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"...the god promised that if she stayed with him in the cave he'd forgive her people, and protect and enchant their land until the end of time. So she agreed to live with the god in the waterfall and became Maid of the Mist. And thanks to the princess, Niagara has remained an enchanted wonderland, despite hundreds of years of commercial development."
—Jaye, Wonderfalls

American Indians (also Red Indians, Native Americans, Amerinds, or First Nations) discovered America by walking across a gigantic land bridge from Russia into Alaska. For a few thousand years they just took up space until Europeans rode massive wooden buckets across the ocean and crashed into the eastern shore. After a friendly "getting to know you" dinner party, the killing started, and lines were drawn between the Civilized World and Injun Country.

Injun Country is a staple of The Western, where American expansion brought white settlers into conflict with Indians in The Wild West. Injuns of Injun Country all belong to a remarkably monolithic culture that spans all of North America. Their society is usually based on tribes of the Great Plains, with colorful details appropriated from other tribes at the author's whim. They are typically nomads who live in portable tipis or wigwams, hunt bison, wear war paint, and stick feathers in their hair. Standard issue outfits include Braids, Beads, and Buckskins. The chief always wears a giant headdress of feathers. They invariably greet other people with a gruff "How." Some of them speak broken English and pepper their phrases with peculiar terms and metaphors. When they have a "pow-wow," all the elders sit "Indian style" around a big bonfire and "smoke-um peace pipes." They are an extremely equestrian culture, even though horses would not be reintroduced to the Americas until European colonization. Their leather moccasins allow them to sneak up on just about anyone except another Indian. They often wield bows and carry tomahawks, but they might also have rifles. Indian attacks in Injun Country range from brainless Zerg Rushes to special-ops night raids, though an average "brave" is rarely a match for even the greenest gunslinger. If Injuns do catch you, expect to be "scalped."

The characterization of Injun Country has changed over the years. In early Westerns, Indians were little more than naked savages who terrorized the settlers. Even before Hollywood, tales and memoirs of Indians abducting white women were popular as tabloid entertainment. Sympathetic Indian characters were almost always collaborators with whites. White heroes sometimes had an honorable brave who worked as a Sidekick for the heroes. A Halfbreed could go either way, either as a civilized man who knew some Indian tricks, or he could be a vicious bastard epitomizing the worst of both cultures. However, a "squaw" was almost always an slender, attractive, raven-haired beauty who is lusted over by any red-blooded, white-skinned frontiersman.

The "revisionist western" eventually supplanted the classic variety. Injun Country changed to a more ambivalent place. The injustice of the American government was more often acknowledged, though Indians usually remained a threat to the heroes. Indians became more wise, solemn, and tragic. Antagonistic Indians were more often proud and honorable warriors embittered by white society rather than bloodthirsty savages. Fighting between white settlers and Indians became less popular as the primary conflict in stories, and Indians sometimes stood as neutral parties.

In more modern times, Injun Country has come almost 180 degrees from its origins. Indians are now Noble Savages who lived in an Edenic utopia before the serpent of Manifest Destiny tore it all down. An earthy people, Indians respect nature, use "all of the bison," and hunt only what they need to survive. Whereas once their religions were treated as crude superstition, it has now become a source of ancient wisdom. They have "no system of ownership" and can't understand how whites can claim dominion over land and territory. They are clean, innocent, and noble, while white society is greedy, dirty, and corrupt. Essentially they have become the icons of "green living" and new age spiritualism.

Nowadays even that is going out of style. Present-day Injun Country is filled with casinos, because Indian reservations are some of the few places in America where gambling is allowed. The contrast between these towers of capitalism and stereotypical Indian culture has become the fodder for comedy and satire. An increasingly popular trope is the cagey, opportunistic Indian huckster. He is often seen either leveraging white guilt over past atrocities to gain an advantage or dazzling gullible whites with fake rituals and spurious wisdom for cash.

Examples of Injun Country include:


Comic Books

  • Scalped is set in the criminal underworld of a fictional Lakota Souix reservation in South Dakota, with the town's mob boss setting up a new casino.
  • The Saint of Killers' backstory in Preacher (Comic Book) involves him rescuing a young woman from Injun Country. When she tells him about the horrible things they did, he tells her bluntly that they learned it from the whites. While in reality Native American tribes were no strangers to brutality, they did learn scalping from Europeans during the French and Indian War.
  • In one American Eagle story, the local authorities deny the investigation of the Desert Stars, the state superteam of Arizona, going so far as to say, "Yep, and you ain't in Arizona no more. This here's the Navajo nation, son." There's also the time Billy Lame Deer found Cobalt Man armor and took a casino hostage, asking for whiskey...

