There is a major problem with finding a title to cover the peoples included in this sub-section: there is simply no generally accepted, non-problematic term to describe the indigenous peoples of the Americas. In the USA the government adopted the term ‘Native American’ (‘Alaskan Native’ in Alaska) but the US Census Bureau found that people who identified as indigenous preferred the term ‘American Indian’. The Canadian government has adopted the term ‘First Nations’ but this excludes the Inuit and Métis. In Mexico and South America the preferred expression is ‘Indigenous Peoples’ (pueblos indígenas or povos indígenas) but this is often applied only to the ethnic groups that have maintained their identity and, to a some extent, their original way of life; it thus excludes those of mixed indigenous and European descent – the term mestizo has its own problematics both with its pejorative history and with the fluidity of its meaning. The Wikipedia article on the Native American name controversy is interesting if not ultimately helpful, at least for my purposes.
Whatever, this sub-section features actresses ‘painted down’ to portray indigenous women of the Americas, not just the American Indians so well known from Western movies, but also other indigenous peoples of North and South America (including Maya, Inca and Aztec women) and those of mixed descent (including Métis and mestizo).
Killing the Indian Maiden By M Elise Marubbio examines some aspects of the portrayal of American Indian women in the movies. Marubbio has described the stereotypical roles for native women in the movies as the ‘celluloid princess’, the ‘sexualised maiden’, the hag, and the fat squaw’. ‘Squaw’ is an offensive word to many, I acknowledge, but one which accurately describes the demeaning nature of the character so described.