A few days ago I posted that I was doing some research for an upcoming post. Y'all must have thought I was lying when that post never came.
So, without further ado...
The title of this post may confuse some of you--perhaps all of you--but it has to do with portraying (or should I say wrongly portraying?) a real people within your writing. Please don't do it.
Why Native Americans you may ask? Well, for starters, Jeremiah (my partner... my soulmate... my best friend) just happens to be Native American. Native Americans are also a real people that are often used in the Fantasy genre for mystical reasons and are often portrayed inaccurately or as a stereotype.
Recently, a few books and movies have come onto the market that use the Native American peoples as a basis of their story (I bet you can guess which ones without me even needing to mention them). Of course, there is nothing wrong with drawing inspiration from the Native Americans. In fact, this I encourage. But to color them with vibrant stereotypes that make them seem like a costume or a mythical creature that is no longer in existence is pure ignorance and only perpetuates said stereotype.
The books (and subsequent movies) I speak of are, of course, the Twilight saga. I am sure it was not Stephenie Meyer's intention to misrepresent the Quieluete Tribe--not only portraying all of them with the stereotypical dark olive skin and the long, dark (straight) hair that we have come to expect (SPOILER: Native Americans vary in appearance as much as you and I, whatever race you may be), but also associating a completely false legend with their tribe--however, intention or not, the ignorance was ever abundant. What most people don't realize is that the Quieluete Tribe of the La Push reservation in Washington really does exist.
As do all Native Americans. There are over 4,000 Native American Tribes to this day! One of the reasons this post is coming later than I had intended is because I was at the Spring Moon Pow-Wow in Pembroke, North Carolina (home of Jeremiah's tribe, the Lumbee)--and I can tell you firsthand that Native Americans are alive and well!
Not only did Stephenie Meyer misrepresent the actual Quieluete Tribe (instead of drawing on it for inspiration), she completely dehumanized the Tribe by casting it alongside another mythical race of beings: the Vampires. I applaud her for drawing on the great Native Peoples of this nation for inspiration, but had she created her own race from that information instead of portraying them as a caricature of a [mistakingly] long-dead people that only survives through costumes at Halloween, she would have gained much more of my respect. (Imagine going to Party City and buying an "African-American" or "Jew" costume! The nerve and insensitivity one would need to possess in order to do so is beyond my grasp!)
Take the movie Avatar, for instance. This is the flip-side of the coin. James Cameron drew a respectful inspiration from Native Americans for the Na'vi (though no formal association has been made, many relate the Avatar story-line to that of Captain John Smith and Pocahontas). The Na'vi live off and connect with the land--the Great Mother--just as Native Americans still do today. When they take from the land, they thank--not only Great Mother, but the creature/plant as well. They are a peaceful people, unless provoked, and help the "visitors," much like the Native Americans did upon the "discovery" of America. Unfortunately, unlike the Na'vi, the greed of the "visitors" caused MASS annihilation for the Native American peoples--but what we must not forget is that it thankfully did not cause extinction.
My entire point of this blog post is to beg you not to use an actual people as the basis of a race of characters in your own writing. If you can't resist, however, at least have the common courtesy and be creative enough to not use the actual name of the people you intend to represent. (Sorry Stephenie!)
I would love any feedback from my readers on fresh and creative character ideas that may or may not be based upon an actual existing people/culture (or ones in other books/movies that you have either enjoyed or disliked for this very reason) as an example for others who may be struggling to develop characters from scratch.