TikTok User Sparks Debate, Calls Out Disneyland for Native American Village
A TikTok user recently posted a video that has sparked some debate online over Native American representation in Disneyland.
User John Barbachano posted this video calling out Disney for seeing his “people put up on display at Disneyland.” The comment section is full of debate from many self-identified Native Americans who are appalled by the idea of their cultural heritage being displayed as an attraction. On the other side of the argument, other self-described Native Americans defended it as a proper depiction of Native American lifeways and welcome representation in the park. One popular comment suggested that Barbachano should switch the audio to a quote from “Euphoria,” which he did.
Disneyland has a complicated history with Native American representation in the park, and this debate is one that stretches back even to the early days of Disneyland’s opening. When the park opened in 1955, it featured an Indian Village area on the outskirts of Frontierland where, according to The Disneyland News, “you can actually meet full-blooded American Indians and hear stories of the Old West.” Native Americans were recruited as performers and consultants to design the land and the programming both at opening in 1955 in a position roughly where the Pirates of the Caribbean entrance would be later located, and then in 1956 when it was relocated further down the river near where Splash Mountain would one day be.
In the Summer, 1957 edition of Disneyland Holiday, it was noted that “One of the founding principles upon which Disneyland was designed was the preservation of our American heritage.” And furthering that, the Indian Village was a way to preserve and share Indian traditions and customs in a way that the many guests at Disneyland could partake in and benefit from. The tepees of the Plains tribes, the long houses of the Iroquois, the art styles of the Southwest tribes, the basketry of California tribes, were all showcased and combined into one amalgam of all Native Americans as a shared cultural heritage. This was met in later years with scorn, as just like in so many roadside attractions and souvenir shops, many Native Americans expressed their distaste that their cultural heritage is being marketed and sold as a gimmick to tourists. Even then, the debate was held between the preservation side and the exploitation side, though with much less communicative power and less input from the community-at-large in the pre-Internet era. And even though the Indian Village of old was filled with live performers and today’s village is filled with figures and animatronics, the heart of the issue remains the same and has only gotten more intense in its discussion over time.
The Indian Village was closed in 1971 to make way for Bear Country (later Critter Country), with the only remnants being the Indian War Canoes, now called the Davy Crockett Explorer Canoes, and the Indian Trading Post, now called The Briar Patch. After 16 years of operation, the Indian Village was closed and the debate largely came to an end. It remains unclear which side of the debate will win in today’s context, though it will likely be a faster denouement than the 16 years the Indian Village took.