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Learning about Native Americans beyond the cupboard

By by carolina astraincastrain@vicad.com
Jan. 23, 2013 at 4 p.m.
Updated Jan. 22, 2013 at 7:23 p.m.

"Indian in the Cupboard," a 1995 film directed by Frank Oz, has faced criticism from educators for its exaggerated portrayal of Native Americans.

IF YOU GO

• WHAT: Native American Cultural Event

• WHEN: 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday

• WHERE: The Texas Zoo, 110 Memorial Drive

• COST: $10 for adults, $8 for children, free to passholders

My earliest memory of Native Americans, back when I used to say "Indian," was reading Lynne Reid Banks' "Indian in the Cupboard."

Any historian or Native American today would tell you the way Banks portrayed the toy Iroquois warrior is historically incorrect and offensive to what Native Americans were actually like in olden days, but as a child, "Indian in the Cupboard" was one of my favorite reads.

And when the movie by Frank Oz came out in 1995, I remember rushing my mother to the nearest theater to see it.

Long after its theatre-release, the childhood blockbuster, endured a long shelf life in daycare and households everywhere.

For those unfamiliar with the story, the tale takes off when a young boy uses a magical key to bring a plastic Native American figurine to life within a cupboard.

Little Bear is a blood-thirsty, violent and immature character, later pitted against a cowboy figurine named Boone.

In a 2006 teacher's education book, a chapter titled "Unlearning Racism in Teacher Education" by Marilyn Cochran-Smith talks about using the 1981 science-fiction novel in her classroom.

"The discussion about race and racism changed that day," Cochran-Smith wrote. "Many saw it as more or less harmless, assuming that those who considered the book racist were self-interested extremists, interested only in what was politically correct, others strongly disagreed, assessing the book as promoting shallow stereotypes with little redeeming social value."

Over the years, the way we talk about Native Americans in the present day has drastically changed.

Universities across the country have called for a ban against the use of Native American images in sports, rousing mixed emotions and conflict between communities.

As a native Texan who is bound to have a good share of Aztec blood running through my veins, the history of cultures passed has become more important to me with age.

This weekend at the Texas Zoo, an event formally known as "Powwow Day," now titled, "Native American Cultural Event," thanks to political correctness, aims at informing the community on the true historical nature of Native Americans in the United States.

Amanda Rocha, the zoo's new executive director, said the event is one of the most attended by their adult audience.

"Mainly because of the information that is being distributed," said Rocha. "Most people don't really know much about Native American culture."

Storytellers, axe throwing demonstrations and a variety of crafts for children will be on tap at the zoo's Saturday event.

"People will be here representing their nations," Rocha said. "And there will be Boy Scout badge earning opportunities as well."

The way in which we talk and portray Native Americans in today's society is an important dialogue Americans should be privy to.

Do your community a service and inform yourself on the historical facts and myths on Native American culture.

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