Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Heap big liars

I could have sworn I'd posted about this one before, but apparently not. However, it's a long-standing pet peeve that flared up once again recently when I actually met an offender personally. So here it is:

Why is it that anytime a model or actress wants to claim American Indian* heritage, she always claims to be Cherokee?

I'm looking at you, Cher, Cameron Diaz, Carmen Electra, Demi Moore, Hunter Tylo, Kim Basinger, Ava Gardner, Traci Bingham, Tori Amos, Tina Turner, and even you, Della Reese. Are you part Indian? Maybe. But I'm willing to bet you're not all Cherokee. I'm willing to bet you're just a bunch of liars. (Well, maybe I'll let Ava Gardner off the hook. She's with the Great Spirit now, after all.)

Look at the Mainstream Celebrity page of NativeCelebs.com. (Note: You'll find tribal affiliation a little more spread out among the celebrities on the other pages, which is where the real Indians are. However, the Mainstream Celebrity page is home to the stars claiming Indian ancestry to seem more glamourous or interesting or to explain away their less-than-Aryan looks. Also note that men aren't immune to this temptation, although they succumb less often than women do.) Out of the 67 people listed, 38 claim Cherokee ancestry. Out of all the hundreds of tribes in the Americas, the Cherokee purportedly have produced more than half of these stars. Granted, it may be the largest of the tribes, but this still bends credibility. And these are just the mainstream celebrities. It's been a while since I picked up a copy of Maxim, but as I recall, anytime a model claims Indian heritage, it's Cherokee.

Why Cherokee? I'm guessing that it's simply because it sounds the most exotic and romantic. And it's euphonious. As my housemate Shanel says, nobody wants to say they're Squamish. It just doesn't sound nice. (Shanel is a member of the Blood tribe, by the way. That's a cool name if there ever was one.) On the other hand, this site has other theories, citing (among other things) the popularity of the Jeep Cherokee as a possible influence.

Were I Cherokee, all this co-opting of my heritage would get on my nerves. Look at the message it sends out: Yes, the fact that all these models and actresses claim descent does make it sound like the Cherokee tribe's gene pool is just swimming in sexiness. But on the other hand, it makes it sound like the Cherokee are a bunch of sluts -- that their genes have spread so far and wide because they'll sleep with just anyone.


*Yes, I said "Indian". That's what Shanel says, and if people from India have a problem with her and other American Indians co-opting their heritage, they are cordially invited to come try and make something of it. Seriously, if they wanted to, they could make us say "Native American" -- there's over a billion of them. So the fact that they haven't means that they just don't care. It's mostly white people on college campuses who care about that kind of thing. These people care about Dave Matthews too. So screw 'em.

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