Not Your Pocahontas: How Stereotypes Affect Native American Women

Updated on June 29, 2017
Bethany Stoller profile image

Bethany is a freelance writer with an interest in health and cultural issues. She is a member of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma.

Pocahontas, Tiger Lily, the Washington Redskins, Tonto, the Chicago Blackhawks: What do all of these have in common? They are all mainstream, highly visible representations of Native Americans. Not only that, but they are also inaccurate, stereotypical, and offensive to many. The tribal nations in the United States are currently experiencing massive population growth, meaning that thousands of young natives are preparing to step into leadership both in their tribes and in society at large. The identities of these young native people continue to be affected by mainstream depictions of Native Americans. In this article, I want to discuss the specific case of Native Women and how they are affected by the biggest native archetype in Hollywood: The Indian Princess.

Pocahontas is an example of the Indian Princess trope.
Pocahontas is an example of the Indian Princess trope. | Source

The Mythical "Indian Princess"

The Indian Princess is a young, beautiful, native woman who is noble, aloof, and ultimately sacrifices herself to save a white man. Sound familiar? It should. Take Pocahontas, the chieftain's daughter who, in the Disney movie, runs around the forest with her animal friends until she falls in love with a white man and offers to lay down her life to save his. She fits perfectly into the Indian Princess stereotype. Another example is Tiger Lily, from Peter Pan, who offers to sacrifice herself to save Peter. These are only two popular examples. Indian Princesses can be found in most Hollywood films featuring native characters–as well as in the aisles of most costume stores.

So are all native women in the media Indian Princesses? No, some are labelled as “squaws.” The exact origins of the term “squaw” are unknown, but it is today considered a racial slur directed at native women. However, it is also the term assigned to the other predominating stereotype of Native American women. Squaws are the opposite of Indian Princess. They are fat, ugly, dark-skinned, loud-mouthed, and bossy. In Peter Pan, there’s even a character named Squaw who typifies this stereotype. These are the women who won’t cooperate, who don’t offer to save white men. They often end up displaced or defeated, perhaps illustrating a painful historical reality.

Tiger Lily is another example of an Indian Princess.
Tiger Lily is another example of an Indian Princess. | Source

So What?

This is all well and good, but what is the point of talking about it? Native women are affected by these stereotypes. Speaking as a native woman myself, we are told that we must be beautiful and self-sacrificing or we can suffer the consequences. That hasn’t been good for us as a group. I think that we all need to talk about the representation of women of color in the media. I’ve been talking about Native American women, but similar problems affect black women and Asian women. Ultimately, we are in the driver’s seat on this issue. We can demand more nuanced roles for women. The lack of research and discussion on this topic is telling, but we can turn the tide by starting a conversation.

For further reading on this subject, I recommend Leigh Edward's "The United Colors of Pocahontas" and Mary Couzelis' “Generic Pocahontas: Reinforcing and Subverting the Whiteness of Mythohistory.”

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • wrenchBiscuit profile image

      Ronnie wrenchBiscuit 

      3 years ago

      Stereotypes abound. But what we are witnessing are the results of 500 years of genocidal policies by the Colonialist European Invaders. The goal was either to slaughter us or to colonize our minds and assimilate us into European culture. The ignorance of the average American coupled with a low IQ has created barriers to positive change, not only in the white community, but also among the Indigenous as well.

      To illustrate how ignorant these people are, I recently engaged in a debate with a white American on Hubpages about the death of Otto Warmbier. My assessment of that tragic story is not unusual. Otto was as much a victim of white privilege as he was of the North Korean government. I would bet that he never studied the history of the Korean War, and that he was not aware that nearly 2 million innocent North Korean civilians were murdered by U.S. forces during the war. Had he been fully aware, the chances are he would have never went to North Korea. But like many white Americans he was blinded by white privilege. Now he is dead because of it. However, as to be expected, the original author accused me of hating all white people simply for expressing my opinion. And this is what invariably happens in such discussions. And when I inform them that I am biracial it still doesn't break their stride. In their little Archie Bunker world they can't seem to grasp the notion that there are many mixed race people, and whites, who don't subscribe to Manifest Destiny. And so, they prefer to make it an issue of "Us and Them", when in truth it has always been a matter of wrong and right.

      White privilege also leads many Americans to embrace stereotypical native mascots for sports teams. In their limited perception they see nothing wrong with it whatsoever. But their ignorance is legendary. They are unaware of the high percentage of Indigenous women who are raped and sexually abused by whites each year. And they are also unaware that disproportionately, miscreant cops kill more Indigenous than they do either blacks or whites. But these facts are not front page news.

      There is little discussion on the topic because the average American simply does not care. And these are the progeny of generations who haven't cared for over 500 years! But there is a good reason for this. These issues cannot be discussed in depth without exposing the seedy underbelly of America. The ugly truth of Manifest Destiny simply doesn't fit with the American Dream of Pollyanna, nor the grotesque myth of the Powhatan woman many refer to as Pocahontas.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)