Exterminating Indian Identity

Jean Luc Picard

Soon I will be bound for Phoenix to present a paper on American Indian identity and authenticity: a topic of keen interest.

Critics often complain about Indian stereotypes, ranging from the issues surrounding sports mascots to non-Indians playing Native roles in cinema and TV.

Before I talk about the paper, close your eyes. Imagine an American Indian man living in North America hundreds—make that thousands—of years ago. Think about what he would have looked like. Remember that image.

My paper explores the imagery of Kennewick Man and how the image has been deployed in mass media. I argue that some stakeholders have attempted to paint Kennewick Man as a European ancestor rather than an indigenous denizen of North America.

The idea that a 9200-year-old ancestor isn’t indigenous just sounds crazy. How could he not be?

Problem is that some scientists report that the skull of Kennewick Man doesn’t resemble skulls of contemporary Indian peoples. Others argue that human anatomy that’s thousands of years old is bound to differ when compared with modern people.

But that difference doesn’t mean the skeleton isn’t native to North America, although the judge determined that tribes didn’t muster enough evidence to demonstrate an affiliation with Kennewick Man and lost their lawsuit to repatriate him to the tribes.

One of the anthropologists told news reporters that the skull was Caucasoid, a term that describes certain characteristics of a skull but not, say, skin color. And although Caucasoid doesn’t mean “Caucasian,” the media conflated the two terms and reported Kennewick Man as white.

Adding insult to injury the same expert told the press that Kennewick Man looked like Jean Luc Picard, Commander of the U.S.S. Enterprise of TV and movies. The actor who plays Picard hails from Yorkshire, England.

In effect, the coupling of Kennewick Man with British actor Patrick Stewart engenders a bizarre hyper-reality.

Now recall the image you imagined when thinking of an American Indian man living in North America thousands of years ago. My image has morphed into Patrick Stewart, whom I hardly think resembled my Native American forebears.

My paper explores this bizarre hyper-reality, when American Indians are mashed up against Star Fleet commanders: when Patrick Stewart becomes a doppelganger for Kennewick Man.

I argue that such couplings help exterminate authenticity, and hence identity.


About Cynthia Coleman Emery

Professor and researcher at Portland State University who studies science communication, particularly issues that impact American Indians. Dr. Coleman is an enrolled citizen of the Osage Nation.
This entry was posted in authenticity, cinema, ethics, film, human origin, Kennewick Man, Native Science, repatriation, science, writing and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Exterminating Indian Identity

  1. conrad says:

    very much on the dot ,,yes maam


  2. M Forner says:

    Maybe Kennewick Man is a descendant who like Jean Luc Picard ended up in his past and has come down to us as a tantalizing clue of the future lost in the past.


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