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Friday, September 19, 2008

Last of the Mohicans Movie Letter, 2008 by CFT

Dear Claudia,

What do you think about using the film, The Last of the Mohicans, to educate students? Would you consider this film inappropriate or personally offensive?

George (name changed)


Dear George,

In general, I think almost all resources can be used as a teaching tool, if the appropriate teaching is going on. That would mean stereotypes are being dismantled, critical thinking skills are being applied, omissions are pointed out, misinformation is being addressed, and such.

Having said that, I might give a more specific response depending on the reason a particular resource is chosen. So, why is the movie being shown?

Is it to learn about the Mohicans/Mahicans? (It would be important to connect with the Mohican nation via web or newsletters - obviously interesting since this book/movie is a fictional account about "the last" and the nation still exists, which is an important point to make, see here).

Is it to learn about the time period? (The preceeding events and subsequent events would need to be explained so that kids knew the NA perspective and impact)

Is it to learn about Native Americans of long ago? (It's important to always bring NA's into the present and to realize that this is a fictional account - therefore how accurate can it be?)

Is it to learn about current Native Americans? (The Mohicans left New York and came down to CT, where they split into the Mohegan and Pequot Nations)

Once questions like these are answered, the next question, "Is there a better choice?" arises. If not, then it would be important to discuss the issues I've mentioned.

Off the top of my head, things that come to my mind about this movie are:
  • The stereotype of the "noble savage" which appears in this movie. It would be important to dismantle all the stereotypes.
  • Non Native actors playing Native roles - Why is this? Who has respect in the acting field and who doesn't, how does this relate to the mythology of "playing Indian", etc. Who is making the money by telling the Native story? (NAs or non NAs). These questions go for novels about NAs, as well. Tony Hillerman (non NA) has made more money from one book about the Navajo than every other NA author put together (according to Sherman Alexi, a NA author).
  • It's a fiction. Which means the history, ceremonies, etc. are probably made up. I'm not a Mahican expert, so I couldn't be exactly sure.
There is a critique here.

And this website said: "When James Fenimore Cooper wrote Last of the Mohicans in 1826, he made the Mahican famous. Unfortunately, he also made them extinct in the minds of many people and also confused their name and history with the Mohegan from eastern Connecticut. Unfortunately, this misconception has persisted, and most Americans today would be surprised to learn the Mahican are very much alive and living in Wisconsin under an assumed name ...Stockbridge Indians. With a similar language and name, the Mahican (Mohican) and the Mohegan may have been members of the same tribe before contact. The Mohegan, however, migrated east as part of the Pequot and settled in eastern Connecticut sometime around 1500, while the Mahican stayed in the Hudson Valley. Afterwards, these two tribes followed separate paths.
Although culturally similar to other woodland Algonquin, the Mahican were shaped by their constant warfare with the neighboring Iroquois. Politically, the Mahican were a confederacy of five tribes with as many 40 villages. In keeping with other eastern Algonkin, civil authority was not strong. Mahican villages were governed by hereditary sachems (matrilineal descent) advised by a council of the clan leaders. The Mahican had three clans: bear, wolf, and turtle. However, warfare required a higher degree of organization. A general council of sachems met regularly at their capital of Shodac (east of present-day Albany) to decide important matters affecting the entire confederacy. In times of war, the Mahican council passed its authority to a war chief chosen for his proven ability. For the duration of the conflict, the war leader exercised almost dictatorial power.
Mahican villages were fairly large. Usually consisting of 20 to 30 mid-sized longhouses, they were located on hills and heavily fortified. Large cornfields were located nearby. Agriculture provided most of their diet but was supplemented by game, fish, and wild foods. For reasons of safety, the Mahican did to move to scattered hunting camps during the winter like other Algonquin and usually spent the colder months inside their "castles" (fortified villages). Copper, gotten from the Great Lakes through trade, was used extensively for ornaments and some of their arrowheads. Once they began trade with the Dutch, the Mahican abandoned many of their traditional weapons and quickly became very expert with their new firearms. Contrary to the usual stereotype, most Mahican warriors were deadly marksmen. The mother of the famous Miami chief Little Turtle was a Mahican."
I could say more if I had more specifics about how the movie was being used, but I hope this helps.