Stereotyping of Native Americans

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Dear Editor: It was great to read about Burton and Mary Jo Housman’s recent visit to Casa de los Amigos in Mexico City in the Jan/Feb issue. Pacific Yearly Meeting has made progress in building and maintaining ties to Friends in Mexico over the last few years. Visitation between Mexico City Friends and the rest of PYM has increased, and the participation of Mexico Friends on several major committees and programs is most welcome.

It was disturbing, however, to see in the article Octavio Paz’s stereotyping of Native American men. 

While an accomplished writer, poet and diplomat, Paz was obviously limited in his knowledge. He was very much a Euro-Mexican. It was not a harmless error to paint as primitive the people of the first nations in what is now the United States. This misrepresentation was an integral part of the dehumanization that allowed European colonists to destroy civilizations, enslave and kill people, and seize land. Native peoples are still living with the legacy of these stereotypes.

It is particularly egregious to compare the “Iroquois” and the Aztecs in this regard. The Haudenosaunee (as they have always called themselves) were, in fact, a highly agricultural people, famously farming corn, beans, squash (“the Three Sisters”) as well as other crops. (Agronomists now estimate that their production per acre may have been five times that of the wheat farmers of Europe.) The founder of their league, known only as “The Peacemaker” established a political system sophisticated enough to serve as a model for the framers of the later U.S. Constitution. The Aztec system of conquest and oppression suffers greatly by comparison.

It is important to speak up because these stereotypes are still harming Native America. We must stop talking like this if reconciliation and justice are to be achieved.

– James Summers, La Jolla Monthly Meeting (PYM)