Getting Past “The Tonto Syndrome”

Americans have always had ridiculous notions of how the native population of North America looks, acts, and lives. In fact, the absurd stereotypes heaped on the American Indian are so pervasive as to be a cultural phenomenon in themselves. But you won’t find any reference to such racist blather in Washington’s new Museum of the American Indian, with organizers hoping that “the sheer beauty and tone of the place will dispel the inaccurate mythology, jokes and war whoops that visitors grew up with. That basically includes anyone who watched TV or had a social studies class in the 20th century.” But is ignoring the misperceptions really the way to go?