Module 3: The Pocahontas Paradox

In this article Cornel Pewewardy a member of the Comanche-Kiowa, Oklahoma, points out the many stereotypes promulgated in the movie Pocahontas.  The Hollywood movie portrays Pocahontas whose real name was Matowa (1595-1617), as a demure princess, deeply committed to the white man.  The legendary woman, however, is viewed by Native Americans as a sell-out, a traitor, who supported the invading settlers.  The reality, Pewewardy points out, is that Matowa was a politically important person who often served as an interpreter for both the Native Americans and the settlers.  She was kidnapped by the British, forced to convert to Christianity and later married John Rolfe, a British Colonist.  She traveled with her husband to England where she met King James I, but later died and was buried in England, far from her native home.

Pewewardy points out that when schools do not affirm identity of Indigenous students, these students adopt the negative identities of the dominant culture:  drinking, carousing, using drugs.  They do this because they do not want to be viewed as trying to be white, or middle class.  But, by engaging in these activities, their tribes view them as abandoning their heritage and the struggles of their people, and joining the enemy.  Although the movie portrays a sanitized view of Indians, it does show a defiant side of them, which was highly unrealistic for the period in which the movie is set.  Matowa is depicted disobeying her father’s orders and setting out to visit Captain John Smith in secret.  The movie makes little reference to the racism, deceit, and greed that characterizes the relationship between Native Americans and European settlers.

The movie features a song called, “Savages, Savages” which Hollywood had hoped would neutralize the effects of overt racism of previous centuries.  Unfortunately it has had the opposite effect because Native Indians take offense at the song, and it causes Indigenous children a great deal of distress when their school mates poke fun at them by singing the song.


Peweward, C. (1996/97).  The Pocahontas Paradox:  A cautionary tale for educators.  Retrieved from


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