In Teen Titans: Earth One, Raven is Navajo … but not really

Last night, the Watson to my Holmes, T Hueston, sent me photos of Navajo Raven from Vol. 1 of Teen Titans: Earth One. The next words out of T’s Skype mouth were:

“Yeah, I mean, I’m not saying that the idea is bad, but they probably should have done more research.”

Teen Earth One

Raven is the startled-looking teen in the background.

 

Well, this made me curious. Let’s be honest, it’s beyond difficult to find Native American protagonists in comics, film, fiction, and TV. We desperately need more representation (for crying out loud, can somebody recommend wendigo anything with Native American protagonists – I’m still looking). But representation alone isn’t enough. For example, when I see an Apache character who is a mismatch of stereotypes, it’s rather awkward and alienating. I asked T, who is Navajo, to elaborate their opinion about Raven. Here’s what T had to say:

“I like the idea of having a Native American superhero who is not defined by their ethnic group, and I am proud to have a Navajo representation in the DC Universe; however, I see [Raven’s character] as a wasted opportunity to explore unique aspects of Navajo culture, as Raven is not presented as a Navajo but rather a generic Native American.

For instance, she is not wearing Navajo jewelry, but rather jewelry from other tribes. Navajos are not like other tribes and do not have specific mythology that focuses on animals, but rather on the Gods or Yei, and specific spirits or figures.

She studies under her shaman grandfather but Navajos do not have shamans, they have medicine men and women, who both have specific jobs they perform (medicine men do more song and stories, and medicine women do more plant-based healing and are knowledgeable about plants).

Beyond that, she does not look like a Navajo. Specifically, [Navajo people] are known for their squash blossom necklaces, hanging turquoise earrings and velvet dresses, and unromanticized round faces and bun hairstyles.

If DC wanted to depict a Navajo, they should have spent some time doing research to make the cultural identity feel authentic, especially to persons with Navajo heritage. Instead [Raven] feels like an attempt to pass off a Native American stereotype under a tribal name that doesn’t belong.”

 

I sincerely hope that DC and other creative platforms include more Native American protagonists in their products. However, it’s important to move beyond stereotypes. We are people with unique, varied histories and complex lives.

Thank you for reading. And thank you, T, for your fantastic contribution to this post!

The Girl Turns West – a few notes about my coming-of-age Apache fantasy in Mirror Dance (Summer 2015)

Girl Turns West

This lovely piece, made by The Exceptional Nick Robles, is a fusion of my mother as a teen and the protagonist in “The Girl Turns West.” Hence the 70s-stylin bell bottoms 😄


“The Girl Turns West,” my short fantasy story inspired by precolonial Mescalero/Lipan/Jicarilla societies, appears in Mirror Dance this summer. Read it here! In this post, I will say a few words about the society and magic of Many Question’s world. If you don’t know who Many Questions is, ahem … click this link and put on your reading glasses (if you need em) 😉

  1. Names have power: Because they reflect a person’s soul, names possess great spiritual power and can be weapons in the wrong hands. Therefore, Many Questions refers to people by their familial/professional titles, even in her thoughts. I don’t know about you, but I tend to do the same. To me, my father is “Dad,” not “Patrick.”
  2. In Many Question’s matrilocal society, family groups are rooted around the grandmother’s line: Many Questions lives in a family group loosely connected to eight other families. The groups travel together and help each other during crises. When a couple is married, the husband joins the wife’s family group; if the marriage splits, the husband leaves.
  3. Question everything: As she becomes an adult, Many Questions realizes that dogmas about evil, spirituality, and what it means to be a woman do not always reflect the truth …

I’m working on a sequel to this story that involves an older Many Questions, her brother, her auntie, and The Storyteller. Here’s its tagline: the old monsters have returned. Muahaha. Seriously, there are lots of wonderfully creepy monsters in Southern Athabaskan lore – I’m itching to have some fun with them.

Thanks for reading! Oh, here’s a pic of my mom as a kiddo – can you see the resemblance with the art above? 😀

Mom