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Forum Home - Go Back > Pow Wow Arena > Ask PowWows.com writer wants to depict a native teen correctly and respectfully writer wants to depict a native teen correctly and respectfully

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Old 04-19-2017, 08:21 PM   #1
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Post writer wants to depict a native teen correctly and respectfully

Hello, I am an 18 year old girl from California and am an aspiring screenwriter.
I am of entirely European descent so I know very little about the cultures and customs of Native people but would like help depicting a character in my most recent work correctly, believably, and respectfully.
My screenplay is set in a small country town in Mississippi. I wanted the female lead to be a race besides white and I felt that some type of Native American would be unique and more inclusive. I did very minimal research and found that while there are quite a few tribes in that area it seems Mississippi is primarily Cherokee and Choctaw (correct me if I'm wrong). I originally wanted my character to be of the Choctaw tribe (Cherokee is a common tribe to hear and I didn't want people thinking I didn't try hard to research or just pulled the most common tribe I could think of) but I was unable to find a traditional Choctaw name I was happy with so I decided the character could be Cherokee instead.
My character is a 19 year old Cherokee girl, her name is Salali, she is very short stature (5'2") and has shoulder length dark hair, she is described as having dark colored eyes, high cheekbones, and wears her hair with straight across bangs.
She is working off of the reservation she lives on at a grocery store in town. Her boss nicknamed her "Sally" because he thought her real name would confuse the customers. He says some stupid and somewhat offensive things but not in a mean-spirited way so she just feels uncomfortable but mostly ignores him, but is annoyed by his distasteful jokes.
As a child her parents (father is mostly pureblood (is that appropriate to say?) and grew up on the reservation while her mother is only part Cherokee (from her father) and grew up in the town, moving to the reservation once she got married) first had her attend kindergarten in town for 6 months but later decided to have her complete her schooling at the school on the reservation, as a result she is slightly isolated from the town but remembers some things from when she was very young. Her mother's mother was protestant and would often take her to the church in town for mass, so she recognizes people in town and interacted occasionally.
She graduated high school on the reservation and decided she wanted to work in town (a lot of teens just want to be away from their family when they're a little older).
She is supposed to be a modern and realistic character and not a stereotype or caricature of a Cherokee woman.
She mostly keeps to herself around adults (off the reservation) because they have a tendency to be close-minded or say something stupid about her culture (its a small town, they're a little backwards) but is friendly to her coworkers around the same age as her.
I will have more questions later but does any of this characterization seem unlikely or incorrect? I just want to make sure she doesn't come off as too passive or suppressed.
THANK YOU!
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Old 04-19-2017, 10:31 PM   #2
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Welcome to powwows.com.

May I ask what your qualifications are for writing about Indians, small southern towns, Protestants or the state of Mississippi? In the mists of prehistory, when I was taking creative writing in college, I seem to remember being told to write what I know.

With all due respect, in your précis I see a lot of stereotyping of Indians, Southerners, and small towns. You seem to lack not just experience with Cherokee culture, but Southern cultures, small towns or Protestantism.

First, there is one reservation in MS. It the home of the Mississippi Band of the Choctaw. They are the only federally recognized tribe in the state. The Mississippi Band of the Choctaw is one of the largest employers in MS. Besides gaming and hospitality businesses, they operate lumber, automotive, military supply, plastics molding, and other manufacturing and service industries. The are an economic force in the state.

The Cherokee that are in Mississippi are members of Cherokee communities with reservations in OK and NC. There are no federally recognized Cherokee groups in MS.

Most Native people have European or English language names. Salali is one of those badly spelled, at best, highly imaginative, at worst, Anglo baby name book names. High cheekbones?! Could we please get over 1970's Cher.

Second, the south is far more nuanced, varied and cosmopolitan than most outsiders recognize. An individual in a small southern town is no more likely to be backwards than an individual in a city. Having lived in DC; Boston; Houston; Dallas; Chadron, NE; Maryville, TN; Belen, NM; Cadiz, OH, and Chicago I found no shortage of ignorance (and no shortage of intelligence, wit and wisdom). The stereotype of the small town Cracker is no more balanced than the stereotype of cosmetically enhanced, New Age, blonde, self-absorbed, beach-bum Californian.

By the way, unless her Protestant mother was a high-church Episcopalian, it is unlikely she went to mass. Rebelling against the liturgy of the Catholic mass was one of the Protestant reformation things :)
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Old 04-20-2017, 12:43 AM   #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by OLChemist View Post
Welcome to powwows.com.

May I ask what your qualifications are for writing about Indians, small southern towns, Protestants or the state of Mississippi? In the mists of prehistory, when I was taking creative writing in college, I seem to remember being told to write what I know.

With all due respect, in your précis I see a lot of stereotyping of Indians, Southerners, and small towns. You seem to lack not just experience with Cherokee culture, but Southern cultures, small towns or Protestantism.

