May 1, 2013 by Mandi Harris
Greetings and Salutations, Brothers and Sisters
I thought I’d take a little time to chat with you about your recent appearance at Gathering of Nations, from one mostly white, vaguely Cherokee person to another.
First of all, let’s start with your opening line. “Greetings and salutations, brothers and sisters”? If I learned anything from Charlotte’s Web, it’s that
pigs and spiders sometimes have sexual tension “salutations” means “hello.” “Greetings” also means “hello.” Therefore, by the transitive property, “greetings and salutations” is as redundant as fuck. You may as well have said “Hi and hello” or gone full radio DJ with a “What is up and what is happening, Indian Country?!” (Also, your use of “brothers and sisters” made you sound like Buster Bluth.)
Secondly, what the hell was up with all candles, dude? I counted ten. If you’re anywhere other than a dinner party at Louis XIV’s house, ten is too many goddamn candles. That had to violate about 14 different fire codes. I was afraid that your patchouli fumes (I’m 99% sure you wear patchouli) would ignite. Also, where exactly were you? I’m assuming, from the electric guitar on the wall, that it was your home because you totally seem like the kind of person who would use an electric guitar as wall art. (Really, the whole thing felt like it was written and directed by Tim Burton. I half-expected Helena Bonham Carter to make a cameo.)
Once I stopped worrying about your imminent spontaneous combustion, all I could focus on were the numerous pauses in your speech. You know, the ones where it seemed like you had temporarily forgotten where you were even though you were clearly in your guitars’ bedroom? There were so many pregnant pauses in that speech that I’m surprised you didn’t give birth to octuplets afterward. Scratch that. Pregnant pause implies moments with meaning. Yours were more like barren pauses. (Yes, that was an infertility joke and in very poor taste. I’m not taking it out.) I know I should probably cut you some slack on this because it’s not like saying words into cameras has been your job for the past twenty-nine years.
I’ve been thinking…maybe you were a hologram? (LIKE TUPAC!) That could be an explanation. Maybe you were a hologram. I’d even buy that you were a robot designed by
The Illuminati the Lone Ranger marketing team. Because, to me, hologram or robot are the only reasons why you didn’t make that speech like a person talking to people. Which is what was supposed to be happening. You were a person talking to people. For all of society’s treatment of them as mythical creatures akin to unicorns (H/T Lauren Chief Elk), Indigenous peoples are actually people. You have talked to people before, right? Because it sure as hell didn’t seem like it in that video.
I blame the sycophants in your life. I know what it’s like to be around sycophants. I spend a lot of time with toddlers. They have me convinced I’m the best dancer in the world and that I’m a flower fairy, and I’m beginning to suspect that might not be true. Little kids and Hollywood sycophants are a lot alike. Little kids suck up to you because they want an extra snack and for you to read the same book to them twenty times in a row and for you to let them be Batman during pretend time even though that means you have to be stupid Robin. Hollywood sycophants suck up to you because they want…I don’t know…rich people stuff…like…Elvis Presley’s gilded testicles? So, in exchange for The King’s golden berries, these people tell you that everything you say and do is perfection. And much like The Tourist, this video was not one of your best efforts. (I still love you for What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? though. And you were super hot in Chocolat with your inexplicable Irish accent.)
I understand the sheen of celebrity can cover a multitude of problems. (How do you famous people get that sheen, by the way? Is it from, like, facials made with Kate Middleton’s mid-morning, post-coffee poo?) I also know that not everyone had issues with your speech. (I in no way claim to speak for anyone in this letter.) Who knows? If I had been there, in the moment, I might not have found it
so fucking ridiculous problematic. I also had the benefit of hearing friends mock you discuss your video before I saw it. So, I admit, I came into it with preconceived notions.
See, here’s the thing: it’s so tempting to assume that Indigenous people are there as a two-for-one special for white people: you get to save them while also having your very own spiritual awakening. (Example: every movie ever made by white people about Native Americans.) But the only way to truly be an ally is to ignore any inclination toward colonialism. Throw the plot of every John Dunbar-esque movie you’ve seen out of your mind. And even though you may feel the urge to ask Native peoples in your life to teach you how to paint with all the colors of the wind, You. Must. Fight. It. (Even if you really wish they would because you only know how to paint with, like, a third of the colors of the wind…half, tops, and you’ve always wanted to learn how because Disney made it seem like a useful skill to have.)