The Rise of Indigenous Women: Rejecting Pocahontas

With the prevelance of stereotyping underrepresented groups of people so prevalent in the media, the term “Indigenous woman” may automatically conjure up mystical childhood memories of Pocahontas. Yet, the Disney character of Pocahontas is a far cry from who Indigenous women truly are. In the First Mondays Event series of Block 6, comedian and member of the Kiowa and Apache Tribes Adrianne Chalepah defined the term “Indigenous woman” and the implications of the reductionist approach in popular culture. 

Chalepah’s talk was interwoven with bouts of comedic relief as she addressed the controversial topics of stereotypes and Indigenous Peoples. Her goal was to “keep it light,” while also explaining to the audience issues they likely hadn’t experienced firsthand.

Photo By Alli Moon

Chalepah opened with an explanation for choosing the title of her presentaton, “Rise of Indigenous Women.” She recounted her childhood in Anadarko, Okla., and shared her desire as a young girl to escape her hometown and see the world. Chalepah believed “rising” from her hometown allowed her to understand for the first time how rapidly the world is changing and growing.

One major aspect of growth for the 21st century is that the world is giving a voice to “people who did not have a voice before.” Chalepah expounded upon this statement by giving an example of the two Indigenous women who were elected to Congress in November: Deb Haaland and Sharice Davids. 

Chalepah declared that “one type” of Indigenous woman does not exist. For example, she explained how Davids, as an MMA fighter and a member of the LGBTQ+ community, breaks all the stereotypes of the “mystical Pocahontas” Indigenous woman. 

“I finally felt like my vote kind of mattered,” said Chalepah, in regards to the election of Haaland and Davis. She asserted that it is only fitting for Indigenous Peoples to have a position and voice in the government that stole their land in the first place.

“[It is necessary] to diversify the voices [in national leadership],” Chalepah said. “[Underrepresented groups of people] need to be provided a seat at the table.” 

With 573 federally recognized tribes in the U.S., there is no possible way to define “the” Indigenous woman. Every Indigenous woman embodies different cultures, upbringings, and values. At the end of the day, “Indigenous women just want to be humanized,” said Chalepah. 

This means rejecting the Pocahontas stereotype and embracing the fact that Indigenous women are diverse, capable, and accomplished people.

When asked about the possibility of her subject matter offending others, Chalepah responded that she always strives to maintain one central topic in her comedy and speaking engagements: herself. Because there is not “one type” of Indigenous woman, anything that Chalepah mentions or jokes about should simply enhance the diversity of Indigenous women.

Chalepah mentioned how leaving the lecture, the audience shouldn’t envision her to be indicative of all  Indigenous women; there is no way to distill that identity down to a single figurehead. Chalepah also stressed her commitment to political correctness and dialogue with whomever might find offense in her comedy or speech. She further answered how political correctness is not ruining comedy, but that the goal also shouldn’t be to infuriate your audience. 

Chalepah is a proud mother of four children,  a published author, a founder of the comedy group “Ladies of Native Comedy,” a feature in the Netflix show “Larry Charles’ Dangerous World of Comedy” and regularly performs stand-up comedy. 

Despite the serious matter of the content, Chalepah was able to connect with the audience in a way only achievable through comedy. Following the presentation, on Tuesday, Feb. 19 in the Fine Arts Center, Chalepah performed stand-up comedy for the Colorado Springs community. The show was sold out.

Ellen Loucks

Ellen Loucks

Ellen Loucks, class of 2021, is majoring in the humanities. She is from Champaign, IL, and is passionate about delivering authentic and reliable news to readers. She intends to pursue a career in writing following college.

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