Friday, December 12, 2008

Ballad of the Fake-Ass Indian

White folks who claim to be American Indians – for prestige and profit – are a familiar element in American life.

(“The Simpsons” lampooned this phenomenon in an episode called “Little Big Girl,” where Lisa passed herself off as a member of the “Hitachee tribe.”)

Most notoriously, there was the actor Iron Eyes Cody, who shed a famous tear in a 1970s TV ad. Cody claimed to be part Cherokee and part Creek... but a journalist in 1996 exposed him as Espera di Corti, son of Italian immigrants.

And there was Forrest Carter, author of a popular memoir called “The Education of Little Tree.” Mr. Carter claimed to have been raised by his Cherokee grandparents.

In reality, his name was Asa Earl Carter, and he was whiter than white; he was a former Ku Klux Klansman.

Then, in 1999, a new literary voice emerged in the pages of Esquire magazine – Nasdijj, the tragic half-breed son of a Navajo mother, raised on the reservation. Except he wasn’t.

After publishing three books about his life as an Indian, Nasdijj was outed by L.A. Weekly as Tim Barrus, plain ol’ white guy.

And how about this radical-left loudmouth?: “... I am myself of Muscogee and Creek descent on my father’s side, Cherokee on my mother’s.... The truth is, although I’m best known by my colonial name, Ward Churchill, the name I prefer is Kenis, an Ojibwe name bestowed by my wife’s uncle.”

Uhhh... not quite. A 2005 Rocky Mountain News investigation determined that Ward Churchill – a professor of “ethnic studies” – has no Amerindian ancestry whatsoever.

Now we come to a 1960s folksinger named Peter La Farge (pictured right). AllMusic.com describes La Farge as “the first politically aware Native American to attract serious attention” in folk music.

Except he wasn’t Native American.

La Farge purportedly was “an American Indian of the Nargaset tribe”... “raised by members of the Tewa tribe on the Hopi reservation” in New Mexico. Supposedly he got the name “La Farge” when he was adopted by Oliver La Farge, a Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist.

You know where this is going, right?

Music researcher Yuval Taylor (pictured left) last year reported that Peter La Farge is actually Oliver La Farge’s natural-born son, not an American Indian.

Peter wasn’t raised on the rez either. He was raised on his white stepdad’s Colorado ranch.

Let’s take a quick look at the life of lying-ass Pete La Farge. He was a rodeo rider, amateur boxer, Korean War serviceman and stage actor before he decided to focus on music. He became part of the Greenwich Village folk scene, hanging out with Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger and Ramblin’ Jack Elliot.

Signed to Folkways Records, La Farge recorded five albums on Native American themes between 1962 and 1965.

Click here to hear “I’m an Indian, I’m an Alien,” from the album “Peter La Farge on the Warpath.”

Johnny Cash covered one of La Farge’s tunes – “The Ballad of Ira Hayes” – and it was a major hit. Click here to hear it. (It’s about the American Indian Marine who helped raise the flag at Iwo Jima.)

La Farge died in 1965 under mysterious circumstances. Some say it was a stroke, some say a drug overdose, some say suicide. Either way, Peter La Farge is fondly remembered by folk-music aficionados... who still believe he was a real Indian, not a fake Indian.

“Peter was a genuine intellectual,” wrote Johnny Cash in his autobiography, “but he was also very earthy, very proud of his Hopi heritage, and very aware of the wrongs done to his people and other Native Americans. ... [H]is was a voice crying in the wilderness. I felt lucky to be hearing it.”

As Yuval Taylor writes: “Pretending that he was an Indian was absolutely essential to La Farge’s ability to get across his message.”

34 comments:

Woe said...

That's a damn shame, I guess being a pale whale just ain't good enuff for some...

phx said...

When it comes to artists like LaFarge, it doesn't bother me so much. Young artists often lie about their bios. Dylan's bio in the early years was one shameful lie after another. I understood Cash himself used to really exploit the one night he spent in jail to make it sound like he suffered to no end for his time behind bars. Most of these cases it strikes me that they are trying to manufacture and romanticize a past for their image. To me it's a venial sin.
I myself was raised by my mother who was French and my father, who was a satyr.

Michael Fisher said...

Undercoverinjun'men

Anonymous said...

What a shame to white heritage. I love being white. Oh there's nothing like a white woman's skin... milky white breasts and pink nipples and pussy. oh...

Nipsey Muhammad said...

^ You know who agrees with you, whitey? Seal.

Kellybelle said...

^ LOL. From a faux native american to Seal?

Kellybelle said...

I work with a white woman who is on the long journey of finding herself. One year she found she had a miniscule amt of Indian blood. She started whooping at meetings. Loudly. Like putting her hand in front of her mouth and going "Woo-woo-woo-woo!!!!" She'd excuse herself and say it was her indian heritage.

Undercover Black Man said...

^ Oh Lordy...

Anonymous said...

Yes. Tanned white women are so unsexy... I have to wonder what kind of identity crisis they have?

I much rather make love with a nice black woman than a tanning bed bimbo.

Better yet... Milky white with dark black. Oh yes. 2 always better than one and best of both worlds. Yummy!

Never said I didn't like dark chocolate either haha

Anonymous said...

I have a fantasy of meeting a nice dark chocolate woman and our two contrasting skins slapping each other as we make big floppy love. And then my second albino wife comes into the bedroom and I play with both. I like to give black wife mean butt sex while I play with albino peach.

Nipsey Muhammad said...

UBM, you seem to have a roach problem. I recommend boric acid.

bklyn6 said...

Ward Churchill immediately came to mind.

UBM, didn't your girl Margaret B. Jones (Margaret Seltzer) pretend to be part Indian?

I used to think Cher was part Indian, what with her feathered headdress and singing "Half Breed" and all. I don't think she was trying to pass though.

