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Stereotype of the Month Entry

Another Stereotype of the Month entry:

LGBT 'Navajo' project angers Natives

8th January 2007 10:20am
Tony Grew

The Native American Navajo nation have written to a Christian couple recently awarded damages by Lancashire Police to express their dismay that their tribal name is being used for an LGBT project.

Helen and Joe Roberts from Fleetwood hit the headlines last year after police questioned them for attempting to distribute anti-gay literature.

The fundamentalist Christians were eventually awarded damages after Lancashire police admitted their right to free speech had been breached.

Now lawyers for the couple, both 75, have revealed that they wrote to the Navajo nation, who live on 16 million acre reservation in the southwestern United States, to inform them that their tribal name was being used to promote well-being amongst LGBT people.

The Sunday Telegraph reported yesterday that the Native American tribe have responded to the Robert's letter.

The tribe's lawyer said in the letter that, "The Navajo nation is greatly concerned regarding the use of the word Navajo in any context, but even more so when it is used to express a view or policy that is contrary to Navajo law."

The Navajo project was set up in the North West of England to tackle oppression, stigma and prejudice and to promote social well-being and acceptance in society of LGBT people.

The project awards a "Charter Mark" to organisations that promote gay well-being. Over 100 have been awarded, with Blackpool City Council and the local NHS trust among recipients.

The name "Navajo" name for the project was inspired by the Native American tribe where traditionally those whose sexuality included being attracted to their own gender were deemed to have special spiritual powers and were afforded a "unique" place in their society and were admired and honoured for their sexuality.

However, Navajo elders recently voted against allowing same-sex marriages on their lands.

Native American tribes retain a large degree of sovereignty over their affairs, being in effect 'nations' under the protection of the United States government.

Rob's comment
This is an example of a positive stereotype: namely, that Indians in general and Navajos in particular were especially tolerant of nonconformists. Maybe they were, but some of them no longer are. As the article notes, the Navajo have voted against same-sex marriage. Other tribes have done likewise.

Similarly, the Cherokee have voted to expel the black Freedmen, and several gaming tribes have voted to expel members of questionable lineage. Although this is their right, it's not the most charitable of actions. So the assumption that tribes are necessarily tolerant and forgiving is unwarranted.

Buried in the couple's use of the name "Navajo" is the assumption that tribal attitudes are frozen in the past. That the way tribes were is the way they still are. This is a negative stereotype and it comes up all time—e.g., when foreign hobbyists imitate 19th-century Indians but know nothing about today's Indians.

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