SNL 40th Anniversary: Mike Myers and Native Imagery

In Uncategorized by Adrienne K.28 Comments

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This week, Saturday Night Live turned 40. The show had an epic 3.5 hour long special episode, with cameos and performances from tons of folks involved during the show’s history. I watched it last night as I was grading papers (meaning I half-watched it), and didn’t expect there to be any Native representations, because there never are (except Fred Armisen’s horribly awkward/stereotypical “Native American Comic Billy Smith” on Weekend Update)*. There were even several jokes about the lack of diversity at SNL–but solely along the lines of Black/White. Never any mention of Natives, of course.

I was excited to see a Wayne’s World sketch, because I am a nerd and use #partytimeexcellent as a personal catchphrase…and then noticed something about Wayne/Mike Myers:

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Obviously, he’s wearing a Chicago Blackhawks Jersey. But notice the blanket he’s sitting on as well…totally “Native inspired.”

It got me thinking (duh). This screenshot pretty much encapsulates what most folks watching SNL think about Native peoples: mascots and artifacts. Both disembodied symbols that have minimal relation to contemporary Native communities or people. Both representing outsiders profiting from and exploiting our images and our cultures for their own economic gain. Both harkening to a very specific period of time in our cultures–back to the 19th century, when the “real Indians” were around. (Not discounting the contemporary Navajo weavers who continue this tradition today, obvs!)

I was guest lecturing for a course on Natives in Film on Friday, and used this info from Stephanie Fryberg’s presentation at the Stanford Native Law Conference I presented at last week to demonstrate just how few Native representations in TV/Film there are today. These numbers are from 1997-2000–honestly, I think the numbers would be lower in 2015, and I don’t think we have any more recent data [Researchers! We need you!]. Seeing these numbers is striking. We can say we have “no” representations, but to see the quantifiable numbers moves it into another realm.

  • In a content analysis of national newspapers in 1997 and major films from 1990-2000, relatively few (.2%) representations of American Indians (AI) were found (Fryberg, 2003)
    • Representations were largely stereotypic and/or negative
    • AI were seldom presented as contemporary people or in contemporary domains (e.g., as students, teachers, doctors)
  • In a composite week of primetime TV in 1997, no AI characters were identified (Mastro & Greenberg, 2000).
  • In a two week composite of primetime TV in 2002, 6 out of 1488 (.4%) TV characters were identified as AI (Mastro & Behm-Morawitz, 2005).
  • In a composite week of TV commercials in 2000, .4% of speaking characters were identified as AI (Mastro & Stern, 2003).

(I’ll put the citations at the end of the post)

So back to the tableau of Myers in a Blackhawks Jersey sitting on an “Indian” Blanket. These things matter. More than 23 million viewers saw this sketch. 23 MILLION. When we don’t have any counter-representations to show us as we actually are, the weight of these small moments adds up. I know most viewers wouldn’t have even thought twice about the problematic nature of this–but that’s why you have me, right? To scream from the rooftops that WE ARE MORE THAN ARTIFACTS AND MASCOTS? These things aren’t “honoring.” They’re demeaning and exploitative. Final answer.

However, I also want share this bit of interesting SNL Native trivia, did you know the percussionist for the house band at SNL is Native?? Her name is Valerie Dee Naranjo, she’s Ute, and she’s awesome. I always look for her peeking out behind the column on the opening monologue, and you can see her in the background during Paul Simon’s performance on this episode. So there is at least ONE positive representation on SNL every week, which is great.

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For the uninitiated: History of the Blackhawks logo (it’s not “honoring,” so shh.):

“The Chicago Blackhawks team logo was created by Irene Castle, wife of team founder and coffee tycoon Major Frederic McLaughlin, in 1926 at the team’s inception into the NHL. McLaughlin chose the ‘Blackhawks’ nickname in recognition of his time as commander with the 333rd Machine Gun Battalion of the 86th Infantry Division during World War I. His Division was nicknamed “Blackhawk Division” after a Native American of the Sauk nation, Chief Black Hawk, who was a prominent figure in the history of Illinois. Throughout the franchise’s history, the logo has undergone minor changes but still closely resembles its original presentation.” (source)

Note: Designed by a white lady, based on her imagination–this is what Chief Blackhawk looked like, and not actually directly named to “honor” Native peoples.

