If you're an avid lover of history, or an ally in general, then you may not not be shocked to hear Pocahontas' story was not the white washed, ahistorical version that Disney produced back in the early 90s. Pocahontas, born Amonute, was actually a young Powhatan girl who was kidnapped by Settlers, raped repeatedly and then held as a political prisoner until her (rather suspicious) death in 1617.
Her remains lay in Gravesend, England and despite several requests from Virginia tribes, have not been repatriated.
Indian Country Media Network has an excellent article that incorporates Mattaponi oral history on Pocahontas' legacy that you can read here.
Despite the Mattaponi divulging sacred oral history along with the thousands of articles, books and museum exhibits, many individuals prefer to dismiss this history in exchange for the romanticized, ahistorical version Disney promotes. In addition to this willful ignorance of Pocahontas' true history, Non-natives (and sometimes Natives) continue to buy cheaply made Pocahottie costumes, post Pocahontas-themed makeup tutorials on Youtube and Instagram...and in some cases, go so far as to smear blood onto their costumes, or apply arrow prosthetics:
The above pictures are a sampling of the thousands, and I mean THOUSANDS, of Pocahontas or Native American themed makeup and costumes.
Several conversations across social media have exposed mentalities which maintain that these costumes aren't offensive, they're simply an extension of the general public's love for Disney's courageous heroine and personal creative expression. The conversation turns hostile, however, if you were to suggest that children should refrain from dressing up as Pocahontas...they're children after all, right? Let children be happy dressing up as their favorite hero...
The rebuttal: But at what cost to Indigenous peoples? To Indigenous women? To Virginia native women, in particular?
The sentimental value we place upon Disney movies can be of great, personal importance. As a displaced, urban native woman myself, I remember watching Disney's Pocahontas with fascination. I had never seen a Native woman--particularly a Virginia Native woman--represented on television. I never felt the need to dress up as Pocahontas, though. I didn't feel the need to wear another native woman's skin. Maybe because I knew there was a discrepancy to her story, even though I couldn't put those discrepancies into words at the time. Or maybe because I was sure enough in my identity that I didn't need a cheap costume to honor my people. Or maybe because I wasn't raised to be consumptive of others' identity...
The argument that sentimental value supersedes indigenous humanity reinforces ahistorical commentary regarding a marginalized group in which the majority of society doesn't even recognize as a living, active people. When your sentimental, childhood movie works to speak over tribal history and becomes the source of truth for Non-Natives to base their perception of Indigenous peoples off of, that "innocent" sentimental feeling transforms into violent erasure.
When that "sentimental", childhood movie takes a once living, brutalized human native child and markets her image coupled with her revised history for capitalistic gain, that movie is no longer innocent fantasy but consumptive commodification of Indigenous womens' identity.
Indigenous women--much like Indigenous sacred sites and resources--are not for sale. Our identities, and especially our ancestors, are not commodities to be monetized off of.
To do so, further reinforces the Cycle of Genocide as seen below:
*Creative and Labor rights of this infographic are reserved by Danielle Miller. Please go support her Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/Izanzanwin
Using the Cycle of Genocide as the foundation for criticism for Disneys' Pocahontas, erasure of history (AKA: white washing of history) precedes escalated consumptive behaviors. Revising a peoples history is not a difficult task to undertake when the oppressing group has spent generations systematically committing genocide via Termination Policy, Eugenics, forced sterilization, reservations and well...old fashioned murder.
If an oppressing force can silence an entire population by stripping them of a platform that could be utilized to speak on their own histories, those oppressors can then replace indigenous oral history by supplanting their own narratives. Which, in terms of Pocahontas, has been successfully executed via the Pocahontas Myth.
Pocahontas didn't "save" Smith, and she certainly wasn't the mature, sexualized version you see in Disneys' recreation. This myth began with Smith himself, who has been accused countless times of embellishing his writings and exaggerating his conquests. In fact, Smiths tale about Pocahontas saving him from Wahunsenecas' wrath was not published until well after the Chief and Pocahontas had walked on with their ancestors.
Yet this myth went on to be popularized among English society, and several companies (particularly the Tobacco industry) used this myth to catapult their brands. Even groups like the Daughters of Pocahontas canonized Matoaka based off Smith's embellishments (I will expand on this Order in a later discussion. You can read my thread in the meantime here).
The Daughters of Pocahontas (a female offshoot of the Order of the Redmen) were a group of White Women who would dress up as Pocahontas. The tradition of "playing indian" did not start or end with this Order, however. If you look on Instagram and type #Pocahontas you'll see thousands of pictures similar to what is featured above.
There is a reason why society favors the Pocahontas Myth over Sacred Oral history. The Pocahontas Myth works to erase and speak over Indigenous voices that tell a truth most Non-native people refuse to hear. To hear and accept the history of Matoaka, would mean to admit their complicity in historical revisionism, to admit that they festishize and privilege sexualized versions of young women who were raped, had their child taken away, their husband killed and then held as a political prisoner until their death. This truth is an ugly truth about Settlers historical behavior.
As Danielle Millers' Cycle of Genocide infographic clearly shows, we cannot comfortably wear an ancestors skin without first revising their legacy to be morally palatable. Buying a costume of someone's brutalized ancestor is much easier if we tell their story differently, and if we turn that story into a product meant for mass consumption.
Products are, after all, not human. Cartoons aren't human. But what if that cartoon was based on an actual human child? Does a cartoon somehow negate erasing a once living, brutalized human childs voice?
Nowadays, what we genuinely think of as genocide (such as gunning down mass crowds of people, or sending them to concentration camps) is illegal. Yet we can dehumanize human beings in a plethora of covert and overt ways. We can dehumanize an entire people by perpetuating stereotypes, denying them access to their cultural traditions but continue to practice them ourselves and indoctrinating our children to think of these groups as non-existent. Dehumanization in essence, is a component of genocide.
Allowing children to dress in Pocahontas costumes, to wear Virginia Native ancestors skin, further normalizes the indoctrination of appropriating Indigenous identity...much like the Daughters of Pocahontas did back in the early 20's. Condoning these appropriative behaviors signals to children that our identity is easily taken on and off, and since we (allegedly) aren't present to remind you of our existence, wearing our identity (or the revised version of our identity) is normal.
These children will grow up thinking that Indigenous people no longer exist, that the land they reside on is continually available for resource extraction. These children will think drumming at Burning man, faux-singing native songs, won't affect my daughter who will be constantly told "she's not indian enough" because she doesn't look the part and "all Indians are dead anyways".
Mass murder, historical revisionism, appropriation of identity and corrupt legislation...these are all components of ongoing genocide, symptoms of the sickness. The childhood indoctrination of dehumanizing and speaking over Indigneous peoples will always show through in the end through state-sanctioned violence and ultimately, death.
Don't believe me? Look to the NODAPL movement for modern day proof. The Dakota Access Pipeline was re-positioned through Oceti territory despite the fact that its construction violated Federal Law (treaty law). America refused to pay attention to Indigenous outcry until construction was beginning, and America continued to justify the pipelines construction until a year later when a Federal Judge finally ruled against the projects legality. There is several video of local police and military dragging elders out of prayer, pepper spraying peaceful protesters and water cannoning Indigenous people in below freezing weather.
A $50 Pocahottie costume takes just moments to buy and place upon your skin. The materials are made up of cheap suede and plastic. Yet that costume residing in Halloween City or Spirit, that commodity represents much more than a childhood heroine. If you take a second to look outside you or your childs immediate, materialistic needs you will realize that you have become a symptom of a larger issue. You have contributed to an issue that has persisted for over 500 years, a tradition of Indigenous genocide.
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