Reading and Composing Indians: Invented Indian Identity through Visual Literacy


Resolved, that the National Council of Teachers of English through its publications, conferences, and affiliates support professional development and promote public awareness of the role that viewing and visually representing our world have as forms of literacy. (NCTE 1996)



drawing upon available cultural and social means. Lyons suggested that a more productive question than ‘‘what is an Indian?’’ is ‘‘what does an Indian identity do?’’ We could also add: ‘‘what does an Indian identity do for me?’’ Here we read a collection of visual representations of Indians as a space from which we can engage a rich and more complex understanding of cultural practices of representation— the stories told by drawings, specifically (but certainly also by food wrappers, labels, logos, mascots, and the myriad other visual aspects of US culture). We frame this analysis and our discussion by theories of visual literacy and of visual rhetoric; multimodal literacy approaches provide scaffolding for situating the representations we read and provide a stable base from which we can build practices to engage students in a more complex and critical sense of cultural identities and how cultural identities function. Meaning making is a complex act. Recent scholarship has evolved to address not only the traditional, text-based modes of producing and circulating ideas, but also visually complex and often multimodal ways of knowing.

The Journal of Popular Culture, Vol. 43, No. 1, 2010 r 2010, Wiley Periodicals, Inc.


46 Visual Literacy

`nielle Nicole DeVoss and Patrick Russell LeBeau Da

Not surprisingly, in our media-saturated contemporary world, visual rhetoric, visual literacy, and visual fluency are all terms that have recently received a good deal of attention across fields.1 Special issues of journals have been dedicated to addressing issues related to ‘‘the visual’’ (e.g., Computers and Composition, volume 18, numbers 1 and 2, 2002; Technical Communication Quarterly, volume 5, number 1, 2001; Journal of Computer Mediated Communication, volume 5, number 4, 2000; Enculturation: A Journal of Rhetoric, Writing, and Culture, volume 3, number 2, 2001; Metaphor and Symbolic Activity, volume 8, number 3, 1993; Argumentation & Advocacy, volume 33, number 1, 1996). More and more college-level textbooks oriented toward the teaching of writing, specifically, include visual elements, and the producers of these textbooks heavily highlight these ‘‘visual’’ elements while marketing the texts (e.g., Everything’s an Argument 4, Lunsford and Ruszkiewicz; The Call to Write, Trimbur; Convergences, Atwan; Picturing Texts, George, Palchik, Selfe, and Faigley; Reading Culture, George and Trimbur; Seeing & Writing, McQuade & McQuade). A variety of readers designed for students in fields not necessarily camped within the fields that have traditionally or typically taught visual texts (such as Popular Culture Studies, Film Studies, Media Studies, etc.) have emerged; often, these texts are geared toward students interested in studying ‘‘visual culture’’ and ‘‘visual studies’’ (e.g., Hall, Howells and Gill, Mirzoeff, Sturken and Cartwright, Walker and Chaplin).

Literacy as Culturally and Historically Situated
Understanding how knowledge is produced, circulated, and regulated in our culture is crucial for us as educators and as scholars. Thus, each of these special issues, many of our professional discussions, and some of the book authors have sought a common definition of literacy itself, and especially of visual literacy and what this term entails and includes. Although some theorists have appropriately suggested that literacy itself is a problematic and contested term (see, e.g., Wysocki and Johnson-Eilola) and offer alternatives such as visual fluency (see Winkielman, Schwarz, Reber, and Fazendeira), we use the term literacy here to apply to the broad skills and understandings required of us when we read and compose multiple symbols in multiple spaces in

Reading and Composing Indians


multiple ways. We borrow Wysocki and Johnson-Eilola’s (367) incredibly useful definition of literacy: ‘‘not as a monolithic term but as a cloud of sometimes contradictory nexus points among different positions. Literacy can be seen not as a skill but a process of situating and resituating representations in social spaces.’’ This definition reminds us of the claims of Mikhail Bakhtin—that utterances are always dialogic and heteroglossic, and thus our understandings of the world that surrounds us is created in concert with the utterances orbiting around us, be they verbal, textual, or visual.2 We situate literacy within cultural and historical tensions, such as the uses of literacy to regulate social spaces and practices (Gee, Street) and to regulate the boundaries of text and alphabetic literacy (Stroupe)—what ‘‘counts’’ as literate activity. We also situate literacy within technological evolution—literacy has evolved to include technological procedures and understandings, as more and more reading and composing takes place in virtual and digital realms. Olson defined literacy as ‘‘the competence to exploit a particular set of cultural resources’’ and further elaborated that literacy ‘‘is not just learning the abc’s; it is learning to use the resources of writing for a culturally defined set of tasks and procedures’’ (43). Literacy encompasses social space and multiple, diverse technologies and the contexts in which we use them. Brian Street has explored how cultural tasks are defined and how literacy is culturally positioned. He overviews the power of autonomous literacy in western society; within modern understandings of the world and of cultural conditions, literacy often becomes a totalizing force and powerful social muscle, proclaimed as an asset, as a sort of commodity that people need to function, survive, and thrive in society. Literacy is an unquestioned good and is assumed to be understood and measurable. Illiteracy is blamed for a variety of social ills, without much regard to the actual social conditions that cause social strife (few of which are directly related to illiteracy). This approach to literacy allows those in power to vilify and lay social blame upon those who often are not politically equipped to answer their accusations. Deborah Brandt identified literacy as hybrid and complex; these seem apt adjectives to describe literacy in light of the shifting social change and ideological base of practices that Street describes. Literacy is an ongoing, dynamic ability that piles up, spreads out, and brings with it residual trappings of previous literacy skills and social and cultural dimensions. Brandt (660) suggested that, currently,


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literacy ‘‘requires an ability to work the borders between tradition and change, an ability to adapt and improvise and amalgamate.’’ Literacy is not a set of neutral skills, but instead an ideological practice—a complex set of practices and values implicated in power relations and embedded in cultural meanings and practices. In American culture— especially in American academic contexts—literacy often relates distinctly and directly (although superficially) to the ability to read and write text. This emphasis on alphabetic knowing as primary and most crucial has served to relegate visual and multimodal ways of knowing to ‘‘immature’’ or even semiliterate status. Historically, however, it is obvious that knowing, telling, and sharing take place in multiple, complex, and culturally situated ways, including storytelling outside of the privileged modes of communication (e.g., the textbook, the theoretical text).

