How many generations will it take? How many, that is, before ugly nativists become beautiful Natives?
I was reminded of this question, and of our want of an answer, by an advertisement that just pinged into my mailbox. The sender would like me to show my students a documentary called Badger Creek, which tells a heart-warming story of “Native resilience” in a family of Blackfeet Indians living in Montana. This family, named Momberg, is part of the Pikuni Nation, and in addition to running a “prosperous ranching business,” they “practice a traditional Blackfeet cultural lifestyle.” The Mombergs participate in “Blackfeet spiritual ceremonies,” maintain a “Blackfeet worldview,” and enroll their children in “a Blackfeet language immersion school.”
Well, good luck to the Mombergs! I do not know what “traditional Blackfeet values” are, but they cannot be inferior to the bordello culture of postmodern America.
But I ask you, as a thought experiment, to imagine a documentary telling the story of another family, living on another tributary of the upper Missouri, in the desolate outback of Montana. I will call that creek the Bigot, or, better yet, the Big Bigot, and call the family the Haters. Great-great-great-great grandpa Hater settled on Big Bigot Creek in the 1890s, and there raised cattle and wheat for the mining districts west of Great Falls. He came up the Missouri from Kentucky, bringing with him a worldview shaped in equal parts by the clan warfare of Appalachia and the great Cane Ridge Revival. Since that time, six generations of Haters have lived on the banks of Big Bigot Creek, and with patriarchy, prejudice and paranoia, they have effectively resisted assimilation into the bordello culture of postmodern America.
Needless to say, Big Bigot Creek would not be a heart-warming story and the clannish Haters would not be represented as Natives. Their provincial paranoia would be represented as nativism. The first definition of nativist in the dictionary on my computer is “the policy of protecting the interests of native-born or established inhabitants against those of immigrants,” and the example of usage is “a deep vein of xenophobia and nativism.” Needless to say, xenophobia is a pejorative term. Xenophobia is bad!
But I ask you, aren’t the Mombergs xenophobic? They obviously view English as a foreign language, orthodox Christianity as a foreign religion, and the Western worldview as a foreign philosophy. As well they might, since these things are foreign to the Pikuni Nation. And the Mombergs just as obviously fear these foreign things, since they are doing their level best to shield their children from their influence. Since fear of the foreign is the meaning of xenophobia, I cannot see how the Mombergs are anything other than xenophobes, or how Badger Creek is anything but a celebration of xenophobia.
So, why is the xenophobia of Badger Creek good and the xenophobia of Big Bigot Creek bad? Why is one “Native resilience” and the other “nativism?” Will the nativists ever be promoted to the rank of Natives? And if so, how many generations is this going to take?