The Thing About Skins. Mark Zuckerberg is visiting Native communities. Ledger Painting by Amskapipikuni artist John Isaiah Pepion. Support his work at JohnIsaiahPepion.com

Courtesy and Mark Zuckerberg: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

The Thing About Skins. Mark Zuckerberg is visiting Native communities. Ledger Painting by Amskapipikuni artist John Isaiah Pepion. Support his work at JohnIsaiahPepion.com

Intent v. Impact: Of Mark Zuckerberg, Poverty Porn and Native People

The Thing About Skins by Gyasi Ross: Mark Zuckerberg is visiting Native communities

“There are so much more positive that is happening that the world will not see, because of his images and words.  Many of us are educated and working toward a better future. Hundreds of years of oppression doesn’t disappear in three generations. Our work will not be over long after even we are gone. But we continue to work that better future.”

Kim Boy Aze – Amskapipikuni

Mark Zuckerberg is visiting Native communities.

Last week Mark Zuckerberg, the billionaire founder of Facebook and also the subject of the 2010 movie The Social Network, joined millions and millions of other white people and visited the most beautiful place in the world, the Blackfeet (Amskapipikuni) Homelands. Those homelands include the so-called “Glacier National Park.” Of course, Glacier National Park is a new name for this incredible and glorious place where one can literally see millions and millions (cue: Donald Trump) of years of history.

It’s special. I recommend that every single person in the world (except R. Kelly and/or Donald Trump) experience it at least once in their lives.

Mark Zuckerberg also met with various members of the Amskapikuni, including the elected leaders, to discuss life on the Amskapipikuni Homelands.  That is an admirable thing—this young man, Mark Zuckerberg, is literally one of the wealthiest men in the world. He doesn’t have to do any of this. He could literally seclude himself on his 700 acres on Kauai, eat lychees and fish that he speared like Leonardo DiCaprio in The Island. He really doesn’t have to ever talk to anyone else again and he would still be able to walk into the Democratic Republic of Congo and buy its entire GDP in any particular year.

Seriously. He’s that rich.

He doesn’t have to meet with anyone. He definitely does not need to meet with a group of Natives from a couple of remote communities in Montana. I hear that he’s visited with a couple of other Native communities as well. That’s good that he did that; I think it would be hard to find any bad intent from those actions. In fact, I think one could only find good intent.

50-Must-See-Native-American-Movies-Perfomaces-Cover

Download Today! 50 Must-See Modern Native Films and Performances

Enjoy films for and about real Indians Natives when you download our special free report, 50 Must-See Modern Native Films and Performances!


Likewise, the folks who met with Mark Zuckerberg undoubtedly had good intent and spoke with him in good faith. Mark Zuckerberg is unquestionably one of the greatest storytellers of our time—his creation, Facebook, communicates directly with billions and billions and billions (cue: Donald Trump again) of people every single day. Those Natives he met with told the very real story of how Native communities have been criminally under-invested in, horrifically overlooked, maliciously undervalued and under-resourced.  They talked about how violent crime, as a matter of federal law, goes unpunished on our homelands! All of those things are absolutely true—there is nothing “poverty porn” or exploitative about those things.

Those Native people told a real story and told it compellingly to a man, Mark, who no doubt had good intentions.

But this is where “intent” clashes with “impact” and people who collect those stories, such as Mark, have an obligation to consider the impact of our stories and words and not merely the intent.

I got a first-hand lesson in that important distinction last year when I created a podcast called Breakdances With Wolves: Indigenous Pirate Radio. My intent was to create an inclusive, fun and irreverent take on Native news and culture. But without thinking of the impact of our words, we somehow found ourselves in an area that was funny and irreverent, but also mean-spirited and misogynistic. “Whoa!!  That’s not what I wanted to do!!” We set out with good intentions, but we’re all fallible and flawed human beings. As such, when we don’t see the whole picture sometimes, it’s easy to slip down a road that is hurtful. And in our case, the impact looked completely different than what we set out to do.

Fortunately we were able to right the ship. I’m thankful. We got back to our original intent.  Our show is dope as hell now and hopefully creating many smiles and laughs and thoughtful conversations.

Similarly, I do not think it was Mark Zuckerberg’s intent to bring a poverty porn lens to the Amskapipikuni people specifically, or Native people in general. I also know that Amskapipikuni people would not show us as less than able to conduct our own affairs and be completely self-determinant.  I’m sure there were robust conversations that encapsulated everything from the rich culture, biodiversity and beauty, to the replenishment of the buffalo herds and incredibly successful Blackfeet Community College.

But Mark Zuckerberg is a very wealthy white man. And that’s cool. He seems like a wealthy white man—unlike Donald Trump or Vladimir Putin—who wants to use his wealth and stature and position and privilege to do something good for humankind.  Does he have faults? Absolutely. Like any of us. But I submit that he is, in the grand scheme of things, doing something very positive with his position.