Tensions of the Textual and the Visual
We use the term visual here in juxtaposition to textual, although visual elements have textual features and supplements, and often text has visual elements and supplements. For example, many visuals are accompanied by captions when presented as figures in manuscripts such as this one. Many visuals also often have text added to them, as we see in advertisements where a slogan or quote (‘‘copy’’) appears on top of an image. Text involves visual and design characteristics often ubiquitous to most of us, including typeface, font size, leading, spacing, margin settings, and more. Text itself is a visual element—something that has design features, something that calls forth mental images, something that allows us to make associations. At a roundtable discussion at the 2001 Conference on College Composition and Communication, titled ‘‘Issues and Directions in Visual Rhetoric,’’ chaired by Anne Wysocki, the participants (Tharon Howard, Stephen Bernhardt, Charles Kostelnick, Susan Hilligoss, Greg Wickliff, Karen Schriver) discussed  the complexity of visual languages, emphasizing the need for languages in plural;  the need for a shared vocabulary for discussing visual rhetoric, but admitting that the complexity of visual languages prohibits this;

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the remediation of concepts from textual analysis to visual analysis, but also the recognition that if we rely upon textual meaning and interpretation to explain visuals, we limit ourselves;  the recognition that technical skill sets related to both reading and composing visual language is incredibly diverse, even among the homogenized group ‘‘student’’;  the need to create spaces for students to experiment with visual design and visual creation;  the recognition that education typically divorces visual language from textual language early in learning (i.e., elementary school), and that education needs to better integrate visual learning and visual languages across the curriculum (Hochman, Alexander, Hult and Crawford). This is but one discussion, one set of voices in what is becoming a cacophony of voices debating issues of text and image, visual language and visual rhetoric. But this one discussion serves well to articulate some of the key concerns with which we grapple as we negotiate the blurry boundaries of text and image and allow for more robust understandings of visual and multimodal means of knowledge making. In the section that follows, we review the ways in which a monolithic and problematic story is told about Indians in American culture. We then focus specifically on how students translate their understandings of what an ‘‘Indian’’ is to visual texts, and how we can read these visual texts as rich base knowledge upon which we can build a more complicated understanding of contemporary cultural representations of Native American life.

How America Reads Indians
Historically, there are two competing Indian icon dynasties: That of the brave, noble warrior, and that of the violent, ignoble savage. Old westerns, dime novels, movies, and myriad other cultural artifacts reflect the Indian as either a war-weary yet majestic chief or a blood-thirsty, untrustworthy brute (Aleiss, Bataille and Silet, Berkhofer, Bird, Boehme, Bordwich, Hilger, King). These two representations have watered down to a generic Indian icon prevalent today in a multitude of visual sources, including food wrappers, billboards, and sport utility vehicles.


`nielle Nicole DeVoss and Patrick Russell LeBeau Da

Sports teams—Redskins, Fighting Reds, Indians, Warriors, Chiefs—and their accompanying imagery—large-nosed, headdressed chiefs holding bows and arrows or tomahawks—have received a great deal of attention (an excellent resource site that includes multimedia work related to mascots is available at; a collection of articles that addresses the topic is King, Springwood, and Deloria). A Lalo Alcaraz political cartoon shows an image of a white man with ‘‘go savages, kill em’’ painted on his abundant stomach, a headdress with a few bedraggled feathers stuck in it, and a tiny flag announcing ‘‘go warrior savages’’ stating to a frowning young Native American man wearing t-shirt and jeans, ‘‘but I’m honoring you, dude!’’ Defenders argue that this sort of cultural appropriation is somehow an honor or sign of respect: ‘‘we love our braves’’ or ‘‘we’re respecting the great Indian heritage.’’ This imagery misrepresents and homogenizes a group of people representative of more than five hundred nations in 2009 and, further, promotes misunderstanding and fosters ecologies of appropriation and ridicule. Many scholars have both analyzed and critiqued the multiple images of Native Americans that appear across our culture—Redman Chewing Tobacco, Natural American Spirit cigarettes, Calumet Baking Powder, Mazda Navajo, Jeep Cherokee (see, e.g., Bataille, Caldwell-Wood and Mitten, Faris, Gidley, King, et al., Pewewardy, Trimble). Whereas Aunt Jemima and Betty Crocker have both received a new look occasionally over the years to present a more current, updated image, the images of Native Americans circulating in our culture are stale and have not been replaced by more contemporary views of Indian life. The images and the text that accompanies representations of Indians are stale and stereotypical; the images are almost always men, wearing feathered headdresses and braids, holding spears or more likely tomahawks or bows and arrows. In many images, the men stare reflectively off into the distance (their gaze never looks outward, toward/at the viewer), or they are mounted upon a horse, holding a weapon, sometimes with the carcass of a deer or buffalo at their feet (see Figures 1 – 3). Very few women appear on products, and certainly no women are associated with sports figures or sport utility vehicles. The sole Indian woman that holds a prized cultural seat is Pocahontas, and often she is portrayed Disney style, with Caucasian features, light skin, painted lips, and in highly sexualized costume (see Figures 4 and 5). The language that accompanies images of Indians are expressions of

Reading and Composing Indians



Untitled Collector’s Plate.