Undercover Black Man said...

^ Right you are about Margaret Seltzer, bklyn6. How could I forget that lying bitch?

Nice Cher link, by the way. Wasn't she cute back in the day?

KeWayne said...

phx said...
I myself was raised by my mother who was French and my father, who was a satyr.
*********

phx, please send a picture...

John B. said...

My half-sister, who grew up in the UK & lives here now, is really into the whole "American Indian Spiritual" thing. She goes to healing ceremonies & pow-wows, the whole nine yards. At least she doesn't pretend to be an Indian herself.

I take it real Indians are rather amused & disgusted by the whole "wannabe" phenomenon (in fact the first time I heard the word "wannabe" it was used by an Indian talking about people like this).

John B. said...

I just read bkln6's comment. I remember when Cher first became a star in 1965 (her full name then was supposedly "Cher LaPierre") along with Sonny, and that was a big part of her "shtick," that she was half Cherokee & half Armenian (the Armenian part I can believe).

Somewhere along the line she dropped the whole Indian thing.

Undercover Black Man said...

^ Say it ain't so, John! Cher was a fake-ass Indian too?

bklyn6 said...

John B. I totally believe the Armenian part. She was the fly in the buttermilk in her family. :p

bklyn6 said...

Sorry, I just saw UBM tv and didn't know where else to post about Cher's "Gypsies, Tramps, and Thieves" video.

Maybe I should've paid more attention to songs like this, "Half Breed" and "Dark Lady." Maybe she was trying to tell us something about identity politics. LOL.

KeWayne said...

John B. said...
I just read bkln6's comment. I remember when Cher first became a star in 1965 (her full name then was supposedly "Cher LaPierre") along with Sonny, and that was a big part of her "shtick," that she was half Cherokee & half Armenian (the Armenian part I can believe).

Somewhere along the line she dropped the whole Indian thing.

*********************
According to Wiki, Cher's mother was part Cherokee.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cher

And there are references to her Cherokee heritage here:

http://www.funtrivia.com/askft/Question63138.html

and here in the NY Times

http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9B0DE1DD133CF93BA25753C1A961948260&sec
=&spon=&pagewanted=2

and numerous other pages as found on Google. I didn't find a single reference to her NOT having Indian blood.

I know it is harder to prove the negative, but just saying you 'read' something somewhere allows people to make statements that are not necessarily true...

If you read it and want to quote or paraphrase it, find it and post the URL's.

Undercover Black Man said...

bklyn6: I don't know about all that, but I really dug those old '70s pop songs that told a story... like "Gypsys," "The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia," "Angie Baby," "Ode to Billy Joe"... even though I couldn't figure out what the stories were about.

Can somebody tell me why that dude jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge?

Invisible Woman said...

great post!

Undercover Black Man said...

^ Thanks, IW.

Undercover Black Man said...

When it comes to artists like LaFarge, it doesn't bother me so much. Young artists often lie about their bios.

phx: I was gonna let your comment pass. But I have to say there's a huge difference between sexing up a few details of one's bio... and lying about an essential fact of one's identity, which identity is at the core of one's songwriting.

A lie on that scale was an insult to the intelligence of La Farge's own audience.

bklyn6 said...

Can somebody tell me why that dude jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge?

I thought he was gay.

Undercover Black Man said...

^ But what was that thing the preacher said he saw the guy and girl throwing off the bridge earlier? A baby?

How could it be a baby, though? Sounds like there's so many people up in this girl's business, she couldn't have gotten away with an unnoticed pregnancy.

bklyn6 said...

I forgot. The gay thing was the Hollywood version of the song. (Remember the movie with Robbie Benson and Glynnis O'Connor?)

Some people thought that Billy Joe was black and that they tossed their biracial baby over the bridge.

I actually love that we really don't know what Bobbie Gentry had in mind. I mean, we're still thinking about the song.

phx said...

And don't forget..."Ballad of Ira Hayes" was a REALLY good song. Mr. Dylan did a soulful cover of it himself (okay, it's generally considered to be his worst album, but neither here nor there).
So we disagree a little about this. But I LOVE ya, dude!
Oh, is this thread over? Anyone left?

Undercover Black Man said...

^ Song would've been just as good without La Farge pretending to be an Indian, right?

phx said...

No question. I think we're really talking maturity level here though.

phx said...

UBM: "^ Song would've been just as good without La Farge pretending to be an Indian, right?"

And of course there is musical researcher Yuval Taylor's answer to that question:

"Pretending that he was an Indian was absolutely essential to LaFarge’s ability to get across his message. In other words, in this case, faking it was the key to making it all seem real."

Undercover Black Man said...

^ I don't think Taylor was endorsing the deceit. He was just explaining what was probably going on in La Farge's mind (at least that's how I took it).

Anonymous said...

None of you will ever know for sure who Peter LaFarge was, and if in fact he was adopted and a NA. Researching on the internet is useless as it is all unresourced hoo-ha, particularly wikipedia. Hell, I'm part Cherokee according to my great grandfather, but I can't prove it and don't care to. What is important is that the man was an important part of American music history and influenced a lot of people. Listen to Townes Van Zandt's version of the Ballad of Ira Hayes. Amazing.

Undercover Black Man said...

Researching on the internet is useless as it is all unresourced hoo-ha, particularly wikipedia.

Being that you commented anonymously, I find it easier than I would otherwise to address you without the proper respect. So listen, fucker...

I didn't cite Wikipedia on the matter of La Farge's lying-ass lies, did I? I cited a reputable music researcher, and his findings are most credible.

And if the man lied about the essential nature of his identity, then that sure as fuck does matter. Especially in the context of a trend of flim-flamming Caucasians who've done likewise.

Thanks for commenting.