Native Heroes for Character Building: Issues with Villains and Victims in Storytelling

“Did you hear about Kaleb Nowater? Maybe his name was Kevin. I’m not sure, but it was a K name for certain. Come to find out, he was sexually assaulted by a worker at that children’s group home. By whom? It was ol’ what’s his face. I forget, but he likes to surround himself with those wannabe artists. Anyway, they fired him because they caught him sleeping during overnight shifts in that poor boy’s room. Awful. And imagine all those artists who just look the other way. I wonder if they know. More so, I wonder if they care more about their reputation than a child getting harmed. Just makes me sick to my stomach thinking about it. Who makes sexual advances on a teenage boy with emotional and psychological issues?”

So the above paragraph does a lot of interesting things. I’ll not breakdown all the elements here. What I’d like to focus on is the dynamic between “the child with the K name” and “ol’ what’s his face.” The victim and the villain. Immediately, we get caught up in the drama of the situation. It’s intense. Someone is manipulating vulnerable teenage boys for sex. Our protective senses kick in and it makes us want to reach into the story to protect the victim. So this is perfect. This is exactly what writers want to do with a narrative.

But is this sustainable? Can we go on for page after page with this victim and villain pattern? Now what if I said the pedophile was Cherokee and the victim was Creek? Now we are instantly shinning a spotlight onto entire communities of color. And communities of color from the smallest minority in America. We can’t overlook this dynamic because the stories we release into the world have real implications. People respond. People are affected. Lives can be altered. Legacy’s can be ruined. And in an instant.

For some reason, I keep crossing Native characters being perpetuated as extreme victims or extreme villains. Now we’re immediately drawn to the language in the first paragraph because it resembles how we talk amongst each other in our own communities. This is how we protect our children. Unfortunately, convicting someone of a sexual crime on a child is incredibly hard to do. So what do we as heroes do? We protect our families. We tell each other who is doing what so that families will keep their children away from predators, so employers will know who not to hire. With the initial language above, our protective factors jump in and our interest heightens.

Not only does the narrative implicate the villain, but it also implicates an entire group of people. A cult, if you will. It alludes to a cover up, or at minimum people looking the other way. And if we place this in the context of Cherokee people, the villainy suddenly paints the entire community in a certain light. It makes us ALL look bad. And keep in mind that we have some of the highest disparity rates in the U.S. The last thing we need is to have an even worse disparaging look as Native people.

As Native artists, we have to consider these variables. What is this going to look like? Is this an accurate portrayal of Native people? Ultimately, what image will Native people have?

Now, this doesn’t say we don’t write about serious issues. On the contrary. We, as Native artists, have an obligation to capture the worst, like underground pedophiles, so as to create topics of discussion. This goes back to keeping our communities safe. My point here is that instead of focusing on the victim and villain, we should be looking at the heroes in the situation.

Let’s consider if “the child with a K name” comes back as an adult and confronts his abuser. Now we’ve turned the victim into a hero. What if we refocused the narrative to spotlight the victim getting his revenge? Then not only do we get a chance to see multiple sides to the character, but Native communities of color are seen as the heroes, and having the ability to tackle serious issues ourselves. Moving away from needing a white savior to rescue us. So in the spirit of empowerment let’s rephrase the first paragraph:

“Did you hear about Kaleb Nowater? Maybe his name was Kevin. I’m not sure, but it was a K name for certain. Come to find out, he went after a former worker at that children’s home. Who did he go after? It was ol’ what’s his face. I forget, but he likes to surround himself with those wannabe artists. Anyway, it turns out Kaleb was a foster child in that group home and he was sexually assaulted by that worker. It was during overnight shifts in Kaleb’s room. Awful. But Kaleb came back and told all those artists about his abuser. Do you know what they did? Well, I’m a good Christian so I can’t say, but I’ll tell you this: That pedophile checked himself into a hospital for “mental health” issues. But we all know what that means, right? So glad Kaleb finally had his day.”

Now that’s a story worth telling!

(Image above borrowed from wikipedia)

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