Film

  • Dances with Wolves has both extreme flavors of the trope. The Pawnee tribe is purely malevolent, slaughtering a harmless white man for entering their land. The Lakota tribe, however, are proud, noble, far superior to the madness of white society, and tragically doomed. Many Lakota were not happy about being portrayed as helpless innocents in need of a Mighty Whitey.
  • Pocahontas is part of the modern wave of portraying an idealized version of Indian society.
  • Peter Pan portrays Injun Country as dangerous, but ultimately the Indians are more sympathetic than the dastardly white pirates. The Indians have both teepees and totem poles, but they're in a Magical Land to the begin with.
  • The Canadian film Black Robe is set in a refreshingly unromanticized (and undemonized) perception of what's now Ontario and Quebec. No Colours Of The Wind, no squaw gettum firewood: just Huron guys dying of smallpox, Iroquois guys eating Algonquin guys, and French guys talking about a Jewish guy who was crucified but came back.
  • The films Smoke Signals and The Business Of Fancy Dancing are insider views of present-day Indian reservations; and examine the issues that modern Native Americans face. Both films were written, and the latter directed, by Sherman Alexie, a Spokane/Coeur d'Alene author, screenwriter, and poet.
  • The ending of Stroszek takes place on a reservation.
  • Jim Jarmusch's Deadman is a thoroughly modern take on Injun Country, portraying the madness of white industrialism encroaching into the American Frontier. The main character's train passes the tipis and bison of the Great Plains to arrive somewhere in the American Northwest. The hero is never in any danger from Indians, and in the end, he arrives at a Makah village, which looks very different from the stereotypical tipi camp.
  • In The New World, the Virginian Powhatan tribe is portrayed, and they are much different from the standard Great Plains stereotype. Though ominous and warlike at first, they enjoy a much more favorable portrayal then the initial white settlers. The Powhatan are shown to be clean, fit, and prosperous, while the English fort is filthy and filled with sick, hideous, mean people. As the film goes on, however, Pocahontas learns to appreciate English culture as well, and she is enchanted by England when she visits it.
  • In the film Three Ten to Yuma, the party passes through Injun Country and gets attacked at night by some fairly stereotypical braves, who are barely visible in the darkness.
  • The Outlaw Josey Wales takes place in a revisionist Injun Country. The primary conflict is between white soldiers on opposite sides of the Civil War. Josey acquires an Indian companion who grouses about the white man but also subverts various stereotypes. While holed up in a ranch house that has been fortified against Indian attack, Josey has a heart-to-heart with the honorable chief of the local tribe to avoid a conflict with them.
  • Renegade (aka Blueberry) features a white lawman who was adopted into an Indian tribe in his youth. He lives with one foot in his white frontier town and one foot in Injun Country. Indians are portrayed as wise and mystical people whose knowledge of hallucinogens ultimately allows the hero to achieve a climactic epiphany.
  • Maverick subverts the classic Wild West Injun Country. Maverick's Indian friend is a sly, greedy conman who helps Maverick pull a trick on his companions and bilks money from a wealthy white hunter, who wants the Indians to behave like they do in the books.
  • In My Little Chickadee, a train passing through Injun Country gets attacked by stereotypical Indian braves on horseback. Mae West makes wisecracks as she guns a few down from a cabin window.
  • In Appaloosa, the heroes chase the villains into Injun Country. When they're all attacked by a war band, the white folks all agree to a truce until they get out of Injun Country.
  • In Stagecoach, the stagecoach enters Apache country and must ultimately flee from a swarm of angry Apaches giving chase.
  • In Fort Apache the very reason for the fort's existence is to keep in check the unruly Apache populace.
  • Parodied in the western comedy The Villain; there's a literal white line drawn across the desert, and when some pursuing Indians reach it, they screech to a stop; the one guy who tumbles across hurriedly scrambles back.
  • In Mans Favorite Sport (in 1964, no less) included an Indian huckster, John Screaming Eagle.
  • Hilariously lampooned in Cannibal! The Musical, where Alfred Packer and his party pass through a Ute settlement. All of the Native Americans are played by Japanese actors. There's even a scene showing the tribal warriors practicing their katas. The chief points out all the stereotypical aspects of their camp and dress to try to convince the whites that they're genuine.

Literature

  • Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy (recently of No Country for Old Men fame) deconstructs this trope with what might be thought of as a meta revisionist historical Injun Country, where, not to put too fine a point on it, all humans of all colours and cultures are essentially between one and zero steps removed from the dishonourable, brutal naked savage stereotype. Very adroitly Deconstructed by the author in order to make a case for Blue and Orange Morality.[1]
  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn ends with our protagonist announcing that it is his intention to move out here and have a hollerin' good time with the Injuns. In the TV series The New Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, he actually ends up in India.
  • The American poet and author Sherman Alexie is known for using (and often deconstructing) this setting. Incidentally, he grew up on a reservation. He's Spokane-Coeur d'Alene.
  • "Captitivity Narratives" featuring white Puritan girls getting captured by Indians and forced to live with them were popular between the 17th and 19th centuries. The archetypical example would be A Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson, a true, autobiographical story.
  • Around the World In 80 Days uses the first characterizatio: On their way to New York our heroes' train is ambushed by a considerable number of Sioux. This is likely because Verne preferred to run with popular -if unflattering- stereotypes, possibly as satire.
  • This concept runs throughout the novel The Alienist.
  • The works of 19th century writer Karl May are the uber-example of this trope for anyone who learned to read in German as a kid. Despite never having been to the then still Wild West himself[2], he wrote vivid first-person accounts of "his" encounters with Noble Savage Apache Winnetou.