FIGURE 2. ‘‘Native American Hunting’’ Alabastrite Figure; accompanying text: ‘‘With his horse at full gallop, this Native American hunter aims at his prey with bow and arrow.’’

‘‘noble,’’ ‘‘mystical,’’ and ‘‘magical,’’ and often spirits and ceremonies are presented ambiguously or without context or explanation. Expressions of a ‘‘time gone by’’ or ‘‘the history of these remarkable people’’ riddle the descriptions of the trinkets for sale, labeled only ‘‘Indian’’ or ‘‘Native American.’’ Few specify nations or make mention of tribes.

Imaginary Indian Identity: Real and Virtual
Not only are ‘‘Indian’’ images and lore borrowed for trinkets and collector’s items, but Indian identity is borrowed as well. In the early 1900s, a group of students at the University of Michigan formed a university-sanctioned student club and created an Indian tribe to use as


`nielle Nicole DeVoss and Patrick Russell LeBeau Da

FIGURE 3. ‘‘Native American Figurine—Chief Sculpture’’; accompanying text: ‘‘A majestic Native American chief, dressed in feather headdress and tribal garb, holds a peace pipe.’’

FIGURE 4. ‘‘Native American Indian Maiden’’ Coffee Mug; accompanying text: ‘‘In each moment of every day, lies a little touch of magic.’’

Reading and Composing Indians


FIGURE 5. ‘‘Mouse Pad Indian Maiden with Prayer Fan’’; accompanying text reads: ‘‘Indian Maiden Praying To Great Spirit Wolf & Eagle Spirit.’’

an identity marker. As LeBeau (112) reported, these students took ‘‘symbolic possession’’ of Indians in a way that catered to romantic, stereotypical beliefs about American history and the place of Native Americans. The ‘‘Michigamua’’ students created elaborate rituals and ceremonies, selecting among and appropriating the ‘‘Indian’’ characteristics they most admired—most related to ‘‘warrior virtues.’’


`nielle Nicole DeVoss and Patrick Russell LeBeau Da

The use of Indian lore and mystique is not limited to ‘‘real’’ space; an infamous example of ‘‘passing’’ as Indian occurred in digital space, in an American Online chatroom in the early 1990s, where a Caucasian man rebirthed himself as ‘‘Blue Snake,’’ a supposed Eastern Shawnee chief. Blue Snake existed in a virtual sweat lodge, passing a peace pipe to visitors who passed through, offering Native American blessings, making visitors honorary Indians, and gifting them with membership in the ‘‘Evening Sky Clan.’’ In elaborate online rituals, he bestowed names upon his followers: ‘‘Crystal Bear Woman, Stormcloud Dancer, and Darkness Runs From Her’’ (Martin 125). Eventually, Native American AOL members caught on to Blue Snake; one woman frothed: ‘‘I couldn’t believe it. His seminars were a hodgepodge of the worst kind of bullshit stereotypes and gobbledygook possible’’ (Martin 125). Blue Snake defended himself, suggesting that his adoption of an Indian identity and his perpetuation of what some people called online fraud was a respectful gesture toward honorable Native American cultures and traditions. Glen Martin, who reported on the entire incident in Wired magazine, and who quoted from a document scripted by members of three tribes of the Shawnee nation, noted that in this case, imitation was not flattery, nor was it sincere in any way. Miller, one of the most vocal opponents of Blue Snake, was eventually banned from AOL. She suggested that ‘‘the company [AOL] didn’t want us disturbing the fantasy . . . it doesn’t want real Indians—we’re not ‘‘Indian’’ enough’’ (128). Apparently, AOL wanted Indians where most of mainstream America seems to want them—in homes, on plates, decorating coffee mugs, and mousepads—the buckskin fringes and the feathers, the noble warrior. Many Native peoples online today, instead of spending their time establishing active, contemporary identities and participating in larger communities, spend their time policing sites that present a distorted, inaccurate, or inappropriate glimpse at supposed ‘‘native’’ customs and life (Haas). Vine Deloria writes: ‘‘The whites are sincere but they are only sincere about what they are interested in, not about Indians about whom they know very little. They get exceedingly angry if you try to tell them the truth and will only reject you and keep searching until they find the Indian of their fantasies’’ (xv). Thus, in their attempts to remedy the absent presence of Indians (Powell), they are often trapped in roles that continue to make them absent.

Reading and Composing Indians


Indian Identity as Commodity
This pervasive view of the Indian as a commodity and as a romantic reflection of America’s cultural past often relies on an absence of an understanding of Indian culture. Images of Indians in headdress and tomahawk rarely are created or interpreted with an understanding of the cultural and tribal conventions explaining dress and custom. Thus, Indians become both icon and archetype—a singular, static motif—of a glorious American past. Although many scholars would argue that these ever-present stereotypical representations must be removed from our cultural imaginary, here we argue that they are far too prevalent to ignore, dismiss, or erase. They are so prevalent, in fact, that children readily view, absorb, and—as the example drawings we will share below articulate— remediate them. A recent political cartoon shows two schoolchildren walking together, one saying to the other ‘‘Really? You don’t look Indian.’’ Above his head appears a thought bubble with images of a Disneyfied Pocahontas, a Kansas City Chiefs helmet, the mascot of the Cleveland Braves, a caricature of a goonish-looking brave, a majesticlooking brave on horseback, and a tomahawk. It is relatively easy to dismiss such representations, but, instead, imagery of Indians can be recognized as base knowledge—as an established set of cultural and visual literacies—upon which more dynamic, accurate, contemporary understandings of Native Americans and Native cultures can be formulated.