Problem is, sometimes these powerful and wealthy white men, when they take in as much information as Mark did in various Native homelands, they take information without understanding the full context of what’s going on. And that haste—even with good intent—replicates old, false and tired narratives of white saviorism and/or Native, brown and black helplessness and/or Native incompetency.

Make no mistake—Amskapipikuni people, and Native people in general do not need any saviors. There are many amazing Amskapipikuni people doing powerful work and solving problems every single day, just like there are folks within every Native community doing dope work! These warriors include the Southern Piegan Diabetes Program, fighting the very real issues with obesity and diabetes, to the current Tribal Council taking economic development so seriously and paying off casino debt, getting rid of the national chain for the hotel and cashing in on gas revenues.

50-Must-See-Native-American-Movies-Perfomaces-Cover

Download Today! 50 Must-See Modern Native Films and Performances

Enjoy films for and about real Indians Natives when you download our special free report, 50 Must-See Modern Native Films and Performances!


There’s Everett Armstrong and Rae Tall Whiteman-Armstrong and the Ee Kah Ki Maht Program offering a WIDE RANGE of grassroots, loving services.  Of course, there is the Cuts Wood School, a Blackfeet Language Immersion school developed by the legendary Darrell Kipp and continued by his son Darren Kipp.  There’s also Terrance LaFromboise and the Piikani Youth Council cultivating leadership skills amongst the young folks.  There’s Valden Calica and the Glacier Youth Football League going strong. There’s the Northern Winds Recovery Center treating the very real addiction that Mark spoke about.  Unfortunately, he did not show the jobs and careers and CDL licenses that are created because of Bear and Delphine Gallineaux and Bear Traxx Trucking or the Blackfeet for Badger Two Medicine, successfully working to cancel usury natural resources leases that had been doing damage to Amskapipikuni homelands for decades. Lots of amazing stuff happening—all of those things are big deals, Native people controlling our destinies!

And while progress may seem slow sometimes, it is important to keep in mind that it took the United States centuries of exploitation, underinvestment, under-resourcing, abuse, theft, murder and pillaging to create the real issues that exist on the Amskapipikuni homelands.  It will likewise take a little while to get back to a place of complete healthfulness.  But there are many people and programs that are fixing things. These are just a few. We’re getting there.

I don’t think Mark was trying to show poverty porn. Not one bit. But impact matters, just as much as intent. And the truth is that he did not show any of the powerful individuals, institutions above.  That is because of that rich, white man filter.  By only showing the very real pain, it makes us appear as if that is the whole of Native existence. That pain is very real and it is largely caused by the same brutal capitalism that favors wealthy, white men, which Mark Zuckerberg seemed to have mastered. Congratulations. But by only showing the genuine places where success has been fleeting, it ignores the also real places where powerful narratives of victory abounds. Recovery. Community. Survival. Beauty.  And to ignore those parts is dishonest. In order to be honest, he has to show those Natives doing good work in addition to the struggle. Otherwise it’s a half-truth. And a half-truth from a person as with as big a platform and as much power as Mark Zuckerberg equals a whole untruth that will continue to perpetuate hurtful stereotypes and harmful, racist ideology.

It’s not intentional. We know that. But we also know that, irrespective of intent, we have to be really careful. Folks love believing some BS about Natives. We even believe it ourselves sometimes. But what we cannot believe, ever, is that we need someone else to make our communities work for us.

Special thanks to John Isaiah Pepion for the cover art as well as research. 

Gyasi Ross, "Thing About Skins," Editor at Large

Wesley Roach, Skan Photography

Gyasi Ross, “Thing About Skins,” Editor at Large

Gyasi Ross, Editor at Large

Blackfeet Nation/Suquamish Territories
Breakdances With Wolves Podcast, available on Soundcloud, iTunes
https://soundcloud.com/breakdanceswithwolves
Twitter: @BigIndianGyasi
Instagram: BigIndianGyasi

Comments
  • First L.

    Oki saniitapi anook sisikoi niksokoa.
    I think it is a good thing that tribes are getting more attention these days.
    It is my hope that more people like Mark and others will see the great potential in Indian Country.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Credit Card Identification Number

This number is recorded as an additional security precaution.

americanexpress

American Express

4 digit, non-embossed number printed above your account number on the front of your card.
visa

Visa

3-digit, non-embossed number printed on the signature panel on the of the card immediately following the card account number.
mastercard

MasterCard

3-digit, non-embossed number printed on the signature panel on the back of the card.

Enter Your Log In Credentials

Send this to friend

Hi,
I thought you might find this interesting:
Intent v. Impact: Of Mark Zuckerberg, Poverty Porn and Native People

URL: https://indiancountrymedianetwork.com/culture/thing-about-skins/intent-v-impact-mark-zuckerberg-poverty-porn-native-people/