Along with the numerous other so-called 'traits' of Aboriginal people as observed by non-Natives, is a fairly unique cultural label of 'truculence' or 'walking around with a chip on one's shoulder'. 'Dour', 'sullen'... well, the descriptions are as varied as the vocabulary of the observer and not especially socially endearing. The stereotypes rarely portray Native people as 'ebullient', 'gregarious', 'extroverted' or anything resembling social gadflies.
We're an 'angry' bunch.
After a half a millennium of getting jerked around, lied to, intentionally infected with diseases, ripped off, hunted by dominant governmental policies, cheated, kicked off of traditional homelands, relegated to rural poverty, humiliated, ridiculed, portrayed as sports team mascots and winners of the dubious honour of Turtle Island's First Discriminated People... we just don't seem to bounce through life with Smiley Faces as we're supposed to.
So much of Native life is hidden from non-Native eyes, either by design or by chance. True enough, Native culture is more visible than in recent generations, but by and large we live privately guarded, cautiously subdued lives away from the spotlight. Close external examination is eyed with suspicion and an element of resentment; given past experiences where revealing family information to governmental agencies would often result in children being whisked away to a residential school, it may be understandable why keeping one's mouth shut was and still is in everybody's best interests. Not just to bureaucratic bodies, but also to non-Natives in general.
Old habits die hard and people resort to a variety of methods as a matter of self-preservation. It continues to this day.
Thus, when Aboriginal people are branded as 'introverted' and 'reticent' amid a society which values back-slapping and glad-handing, it's more a case of relativity than any true assessment of character. First Nations people quietly smile to themselves when they hear the pronouncement that "Indians have no sense of humour" as nothing could be further from the truth.
Not only do Natives have a rich, warm sense of humour, it's often a self-deprecating brand of humour which pokes fun at oneself and not at the expense of others... somewhat of a rarity in a competitive world where putting others down is seen as 'funny'. Among our own kind, we're not only able to laugh at ourselves, but find humour in the simplest of daily rituals.
Still, when in the company of non-Natives, that quietly reserved attitude comes across as being overly serious and often viewed as 'anger' which may or may not be the case. If it IS anger, chances are pretty good there's a valid reason behind it. And what's called 'the Angry Indian Syndrome' is an almost immediate assessment.
What is the Angry Indian Syndrome?
To my knowledge there's no actual clinical diagnosis of such a syndrome. It seemed to fit after hearing so many half-baked comments of "you're too serious" or "you've got major anger issues welling up inside" or from hearing "SMILE !" just one too many times.
AIS occurs mainly in any Aboriginal who stops and considers historical fact regarding the state of affairs of their Nation with respect to past and present events and conditions. It can strike all ages, but the marginally disillusioned are often the most at risk.
The symptoms vary greatly, from mild sarcasm to joining militant Native organisations, and non-Natives are generally the first to toss the label of AIS on an Aboriginal who so much as makes a casual complaint or appears less than enthused about being assimilated into 'mainstream society'. AIS can be infectious if a particularly contentious issue is present and a more severely afflicted Native is making perfect sense..
Anger as a manifestation of cultural identity is a bit far-fetched... and to be sure, there are those Aboriginals who plod along life's trails with more than just a passing bad mood. No, these are genuinely pissed-off people who just may have valid reasons to develop early frown lines. It's tough to remain bright and perky when the nearest quasi-decent job is a two-hour commute from the reserve and one is forced to choose between remaining close to family and cultural ties or the life-consuming demands of a lousy, intrusive... but necessary... job.
These people could be forgiven to not being upbeat and jovial when governmental restrictions force them to remain on the reserve (with relatively few and very modestly paying jobs) in order to access tax and/or health benefits or moving away to a better job but losing so many benefits, it becomes financially impractical.
AIS can affect some people when the myriad of bureaucratic layers are more self-serving agencies than of any ostensible help in accessing higher education, training, employment opportunities, housing or health and elder care... despite governmental crowing of the plethora of programs aimed at helping to improve the standards of living. All while Mr. & Ms. Taxpayer are hurling accusations of being 'lazy' or 'societal leeches'.
Quiet fury can build as a result of decades... even centuries... of stereotypes, assumptions, generalsations and innuendo which are still cavalierly tossed about without a hint of truth or logic.
Copping an attitude might come about as rogue citizens groups form to boycott and protest Native businesses which take advantage of tax benefits guaranteed to them... exactly the same as non-Native businesses would do if the chance was afforded to them.
Ill will might be a symptom of an otherwise low-keyed individual who quietly grinds his or her teeth when the boss thinks it's 'cute' or 'funny' to refer to the employee as 'Chief' or 'squaw'. Seeing one's culture and heritage reduced to a cartoon caricature flouncing around on a sports field while the crowd waves foam tomahawks in a 'fierce' chop (while being told they're being 'honoured') may tend to cause sudden irritation.
