Science, TV and Authenticity


This past week scholars gathered in Chicago to share their research and insights into mass communication.

I walk along a thin line between science and culture, hanging with folks who study science in one corner of the universe, and spending time with others who foreground American Indian cultural issues.

Only a handful of us studies the intersection of science and culture that affects American Indians.

Inevitably the talk in Chicago turns to authenticity: is it defined by science or by culture?

John Sanchez (Apache), a researcher at Penn State, found that news reporters reach back to historic images to illustrate modern Indians, thus equating Geronimo with modern tribal members.

In this instance, it’s not science or blood quantum defining tribal identity: it is television.

The problem isn’t only that TV is false: it’s that most citizens are exposed to Indians via mass media images, not through personal experience.

Mass media just aren’t as powerful as we like to believe: it takes more than one program or one advertisement to change your behavior.

But when it comes to shaping your beliefs about something you don’t have any experience with and that’s completely novel, then mass media fills the gaps.

So television creates the definitions of what constitute Indian-ness.

As Sanchez points out, if you don’t look like Geronimo, then you don’t look Indian.

Check out the Smithsonian discussion of blood quantum at


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, human origin, Native Science, science, science communication and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Science, TV and Authenticity

  1. How indeed? It sure is hard to recognize oneself.
    Please keep writing. You are doing the rest of us who struggle with these issues a real service. Blessings.


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