What Do Indigenous People Look Like?
Has anyone ever told you that you could not be indigenous because you didn't look like one?
Or perhaps you've met someone who is indigenous and were immediately shocked because they didn't look how you expected.
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Indigenous stereotypes involve a certain list of characteristics, but they do not match the reality of what being indigenous looks like. Many people judge what indigenous is by what they have seen in the media. It is important to understand these false generalities and learn how to deal with them in a way that leads to more understanding and respect.
When people ask me on social media or in the comments of a video why I don't look indigenous, I always follow up with this important question:
What Do Indigenous People Look Like to You?
It is important to understand the identity of who is indigenous and the current ways people judge who they are based on appearance and other factors. Unfortunately, the vast majority of these ideas are based on stereotypes. These false judgments are damaging and disrespectful. And sometimes it can lead to reconnecting Indigenous people Feeling Not Native enough.
Who Is Affected by Judging What Is Indigenous and What Is Not?
It's not just indigenous people who are negatively affected by unfair judgments. Non-indigenous people are also affected in a variety of ways. Racial profiling and stereotyping others never lead to a good place. Unfortunately, it is sometimes our own people who take these actions.
A lot of times, it's other indigenous people who racially profile others like them due to generations of trauma that we have all experienced. Personally, I've experienced more of our own people feeling the need to screen out and create exclusivity within indigenous communities. Turning against each other is something that often happens and as a result of racial and cultural trauma from the past and present.
To avoid such conflicts, The Medicine Wheel teaches us that all creation on Mother Earth was put here for a purpose and we are all connected in the circle of life, which is why all four sections are connected to create the full circle.
Where Does Judgment Happen?
Stereotyping and judgment occurs in a lot of different scenarios and places.
- Sports teams
- Schools and universities
- Youth extracurricular activities
- Social media and other online platforms
These are just some of the examples of where this judgment happens. It occurs in all-indigenous places or were a mix of people hangout.
Do you have any advice on how we can avoid these judgments? What can an individual or group do to educate and alleviate the harmful effects of stereotyping indigenous people?
Why Do People Judge What Indigenous Looks Like in the First Place?
I love asking the question of why these things happen. It is interesting to understand why people judge in the first place.
I've tried to list out some of the common reasons that people judge in general. That way, it doesn't have power over us. It allows us to understand and not have it be this foreign thing that doesn't make sense. It opens the door to learning how to be a better person.
Judging Others Makes People Feel Superior
If someone is not feeling good about themselves or has poor self-esteem and doubts, judging someone else negatively and putting them down helps them feel superior. Judgment also helps define goals and where we fit into the world.
We all know that when we feel disconnected it has a lot of negative effects on our emotional state. We feel this inherent need to have a place, to feel a connection, and to feel like we belong somewhere. Judgment happens naturally in these situations. When it does happen, we understand why these reasons exist and why we are judging other people. This holds true whether you are talking about judging indigenous people, our own people, or some other group. This knowledge helps us to understand reasons and, most importantly, gives us the power to overcome it.
Judging Faulty Qualities Helps Uncover Our Own
When we identify faulty qualities or things that we consider negative in other people, we can also identify them in ourselves. This creates a sense of camaraderie, and we do not feel alone with those faults anymore.
This is a very common thing that I have personally experienced when reading Instagram comments on other social media conversations. First, one person will identify something they don't like about me or make a judgment about me directly. Then, when I reach out to them with a response, I find that it is usually something that actually feel about themselves too. The conversation helps them understand themselves better. It is a very interesting phenomenon and a common reason why people judge.
Judgment Creates a Personal Connection Through Common Interest
The "us vs. them" mentality is a common reason for judging others. A good example of this is when we complain about a specific person or topic with people in our family. Their support can form a stronger bond and put you all on the same side of the issue.
That's why I think people complain sometimes. It helps them find common ground and a sense of connection even if it's a negative activity that they are participating in.
With indigenous people specifically, I've seen many cases where individuals feel disconnected from the group. They may feel "not indigenous enough" and the hurt feeling that results make some try to make others feel the same way. This allows them to justify the way that they feel to themselves and find their own group for support.
These are the main reasons why people judge. Once we understand, we can learn to overcome it.
Have you always wanted to be an Indigenous Ally? Check out this other article on How to to be an Indigenou Ally (And Avoid Cultural Appropriation)
The Consequences of Not Fixing the Judgment Problem
What can the problem of judgment lead to?
First of all, judgment leads to negative feelings. When you judge other people that you care about, your family members, your children, coworkers, friends, or casual acquaintances, it doesn't feel good.
Another consequence of this is that you could be potentially damaging opportunities or relationships with other people. You create negative interactions with them that can have a ripple effect on other parts of their life and your own.
Even if it's just in your head, the negative association with that person has detrimental effects. That is one of the biggest consequences of not fixing this problem.
How to Avoid Judging What Indigenous Looks Like?
Learn About the Amazing Diversity that Exists in Tribes and Communities
Stereotypes of what is indigenous usually come from a place of ignorance. When you do not know about the wide diversity that exists within the different tribal communities and cultures, you cannot form an accurate picture.
There's not just one culture, one set of teachings, or one way of doing things right. I cannot stress that enough. Overcoming stereotypes and judgment all starts with learning and education.
If you’re a non-Indigenous person, it might be a little intimidating to try to respectfully and accurately talk to Indigenous people. The fear of saying the wrong thing can keep us from trying at all. Check out this article about the Indigenous People of Canada to learn more!
Recognize Your Own Judgments
Another thing which is really important is the second part of the solution. You must acknowledge your assumptive stereotypes that form the base of the judgments you make.
Acknowledge what your stereotypes are from the beginning. This is an extremely powerful solution. When you acknowledge that you are stereotyping others and recognize that is the way you think about something already, it takes away the power of those thought processes. They do not have any power anymore, and they don't have weight in your mind. When you acknowledge it, the thoughts and habits are not as big a deal as they were before.
You achieve a level of separation that allows you to look at your assumptions objectively. It also gives you a powerful reflection on your environment. If you notice some of your stereotypes are very dark and negative, you can reflect on why those assumptions exist and what made you think that way in the first place.
Maybe this type of judgment came from something in your environment, the people around you especially in your formative years, and whether they helped instill these beliefs as a way to draw you into their group for one of the above-mentioned reasons.
If you want to learn more about indigenous people, cultures, practices, and beliefs, visit our website, Tribal Trade Co., for tons of resources at your fingertips.
Becoming interested in indigenous education is the first step in an enlightening journey. Knowledge helps destroy stereotypes and assumptions created by ignorance and negativity. Once you take the first steps to look inside yourself and examine the assumptions you make about what indigenous looks like, you have a springboard to start your exploration of the truth rather than relying on negative stereotypical beliefs.