Pepper Ann "Dances with Ignorance": Quality TV for an Indian Appropriator Near You!

In Apparently Disney can properly represent Indians, Dances with Ignorance, Disney Channel, Must see TV, Pepper Ann, stereotyping 101 by Adrienne K.7 Comments

I spotted this video on My Culture is Not a Trend last night, and had to share. Pepper Ann is/was(?) a cartoon on the Disney Channel, featuring a super awkward, kinda oblivious, but nearly always endearing main character, Pepper Ann. I had flashbacks to the theme song when I started watching this…Pepper Ann, Pepper Ann, she’s much too cool for 7th grade…no one’s greater than Pepper Ann! She’s her own biggest fan, Pepper Ann!…But I digress.

This quick episode (only 11 minutes! watch it!) features the exact same plot as Running Zack, the episode of Saved By the Bell when Zack discovers his “Indian” heritage, but this one is much more well done.

Quick synopsis: teacher tells the class they’re doing heritage reports, Pepper Ann decides all of her European ancestry is “boring” and then her Dad informs her she’s actually 1/16 Navajo, and gives her a concho belt that belonged to her ancestor. Pepper Ann then gets super excited, relying on every stereotype possible to represent her new “Indianness”–war whooping, crying a single tear for littering, putting her brother in a cradle board, beating “war drums”, etc. The whole time her friends are telling her she’s being offensive and wrong, but she’s too caught up in her ficticious identity to care.

Then she invites a “real” Navajo family over for dinner, she makes a complete fool out of herself in a plains Indian costume, building a tipi out of bed sheets, making smoke signals, suggesting they do a rain dance. The family gets offended and leaves, and later Pepper Ann eventually goes to apologize, learns the truth about Navajos, and gives a culturally correct and sensitive classroom presentation. I’m not really doing it justice. You should watch it.

Here’s the Navajo family:

Look, they’re in normal clothes! And they’re named Dave, Carol, and Bob. The grandpa (not pictured) is named Andy (no sterotypical names!). The whole episode is pretty awesome and spot on. Clearly the writers actually talked to some Navajos (what a novel idea). And I love that Pepper Ann’s friends are totally informed about cultural sensitivity and the proper way to represent–and her friend is also Native Hawaiian, which is cool. At one point he says “I’m Native Hawaiian, but I don’t walk around in a grass skirt and dance the hula everyday.” Sounds like we should be friends.

And here’s the moral of the story, after the Navajos leave:

Pepper Ann: What happened? I thought I was just learning about my background!
Moose: That’s just it, Peppy. You weren’t interested in learning anything. They barely got to talk.
Pepper Ann: All I wanted to do was show them how much I knew about our culture from stuff I picked up on TV, and in the movies, and in comic books…
Mom: Yes, but that’s what stereotyping is, Peppy. Even when it’s done with the best of intentions. You can’t believe things about any group of people without getting to know them first!

Cue the sappy music. Anyway, watch it. You’ll be glad you did. I think every person who’s been dressing up as an Indian and uses the “honoring” argument should be forced to watch it, or every person who thinks discovering an Indian ancestor means they can walk around in full buckskin and feathers.

Youtube: Pepper Ann “Dances with Ignorance”

(Thanks adailyriot!)
  • Layla Deene

    How awesome is this?!?! Pepper Ann was one of my favorites when I was a teenager (still waiting for it to come out on DVD)! Nice find, whoever found it!!!!

  • Tafvtahdooahnippah

    wow! this helps restore my faith in humans.

  • C. D. Leavitt

    Absolutely fantastic! The more subtle aspects (her dismissing her “boring” European heritage and seeking out something “exotic” with which to identify herself) might be lost on kids, but the central problem with her behavior would have to come through loud and clear.

  • guest

    They even had Irene Bedard as the mom and Cody Lightning as Dave!

  • Rachel Kantstopdaphunk

    that’s pretty righteous for a cartoon. I’ve never heard of this toon, so maybe its after my time? But the setup is super dope, and it sounds like the payoff is even better.

  • Tecpaocelotl Castillo

    I haven’t seen this episode in a long time.

  • There are a few incorrect statements or statements that could’ve been more specific, however overall the video is awesome! (e.g. The number of federally recognized tribes, the military branch with whom the Navajo Code Talkers are affiliated, the specific Algonquin tribe who celebrated the first Thanksgiving, etc.).