"You'll never get ahead if you don't take care of what you have." - Doris Waddell, RIP

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn
The multi-ethnic building was the original home of the music department at UMM. (B.W. photo)

Friday, June 13, 2014

Comic book may lead way for Indians' dignity

Indians or Native Americans in our popular culture are treated in a standard way. We actually grope for terms in describing them. Note the conflictedness in how I began this post.
Natives across the North American continent were not homogeneous. We may never have a comprehensive understanding of those civilizations. They fell by the wayside as other civilizations from abroad made their inroads. Disease cut like a scythe.
European-based civilization records history as if everyone should abide by its rules - its understanding of property, for example. Andrew Jackson was an Indian fighter. Indians in our popular culture are under siege. They are incongruous. They are the square peg vs. the round role of the advancing newer civilization.
History is a long story of the strong exploiting the weak. White people put forward the Judeo-Christian ethic as the way it should be. That's why politicians put their hand on the Bible for oath-taking. That's why we can't make an exception for the occasional politician who might want to use the tome of a different faith. We do allow this but only in a symbolic, non-official rite. Thomas Jefferson's personal copy of the Quran has been used for this.
Society must be tied together by some common beliefs. Native Americans were going to have to adjust. Today we try to put salve on those wounds by wiping out sports nicknames like "Fighting Sioux" and "Redskins." The latter hangs on in a rather cringeworthy way. Why bother arguing for a divisive and hurtful nickname? It makes us white-skinned sports fans almost look pagan, as if we're clinging to some sort of idol.
Let's change the name "Redskins" to "Red Tails" and honor the Tuskegee Airmen.
Can you imagine all the worries that hang over the head of Roger Goodell as he goes to bed each night? That's what happens when you land in the leadership position of a virtual money machine like the NFL. Indeed, we seem pagans with the way we gravitate to the violence-oriented NFL for our entertainment. Us Minnesotans are supposed to thump our chests and feel awe over getting the Super Bowl. Actually I don't think that sensation lasted long. Thanks to new media, we are penetrating the curtain of the behemoth NFL and all its machinations. We're now vividly seeing the shakedown practices and feeling of entitlement that define this 800-pound gorilla of the NFL.
We read these media reports and wince. We read all the revelations about health consequences of boys playing football. We see the NFL continuing to abuse Native Americans by refusing to extinguish the "Redskins" name. Roger Goodell probably lies awake at night. He runs an entertainment empire unmatched in its ability to mesmerize. And it's built on the destructive quality of tackling, of human flesh meeting human flesh in a trench warfare manner.
The Native American nicknames and imagery purportedly project "pride." The proponents have worn out that argument. It began to take on a cliche-like quality.
"Turok, Son of Stone"
I have my own grasp of what reflects Native American pride. It's a comic book series I grew up with. I consider it unique. It's unique because the Kiowa Indians are in a world where they are not threatened, except by dinosaurs! It's a science fiction story in which we get to know two fellows: "Turok" and "Andar." The younger Andar might seem like a son, but the two are really brothers. They are proud Kiowa warriors trapped in an isolated valley with prehistoric creatures. They improvise to come up with names for these curious creatures, calling them hoppers, monsters, honkers, flyers and sea demons.
The pair are not the only humans in this "lost valley." There are primitive humans which in my childhood we'd call "cave men." Today we have "man caves!" More civilized? Let's debate.
Those prehistoric humans are foreboding. They throw spears rather than break bread with our story's heroes. They wander in groups and seem anonymous like the storm troopers in "Star Wars." They aren't any more accurate in throwing their spears!
My point in praising this comic book is that it shows Indians of a pre-Columbian time who are not defined by a struggle vs. the white man. There is no white man, just those pesky dinosaurs like those velociraptors which Turok and Andar call "screamers." The "cave men" in the story seem rather sub-human like the cannibals in "Robinson Crusoe." Crusoe seems isolated even with cannibal people in close proximity.
Remember, even the "castaways" in "Gilligan's Island" had contact with island natives. Remember those stumblebums who were just white guys from Central Casting? Oh, it was all very funny and innocuous. Who can't love "Gilligan's Island?" Those island natives would sharpen their knives but it all ended up in pathos. Ditto the Indian characters in the 1960s comedy movie "Texas Across the River" with Dean Martin. Better to share a good laugh than take seriously a pro football team called the "Redskins," or a college team going by "Fighting Sioux."
Turok and Andar were the central characters in the comic book series "Turok, Son of Stone." I consumed this with great interest as a kid. I also consumed "Magnus, Robot Fighter" and "Space Family Robinson."
"Turok" had several publishers including Dell, Gold Key, Whitman, Valiant, Dark Horse and Acclaim. I remember Gold Key from my youth. The artwork on those comic book covers was exquisite. I have written before that it could be presented as stand-alone art.
Indians fighting dinosaurs rather than Indians fighting the cavalry!
Remember Peter Graves as the cavalry leader in "Texas Across the River?" "Harrar Hare!" He'd give this command no matter what they were doing. It was biting satire of the Western genre. We don't see this movie on TV anymore. The satire was extended to the Indians themselves - "Comanches." I thought it was totally funny. But offense could potentially be taken.
The story of "Turok" evolved in the years after I read it. It evolved to bizarre sci-fi lengths, which might have been fine for a new generation of kids. But for me, it became too fantastical. Demons and space aliens emerged with the dinosaurs. Turok and Andar are now in a place where time has no meaning. There's a cosmic anomaly: Time moves in a self-contained loop. Millions of years pass outside of it, while inside time barely moves. The villain "Mothergod" uses the lost lands as a base of operations. She outfits dinosaurs with intelligence-boosting implants! As a movie it couldn't be any worse than "John Carter," could it?
Turok and Andar are at the top of the human development chain in the incarnation of the story I consumed. For this reason I consider the story unique and fascinating. It hasn't gotten its due. Pre-Columbian America remains largely a mystery to us. Part of the reason for this is shame: the shame of knowing our presence disrupted and largely destroyed the so-called indigenous cultures. You can argue it would have happened no matter what.
Remnants remain but should not be acknowledged as "Redskins."
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

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