Composing Indians
For many years now, Patrick has been leading workshops and assemblies regarding Michigan Indians, yesterday and today, for audiences that range from elementary schoolchildren to college-age adults. To begin his discussions, Patrick always asks attendees to draw what they know about Indians. (We have included the entire prompt, along with some commentary and further explanation, in Appendix A.) The motifs that quickly appear across the perhaps fifteen hundred images Patrick has collected in his travels and speaking engagements are not surprising: the teepee, the tomahawk, and the feathered headdress figure prominently among the images participants produce (see Figures 6 and 7 for examples). These images are not surprising, considering what children know about Indians, and the icons and items that shape what they know of Indians. It is easy to point out that the students apparently have no


`nielle Nicole DeVoss and Patrick Russell LeBeau Da


Example of Indian motifs in drawings.

cultural sense of the range of tribes and nations and variances in dress, language, geography, etc. It is easy to emphasize the generic quality of the drawings, and the fact that students very, very rarely represent contemporary images of American Indians and/or Native American life. Rather than dismiss these drawings as simplistic and stereotypical representations, however, we prefer to read them differently. These images are rich creations and representations of base knowledge. Obviously, the individuals who take part in this exercise and create these images have a complex understanding of what ‘‘Indian’’ is and are able to create complicated visual representations of that understanding—representations that blend textual and visual knowledge of Indian identity, and that tell a story of Indian identity. If we return to the three figures above, we get a sense of the depth of students’ knowledge. If we look at Figure 6, we can observe the student’s attempt to explain (with words and images) Indian life. This

Reading and Composing Indians



Example of Indian motifs in drawings.

student knew that Indians ate steer and buffalo, represented by the horned skull with ‘‘food’’ written above it and by the nuts or berries and the fish with the arrow through it. This student knew that Native peoples hunted with the tomahawk and the bow and arrow, with ‘‘wipins.’’ The student knew that Indians lived in different types of ‘‘shelters,’’ including the teepee and the mud hut. ‘‘Dancing,’’ represented by the somewhat abstract sketch with a face below it, was part of Indian culture(s). We can read from this student’s collage his complex sense of the items he associates with what it meant (means) to be an Indian. Other images reveal such complexity (see Figures 8 and 9). Interesting sketches come from those students who have integrated Patrick’s discussion into their images—some students attempted to spell out the Ojibwa words Patrick taught them during his presentation (see Figure 10). Other students created a visual map of the trajectory of historical Indians to the present space of Native American life. Figure 11 presents what we assume is a comparison of a historically represented Indian to a contemporary representation of an Indian. Figure 12 presents at least two possible readings: First, we might read the set of images as progression for us of Indian life, where the family represented moves from living in a teepee to living in a contemporary dwelling (relocated via moving van). However, a second reading is


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What Indians Eat (1).

indicated by the numbers the student has included. If we allow the numbers to frame our reading, we might pull two sets of representations from this image: The first set of sketches (labeled first, second, third) might represent what the student might consider to be typical Indian life, defined by teepees and horses. The second set of sketches (again labeled first, second, third) juxtaposes a rendering of ‘‘mainstream’’ life, defined by cars, urban dwellings, moving vans, and speedboats to historic Indians of the past. Figure 13 integrates both historical and contemporary representations of Indian life—this student has included typical Indian iconography (i.e., bow, arrow, teepee, headband), but also a rifle and, most interestingly, a slot machine complete with a pullhandle and flashing light on top.

Reading and Negotiating Representations of Identity
We can obviously read images such as those examples included above in two ways: First, as condemnable, stagnant stereotypes that trap Indians in the past. The second approach, however, allows a more productive read of these images and allows us to read these images as

Reading and Composing Indians



What Indians Eat (2).

multimodal visual stories that serve as arguments and that demonstrate students’ rich base knowledge and ability to learn new concepts within a few minutes of storytelling. Before we further explore the notions of base knowledge and the multiple literacies students express and demonstrate in these images, we want to address notions of identity, as notions of Indian identity are crucial to these images. Identity is, essentially, the sense of self that grows out of one’s interactions with others. Importantly, many of the participants in Patrick’s work have not had significant interactions with flesh and blood Native peoples—or, if they have, they do not


`nielle Nicole DeVoss and Patrick Russell LeBeau Da


Hello (Aannii), People (Anishinaabe), and Until Later (Baamaapii).


Diachronic Transitions.

associate these folks with the representations of ‘‘Indians’’ that have been culturally conjured for them. Again, think of the political cartoon of the boy explaining to the young girl, ‘‘Really? You don’t look like an Indian.’’ Instead, these students’ interactions with ‘‘the Indian’’ have been limited to stereotypical images, romantic constructions, and reproduced icons. If we reflect upon the current cultural context in

Reading and Composing Indians



(A) Diachronic Transitions (2). (B) Diachronic Transitions (3).

which students confront this imagery, we can see how slippery notions of identity are, and how these particular notions of Indian identity feel comfortable, approachable, and solid. Historically, one of the most familiar and comfortable anchoring points was a solid sense of self: The I-think-therefore-I-am stable notion of identity. Currently, however, in our postmodern context, this


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Traditional Images and Casino, a new traditional image?

sense of self and our abilities to rely upon other familiar anchoring points (e.g., sovereign nation states, The Family, Truth) have crumbled—have disappeared in a landscape of dynamic global expansion, vast technological change, the rapid multiplication of micropolitical entities, and the explosive growth of alienating forces like global crime and terrorism. Manuel Castells (3) explained how individuals make meaning and understand identity in a rapidly shifting world; that political identities formulated around language and literacy practices are fast becoming the main, and sometimes the only source of meaning. . . . People increasingly organize their meaning not around what they do but on the basis of who they are, or believe they are. It is somewhat paradoxical that in the face of identity slippage and shifts that the image of Indian identity is trapped in the past. However,

