Pepper Ann Follow-Up: Why I’m glad I have readers

In Dances with Ignorance, Disney Channel, follow up, oops, Pepper Ann by Adrienne K.9 Comments

Yesterday I posted about an awesome Pepper Ann cartoon that dealt with Peppy “discovering” her Navajo ancestry. Then, some readers pointed out some even cooler things I didn’t notice upon first watch, and some pointed out how I had made some really poor language choices in my write-up, so I’ll get to that too.

1) Pepper Ann’s best friend Milo (the one who identifies as Native Hawaiian) is actually named Milo Kamalani–and in the first 30 seconds of the cartoon, he says “My family can be traced back hundreds of years to the Kanaka Maoli people of the Hawaiian Archipelago.” The writers on this show clearly knew how to do their research! It’s fantastic that there was a contemporary Native Hawaiian character on the show, considering there are officially like zero representations of Native Hawaiians in the media today. I don’t know how much (if at all) his heritage was worked into the show, but I do think it showed some awareness and foresight to give him a Hawaiian name from the get-go.

2) The voices of Dave and Carol (the Navajo Mom and son) were voiced by Cody Lightning and Irene Bedard–They even used Native actors. Cool.

…and here’s the part where I kinda messed up. I got an email in my inbox this morning (edited for punctuation, it was from an ipad):

“Why is it better indian people change their names to “Northern European White names.” And dress in “white clothes.”  We know Indian people don’t walk around in headresses all day and beat drums, but we shouldn’t sell out and conform to the white norm.  You seem proud they have “normal ” names. That’s kind of insulting. So traditional native names are not normal?  I see this totally different–why not be proud of who you are? I am.” 

So she’s referring to my paragraph where I excitedly said: “Look, they’re in normal clothes! And they’re named Dave, Carol, and Bob. The grandpa (not pictured) is named Andy (no sterotypical names!).”

I’ll admit “normal” was probably the exact wrong descriptor. I completely agree with the email too, and I’m clearly not advocating that every Native person shun their traditional name or burn their regalia. I was more excited that it was a contemporary representation of Native people that broke stereotypes and didn’t have the flute music in the background, or a “mystical” element, or a character with a stereotypical name. The whole point of the episode was to point out how ridiculous Pepper Ann looked in her quest to discover her heritage, and the contrast made it that much clearer.

I also liked that the family clearly still had a lot of pride for their culture and a lot of cultural ties (as you can see in all the scenes from their house–pictures of the southwest on the walls, Navajo baskets, a portrait of a Navajo woman in traditional clothing, etc.–Even though they lived in suburbia.

I like when people point out my missteps, I write most of these posts really quickly, so sometimes things come out in the exact opposite way of what I mean. Keep the emails coming! (Unless you’re really mean. Cause that doesn’t help anything. It just hurts my fragile self-esteem.)

But the bottom line is this cartoon is still a great teaching tool, and you should watch it.

Pepper Ann “Dances With Ignorance”: Quality TV for an Indian Appropriator Near You!

Youtube: Pepper Ann “Dances with Ignorance”

(Thanks RJ and “guest”!)
  • Maryklw

    One of the writers of Pepper Ann was the comedian Mo Rocca, fyi in case you know of him.

  • Pheasance

    I understood what you meant, but “normal” should have absolutely been a red flag. It wasn’t for me, either. :( But that’s how we learn. Props to you for the blog in general, for citing a good example among all the bad ones (it’s not your fault the latter far outnumber the former), and for having the courage to cop to your missteps. Maybe a presidential run in 2020? :)

  • Rachel Kantstopdaphunk

    good job listening and responding to criticism. Normal didn’t flag for me either, but I’ve been known to have blind spots, too. :)

  • I think what was also so awesome about the episode was that all of her friends, classmates, and family were appalled by her appropriation. It’s a unanimous condemnation of that kind of behavior (though I wish her mother had said something before the Navajo family came over). The class reaction shots were my favourite.

  • While “normal” should not have been used, I must also take issue with this person’s response to it’s use. They rather ignorantly state:

    “Why is it better indian people change their names to “Northern European White names.” And dress in “white clothes.” We know Indian people don’t walk around in headresses all day and beat drums, but we shouldn’t sell out and conform to the white norm…”

    So any NDN who DOESN’T have a traditional name or doesn’t wear some form of traditional clothing incorporated into their everyday apparel is a sell-out? It’s this kind of thinking that divides NDN Country. Reality is that most of our parents, grandparents, great grandparents (and in some areas even further back) were forcibly assimilated and their names were changed. They weren’t selling out, they were forced. And going from 2-3 generations of non-Native names to suddenly giving your child a traditional name or going back to a lost family name gets you criticized as being a “wanna be” by other Natives.

    Treating each other which such ignorance & prejudice will destroy our culture long before any outside influence can. No, their names shouldn’t have been labeled as “normal” but a non-Native name shouldn’t be labeled as “sell-out” either.

  • Rob

    I got your point about “normal” names. Most Native characters created by non-Natives have names like Grey Wolf, Little Bear, or Moon Flower. Names like Dave, Carol, and Bob are much more common, especially for Navajos. Their last names might be Tso, Chee, or Benally, but their full names are unlikely to be Grey Wolf, Little Bear, or Moon Flower.

  • Jean

    its a good discussion wherever it goes and whomever participates. Thank you for having a site where it can happen.

  • So… on a totally unrelated note, I just discovered your blog through an article on Collector’s Weekly. This is seriously fascinating stuff (even for a non-Native like me). Just wanted to let you know how impressed I am by your writing and your well-thought out opinions – and it’s always nice to meet another Boston blogger. That’s all; carry on. :)

  • Deb

    Cool blog! This is my first visit. I enjoyed the Pepper Ann episode. Thank you for stopping by my site.