teams, like the “Kansas City Chiefs” (NFL), decided to keep their team name and instead offer compensation to local tribes which their team is named after. 

Movies and television shows are also guilty of cultural appropriation, especially when it comes to traditional outfits and makeup styles and how they are depicted. “Peter Pan” is a popular example of cultural appropriation in films. Additionally “Pocahontas,” “The Last Mohicans,” and “The Lone Ranger” also include forms of Indigenous cultural appropriation.

In order to help combat the film industry’s cultural appropriation in the past, movies like “Killers of the Flower Moon,” “Without a Whisper,” “Reel Injun,” and “Keep Talking” all include cultural representation of Indigenous people that help bring awareness to the genocide and discrimination that the indigenous population has faced and continuously face. 

The media for years has continuously offended and made fun of different cultures, races, ethnicities, and nationalities, and the Indigenous population is no exception.

The discrimination that Indigenous people face is consistently swept under the rug, especially when it comes to fair coverage of the harsh conditions of reservations. In the U.S., poor living conditions on reservations are often overlooked and ignored by the media. 

Forty-eight percent of Native American reservations in the U.S. do not have access to clean drinking water, according to a study done by the University of Colorado Boulder. Clean water is a fundamental right that hundreds of Indigenous people are being deprived of with little to no public awareness of the issue.

Indigenous people living on reservations also experience voter oppression, a birthright of any American citizen. There are inadequate and inaccessible voting resources and education on reservations, and those who do choose to vote usually have to travel miles to a drop box or polling location. 

One of the main reasons why many Native Americans live on reservations dates back to the 1830s after former President Andrew Jackson signed the “Indian Removal Act,” which allowed the government to take land from Native Americans east of the Mississippi and relocate them west to what was deemed “Indian Land” in modern-day Oklahoma. Over 100,000 Native Americans were forced from their homes, and around 15,000 of them died during what is known as “The Trail of Tears.”

Despite clear peace treaties being in place, the federal government still continuously violates the settled agreements. To this day, the effects of the displacement of thousands of Native Americans are still felt as many are forced to live on reservations in order to preserve their culture and heritage, which has still not guaranteed their safety. 

From 2009-2018, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) reported 1,909 missing Native American children. The investigation began after bodies of Native American children were continuously being found underneath reservation schools. 

The NCMEC reported that 62 percent of Indigenous children reported missing during this time period were subject to sex trafficking, but for years, the media coverage on this issue inadequately reported the decades-long abuse in reservation schools.  

The last “American Indian Boarding School” was only recently shut down in 1983 in Michigan. 

Reservation schools were established in order to try and assimilate Indigenous children into Western culture. Oftentimes, children were kidnaped by government agents and forced to attend schools hundreds of miles away from their families where they were beaten, starved, and further abused, especially when they spoke their native language or showed any sort of ties back to their Native American culture. There was an influx in awareness about the horrific experiences suffered by Native Americans in the “American Indian Boarding School” when people took to social media and other public platforms to share experiences. 

This is one method of genocide that although not depicted in Scorsese’s film “Killers of the Flower Moon,” is depicted in “Anne with an E.” 

The United States government attempted to “whitewash” Native American people by trapping them in these schools and forcing them to adopt Western values, and the effects of this whitewashing are still felt today

For any marginalized community, having some form of representation is important to preserve history and culture. “Killers of the Flower Moon” is just one example of Indigenous representation, but there are numerous other examples that are not as popular, but still have a powerful impact.

AMC’s “Dark Winds” and Netflix’s “Spirit Rangers” are two examples of lesser-known media representation of the Native American population, but both examples and “Killers of the Flower Moon” focus mainly on tragedies taking place in the Indigenous community and rarely, if ever, include any accurate portrayals of Indigenous culture, like the beauty of the culture including ceremonies, outfits, and festivals. 

Accurate racial casting must also be prioritized in commercial movies and television. 

“Killers of the Flower Moon” was groundbreaking for the inclusion of Native American actors in the film, especially when it was nominated for awards at the Oscars and even won awards at the Golden Globes, especially in regards to individual actors like Lily Gladstone, who plays Mollie Burkhart, one of the main characters in the film. 

In the new American landscape, Indigenous people are finally being included in the conversation, especially in government conversations. “Killers of the Flower Moon”’s success brought a lot of attention to the Indigenous population and the continued genocide they have faced. Including Indigenous people in the film industry helps spark more conversation and attention toward Native American populations and will hopefully continue to fuel conversations and bring more awareness and support to Indigenous populations. 

On Jan. 7, 2024, Gladstone won the Golden Globe for Best Actress, which was monumental for Indigenous people everywhere. She was the first Native American to win an award and even began her speech in her native Blackfoot language, an incredible feat for Indigenous people everywhere. 

No amount of media coverage can reverse the damage of colonization and genocide, but hopefully, the new American pop culture landscape can bring these stories the attention they deserve.

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About the Contributor
Kaitlyn Smitten
Kaitlyn Smitten, Staff Writer
Kaitlyn Smitten (she/her) is a freshman journalism student from Red Deer, Alberta. Canada. Kaitlyn is a part of the Emerson College softball team and enjoys traveling, reading, and listening to music. She aspires to be an investigative and/or breaking news reporter.

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