Reading and Composing Indians


perhaps the image of the Indian allows us a sense of stability, of security—to have a shared, concrete, understandable history in the face of a world in which identity shifts so dynamically and constantly. We may cling to icons and identities that feel stable in a world in which our senses of self slide around constantly, depending on variables such as place, space, and time in the world. Our sense of self, our identity, is a story that we write every day. Using a postmodern understanding of time, space, and literacy practices, Deborah Brandt (651) suggests that literacy, instead of being a somewhat stable, static, measurable thing, is actually a dynamic process. New literate practices constantly arise in a society where ‘‘not even elites of the past have encountered the current contexts in which literacy in its many forms is being practiced and learned.’’ Today, students’ literate practices are mediated and remediated by a variety of media and events, including the dynamic, evolving space of the World Wide Web. Brandt (651) suggests that perhaps the best way to actually measure what would typically be called literacy is to assess ‘‘a person’s capacity to amalgamate new reading and writing practices in response to rapid social change.’’ She argues that literacy piles up and spreads out. Further, literacy has a residual character. We do not instantly and easily replace one ‘‘old’’ practice with a new practice but instead build our literacy practices upon one another, which, in turn, shifts and reshapes our literacy practices. This takes place much as stories are told and shared—stories evolve with each telling, just as literacy changes as we adapt and as we adopt new practices. If we read students’ representations of the Indian as base knowledge, or initial literacy and understandings, we can then use this as a structure upon which to build additional understanding. If we, however, attempt to eradicate students’ rich base knowledge—to devalue it as stereotypical and racist—we are not acknowledging the cultural sources and spaces where students learn these representations of Indians. Nor are we paying close attention to students’ knowledge. We can read students’ expressions as base knowledge—or, as Brandt describes it—as artifacts of literacy, which move back and forth and across generations and contexts. In their ‘‘Pedagogy of Multiliteracies,’’ the New London Group (NLG) presents a learning and literacy manifesto. The authors describe the traditional page-based, official forms of learning and teaching and argue that the ‘‘idea of literacy pedagogy [must] account for culturally


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and linguistically diverse and globalized societies’’ and that ‘‘literacy pedagogy must account for growing variety of text forms associated with information and multimedia technologies’’ (61). The authors describe the changing work, public, and private lives of individuals living today, and argue that schools are often both the gatekeepers of ‘‘appropriate’’ means of literacy and the regulators of this literacy. ‘‘All meaning-making,’’ the NLG authors argue, is multimodal, relying on visual, audio, gestural, and spatial understandings and expressions of understanding. These hybrid practices are well reflected in the images collected during Patrick’s presentations. This hybridity reflects student attempts at bridging the textual and the visual, as they label their images. These hybrid designs reveal the relationship of different knowledges presented in a single document. To engage students in extending their knowledge of the Indian, we can rely on one of the frameworks the NLG (68) offers: critical framing, which ‘‘relates meanings to their social contexts and purposes . . . framing in relation to historical, social, cultural, etc., of particular systems of knowledge and social practice.’’ The NLG presents an approach that includes available designs (the resources of design), designing (which reproduces given knowledges, social relations, etc.), and the redesigned (the resulting new meaning, which, in turn, becomes new available designs). Certain modes of meaning facilitate these processes, including visual meanings, audio meanings, gestural meanings, spatial meanings, and, most importantly, multimodal meanings. All meaning, the authors argue, is multimodal. The hybridity and intertextuality of meaning help us to understand the relationship of different designs in meaning. The visual claims here rely upon at least three kinds of context: ‘‘immediate visual context, immediate verbal context, and visual culture’’ (Birdsell and Groarke 6). Visual context is sometimes difficult to measure and is incredibly complex. Are the students responding to Patrick’s appearance and their assumptions about who and what he is? Are the students responding to the space in which the discussion is taking place? Are the students responding to visual cues that teachers and/or principals are giving? The verbal context here includes the text the students composed, be these styled as captions or supplementary explanations of their drawings. Robert Sitz reported on a similar phenomenon he observed when he asked a group of students to

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draw a ‘‘pop bottle’’ and reported that students embellished elaborately with ‘‘background detail or with verbal balloons, captions, and other notations’’ (88), many of which related to Coca-Cola. Even though students were instructed to not use words, most of them did; Sitz reads their textual compositions as ‘‘background or contextual information . . . revealing in regard to student interests, sense of humor, attitude, and so on’’ (88). The visual culture students draw upon during these exercises is the world in which the students exist, rich with information.

Teaching Visual Analysis
The most compelling suggestion, for us, is to ask all educators to understand students’ base knowledges. Obviously, students come into our classrooms with rich cultural histories and from contexts that help shape those histories. Often, it is tempting to condemn students’ beliefs, especially when they are personally or politically offensive. However, condemnation does not lead to student learning and development. Instead, tracing student beliefs is a worthy activity, exploring why individuals think the way they do regarding, for example, Native Americans. This understanding can then be a springboard to shape more complex and accurate understandings of difference. American Indian stereotypical imagery is hard to avoid and hard to ignore. A cursory examination of Indian units taught in many schools have students drawing or otherwise constructing artifacts recognized as ‘‘Indian’’: tepees, headdresses, canoes, buckskin outfits, etc. Linking these artifacts to specific Native American people or situating them into a specific historical frame is rarely part of the unit’s or lesson plan’s listed goals. Without much effort, these stereotypical artifacts can be used in instruction but need a precise and accurate context. The challenge teachers face is not to avoid these objects and activities or to condemn them—or to use them without thought or perspective. Creating buckskin outfits out of grocery bags or designing a canoe from birch bark can build an understanding about a specific time and place. But there must be room for that context and understanding to change and grow as students and teachers develop new knowledge. Therefore, teachers and students should recognize images that stereotype and/or freeze Native Americans


