Thursday, November 23, 2006

Playmobil Indian

This is a story that John Aditsan Anderson, a Navajo, told me.

His four year old son, Askii, was playing on the carpet with his Playmobil figures. He had stood them up in various rows: the knight, the policeman, the Indian.

To see his reaction, John pick up the plastic Indian and said, "You know, you are Indian." Askii looked confused. "Are you Indian?" he asked his father.


"Is Mom Indian?"


This gave Askii pause. John watched as Askii's face scrunched up, trying to sort out this information. Then Askii asked if his brother was Indian.

"Is Grandma?"
"Is Grandpa?"

With each new revelation, John could see that his son was trying to sort how this fit into this definition of 'Indian'. And how this all fit with this plastic figure with its plastic feathers and painted blue streaks on it.

John knows that Askii will be searching for his identity. Right now, Askii perceives his world as all inclusive. He doesn't see the boundaries between watching Scooby Doo cartoons and playing video games and going to the hoop dances and eating mutton.

Later, he will go to school and wear a construction paper headdress and paper bag vest. He will learn about how Indians and Pilgrims had a feast. Later he'll learn about how Columbus discvered America. Later he will learn about Woulded Knee and smallpox and Crazy Horse. Later he will learn about the cliff houses and the disappeared Anazazi. And he will learn that Native Americans are other people who live long ago or far away.

But he won't learn at school why Grandma works at K-Mark, even though she has a computer science degree. And he won't learn why his cousins' lives are so difficult on the reservation. And he won't learn why the stories he learns in school are his stories.

I thought it odd that John opened a dialogue with his son over a Playmobil Indian. After all, the pointy headdress and painted face have as much to do with thier lives as the plastic knight or cop.

But perhaps it was John's way of telling his son, "This is how people will think of you. Do you know what it really means to be Indian?"

Askii will have to deal with other's perceptions of what it means to be Indian for the rest of his life. Some of these attitudes will be vilifying, some will be flattering. But, ultimately, Askii will have to reconcile who he is against the Playmobil Indian and other fictions that define the Native American experience.

Note: Aditsan is a Navajo name that means "listener"
Askii is a Navajo name that means "boy"

1 comment:

Tina said...

Very thought provoking. DS has a Native American boy in his class. He has a hard time reconciling the idea of the Thanksgiving Indians with this boy. It's a good learning experience.