Interested in a Native American guy or gal? That’s great. Indian dating is on the rise as communities of First People are increasingly accepted and integrated into mainstream society. There’s been an influx of Indian singles into the dating pool.
Native Americans have a long history of being misunderstood, patronized, fetishized, and discriminated against. You can’t undo centuries of cultural denial and appropriation all by yourself. You can, however, be respectful and aware of sensitive issues. Here are seven guidelines to help you avoid offense on your date.
1. DON’T FETISHIZE YOUR DATE
It’s perfectly okay to be attracted to your date and your date’s appearance. It’s not okay to have “red fever” and make your date’s ethnic background the main or only thing that attracts you. Your date is a person, not the instantiation of your expectations about a particular ethnicity. Your date doesn’t have a responsibility to fulfill your fantasy of dating a red-skinned savage – and in fact, your date will surely find any expectation like that offensive. Every person is more than ethnicity. Your date has unique experiences and opinions. Treat your date like a human being, not a fetish.
2. DON’T ASK ABOUT LIFE ON THE REZ
Only about 22 percent of Native Americans live on tribal lands. The rest live in cities and towns, on houses and apartments, on farms and ranches, the same as everyone else. Your date may have unique experiences from growing up as a member of North America’s First Peoples. Your date may choose to share those experiences. Until then, don’t pretend that you know about your date’s background. It may well be just like yours.
3. DON’T BE A KNOW-IT-ALL
Native Americans are totally tired of people who flex their Anthropology 101 muscles and tell them they’re really Asian. Your date isn’t impressed that you know about Mayan pyramids and that you’ve heard of Mississippian culture. At some point, you knowledge could be an asset as you build a relationship. But if you start showing off right after you’ve met, then you’re validating fears that your date isn’t a person but a research project. Your date would probably rather discuss bicycling or movies or video games than anthropological research into Native American culture.
4. DON’T PERPETUATE STEREOTYPES
Members of minority groups have been subjected to generations of stereotypes in books, movies, and TV shows. Depictions of Native Americans focus on the “noble savage” archetype, or the “bloodthirsty warrior.” Native American women are thought to be full of spiritual knowledge, well versed in the healing arts. That’s just Hollywood. If those expectations are part of the reason you are dating a Native American, then do yourselves both a favor and postpone your date until you get a wider, reality-based perspective.
5. AVOID OFFENSIVE LANGUAGE
You may think it’s funny to refer to your date as a “brave” or “squaw.” But it’s not funny – it’s offensive. Those terms have been used to marginalize Native Americans for hundreds of years. Offer your date a drink, not “fire water.” Tell your date hello, not “how.” Your date lives in a house or apartment, not a “wigwam” or “teepee.” Using those terms doesn’t make you clever. It just sets you up to be declined a second date.
6. DON’T REFER TO HISTORIC FIGURES OUT OF CONTEXT
This should go without saying, but unfortunately, too many people refer to their Indian dates as Pocahontas or Sacajawea or Sitting Bull or Squanto. Those names refer to real historical people whose lives have been culturally misappropriated and used as symbols for hundreds of years. Your date has a name. Use it.
7. DON’T MAKE ASSUMPTIONS
Don’t assume that you know your date’s position about oil pipelines that traverse tribal lands. Your date is more than an ethnic background. Many Native Americans have protested pipelines and other projects, but others think America’s need for oil justifies the project. Just as Americans of European descent have different opinions on the issues, so do Native Americans. It’s offensive to believe you know what your date believes based on skin color and ethnic background.
JUST GO AND HAVE FUN
Dating a person of Native American descent doesn’t have to be stressful. Just remember your date is a person, not a Hollywood Indian. Steer clear of Lone Ranger jokes and have a good time. You’ll both be glad you did.