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Challis Lamart

Phillips

H. Cultural Media Literacy, 03

23 May 2019

Honors Portfolio Research Paper

How is life on American Indian reserves depicted in the film, ​Dance Me Outside​?

“​Course you can always go ask that brave you like so much, the Indian you idolize. He

may well have a secret song, a dance he’ll share, a long-lost chant; ask him to help you save the

world to save yourselves. Don’t look at me. I’m not the Indian you had in mind. I can’t” (King).

This excerpt from the poem “I’m Not the Indian You Had in Mind” by Thomas King embodies

the thoughts of a Canadian Indian trying to distinguish themselves from the diminishing

stereotypes built up by Western style films throughout history. ​The film ​Dance Me Outside​ by

Bruce McDonald uses these stereotypes and characterization to accurately portray the quality of

life on a reserve. The plot does not specifically revolve around life on a reserve, but instead

focuses on the death of Little Margaret, a representation of the numerous cases in which a

Canadian Indian is killed or goes missing. The film ​Dance Me Outside​ by Bruce McDonald uses

characterization and Canadian Indian stereotypes to accurately portray the quality of life on a

reserve.

There are a few predominant stereotypes that Canadian Indians and American Indians are

based on in films and other media. Specifically, a few of these stereotypes are seen in characters

in ​Dance Me Outside​. A character referred to as Gooch represents the Ignoble Savage stereotype;

he has had very aggressive incidents in the past such as, going to jail, he was rumored to have

killed someone, and he has beaten other aggressors on numerous occasions. Magical Natives in

the film are portrayed as humorous satire that is not meant to be taken seriously (Film/Dance Me
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Outside). There is a scene in which the Silas Crow, Frank Fencepost, and a few other friends are

having an induction ceremony for Crow’s new white brother-in-law that consists of finding a

spirit animal and choosing a Native name. In modern day reserves, the same stereotypes that

were used in the past do not apply to Canadian Indians today. There is virtually no media

coverage of Canadian Indians in the modern world and students are only taught about indigenous

culture from the 19th century.

Canadian Indian reserves struggle to maintain themselves without the help from media

and public awareness. The lack of perception in the public eye creates the obstacle of ignorance

that prevents people from advocating for Native rights. Canadian Indian activists also disagree

with the government’s statistics on the murder of Native women. The amount of solved cases

and women killed shown in Canadian media is completely different than those coming from

activists. An example of this disparity can be seen in the government’s statistics stating that

about 90 percent of the cases involving Native women have been solved, however, activists

argue that the real number is 50 percent (The Vanishing of Canada’s First Nation Women).

Another obstacle preventing the complete independence and freedom of Canadian Indian

tribes is the Indian Act of 1876. The act, which has not yet been abolished, gives the Canadian

government control of the majority of Native peoples affairs and culture. This act has only

supported the segregation of Canadian Indians and other races in the nation and kept reserves

from attaining sustainable living conditions.

There are multiple scenes in the film that encompass the reality of life on a reserves for

Canadian Indians, such as the racial discrimination perpetrated by the white population of

Canada. In a scene in the film set at a pool bar, a white man named Clarence Gaskill and his

accomplice torment the main characters by jumping on top of their truck and mocking traditional

war cries of aboriginal culture. There are also lines in the film that imply the dismay main
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character Silas Crow feels towards having to move into the whiter area of the province to attend

auto-mechanic school (​Dance Me Outside)​ . These subtle implications show the tension between

aboriginals living in reserves and the surrounding white population. The racial differences are

prevalent in the film, but the focus of the movie falls upon the murder of a young girl named

Little Margaret.

The most important aspect of Canadian aboriginal life on reserves that is represented in

Dance Me Outside​ is the murder of Native women. In September of 2013, it was found that since

1980, Native women accounted for 11.3 percent of all of Canada’s missing women and 16

percent of all murdered women (Indigenous Women's Issues in Canada). Although ​Dance Me

Outside​ only focuses on one fictional murder case, the movie brought more media attention to

the ongoing concern and utilized emotional appeal to persuade the Canadian public to care for

Native women’s issues.

Dance Me Outside​ stands out as one of the only films to shine light upon the hundreds of

cases of missing and murdered aboriginal women in Canada. Unfortunately, however, both

Native American and Canadian aboriginal women continue to go missing and get murdered at

significantly higher rates than people of other races. The film also targets superficial,

modern-day stereotypes used to represent indigenous people. The characters are all fully aware

and make banter of the stereotypes surrounding them. Overall, Dance Me Outside challenges

modernist views of aboriginal groups and brings attention to the unfinished issues plaguing

Canadian Indian women.


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Works Cited

Cogan, Marin. “The Vanishing of Canada's First Nations Women.” ​Foreign Policy​, Foreign

Policy, 6 July 2016,

foreignpolicy.com/2016/07/06/the-vanishing-of-canadas-first-nations-women-harper-tru

eau-violence-highway-of-tears-indigenous/. Accessed 20 May 2019.

“Dance Me Outside.” ​YouTube​, 26 Apr. 2017, youtu.be/Pt2Rq0QjomE. Accessed 15 May 2019.

“Film/Dance Me Outside.” ​TV Tropes,​ tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Film/DanceMeOutside.

Accessed 12 May 2019.

“Indigenous Women's Issues in Canada.” ​The Canadian Encyclopedia​,

www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/native-womens-issues. Accessed 16 May

2019.

King, Thomas. “‘I'm Not the Indian You Had in Mind.’” ​Facing History and Ourselves​,

www.facinghistory.org/stolen-lives-indigenous-peoples-canada-and-indian-residential-s

hools/chapter-2/i-m-not-indian-you-had-mind. Accessed 14 May 2019.