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Cherokee Is Not A Jeep: Raising the American Indian Profile

The more I work with the Internet, the more apparent it is that non-natives still overwhelmingly control the image of the American Indian. It's better than it once was. Not all the history books portray Indians as blood-crazed savages anymore. You only hear 'squaw' out of actual white supremacists. Indian actors are even playing Indian roles on TV sometimes now. But whenever I do an Internet search, I'm reminded how far there still is to go. Real representations of American Indian culture are out there, but they're swamped under tens of thousands of sites about Jeep Cherokees and Chief Wahoo, "Native American" dreamcatchers mass-produced in Korea, New Age garbage masquerading as Indian religion, bodice-rippers about manly Indian warriors ravishing people on a mountaintop, and picture after picture of half-dressed Indian maidens embracing unicorns or white wolves.

I'm not a young man anymore. I'm not going to singlehandedly change the American perception of American Indians. In time, that will come, I hope. Right now my modest little wish is this: I want to go to Yahoo and type in "Apache" and find sites about Geronimo, not about Unix servers or helicopters. I want to type "Cheyenne" and find sites about the Dog Soldiers, not the city in Wyoming and a porn star who calls herself "Cheyenne Silver." I want Lakota tribal history to come up before vision quest safaris by fake Sioux medicine men and inaccurate, misspelled grade-school reports about "mean" Indians who steal each other's horses.

Well, I can dream, anyway. Apache helicopters and New Age sundances are probably not going anywhere. The capital of Wyoming sure isn't. But if we work together, we can make real information about American Indians available online, and not only that, we can make it more available than false information, poached information, and even commercial information. Here's how.

1. Get a website. If I can do it, you can. It doesn't need to be about Indian issues, it could be about basketball, moon exploration, your dog, anything. Identify your tribe on the site. The less invisible we are the better it will be for us. Invisible people are easy to ignore. You can get a good free website from http://www.geocities.com/; I used them for years.

2. Link to other Indian sites. The more links go to a page with real Indian information the more people will read it, the higher-placed it will be in search engines, the more often it will find its way into school projects instead of inaccurate and offensive websites. If more people link to the War Against Exploiters of Lakota Spirituality than to Sun Bear, the Lakotas will be read by more people! If more people link to an actual Indian artist than to a pretender, the Indian artist will make more money. You don't have to go overboard with the links, but at least link to the homepage of your own tribe and two or three other pages with real Indian content. It really does make a difference.

3. Promote your site (and those of other Indians you know). Contact Laura and she will add it to our links, for starters (which will increase its importance as explained in #2). Get your other friends to link to it. Also, submit it to one of the subcategories of http://dmoz.org/Society/Ethnicity/The_Americas/Indigenous/Native_Americans at the ODP. I am an editor of that part of the directory and though I obviously can't guarantee you a listing, I can promise to evaluate the site within a week or two (NOTE: This only applies to actual American Indian pages, please don't take it as an invitation to flood that category with real estate spam which will only get deleted anyway.) Since search engines rely heavily on the ODP, being listed there will also improve the visibility of Indian sites (the reason I'm volunteering there in the first place.) You can also try submitting sites to Yahoo but unpaid site submissions are a pretty low priority for them.

Well, those are the only ideas I have for now. Please feel free to circulate this around, and add your own ideas. American Indians seem to be just about the most under-represented American group on the Internet--there are more suburban white teenagers who insist they are direct descendants of Pocahontas around online than there are actual Indians, from what I can tell--and the more we can do to change that, the better it will be for us all.

Orrin.



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