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in the historical past. Obviously, artifacts like feather headdresses influence the way we think about Indians, but we can add to that influence by, for example, creating context and perspective by asking and answering questions about the artifacts we find in American consumer culture. An initial step toward deeper, contextual visual engagement is to seek out examples of images of Indians in stores, on billboards, and on products. These images support three important points: First, most of the images found in grocery stores or toy stores are of warriors and/or princesses. Second, enough stereotypical examples exist to substantiate the claim that people are more likely to encounter stereotypical images of the American Indian than to meet flesh and blood Native American people. Finally, this search of stereotypical imagery shows the prevalence of such imagery in American culture in a way that is hard to ignore. Teachers and students, through this exploration and analysis, through this accumulation of images, can better understand the proliferation of these approaches to Native Americans, and the stereotyping of American Indian culture, rituals, practices, and beliefs. A second step is to encourage educators to work toward replacing students’ cultural stereotypes—both positive and negative—with more fluid, dynamic understandings of tendencies. It is tempting generally to reduce an entire cultural group, tribe, or nation to a simple representation. Edmond Weiss (260) warns, however, that ‘‘even if these facile generalizations are mainly true, we should always be uncomfortable with any conception that treats members of a group as instances of a profile—tokens of a type—rather than as individual persons’’ and Linda Beamer (294) adds that although stereotypes ‘‘may be helpful and even accurate to some degree, they are limited insights, revealing only a part of the whole culture.’’ We encourage educators here to approach stereotypes as both positive and negative because although most stereotypes emerge from fear or misunderstanding, some stereotypes hold limited truths and are useful in a limited capacity. Because ‘‘stereotypes’’ is such a loaded expression and fosters negative perceptions in readers’ minds, we follow the model of DeVoss, Jasken, and Hayden (80) and suggest the use of the term tendencies, which allows ‘‘space for deviations and differences from our expectations of the ‘norm’.’’ One method toward putting an understanding of tendencies into practice is described by DeVoss et al.: asking students to think about the groups in which they are members, and asking

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students to further reflect upon the stereotypes that others might hold about those groups, where these stereotypes arise, and how justified these stereotypes are. Creating visual renderings of their own group identities is a space to visually represent these associations. Often, students do not have a strong sense of stereotypes until they themselves become the objects of stereotyping. This exercise also allows for the analysis of how stereotypes limit communication contexts and cultural understandings. An activity that can follow an activity like the one we have described in the Appendix A is to ask students to tell stories about their own cultures, both textually and visually. These stories could be of North American/United States culture in general, or more specifically, this prompt could ask that students reflect upon their own racial/ethnic identity. Students may find it much more difficult to tell stories about their cultures, or to visually represent their cultures. Ask the students how they situate themselves within a cultural background. What stories do their drawings tell? Does any person resemble their drawings?

As teachers, we must be prepared to negotiate the cultural visual references that students have built and will bring to our classrooms. And, if we believe, as Scott Lyons does, that ‘‘Indian’’ is an argument made drawing upon available cultural and social means, we can borrow from students’ established literacy practices and further those practices to equip students with stronger ballast for their stories regarding what an Indian is and thus reconstruct what an Indian identity does, and we can engage students in thick analysis of their own identities and representations. In doing so, we may be able to reach a point where students move beyond stereotypical and historic notions of Indian identity to realize a broader bandwidth of both historical and contemporary Native American identities. Ignoring the rich practices and understandings of students—or dismissing them—erases the potential moments and spaces within which we can make change; ignoring students’ preconceived notions negates the fissures within which we can move our understandings of Native Americans into more robust, more appropriately representative spaces.

68 Appendix A

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The History of the Prompt: Drawing Knowledge in Elementary School Classrooms Patrick Russell LeBeau

Drawing Indians
Over the past 23 years as I have been lecturing and teaching on the general subject of American-Indian Studies, I have collected audience drawings of Indians. Regardless of whether I am introducing a film, giving a lecture, teaching a class, presenting at an elementary school assembly, or conducting a teacher-training workshop, I ask participants at the start of the session to draw what they think the film/lecture/class/ presentation/workshop is about. Participants already anticipate the content to be something about American Indians, due to the title, subject, or focus of the event. Even my Lakota/Plains Chippewa ancestry provides a physiognomic prompt as I stand before them and make my request. Provided with a title, a subject, and an American Indian teacher, participants spend ten minutes drawing and doodling images of what they believe to be relevant to the day’s discussion. Although what they draw is somewhat predictable, the level of imagination and knowledge of Indians and consistency of the imagery between disparate audiences is something surprisingly interesting to analyze and study. After collecting images for ten years, I made a collage piece out of them. Very apparent in the collage was the difficulty in distinguishing between what was drawn by elementary students from Michigan and California and what was drawn by adults, which included graduate students, social studies teachers, professors, and community members from across the United States. Regardless of geographical location, the different audiences shared an elaborate and imaginative idea of American Indians as revealed by their drawings, even though their drawings are predictable, stereotypical, stylized, and frozen in the past. Some differences are evident: A number of elementary students used crayons or markers, while most adults drew stick figure Indians and scenarios with pencil or pen (less confident, I believe, in their artistic abilities). More remarkable are the similarities—most of the pictures

Reading and Composing Indians


drawn can be reduced to teepees and warriors, with war weapons and feathered headdresses. Why are the same pictures drawn over and over again by all age groups regardless of gender, age, or educational background? Clearly, the participants had knowledge of Indians, albeit oversimplified, standardized, and ahistorical.