Live Action TV

Role Playing Games

  • Shadowrun has the extreme example, with the return of magic to the world allowing Amerindians to (re)take the western half of the continent. The new nations vary wildly; some of have become high-tech powerhouses, while others sink ever-further into squalor and decay.
  • You guessed it. Deadlands. No matter what setting, there are "Indians" around. In the original Weird Western setting, Native Americans have carved not one, but two sovereign nations out of American soil. By the time Deadlands: Hell on Earth rolls around, the "Coyote Confederation" is a defunct wasteland, while the "Sioux Nations" remains one of the few pleasant places anywhere on the planet. Deadlands: Lost Colony, as a Space Western, uses the native sentient beings of planet Banshee as ersatz Indians.
  • Basically wherever the Wendigo werewolf tribe hangs out in Werewolf: The Apocalypse (especially the Wild West setting). The more militant ones are still mightily pissed off at the European werewolves who moved in with roughly the same beliefs as the normal humans regarding the New World (they also released the Eater of Souls by accident, but water under the bridge, eh?).

Video Games

  • Prey stars a badass Indian protagonist who doesn't believe in his tribe's teachings, but with the help of a near-death experience and a spirit journey to his grandfather gains the ability to escape his worldly body and cheat death.
  • Gun features Blackfoot and Apache natives as antagonists/sympathetic allies/victims in need of saving. The protagonist, Colton Reed, is half-white, half-native.
  • Turok is a time-travelling Native American who hunts the most dangerous game--no, not that one--dinosaurs.

Western Animation

  • Ben 10 visited a rather archaic-looking reservation in "Benwolf."
  • On King of the Hill, John Redcorn won a long lawsuit to return to him a portion of his tribal land as a reservation. It's about 12 acres, situated next to a busy freeway. In a later episode, he opens a casino on the property to give his band a place to perform, only to be informed by the authorities that Texas doesn't have Indian gaming.
  • The last real Looney Tunes short ever made, "Injun Trouble", was mostly set here, with the last part taking place in an old western saloon.
  • In an episode of Family Guy, Peter pulls into an Indian casino as an emergency rest stop, and while he's in the restroom, Lois gambles away the family car. Peter must then try and convince the operators he's a member of the tribe, in order to participate in the tribal profit-sharing, and get the car back.
  • In The Simpsons, Bart had a "vision quest" at an Indian casino. And Marge lost twenty thousand dollars.
  • Drawn Together has a bunch of Indian ghosts building an absurdly huge casino in the house's backyard. Captain Hero and Spanky Ham start making money with fraudulent bets, while Foxxy Love and Princess Clara start a strip club in the house.
  • South Park features a nearby Indian reservation. In one episode, Cartman finds out that a local Indian man had slept with his mother and visits the reservation to speak with him. Another episode lampoons the New Agey makeover of Indian culture. The owner of an alternative medicine shop exalts the virtues of natural medicine developed by local Indian tribesmen. It turns out that the cures are useless shams, and the "Indians" were just Mexicans anyway. The episode "Red Man's Greed" features the local tribe opening an Indian casino and trying to wipe out the white townsfolk with blankets infected with SARS. Stan cures the townsfolk by going on a vision quest and rediscovering the traditional medicines of his people: Day Quil, chicken noodle soup, and Sprite.
  • One episode of My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic featured the Great Plains flavor of Injun Country, complete with teepees, feathered headdresses, and a tribe of nature-loving Noble Savage buffalo who come into conflict with the local town of Wild West ponies.
  • In An American Tail: Fievel Goes West, Tiger the cat gets randomly kidnapped by Native American mice when he wanders into their territory, and they prepare to roast him alive. But, when they see his resemblance to a nearby mountain, they start to worship him as a god.
  • Treasure Of Manhattan Island has a group of Lenape mice who fled underground when the Europeans came, and live in caves beneath the city.

Theatre

  • The Rez Sisters and Dry Lips Oughta Move to Kapuskasing by Cree playwright Tomson Highway; also his novel Kiss of the Fur Queen.

Notes

  1. Noted for its historical accuracy. Food for thought.
  2. presumably because he spent several years in prison for fraud
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