Watching powerlessly as charlatans espousing Great Spiritual Native Knowledge pull in the gullible and wannabe crowds (Visa and MasterCard Accepted) might cause some resentment. Some may even go to the extreme of feeling that the appearance of poseurs cashing in on a culture not of their own constitutes cultural theft. Seeing non-Natives firmly claiming their 'Native Spirit' as if it were a talent picked up at a weekend cooking school may bring forth feelings of both incredulity and dismay.
Looking out to the world of advertising and corporate branding where SUV's, carpets, paper, butter, cartoons, waste management, scout troops, cooking/eating utensils, incense, motorcycles, restaurants, parks, housing developments, shopping malls, beer, airlines, honey, RV's, power companies, sports teams, colleges/universities, churches, zoos, paving companies, security companies and prosthetic devices are named to pay 'honour' to the people of the First Nations... may have the cumulative effect of wiping the smile from the face of the 'happy Indian'. And some still claim Aboriginals only 'take' from the dominant society. Strangely enough, being on the receiving end of hypocrisy doesn't seem to lighten one's mood.
And this, on top of towns/cities/counties/states/provinces (not to mention geographic features) 'borrowing' Native names while the residents claim "Indians never contribute anything to general society".
Stomach turning may be the effect of listening to national leaders belittling foreign countries as having 'human rights violations' while the very Original Nations of the so-called 'rich, educated and enlightened' country remain among the poorest, most unemployed and unhealthiest segment of the population... while living in substandard housing with higher infant mortality rates and lower average life expectancy.
Perhaps AIS may be attributed to over two hundred years of broken legal contracts called treaties which have been upheld by one side yet largely ignored by the other. Being duped, lied to, swindled and misled might have something to do with a person's grumpy outlook.
Seeing where the dominant government has no problem coming up with tens of billions of dollars to fight wars and conflicts... yet can't seem to find money to meet its agreed upon commitment to provide services to Native communities... might be a bit galling. Likewise, when foreign aid to countries flung around the world dwarfs the entire annual budget for ALL Native programs.... programs for First Nations within a country's OWN borders... AIS can be exacerbated.
Doesn't seem to be any treatment for this syndrome and there doesn't seem to be a lot of demand to find a cure either.
Oh, I don't know... maybe it's just we're a bunch of 'whiners' as so many are wont to say.
I mean... we're constantly reminded of the great 'improvements' which we've enjoyed as a matter of the non-Native society's invasion of Turtle Island. You know... things like scientific advancements, technologies, religions, laws, money, guns, liquor.
Yes... Bless You, Benevolent and Altruistic People. We 'savages' and 'barbarians' could never have been able to develop our own educational or scientific advances without having our own culture and knowledge beaten out of us. Those residential schools and forced exiles within our own lands were a small price to pay for teaching your ancestors how to survive something as basic as life in this continent's climate... so that your future generations could demonstrate true gratitude by enacting legislation which advocated legalised genocide. The Trail of Tears really showed the Cherokee Nation the virtues of exercise to the extreme.
We were taught your meaning of 'gratitude' and 'friendship' when the Oneida Nation's Polly Cooper slogged down from New York State to Valley Forge bringing food to George Washington's sick and starving troops the winter of 1777-78. Of the tens of thousands of acres of her Nation's pre-Revolutionary War territory, they were magnanimously awarded an entire 32 acres to call Their Very Own for their loyalty to the cause. Today, as the Oneida Nation BUYS back their own lands, the local residents show their gratitude for saving Washington's butt (and possibly the country's) by organising citizen groups which do everything in their power to discredit Nation businesses which have turned an economic backwater into a major financial powerhouse with no signs of letting up.
The plains of frozen Indian bodies demonstrated the importance of quietly submitting to a foreign government which was neither demanded or accepted. Democracy at the end of a gun. "Live Free or Die"? The choice was never offered to much of Indian Country.
That Manhattan-for-$24 deal sure taught us a good lesson about the value of money. Hell, they're STILL talking about that one.
A state like Texas was a great lesson in the sanctity of Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness what with a robust death penalty and two miniscule Native communities in the entire state. General Sam Houston pursued his Happiness by Liberating the territory of virtually all Native inhabitants. Or at least that was his intent. And how many Federal- or State-designated Native communities presently exist in Texas, the second largest state in the United States?? Two. How many Federal- or State-designated Native communities are in New York State... a State less than one-fifth the geographic size? Ten.
What COULD have happened to all the Texas Aboriginal communities??
An important lesson of accentuating the positive while blithely ignoring facts has also been invaluable. Seems the poorest county in the entire United States is Shannon County, South Dakota which coincidentally (or not) is comprised entirely by the Pine Ridge Lakota Reservation... and the Badlands National Park. Haven't seen too many tourist souvenirs proclaiming THAT fact. Or the 'incident' at Oglala on the same reservation.
How could we ever repay you?
I'd come up with a few suggestions, but I feel another attack of AIS coming on.
(See?? We're Happy People!!)