If you still think it might not be offensive, check out what happens when the opposing team gets ahold of it: Thanks for the Severed Head, or how folks dress up to “honor” their team.


Fryberg, S. A. (2003). Really? You don’t look like an American Indian: Social representations and social group identities. Dissertation Abstracts International, 64(1549), 3B.

Mastro, D. E., & Greenberg, B. S. (2000). The portrayal of racial minorities on prime time television. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 44(4), 690-703.

Mastro, D. E., & Behm-Morawitz, E. (2005). Latino representation on primetime television. Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, 82(1), 110-130.

Mastro, D. E., & Stern, S. R. (2003). Representations of race in television commercials: A content analysis of prime-time advertising. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 47(4), 638-647.


  • Jack

    yeahhh a very articulate piece, but seems a little over the top / reaching for something to complain about a tad.

    • TheBoost

      Did you actually drop “you’re very articulate.” She’s a ph.D dude. Do you find Colin Powell very “well spoken” as well?

      What exactly did she articulate so surprisingly clearly that you disagree with?

      • Jack

        Can take a fun SNL sketch that everyone enjoyed and bring it back to mascots and Native representations in TV/Film.

        • TheBoost

          So you think that the only image of native people on TV being racist sports logo is just fine? The REALLY problem is whiny natives?

          Why do uppity minorities need to make their systematic exclusion and dehumanization all about THEM?! What about MY enjoyment of TV?

          • Jack

            I don’t really give a shit, it was just an observation, it ain’t even that serious lol.

            • karen

              tsk. so ugly.

        • aforalpha

          “a fun SNL sketch that everyone enjoyed”

          Wrong. At least one person did not enjoy that sketch.

          The fact that you do not believe the Native woman whose blog you are reading is included in the concept of “everyone” is just further confirmation of the necessity of Dr. K’s work.

          • Jack

            :rolleyes: All I was simply saying is almost everything can be complained about, I’m against Native mascots and all that but jesus christ a SNL sketch now? taking it a tad far.

            AND with that I’m outta here. peace!

  • ukubilly

    I think part of the joke of Wayne’s World is that these are “teenagers” who are trying very hard to be cool. And native imageries in the 90s is supposed to be cool. I’m not defending them…I was uncomfortable that they Myers was wearing that shirt and sitting on that blanket. Maybe pointing out why he was wearing that in the sketch would make things a bit better? I don’t know.

    • Well, Mike Myers is a (fellow) Canadian, and Canada has a huge racism problem vis-a-vis First Nations, Metis and Inuit peoples. Not saying Myers is a conscious racist, but I grew up in Canada, and our history books were devoid of much in the way of positive contributions to Canada made by First Nations peoples, and our television programs and media depictions were chock-full of negative stereotypes that my eyes were only opened to a couple of years ago, thanks to a fellow Ottawa native Ian Campeau (DJ NDN) of A Tribe Called Red.

      There still exists a tremendous racism and open bigotry by Canadians towards First Nations, Inuit and Metis peoples that I am astounded at how I hadn’t noticed when I was growing up, despite having been dedicated to anti-racism causes since I was 16. I mean, I knew a little bit because I once argued with a classmate in high school when the local paper printed a letter to the editor by a well-known West Coast artist of First Nations background who was out at a bar with his friend when the staff kicked them out and called them ‘drunk Natives’ or some such racist comments: my classmate had apparently worked there and claimed his coworkers weren’t racist, and we almost got into a yelling match before our social studies teacher stepped in. 😛 But even then I had so little idea that the racism and bigotry in Canada towards First Nations peoples was so strong and so open in a way that I had never even experienced growing up Asian in Canada: I was really shocked.

      And now I can’t unsee it: it’s in every comments section of every newspaper website that even so much as mentions First Nations, Metis and Inuit peoples, and hardly anyone so much as comments on the racism. I’ll report it on Facebook and it’s rare that it ever gets deleted, and I find it very disturbing. It really puts the overt racism I experienced growing up into perspective, not that I’m comparing oppressions but definitely I can’t even begin to imagine living under that kind of constant racist oppression that I see First Nations, Metis and Inuit people go through every single day in Canada, and it makes me ashamed to call myself a Canadian.

