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Speaker focuses on inappropriate Images of Indigenous people

by NationTalk on January 28, 2011317 Views

Friday, January 28, 2011

On Friday, Feb. 4, Dr. Keith Smith will give a talk “On Black Hawks, Pontiacs, and Crazy Horse Malt Liquor: The Policy and Cultural Relations Implications of Constructed Images.”

His presentation is part of the Arts and Humanities Colloquium series and will take place in the Boardroom of Vancouver Island University’s Nanaimo campus Library (Bldg. 305, R. 507) from 10 to 11:30 am. The event is free and open to everyone.Among the questions Smith raises: Where do the images of Indigenous people come from that news media and advertisers offer up so regularly, and does it matter if these images do not accurately reflect the reality of the First Nations students and staff, for example, who study and work at VIU?

Smith, who teaches in the Department of First Nations Studies and the Department of History, has examined the origins of such images and argues that their inappropriateness does matter.

“Inaccurate imaginings of Indigenous people affect popular perceptions,” Smith says. “Worse, viewing Indigenous people through inappropriate lenses continues to guide policy decisions nationally, provincially, and locally.”

To understand the history of these images, Smith turned to the past. A hundred years ago, an army of Canada’s Department of Indian Affairs employees collected an unprecedented amount of information about those they defined as “Indians.” The government used that information to rationalize systematic intervention in the lives of Indigenous peoples.

Today, Canada’s political and cultural leaders claim the era of assimilationist policies is over, Smith says. They don northwest coast button blankets, announce the dawn of new relationships, and apologize for historical abuses. All the while, popular perception continues to be informed by images of North American Indigenous people that remain inaccurate cultural constructions many of which were developed a century or more ago.

He notes that North American society is presented daily with mascots for sports teams, logos for a myriad of commercial products, and news stories about camouflaged warriors and broken communities presented with little context and rarely more than superficial understanding. And just as in the past, the implications for our political decisions and cultural relations are enormous.

Smith’s presentation opens the spring series of the Arts and Humanities Colloquium and will be followed by two others this term.

On March 4, Ross Desprez from the Theatre Department will talk about “History on Stage: Transforming History into Relevant, Entertaining Musical Theatre.”

Dr. Marni Stanley from the Department of Women’s Studies and the Department of English will conclude the series with a presentation on April 1 on “Graphic Matters: Women Making Comics.”

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