A look at popular culture Native American imagery with Hugh Foley

Multimedia Reporter
09/21/2020 10:30 AM
Video Frame selected by Cherokee Phoenix
CLAREMORE – Since the 1990s, Hugh Foley, Ph.D., has collected commercial items that depict Native Americans in either a stereotypical or negative light.

Most items are from the 20th century and were given to him by former students after learning about the impact such items can have on Native Americans.

“I really started working on the issue of American Indian mascots back in the 1990s, but as a result of my teaching over the years people have given me a lot of stuff that they really don’t want to have any more once they hear a lecture or they hear me talk about it,” Foley, a Rogers State University professor of fine arts, said. “So the things that I have are really things that people have given me over the years and that I use to teach how Native people are depicted in popular culture.”

Foley said most of the items he has depict the “Noble Savage.”

“…this concept of the Noble Savage that we know well in Native studies, which is the depiction of the Native person as being somehow pure and connected to nature and physical fit and all of that. But the savage part is they are bereft of true culture. They don’t have Christianity as a religion,” said Foley.

While items stereotyping Native people can still be found, Foley said in the future he hopes people can appreciate culturally appropriate items.

“What we hope will happen in the future is that people will appreciate a cornhusk doll or a Tear Dress or a really complicated double-walled basket with a lid on it,” he said. “It’s a constant balancing act of recognizing the positive as well as recognizing the negative and seeing how you can convert that negative into a positive. And we’ve seen some progress this past summer. The Washington pro football team, Tulsa Union (High School) is starting to discuss these things. So things are starting to evolve, but we still have a long way to go.”

Click here to watch the video on our YouTube channel.
About the Author

stacie-boston@cherokee.org • 918-453-5269


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