NHS Manager and author Anthony Perry says he is trying to ‘fix something that is wrong’
A member of the Native American community in the UK has spoken out about his reasons for taking issue with a ‘Wild West’ tableau at Blackpool Illuminations.
NHS Manager and author Anthony Perry grew up in Oklahoma, USA and moved to the UK 18 years ago.
He now lives in Exeter with his wife and two children and is a citizen of the Chickasaw nation.
Last week, he wrote to Blackpool councillors regarding a ‘Wild West’ tableau that had been on display at Blackpool Illuminations since the 1960s.
It was discovered by a Canadian friend of his, also a Native American, after going on the Visit Blackpool website to plan a trip. Located just north of the promenade, the lights depict men in war headdresses dancing around a totem pole surrounded by cacti.
In his letter, Anthony expressed that he was dismayed to see stereotypical Native people’s dancing which he feels have long been caricatured, often in the name of ‘honouring’ them.
“Caricatures such as these reinforce racial stereotypes of Native Americans being primitive people who have no place in modern society,” said Anthony.
“There is a long history of attempts to erase our culture, redefine our history and assimilate us with Euro-centric ideals. These attempts continue to this day in North America and abroad. Much of it is so insidious that those who do it don’t even know, and some believe that what they’re doing honours people like me.
“Sometimes, it’s very much treated as ‘these are the ways we’re going to celebrate you so just accept it’.”
In his letter, Anthony referenced the discovery by indigenous peoples across Canada and North America of 751 unmarked graves at Marieval Indian Residential School in June and 251 graves at Kamloops Indian Residential School in May.
Residential schools, he stated, were but one part of the strategy to erase Native American histories and identities.
Many Native families, including Anthony’s, have relatives who stayed in residential schools or know others who did, with several still in operation as recently as the late 1990s.
Anthony added: “Research has shown that caricatures like these have harmed Native youth by lowering self-esteem and increasing depression and rates of self-harm and substance abuse.
“Geographically that particular tableau is all over the place too. You have stereotypes of Native Americans depicted with cacti, which are more associated with the South West, and totem poles which are typically associated with the Pacific North West.
“It’d be like casually putting together Germans, English, the Spanish perhaps with a Celtic cross, it just doesn’t fit right!
“It’s the fact that on Visit Blackpool’s website, this was the main image to advertise Blackpool Illuminations and acted as the ‘draw’.
“It does little to promote Blackpool as a welcoming community.”
There have been constructive discussions with Blackpool Council about options for the tableau, revealing that there is a possibility of future government funding for Blackpool Illuminations.
This may provide the perfect opportunity to have a new tableau that truly represents the culture.
Anthony has suggested that a new light display be created using Native American artists which he knows will do a great job.
He said: “I want to turn this into a positive thing and have something which represents out culture fantastically.
“Frankly, a lot of people in the UK do not know anything about Native Americans and why should they? It is hard enough raising these issues in America!
“But Native people have played a part in British history and close to Blackpool itself.”
“Several warriors from my own tribe passed through nearby Preston with an English regiment in the Jacobite Rebellion in 1745. These caricatures just fail to recognise that we aren’t people of the past; we have endured, despite the odds, we persist and we thrive. We also are among the migrants who have found a home in global Britain.
“This isn’t about being ‘woke’ and I’m not doing it just because I’m bored. Trust me, I have a very busy life! I’m not out to ‘take down’ Blackpool Illuminations or the town either. I’m just trying to fix something that is wrong. For me, this is just about recognising that Native American people are still here. We want to be treated in the same way as black and other minority people with same respect and representation.”
Anthony has written a book called Chula the Fox and others which explores his tribal connections and life for ancestors.