      • ukubilly

        Wow. This really puts everything in perspective! Thank you for your story. I don’t know much about racism in Canada. But as an Asian immigrant in the US, I definitely feel and live racism. It is so much harder for the Natives because of the tremendous pain and baggage they have to carry. After reading your post, I now feel that this choice of shirt/prop was completely wrong. It’s very disappointing indeed. :/

      • Michael Fairney

        Canada doesn’t have a racism problem, it has a drunken indian problem. It also has a problem where it throws money down a hole called the indian affairs department and gets nothing but native dysfunction out of it.
        The average Canadian stopped worrying about natives about 50 years ago. Not a single government policy has worked, from assimilation to self government to reservations — wait…casinos! they have kind of worked.
        My point is that natives have to save themselves. I don’t believe in the evil white man theory of native dysfunction. I don’t even believe that the residential schools are to blame. Assimilation was an honest effort to find a way to integrate natives into the modern world. It may have failed but it was well intentioned. What is the alternative?
        We have to get along. Seething with anger doesn’t help anyone.
        Go ahead, call me a racist if it makes you feel better.
        It won’t change anything.

        • Racists generally don’t care whether people call them on it, since they proudly announce it to the entire world via internet.

        • You

        • Ur, phone. You really need to read up on the Constitution Act which stipulates that all agreements made between First Nations peoples and the Crown (I.e. the British monarchy) before Canada became officially a separate country from Britain, remain valid and in effect even after Canada became a separate nation.

          In fact, to not honour our side of the Treaty obligations signed between our head of state and the First Nations, Met is and Inuit peoples would mean we would have to return all Canadian land back to them, and Canada would no longer be a country.

          Make no mistake: this land called Canada can only exist so long as we pay our rent to the indigenous peoples whose lands they graciously have chosen to share with us in peace, in exchange for certain, very modest items and aid in return.

          Failure to pay rent means we have no valid claim legally to use, develop or even live on the lands we call Canada.

          First Nations, Inuit and Met is peoples are not necessarily Canadians (although many maintain a dual citizenship) and are sovereign peoples in their own right. It is Canada that still owes the massive back rent, so what we pay them is not charity, it is our legal obligation to pay what we agreed to when this country was formed.

          It is so written in the highest laws of our land. First Nation, Inuit and Met is peoples have zero legal obligation to assimilate because they and we are on their lands, and we are the ones in arrears.

          • Michael Fairney

            you may well be right, but taking the legalistic view makes no difference in the day to day life of most natives. they still have deal with the modern world.
            I was talking about the sources of native dysfunction.
            alcoholism is a major issue.
            So is failing to take responsibility and dealing with reality.
            Native success stories are what I want to hear about, not grievances especially about petty matters like so-called appropriation.
            hating the white man gets you nowhere.
            Sorry to use the phrase “drunken indian” by the way, but its worth it to get people’s attention, not to mention the fact that it is an accurate observation.
            I’ll get reading up on native treaty issues though and get back to you.

            • Appropriation isn’t ‘petty’, it has been scientifically proven as having a severely deleterious impact on the physical and mental health of indigenous peoples of North America and inarguably serve to perpetuate the negative views of Native peoples that create the kind of issues of low self-esteem which are disproportionately affect tibg certain Native populations:

              Home // Public Interest Directorate // Office of Ethnic Minority Affairs // OEMA Resources and Publications // American Indian MascotsEMAILPRINT
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              Summary of the APA Resolution Recommending Retirement of American Indian Mascots
              “The use of American Indian mascots as symbols in schools and university athletic programs is particularly troubling because schools are places of learning. These mascots are teaching stereotypical, misleading and too often, insulting images of American Indians. These negative lessons are not just affecting American Indian students; they are sending the wrong message to all students.”
              – Former APA President Ronald F. Levant, EdD

              – from the American Psychological Association’s website

              • Michael Fairney

                I disagree with the appropriation premise in the first place- in my view there is no ownership in cultural symbols or musical styles- It’s more about intellectual freedom

                playing with symbols and styles is part of the artistic tradition . You can’t legislate against that anyway. And sorry if that upsets you you are way too sensitive for my tastes.