Situating Indians Across Media and Education
Since the late 1960s, scholars have researched the presence of Indian stereotypes in American consumer culture, Hollywood films, television programming, toys, children’s literature, American canonical literature, American art, and American popular culture. The presence of Indians across popular media, objects, and artifacts is the understandable source of information that has shaped what an ordinary US citizen knows about Indians. Raymond Stedman’s Shadows of the Indian: Stereotypes in American Culture (1967), Arlene B. Hirschfelder’s American Indian Stereotypes in the World of Children: A Reader and a Bibliography (1st ed 1982), Peter C. Rollins’ and John E. O’Connor’s Hollywood’s Indian: The Portrayal of the Native American in Film (1998), Jacquelyn Kilpatrick’s Celluloid Indians: Native Americans in Film (1999), and Philip J. Deloria’s Playing Indian (1998) and Indians in Unexpected Places (2004) are among many works that have documented the pervasive presence of American Indian stereotypes in American culture and society. The scholarship has proven that stereotypical images of Indians are easy to find and that these images have had a subliminal influence on impressionable minds. Although early education about American Indians begins in elementary school—most often in fourth grade—the knowledge young people in the United States have of Indians predates classroom instruction. For example, an education major working with elementary students and taking one of my classes on the origin and history of American Indian stereotypes brought to me, after a lecture on Indian classroom artifacts, an Indian paddling a canoe, a classroom project where students constructed the canoe out of paper and cardstock; when completed, each student’s name was inscribed on the paddle (see Figure 14). However, this student reported that despite the project, most of the students could tell elaborate stories about Indians and they could also draw very detailed pictures of Indian life frozen in a distant past, as


`nielle Nicole DeVoss and Patrick Russell LeBeau Da


An education major in my course on ‘‘Rethinking Michigan Indian History’’ and working in a local elementary school classroom gave me this canoe after listening to a lecture where I produced examples of similar projects conducted by elementary school teachers in other schools.

the main part of this article explains. The education major was amazed children knew so much about Indians. In another elementary school activity he described to me, students are instructed how to build a simple three-dimensional Indian-life diorama. Another teacher noted that providing the students with basic materials (shoebox, colored construction paper, a teepee template, a few toy horses, scissors, crayons, and markers), and a simple prompt (make an Indian home) was all that was needed for a fifty-minute activity (see Figure 15). Not only were students absorbed with the construction of the diorama, they play-acted and were able to tell detailed stories about make-believe Indians. Although much that is created and play-acted is most often stereotypical, teachers are often surprised at the sophisticated knowledge young people can bring to the classroom before and during lessons about American Indians. I have had many students in my undergraduate classrooms remember fondly their first ‘‘Indian’’ lessons and school projects. One student gave me a drawing made in fourth grade that was a prized keepsake until the student learned about

Reading and Composing Indians



A School Project.

the pervasive and perplexing presence of Indian stereotypes in American culture (see Figure 16). He told me he always could imagine an ‘‘Indian world’’ when he looked at that drawing and he liked it so much he even brought it to college with him.

The Prompt Evolves
With years of experience and travel, along with interactions with scholars and college students, I continue to ask audiences to draw what they know of Indians. Recently I was scheduled to visit over fifty elementary classrooms, grades 4 through 6, over a period of ten days (or five classrooms a day). My goal was the same as it has been for some time: I wanted to explore ‘‘what students already know and what they found fascinating’’ about American Indians while at the same time teaching them something new. I modified my original prompt from a single, simple logo or drawing to ‘‘draw whatever you know about Indians.’’ Although some teachers frowned on having students draw during my presentation, I encouraged the students to do so, and the results were, in their way, a form of notetaking and a type of visual annotation of my presentation. My task was (in forty minutes) to teach fourth through sixth graders something about Michigan-Indian history and to give them a simple language lesson. I wanted to stress that Michigan Indians live in the present day and that Indians have a continuous history rather than one frozen in the past. I taught them three Ojibwa words: Aannii (Hello), Anishinaabe (People), and Baamaapii (Until Later). The results were amazing.


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College Student’s Fourth Grade Drawing.

The elaborate story-filled pictures elementary students produce when asked to draw what they know about American Indians reveals a complex visual language students can use to communicate knowledge they are confident they possess and further, they began to incorporate new knowledge like Aannii and Indians in modern settings. The drawings reveal an elaborate connection between pictures and words constructed with letters of the alphabet as demonstrated by the numerous drawings of recognizable implements, like a bow, aligned aside a word, like ‘‘bow.’’ What I learned was that stereotypes, though perpetuating false histories, can be a foundation for new knowledge and a way of introducing imaginative minds to complicated ideas and concepts about American Indians, the complete opposite of a simple stereotype.

1. This sense of visual literacy as a ‘‘new’’ topic in theory and pedagogy is, however, not quite accurate. For historical explorations of visual topics, see, for example: Dondis; Fransecky & Debes, Visual Literacy: A Way to Learn—A Way to Teach; Kolers, Wrolstad, & Bouma, Processing of Visible Language: Vol. 2; Wileman, Exercises in Visual Thinking, Visual Communicating. 2. This definition of literacy also includes visual literacy as part of larger sets of literacy, rather than fragmenting visual literacy as apart from other reading and writing practices. We agree with scholars such as Wysocki and Johnson-Eilola when they question the actions, meanings, and associations that ‘‘literacy’’ brings to mind when we apply it in new realms or to new practices (e.g., these authors warn that it is perhaps limiting to use the same language we use to describe and analyze practices of reading text to practices of reading visuals). Here we do

Reading and Composing Indians


rely on these associations, but recognize the need to question them and to question the use of the term literacy.

