Native American Children Recognize Media Stereotypes

Oakland, CA — Native American youth say the media has a powerful influence on perceptions of people of color and that they see themselves characterized as “poor,” “drunk,” “living on reservations,” “selling fireworks,” and “fighting over land.” Whites and AfricanAmericans are also seen by these young people as racially stereotyped on TV – “black people are always funny,” “white people are all rich and stuff.”

These are just some of the observations from Native American children released today as a continuation of A Different World, a groundbreaking 1998 study examining children’s perceptions of race and class in the media. The studies were commissioned by Children Now, a non-profit child advocacy organization.

Children Now, along with the polling firm of Lake Snell Perry & Associates, conducted focus groups in three cities- Oklahoma City, Albuquerque and Seattle. The groups involved representatives of more than 20 tribes and respondents from the ages of 9-17.

“We heard from Native American children that they think of themselves as an invisible race in the media,” said Lois Salisbury, president of Children Now. “Yet, when they do see themselves, they’re often troubled by what they see.”

One Comanche child says, “Nobody really talks about our group,” while others point to persistent stereotypes – casinos, “fighting over land,” dancing around fires.” When Native American youth do see themselves positively portrayed, they say they feel proud and empowered. One Seattle boy talked about seeing a news clip about the Gathering of Nations, a pow-wow in Albuquerque, “They announced it on TV … I was really surprised. It was cool.”

In addition to race, Native youth also perceived a marked difference based on socioeconomic class. “the [news] media thinks of upper class kids as perfect … they don’t really notice the middle class and lower class…they think they’re something you step on.”

Like children of all nationalities and races, the Native youth polled in Children Now’s study want to see honest, accurate portrayals of themselves and those that are around them. All respondents said they have friends of different races and want to see that multi-ethnic aspect of their lives and their world reflected on the TV and movie screen. As one Isleta boy commented, “Show them all people … Show them together. As friends.”

Finally, Native youth looked beyond color and race to issues of equality, economics and fairness in their critique of television and movies. One Washington girl said, “When you do see Native Americans on TV … they’re all drunk and beating up on each other. And they’re poor. “A Seattle teen offers some simple advice. “If they’re going to put Indians [in the show], I’d tell them to actually go and study what they’re about to film.”

For more information, please contact Vernae Graham or Dante Allen at Children Now, 510-763-2444.