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The Chiefs Daughter

The Chiefs Daughter is the trope surrounding the Indian Chiefs princess-like daughter
(despite most tribes being an elected democracy) who falls in love with the (commonly) white,
buff foreigner. Commonly associated traits include but are not limited to: achieving western
standards of beauty while maintaining an exotic, tribal look, being gentle with all creatures, close
to nature, more open minded compared to her tribe, magically drawn to the white protagonist
(often nicknamed Mighty Whitey), and will have a fifty-fifty chance of being a strong warrior
character or a damsel in distress. Her love for the white protagonist can and usually does solve
all of the tribes problems, but in the beginning, the Chief will commonly either disapprove of
the white protagonists romance, commonly leading to violence, or will marry his daughter to the
white protagonist for political gain.
This particular trope is evident in four works: Disneys Pocahontas with the character
Pocahontas; in Peter Pan with Tiger Lily; in Avatar, with the character Neytiri; and in Avatar:
The Last Airbender with Yue. This trope isnt as rare as most would think, and like all tropes, is
often loved for its fulfillment of an emotional need: demonstrating how white culture can be
accepting of alternative lifestyles. The only difference in the portrayal of this trope is context.
The earliest movies, Pocahontas and Peter Pan, base their stories on actual Native American
culture, while the more recent, Avatar and Avatar: The Last Airbender, use this trope on cultures
from across the galaxy and in animated fiction to avoid cultural appropriation. The point of this
trope is to prove white conquerors arent discriminatory of race, except in doing this, the Chiefs
Daughter trope can objectify Native American women as plot devices surrounding the white

Native Americans have often been singled out and set on the sidelines of Civil Rights
movements from the conception of the United States, both because of the aggressive reduction of
the prevalence their culture and the even more aggressive decline of their population. During the
1940s, however, with World War II in full swing, came change:
25,000 Indians served in the U.S. armed forces, including 800 women. In the Philippines,
a Choctaw scout escaped from the Japanese at the battle of Corregidor, and led
underground guerrilla forces until the war ended. The Oneida, Chippewa, and Comanche
blocked Japanese decoding of military information by dispatching messages in their tribal
languages. Navajo Code Talkers were instrumental in the landing at Guadalcanal, where
they sent and received reports from field commanders. (Weiser)
Now heroes, these brave soldiers actions were publicized and glorified. With all publicity, and
with the attribution of their victories to their culture, arose the desire from the public to protect
these now virtuous cultures. In response, the National Congress of American Indians was formed
in 1944, and held its first meeting: About 100 Indian People met to create the nation's first
large-scale national organization designed to monitor federal policies and to promote the
common welfare of the American Indians and Alaska Natives (Weiser). This organization has
then since become the largest advocate for American Indian and Alaska Natives rights.
In 1953 came Disneys Peter Pan, and with it, the Native character of Tiger Lily (Peter
Pan). The emotional drive behind creating Tiger Lilys character comes from the events of World
War II, and the publicity behind the heroic Native Americans using their culture to win against
Nazis. Pop culture often follows real events in history, romanticizing past actions; Tiger Lilys
character is no exception. She became a walking stereotype about the Noble Indian, who
becomes less of a character and more of the embodiment of Nobility and Sacrifice, which fulfills

the viewers emotional need to see tough, selfless code talkers who didnt flinch in the sight of
In comparison to the Chiefs Daughter trope, Tiger Lily is portrayed as a strong warrior
and exotic. Compared to her tribe, its unsure if Tiger Lily is more accepting than her tribe
because the Chief (her father) assumed that Peter Pan and the Lost Boys kidnapped Tiger Lily
and attempt to hunt them down. Its only when Peter Pan rescues Tiger Lily does the tribe accept
him. Its unclear if Tiger Lily is gentle with all creatures, but she does seem close to both nature
and her spirituality (she refuses to give away the Pans location to Captain Hook despite his
thread of leaving her underwater and her spirituality telling her that if she drowns, she wont go
to the Happy Hunting Ground, which is her equivalent of heaven). This character is, however,
used as a plot device to upset Wendy when she briefly flirts with and kisses Peter Pan.
Tiger Lilys character is Native (and not American because no tribe is ever named, and
her attire alone is hodgepodge enough to be insulting and stereotypical) to prove that white
characters arent biased against her supposed ethnicity, but for it, for the Noble and Sacrificial
Indian but never for Tiger Lily as a girl.
Next, enter the 1990s, full of headbands, pagers, scrunchies, and big steps towards
protecting Native American Culture. Four acts passed through Congress, designed to protect
Native American rights: the Native American Languages act, which made it US policy to
"preserve, protect, and promote the rights and freedom of Native Americans to use, practice, and
develop Native American languages,; the Indian Arts and Crafts Act, which was intended to
promote Indian artwork and handicraft businesses, reduce foreign and counterfeit product
competition, and stop deceptive marketing practices.; and the Native American Grave
Protection and Repatriation Act, which required all institutions that receive federal funds to