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` DeVoss, Danielle N., Julia Jasken, and Dawn Hayden. ‘‘Teaching Intra and Intercultural Communication: A Critique and Suggested Method.’’ Journal of Business and Technical Communication 16.1 (2002): 69 – 94. Dondis, Donis A. Primer of Visual Literacy. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1978. ´ Du ¨ttman, Alexander Garcıa. ‘‘The ABC of Visual Culture, or a New Decadence of Illiteracy.’’ Journal of Visual Culture 1.1 (2002): 101 – 3. Faris, J. C. Navajo and Photography: A Critical History of the Representation of an American People. Albuquerque: U of New Mexico P, 1996. Fransecky, Roger B., and John L. Debes. Visual Literacy: A Way to Learn—A Way to Teach. Washington, DC: Association for Educational Communications and Technology, 1972. Gee, James Paul. Social Linguistics and Literacies: Ideology in Discourses. 2nd ed. London: Taylor & Francis, 1996. Gidley, Mick. Representing Others: White Views of Indigenous Peoples. Exeter: U of Exeter P, 1992. Haas, Angela. ‘‘Making Online Spaces More Native to American Indians: A Digital Diversity Recommendation.’’ Computers and Composition Online, 2005. 15 Jan. 2008. h index.htmi. Hall, Stuart, ed. Visual Culture: The Reader. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 2000. Hilger, Michael. From Savage to Nobleman: Images of Native Americans in Film. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 1995. Hirschfelder, Arlene B. American Indian Stereotypes in the World of Children: A Reader and a Bibliography. 2nd ed. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 1999. Hochman, Will, Jonathan Alexander, Christine Hult, and Ilene Crawford. ‘‘Review of the 2001 Conference on College Composition and Communication: L.25 Issues and Directions in Visual Rhetoric: A Roundtable.’’ Academic Writing, 2001. 10 Jan. 2006. h Howells, Richard, and Rosalind Gill. Visual Culture: An Introduction. Cambridge: Polity Press, 2002. Kilpatrick, Jacquelyn. Celluloid Indians: Native Americans in Film. Lincoln: U of Nebraska P, 1999. King, C. Richard. Media Images and Representations. Contemporary Native American Issues Series. New York: Chelsea House Publications, 2005. King, C. Richard, Charles Fruehling Springwood, and Vine Deloria, eds. Team Spirits: The Native American Mascots Controversy. Lincoln: U of Nebraska P, 2001.

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Street, Brian. Social Literacies: Critical Approaches to Literacy Development, Ethnography, and Education. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley 1995. Sturken, Marita, and Lisa Cartwright. Practices of Looking: An Introduction to Visual Culture. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2001. Trimble, J. E. ‘‘Stereotypical Images, American Indians, and Prejudice.’’ Elimination Racism: Profiles in Controversy. Eds. P. A. Katz and D. A. Taylor. New York: Plenum Press, 1998. 181 – 202. Walker, John A., and Sarah Chaplin. Visual Culture: An Introduction. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1997. Weiss, Edmond H. ‘‘Technical Communication Across Cultures: Five Philosophical Questions.’’ Journal of Business and Technical Communication 12.2 (1998): 253 – 97. Wileman, Ralph. Visual Communicating. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Educational Technology Publications, 1983. ———. Exercises in Visual Thinking. New York: Hastings House, 1980. Winkielman, P., N. Schwarz, R. Reber, and T. A. Fazendeira. ‘‘Cognitive and Affective Consequences of Visual Fluency: When Seeing is Easy on the Mind.’’ Visual Persuasion. Eds. R. Batra and L. Scott. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum, 2003. 75 – 89. Wysocki, Anne F., and Johndan Johnson-Eilola. ‘‘Blinded by the Letter: Why Are We Using Literacy as a Metaphor for Everything Else?’’ Passions, Pedagogies, and 21st Century Technologies. Eds. Gail E. Hawisher and Cynthia L. Selfe. Urbana: U of Illinois P, 1999. 349 – 68.
` Danielle Nicole DeVoss is an associate professor and director of the Professional Writing Program at Michigan State University. Her research interests include computer/technological literacies; feminist interpretations of and interventions in computer technologies; and intellectual property issues in digital space. DeVoss’ work has most recently appeared in Computers and Composition; Computers and Composition Online; and Kairos: A Journal of Rhetoric, Technology, and Pedagogy. DeVoss recently co-edited (with Heidi McKee) Digital Writing Research: Technologies, Methodologies, and Ethical Issues (2007, Hampton Press), which won the 2007 Computers and Composition Distinguished Book Award. She is currently working on a National Writing Project book with Troy Hicks, titled Because Digital Writing Matters (Jossey-Bass), and an edited collection with Martine Courant Rife and Shaun Slattery, titled Copy(write): Intellectual Property in the Composition Classroom. Patrick Russell LeBeau is professor of Writing, Rhetoric, and American Cultures and former director of American Indian Studies at Michigan State University. His scholarly interests include creative writing; American-Indian intellectual, legal, political, and popular histories; and topics related to American Indian curriculum and education. He has published three books: Stands Alone, Faces and Other Poems (1999); Rethinking Michigan Indian History (2005), a book

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that provides essays, activities, and classroom resources for teachers and students; and Term Paper Resources Guide to American Indian History (2009), a book that covers the most significant topics in American Indian history from first contact to recent years. He has also written many articles and book chapters, the most notable, ‘‘The Fighting Braves of Michigamua,’’ which appeared in Team Spirits (2001). He is an enrolled member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe of South Dakota (his father’s home) and he is a descendent of the Turtle Mountain Chippewa Tribe of North Dakota (his mother’s home).

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