Table Topic questions are meant to stimulate family and classroom
Use the questions below after reading, "Indian Images Altered".
Multiculturism was a part of Seattle's earliest history. Native Americans and newcomers lived and worked side
by side but there was a feeling of ambivalence in their relations. The settlers relied on the Indians for supplies,
but clashed with them over values and land. In addition, there were discrepancies between the image and the realities
of Indian life that led to inevitable misunderstandings. What are some similarities and differences in present day
relations between Native Americans and the descendants of the immigrants?
Beloved Chief Sealth, for whom the city was named, remained an enduring symbol of
friendly Indian relations. That goodwill lingered in the person of his daughter Angeline,
who at her death in 1896 was Seattle's most recognizable and celebrated figure. How could
the settlers be at once so familiar with local Indians from their own daily experience and
still accept such inaccurate images as the supposedly Northwest Indian man in the Centennial
Page advertisement? Consider the ways we may mix up image and reality in our own multi-cultural
society. Where do we get our ideas about what a people is like? Where and how can we get a true picture?
Photographer Edward Curtis' interest in photographing Princess Angeline led to a lifework of
documenting the lives of Puget Sound's native people. That way of life was already changing
but Curtis insisted on posing his subjects as they had lived in the past (the Makah whaler,
for example, in wig and bearskin supplied by Curtis). Curtis
also recorded extensive cultural data on Indian cultures. Do we have any way today of knowing if
his posed representations of Indian life were completely accurate?
Do they express a subtle racism in their dismissal of the realities of Indian lives?
Or do they serve as a valuable record of the past?
- The totem erected in the pioneer district in 1899 as
a symbol of respect became instead an icon of misunderstanding between cultures.
Can you think of parallel situations today of good intentions gone awry,
where the end result is perceived by some to communicate disrespect?
The controversy over the naming of athletic teams is one example. Are there others?
Is our current preoccupation with 'political correctness' a long overdue matter of
enhanced sensitivity to various cultures? Or does it mask our unease with differences
and create barriers of formality?
How do you deal with sensitive issues in your relationships with friends,
classmates and co-workers of different cultural origins?
Copyright © 1996 The Seattle Times Company