inventory their collections of Indian human remains and artifacts, make their lists available to
Indian tribes, and return any items requested by the tribes. (Weiser) These acts were in part
passed out of fear and guilt; schools for Native Americans back in the 40s, 50s, 60s, and 70s
were places of psychological and physical punishment. The reason: speaking in a native tongue.
Because of this, parents ceased teaching their children a language that they either never learned
or were forced to forget, and because of this, native languages all over the nation were and still
are in danger of being permanently lost.
When 1995 rolled around, Disney released another animated film: Pocahontas.
Pocahontas is the embodiment of the Chiefs Daughter trope; shes the beautiful by Western
standards but still tribal, exotic, close to nature, kind to animals, open-minded, kickass Native
American Warrior. The trope is completed with her attraction to the foreign white man, to which
her father, the Chief, disapproves of to the point of attempted murder.
Pocahontass release after the enactment of the four Culture Acts was not coincidental
Pocahontas fills the emotional need to recognize that Native American culture is unique and
beautiful, even if it means the writers rely on tropes and historical inaccuracies to come across as
desired. Pocahontas herself is the beautiful tribal girl that shows Indian arts and crafts are worth
protecting (woven baskets, handmade canoes) and should belong to the tribe they come from, but
at the cost of reducing the myth of Pocahontas (which is the story of a difficult 10 year old and
mercenary soldier, John Smith (Crazyhorse)) to a tragic love story, and turning the character of
Pocahontas into a cultural stereotype. However, the trope did some good: it raised awareness of
Native history
Since the release of Pocahontas, legal action for the protection of Native American
culture has been practically nonexistent. Social rights, however, have blossomed; it isnt until

about 2000 the idea of cultural appropriation turns up. Cultural appropriation is a difficult term to
define in academia because it has so many definitions by self-proclaimed protectors of culture,
but the general consensus has become that assimilating a less powerful culture into another for
the sole purpose of aesthetics is not appreciated. There have even been published articles solely
focused on preventing this:
Dont dress up as an ethnic stereotype pay homage to artistry and their ideas, and
acknowledge their origins dont adopt sacred artifacts as accessories remember that
culture is fluid dont forget that appropriation is no substitute for diversity [and]
engage with other cultures on more than an aesthetic level. (Avins)
From this new ideal emerged a profound difference in Native Americans portrayed in the media;
its not as common.
Enter 2009, with James Camerons newest million dollar enterprise, Avatar (Avatar).
Specifically the character Neytiri. Neytiri is the example of the Chiefs Daughter: eventually
loves the outsider who takes on a native body, beautiful yet tribal look, gentle with all creatures,
close to nature, strong warrior, father and mother disproves of their union until the outsider, Jake,
manages to fight off the white conquerors and save their culture. The only thing that doesnt fit
with the Chiefs Daughter trope is that she hates outsiders at least until she falls in love with
one, but the wench-turned-romantic plot device is loved (Shakespeares The Taming of the
Shrew, for example), has been loved, and will always be loved.
Neytiri and her romance fills the emotional need to prove the Chiefs Daughter tropes
pointthat white culture doesnt discriminate based on skin color not even blue skin
without using a real culture as the basis. Its beneficial in the fact thats its not attacking and
perpetuating stereotypes of a real Native American culture and thus not culturally appropriating

artifacts, styles, and art of authentic cultures, but its still harmful in the sense that it fetishizes
the nature of Native American cultures (e.g. the sacred tribal tree, bows and arrows against the
white mans guns, hypersexualized women in loincloths, etc.)
To contrast Avatar comes Avatar: The Last Airbenders character, Yue, in 2005 (Yue). Yue
is the damsel-esque princess who happens to be beautiful, gentle, close to nature, and magical
(her hair is white because part of the moon lives in her soul). Her father tries to marry her off for
political gain. However, this is where the similarities to the Chiefs Daughter end. She doesnt
love a white foreigner, her duty comes ahead of love, her father doesnt find out that she loves
someone shes not betrothed do, and she dies to protect her nation.
This is the least appropriative example; it uses a nonexistent culture and very few tropes
besides the damsel in distress and the mystical tribe, which is lessened because of the world
building (masters of the four elements fit into one of the following: Fire Nation, Water Tribes,
Earth Kingdom, Air Nomads, and all have members with similar mystic powers). Cultural
appropriation fits into the directors choice of not basing these on stereotypical Native American
culture, but instead of doing research and incorporating elements of all cultures into it (European
Kingdomships, Native American Bison, Chinese martial arts, etc.).
The Chiefs Daughter trope, when done wrong, is harmful because it isnt true. The
blatant and harmful use of Native American culture in early examples of this trope is
stereotypical at best and rude at worst. However, like any trope, it isnt necessarily a HorribleBad-Evil Thing; in the two Avatars, its used as a demonstration of honor, love, and accepting
cultures different than ones own. The difference between becoming stereotypical and becoming
just another trope lies in the rules of cultural appropriation: this trope should be used only on
fictional civilizations with no base on actual Native American ones to prevent the harmful

adoption and erasure of Native Culture.

Works Cited
Avatar. n.d. Webpage. 26 July 2016.
Avins, Jenny. The Dos and Don'ts of Cultural Appropriation. 20 October 2015. Article. 26 July
Crazyhorse, Chief Roy. The Myth of Pocahontas. n.d. Webpage. 27 July 2016.
Peter Pan. n.d. Webpage. 26 July 2016.
Weiser, Kathy. Native American Timeline. n.d. Webpage. 27 July 2016.
Yue. n.d. Webpage. 27 July 2016.