by Mikai Tilton
Early Westerns starred white cowboys on a picture-perfect landscape saving women from Native American tribes or other rogue local villains and being vigilantes in solving and bringing justice to other crimes.
These portrayals of Native Americans were always lined with a fundamental lack of knowledge surrounding Native American culture.
Many early films starring Native Americans were laid on a premise of fascination with the supposed “mystique” of Native American tradition. This pandered very well to white audiences living in major cities, the majority of which who had little to no substantial knowledge of Native American culture. Lighter portrayals of this nature almost always incorporated magic or other “spiritual” characteristics into their characters. A reference to this archetype can be seen in the gift of seeing into the “spirit world” possessed by Nobody, a Native American character in Dead Man (1995).
As time went on, this fascination with Native American “mystique” morphed into a more violent and dangerous misrepresentation of the group.
D.W. Griffith, director of Birth of a Nation, released The Battle of Elderbush Gulch in 1913. In it, two hungry Indians steal a young woman and her newborn baby’s puppies for food. After being tracked down, one of them is shot and killed. The other Indian goes back to his tribe where they perform a war dance and then attack the young woman’s village. The newborn baby is captured by the Indians and the white settlers’ cabin is set on fire. White soldiers arrive to save the day as the Indians almost make it into the cabin. All Native Americans, as well as a “Mexican,” are portrayed by white actors. The film does not provide much of a motive behind these crimes other than an inherent and natural “evil” of the entire Native American tribe, adding a dangerous evil mystique to Native American culture.
A recurring image in classic Westerns—the likes of which can be observed in The Searchers (1956) or The Battle of Elderbush Gulch (1913)—is a cavalry riding in and “saving” the protagonists by massacring a tribe of Native Americans at the very last minute.
White audiences at the time knew almost nothing about Native Americans except for battles or massacres against them by the U.S. Army. It could be assumed, based on a lack of any other knowledge about Native Americans or their culture, that Native Americans were a danger to American citizens or a force that needed to be controlled—why else would the army commit such atrocities or expend so much energy to this cause?
White audiences’ lack of knowledge and stereotypes surrounding Native Americans freed directors to portray villains without needing to provide a motive for their crimes, as well as add a dimension of “magic” through Native American characters without much explanation. Directors likely didn’t know much about Native Americans, either, but it didn’t matter—white actors could be interpreted as “Indian” for simply wearing face paint and putting feathers in their hair. This misinterpretation helped spur widespread modern injustices (dangerous and harmful mining, land theft, and cultural destruction) that can still be seen today.
On Friday, September 21, 2019, a few Watershed students, joined by 6.7 million other individuals worldwide, skipped school to participate in the global climate strike. Some made their way to the Norlin Quadrangle on the CU Boulder campus where, despite on campus regulations that established a noise limit and group boundaries, they joined other students and citizens of Boulder in protest while listening to a variety of speakers. Others engaged in a protest outside of the Starbucks on the corner of Pearl and 28th demanding that the company takes steps toward zero waste. A few other Watershed students chose to cram onto packed buses to Denver. There, they joined kids and adults alike as they marched from Union Station to the steps of the capitol building where multiple hours of presentations were held. The presentations included speakers and performers of native American descent as well as many youth speakers ranging in age from 8 to 18.
Who organized it?
The strike was spearheaded by a 16-year-old Swedish schoolgirl named Greta Thunberg. In 2018, Greta skipped school every Friday to stand outside the parliament building in Sweden demanding change in climate policy. She has since grown in popularity, making her way to the US via a zero-emission boat, and being featured on many media platforms.
What was the goal?
One of the biggest topics at the march was the Green New Deal. In Denver, call and response chants cascaded through the crowd of people.
“What do we want?”
“The Green New Deal!”
“When do we want it?”
The Green New Deal is a fourteen-page resolution released by Massachusetts Senator Edward Markey and New York’s district 14 representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in February of 2019. The deal proposes the goal of meeting 100% of the United States’ power demand through renewable sources within 10 years. The deal also plans to upgrade infrastructure (buildings, transportation systems, etc.) to have as little greenhouse emissions as is “technologically feasible.”
Another chant that was common during the march was, “this is what democracy looks like!” This highlights one of the biggest goals of the strike: to bring awareness to the impact of climate change, and show the governments and people in power that it is a topic that the people--specifically youth--care about.
The strike was strategically timed to be three days before the UN climate action summit where leaders of the UN met in New York to discuss progress (or lack thereof) regarding climate action plans. These plans would ideally be on track with the agreed-upon goal of “reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 45 percent over the next decade, and to net zero emissions by 2050.” Realizing that estimates show that the world is not on track to meet these goals or goals established in the 2019 Paris Agreement, participants of the strike used the power of democracy to hold the UN leaders accountable to their goals.
The goal set by the Paris Agreement is to maintain no more than a 1.5℃ increase in global temperature levels from the pre-industrial averages recorded in 1880. Current estimates project that the total greenhouse gas emissions worldwide will reach 55 gigatons by 2030. This amount of greenhouse gas emissions would lead to temperatures that exceed the 1.5℃ limit. To attain this goal, emissions need to remain below 44 gigatons. To put these numbers into perspective, the world has to reduce its greenhouse emissions by 22 x 10^12 lbs in 10 years. That is 22,000,000,000,000 pounds of gas.
What was the outcome?
The UN Climate Action Summit resulted in new initiatives, including:
On the local level, the city of Boulder had an event at CU on Thursday, September 26 launching the Climate Mobilization Plan. The 11th and 12th grade expedition class attended this event. Although the plan appears to still be in the curation process, it is clear that companies and officials in Boulder are putting time into instigating action.
Where these goals and action plans with end up is unclear, however, the attendance and publicity of the September 21st climate strike cannot easily be ignored. Climate change is a topic that concerns many citizens of the world and steps are being taken to mitigate the global impact that humans continue to create.