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Disney’s ‘Pocahontas’ 25th Anniversary: Have Things Changed?

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the Disney classic Pocahontas; it’s been seen by generations of children and it’s iconic songs will go down in history. If you feel old, don’t worry that’s normal. However, a part of growing up is reviewing our childhood favorites and Pocahontas isn’t exempt from that. In an era of social activism and civil protests now more than ever we’re having the necessary and uncomfortable conversations we should’ve had years ago. If we’re being honest. Pocahontas hasn’t aged well; the glaring flaws in this movie become more and more apparent as the years pass by. Is the animation beautiful? Yes. Are the songs catchy? Sure. However, I could never completely finish it because it’s major flaw is sugar coating a very brutal history of a real human being (and her community), as result trivializing a serious topic. For years Native Americans have outlined their issues with the Disney film; many finding the historical inaccuracies in the film dangerous and hurtful. Chief Roy Crazy Horse of the Powhatan Renape Nation said

It is unfortunate that this sad story, which Euro-Americans should find embarrassing, Disney makes ‘entertainment’ and perpetuates a dishonest and self-serving myth at the expense of the Powhatan Nation.

The thing is this isn’t just a kids’ movie; simply put, friends with great power comes great responsibility. When you’re depicting real people and a real historic era, keeping it authentic is best. If your community doesn’t get much representation in media, stereotypical characters can be extremely damaging. So let’s look at three amazing books written by Native American authors.

1. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

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If this is the first time you’re reading my articles, hello I’m Stacey and I’m obsessed with Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. I’ve read this in my freshman year in college and it’s truly a holy grail. Similar to it’s forefathers like Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Maus, Alexie takes satirical approach to the real life issues plaguing his reservation. Tackling issues like racism and alcoholism, this book is timely, relatable and a classic.

2. Where the Dead Sit Talking

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A 2018 National Book Award Fiction Finalist, this amazing novel by Hobson, about a Cherokee teenager caught in the social work system after his mother ends up in prison, will blow your mind. Sequoyah keeps mostly to himself, living with his emotions pressed deep below the surface. At least until he meets seventeen-year-old Rosemary, a troubled artist who also lives with the family. Sequoyah and Rosemary bond over their shared Native American background and tumultuous paths through the foster care system, but as Sequoyah’s feelings toward Rosemary deepen, the precariousness of their lives and the scars of their pasts threaten to undo them both.

3. The Road Back to Sweetgrass

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Grover writes about darker aspects of Native history, such as the much-reviled boarding schools of the 19th and 20th century without cutting corners when it comes to story. Native boarding schools were nothing like Holden Caulfield’s; they were places Native children were forced to go, where teachers stripped them of their traditional clothing, quite literally beat them when they spoke their languages, and often much, much worse happened. Sweetgrass takes us into the world of three different women, Dale Ann, Theresa, and Margie — all from the Mozhay Point Reservation, all of whom leave home for college or work, but are always drawn back.

Now more than ever, we’re seeing groups of people changing the narratives of their history and demanding proper representation. Whether it be activists finally changing the Washington Football Team’s mascot or evaluating how they’re represented in classics like Pocahontas. Finally the voices of the unheard are telling their own stories, authentically. 

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