Vanishing Race

The Vanishing Race by Edward S. Curtis

The Vanishing Race by Edward S. Curtis

When our girls were little we travelled up and down the Oregon and California coasts to visit relatives.

One day we stopped at a tourist outpost in the redwoods.

The outpost sold American Indian jewelry and crafts manufactured in Taiwan—not unusual and not surprising.

But I was surprised by the title of a children’s book called The Vanishing Race.

Filled with images of plains Indians, the author announced indigenous people once roamed North America, rode horses and built teepees.

I was surprised such a book could be found that announced Indians had vanished.

So when I started graduate studies soon after our coastal journey I decided to work on projects that showed Indians had not vanished.

Armed with scholarships from my tribe and the university, I took a class in public opinion and voting.

I figured this would be a path to study Indian voices.

But when I began looking for research on public opinion, politics and American Indians I found little information.

Undaunted I talked with professors and librarians, unwilling to abandon my cause.

I simply couldn’t find any data—at least not in the 1980s–on public opinion and voting among indigenous North Americans.

I arrived at the unwelcome conclusion that researchers didn’t want to bother with native concerns and politics.

No one cared.

And that strengthened the trope of the vanishing race.

Photo by Edward S. Curtis titled The Vanishing Race. Used with permission from the Northwestern University Library, Edward S. Curtis’s The North American Indian: the Photographic Images, 2001.


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 american indian, authenticity, framing, Indian, Indian relocation, manifest destiny, native american, native press, Native Science and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Vanishing Race

  1. Russ L says:

    Hey Cynthia!

    I think that your article on Indian data in the 1980’s is only part of the story for that time period–and perhaps up until now as well. I can’t speak for all Indians, or even all the Indians on my Reservation (Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians) but I’d venture that the Indians on my reservation are more of a clannish people and they don’t want non-Indian anthropologists / sociologists “poking around”. I’d hazard an inference that this would be true for most tribes.

    I would think Red Lakers would be more receptive to studies if they were done by a Red Lake member of those disciplines, as any project is more apt to be successful if you have the buy-in of the people involved. And they are more likely to be involved if they feel that the person(s) doing the studies have their best interests at heart.


  2. Cynthia, I recently tried speaking with an Anglo man who has written a couple of books about being a “Post-Tribal” shaman. I tried to explain to him that we are still here, and that the term “Post-Tribal” is offensive to me. He spoke about respecting Indigenous traditions by using “Post-Tribal”. He also said he had invested 20 years in shaping the use of the term, which represents “our evolution from tribal to post-tribal”. My head and heart still hurt.


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