First, there is one reservation in MS. It the home of the Mississippi Band of the Choctaw. They are the only federally recognized tribe in the state. The Mississippi Band of the Choctaw is one of the largest employers in MS. Besides gaming and hospitality businesses, they operate lumber, automotive, military supply, plastics molding, and other manufacturing and service industries. The are an economic force in the state.

The Cherokee that are in Mississippi are members of Cherokee communities with reservations in OK and NC. There are no federally recognized Cherokee groups in MS.

Most Native people have European or English language names. Salali is one of those badly spelled, at best, highly imaginative, at worst, Anglo baby name book names. High cheekbones?! Could we please get over 1970's Cher.

Second, the south is far more nuanced, varied and cosmopolitan than most outsiders recognize. An individual in a small southern town is no more likely to be backwards than an individual in a city. Having lived in DC; Boston; Houston; Dallas; Chadron, NE; Maryville, TN; Belen, NM; Cadiz, OH, and Chicago I found no shortage of ignorance (and no shortage of intelligence, wit and wisdom). The stereotype of the small town Cracker is no more balanced than the stereotype of cosmetically enhanced, New Age, blonde, self-absorbed, beach-bum Californian.

By the way, unless her Protestant mother was a high-church Episcopalian, it is unlikely she went to mass. Rebelling against the liturgy of the Catholic mass was one of the Protestant reformation things :)
You can put your switch away now. OWWWW!!!

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Old 04-20-2017, 01:02 AM   #4
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Thank you for the overly critical and condescending response. I told you I had done minimal research so I wasn't completely sure about anything. Also, I never asked about southern or protestant cultures, I am non religious so I was unaware of the correct terms for a church service there. I'm still in the research and trial and error working process. I'm not entirely sure why you are so hostile. As I said I am 18, I know very little about Native or "Indian" cultures or customs, that's precisely why I asked. It's really fun that you also chose to stereotype and insult me based on where I am from when criticizing me for supposedly doing the same. I'm sorry I didn't realize reservations in the south were so awesome, I'm only familiar with western reservations that are much less economically thriving. I also resent your "write what you know" comment, if everyone only wrote what they knew the majority of literature would be even more centered on straight, white, educated men than it already is. I was really hoping to find help here and not be attacked but I guess not. The race of my character was never of huge importance to her characterization I just wanted to ensure she didn't seem stereotypical. You were not helpful, polite, or constructive. I'm not sure why anyone would choose to be such an angry and demeaning person. I'll be happy to resign from this site that I assumed would be about educating people not tearing them down.
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Old 04-20-2017, 07:58 AM   #5
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I can tell you from experience, if you plan to get your work published/produced/reviewed you'd best grow a much thicker skin. Snowflakes don't last long in that desert.

The answer to a lack of Native voices and representation is not more non-Indians writing whitewashed Native caricatures. Believe it or not, I'm not one of those who says Non-Natives can't write realistic native characters. They can, but only if they have had actual involvement with Native communities and people. Reading a few -- non-Native authored -- books and a couple webpages does not make for a nuanced understanding of the Native experience. It seems you want to use a tribal identity as an ethnic costume on the dominant culture trope of the alienated, misunderstood teen.

In my opinion, you're writing from too many areas of ignorance and inexperience: Cherokee experience, southern culture, MS, small towns, religion. That is a lot of research. Lots of getting to know people and places to create realistic multidimensional characters. It is a recipe for stereotyping.
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Old 04-20-2017, 10:50 AM   #6
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She's also in too big of a hurry to lash out at someone she doesn't know , because of some educated insight to her own ignorance ! ( she's too easily butt hurt )
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Old 04-28-2017, 02:53 AM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Greebley View Post
Thank you for the overly critical and condescending response. I told you I had done minimal research so I wasn't completely sure about anything. Also, I never asked about southern or protestant cultures, I am non religious so I was unaware of the correct terms for a church service there. I'm still in the research and trial and error working process. I'm not entirely sure why you are so hostile. As I said I am 18, I know very little about Native or "Indian" cultures or customs, that's precisely why I asked. It's really fun that you also chose to stereotype and insult me based on where I am from when criticizing me for supposedly doing the same. I'm sorry I didn't realize reservations in the south were so awesome, I'm only familiar with western reservations that are much less economically thriving. I also resent your "write what you know" comment, if everyone only wrote what they knew the majority of literature would be even more centered on straight, white, educated men than it already is. I was really hoping to find help here and not be attacked but I guess not. The race of my character was never of huge importance to her characterization I just wanted to ensure she didn't seem stereotypical. You were not helpful, polite, or constructive. I'm not sure why anyone would choose to be such an angry and demeaning person. I'll be happy to resign from this site that I assumed would be about educating people not tearing them down.
As a Southerner, I'm going to say this one small thing. Unless you have ever spent time in small town MS., you have no clue what it's like there. That state is a planet unto itself.

As for calling OLChemist hostile... you come here, as many have before you, to use this site and the people on it as a research project. We are not lab rats, and we are not information officers. I"m sorry you weren't welcomed with open arms, but you just can't go barging into someones home and expect them to tell you all about their family and friends. That's rude.
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