It ain’t easy being Indian but I gotta do it!

By Ricey Wild
News From Indian Country 5-09

I remember seeing the movie Billy Jack  for the first time. It was in a small, crusty theatre in a racist town at the apex of three large reservations, in 1970-something. Billy Jack was no happy-ending Disney movie; all of which I was used to and adored.

Prior to this aha! moment was my hopelessly naive and myopic life view. (Someday my Prince will come...) So-here’s Billy Jack saving the day by riding in on a motorcycle and an eagle feather and then kicking some pinkish butt! Hai Ya!

The character Billy was a Cherokee breed who was highly annoyed after the local yokels hated on and harassed the hippie/Indian community who were just trying to live peacefully and holistically.

Yes, I’m sure there are better reviews available than the above, but for my purpose it will have to serve. At the end of the movie I remember crying big, fat tears, holding up my chubby fist and singing, “One Tin Soldier.” This was me seeing for the first time in my life, an “Indian” hero.

Before this? I don’t remember having seen one at all. At my age then, I could not have described any of my family members as my “heroes” or “heroines” as such, though they certainly are. Until then the only celluloid images I had seen of my Native People were of them being wilding, beastly savages, emitting blood-curdling screams while pillaging and killing innocent white settlers and arbitrarily burning their villages.

If a lie is repeated over and over it becomes the truth as dictated by the hysterical, whoops! I mean historical fiction writers.

When I was in about 3rd grade the Teach showed us a mini-clip of a bare chested Plains-type Indian Brave in a tipi, gesturing and grunting his communications, with English subtitles. (I am full! Up to here!) Did it present just how advanced and progressive sign language was then and would be? No. It made him, and all of us associated with Indian culture look stupid, because we could not speak English.

I keep saying how it ain’t easy being Indian. Sounds like a mantra to me now. Om Mani Pad me Hum! It ain’t easy being Indian but I gotta do it! Hum!

Back to the story thus far. I’m trying to think of Indians in popular mainstream cinema, and how they were depicted. I mean besides the John-Wayneishy obvious disgusting stereotypes and as perennial anti-American and deniers of Manifest Destiny!

We are bad guys/gals with nothing but a uninhabitable reservation to lose. Besides that I mean.


Yanno what? You got me! Until recently there have been no real Indians getting the acting parts of real Indians, as we are today. I do have a small, ragged memory cell of a Star Trek episode in which Indians appeared, however I am confident they weren’t real Indians anyway. Now, we have these series and movies today, like “We Shall Remain” and “Twilight” which are allegedly employing real American Indians to depict American Indians in cinema. Hay, progress is progress, by any definition.

I’ve been keeping close attention to the PBS series “We Shall Remain” for a lot of reasons, but know this. It’s not cuz I don’t know how everything turns out in the end, its becuz I want to see how the historical events are depicted per se.

Like I said, history is written in big black permanent marker by the hand of the conquering colonists.

After living most of my life thus far seeing my Native People literally being written off as vanishing, barbarous and worst, inconsequential, I get to watch a series from what is supposed to be “our” point of view.

Our Native ancestors tried to help out and then share and get along with the European Boat People, they really, really did. But when it came to pushing and shoving and hating we said, “NO MORE!!!” Sadly, what muskets and cannons could not do, disease, genocide and an evil conniving USA government did.

I just realized this: “America” in all its hypocritical history regarding immigrants don’t like any new immigrants. I guess the Americans learned their lesson well, via we Indian’s tragic mistakes. “Never again” they shout, until a fresh immigrant family opens a new Italian-Jewish-Scottish-French-Finns-African-European-Irish-Somali-Canadian-German-Greek-Chinese-Muslim (etc...etc...I hope yooz get it...) restaurant or deli, and the inevitable backlash until the rest of us get that they ain’t leaving any time soon, either.

As a genocide survivor, I cannot be bitter, even if it comes easily. I refuse to. I am still here to laugh in your pink faces, to dance at the Powwow, to continue my People’s way of life, to celebrate our culture and revive our Native language. Listen up: YOOZ DID NOT WIN!

There are heroes and then there are heroes. I love Billy Jack to this day, with his tight fitting denim outfit, beaded hat, and his sacrifice for his people.

It’s like my Unk Gene always used to say, “It ain't easy being Indian, but we’ve been doing it for so long, what else is there to do?”