                • Everyday Feminism wrote an excellent article about the difference between cultural exchange and cultural appropriation (technically cultural misappropriation): the former is respectful and understands the context in which culturally significant symbols, customs, etc. developed, while the latter is all about exploitation and having a sense of self-entitlement to steal from other, so-called “inferior”, “savage” cultures, simultaneously denigrating a foreign, often colonized culture, while entirely without any sense of irony, seeking to steal from that culture.

                  “One of the reasons that cultural appropriation is a hard concept to grasp for so many is that Westerners are used to pressing their own culture onto others and taking what they want in return.

                  We tend to think of this as cultural exchange when really, it’s no more an exchange than pressuring your neighbors to adopt your ideals while stealing their family heirlooms.

                  True cultural exchange is not the process of ‘Here’s my culture, I’ll have some of yours’ that we sometimes think it is. It’s something that should be mutual.”

                  – ttp://

  • Frank Turrentine

    The entire Wayne’s World idea is a satire on that suburban, white culture, so mis-appropriation of native imagery is kinda part’n parcel of that, I would think. Maybe the problem is you see it as a celebration. Perhaps if it really is then there is something of a problem with it, but I always thought the humor hinged on the fact that we all know they’re idiots. I never thought it was all that funny, to be honest.

    • Michael Fairney

      mike myers is not appropriating native culture, he’s wearing a shirt of a hockey team he likes- the team used that image a long time ago, very much to honour the fierceness of the blackhawks and create an image of that fierceness for its team.
      Now, the thing is, you talk about appropriation as if there is ownership in the image or the blackhawk name. That is a legal question. If you are a blackhawk, go register the name and then sue the team.
      but I don’t think cultural symbols can be registered, so I would just accept that the use of the name is a compliment, not a dis.
      I’m not quite sure why that does not register with natives.
      The other thing is, what do people really think the “White man” was going to do when he got to north america and discovered there was a group of people who were technologically about a thousand years behind him? turn around and go back to europe?
      of course not. it’s silly to even imagine that. It was a time when conquest of one nation over another was the game. Nobody apologized for winning wars back then.
      The natives lost because they were weaker in every way. Being a sore loser now and giving everyone a guilt trip achieves nothing and just makes you look even weaker.
      Forget the past and move on.
      or wallow, that’s your choice.
      And playing the game of who’s on TV is the most pathetic one of all. if you want to make a tv show, go make one.

      • Frank Turrentine

        not sure how that’s a reply to my comment except in the most tenuous way, but okay

  • Re: Natives in film, here’s a casting call for the new Adam Sandler movie to be filmed in New Mexico: It reads: “…and lots and lots of NATIVE AMERICAN men, women and children for a western. She will need a lot of Native men with long hair!” So, (snark warning) Adam Sandler is singlehandedly changing the tide.

  • karen

    I always assume the wearer knows and is making their ignorant Manifest Destiny point. Krantzstone is right: The level of racism directed toward Indigenous Peoples in Canada is immense. I read Mike Meyers sitting in and on these items his way — and Lorne Michael’s (another proud Canadian) way — of inserting their middle finger into the conversation on race. It is constant, it is endemic.

    I too was disappointed. I grew up singing the Hoser Anthem, which was thought to be a great piece of comedy that represented the “great white north” in all of its hilarity. These were the guys in the basement of their parents house with a camcorder back in the day. White writers, performers and comedians are killing their own markets off with their deliberate entrenchment in white supremacy.

  • Rob Schmidt
  • Poppaea Sabina

    Those statistics are dire. Certainly this whole train of thought should be kept in reserve in case the rumoured/feared Wayne’s World 3 ever emerges…

    I second Adrienne K’s reading above, about reader/audience reception. I’m loath to reference the “conversation” below, but I don’t think it is safe to interpret Wayne’s wearing of the jersey as either virtuous satire of white Canadian culture or an indication of Mike Myers’s own sports preferences. The second is certainly false: he’s an obsessive Toronto Maple Leaf fan. (With a sideline in matters Liverpool FC-related).

    If there is any authorial intent here, I suspect it was an in-joke: I remember reading he met his ex-wife at a Chicago B–ks game. That was before he was on SNL. But who cares? Why shouldn’t he be asked to justify it all [read: find a new costume for his character]?