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Tipis and Totem Poles

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I'd like to live in a wigwam and dance 'round the totem pole...


Indigenous peoples in the Americas are a diverse group, from hunter-gatherers to massive civilizations.

In fiction, though, they're all the same: Essentially, like summer camps. Much like Culture Chop Suey and Spexico, Hollywood Geography strikes again. Note that other indigenous groups may be portrayed this exact same way.

The trope name comes from two particularly common tropes of this: Plains and Interior Northwest Indian tipis, and Pacific Northwest Coast totem poles. The two are socially organized quite differently; also, the Great Plains tend to be drier than The Other Rainforest.

Not only is the combination of Tipis and Totem Poles culturally incorrect, it also just plain doesn't make any sense. The whole point of tipis is that they are easy to put up and take down, useful for people who are on the move, hence a settlement full of them is likely a camp. Whereas you only put up a totem pole if you're planning on staying in one place.

A subtrope of Injun Country. Also see Braids, Beads and Buckskins, Hollywood Natives and Magical Native American, which are often found in this setting. Tonto Talk is likely to be heard. Also compare Mayincatec, which is basically this trope applied to the indigenous groups of the Americas south of the Rio Grande. Compare Interchangeable Asian Cultures, Africa Is a Country, Latino Is Brown, All Muslims Are Arab, and All Jews Are Ashkenazi for other examples of diverse and complex groups being reduced to a single homogenous mix.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Gigantor featured some aborigines treated in this way. Even worse when you consider that this was set in the twentieth century or later.
  • Shaman King has the Patch tribe, supposedly from the Southwest. They live in pueblos...and Silva's final attack resembles a totem pole.

    Comic Books 
  • Asterix: In Asterix and the Great Crossing, Asterix and Obelix accidently end up in America. They are implied to have landed near the modern day location of New York City (the fact that Asterix's signal to the Vikings pays homage to the Statue of Liberty indicates that he and Obelix landed on Liberty Island after fleeing the native village). So why the local indigenous people live in tipis (generally only used by Great Plains tribes) and build totem poles (an artistic medium specific to tribes of the Pacific Northwest) is anyone's guess.
  • This is actually adressed in the Douwe Dabbert album "The Masked Chieftain": when Douwe, Pief and Domoli visit the tipi-inhabiting tribe where Kijfje is staying, they discover that they have a totem pole. Yellow Fang points out that usually only northern tribes have totem poles, but that Kijfje (who is Dutch) felt that the tribe needed to have one.
  • Lucky Luke: Just about every Indian tribe lives in tipis and ties prisoners to totem poles, a result of the series being influenced by American Westerns. Later stories have the Indians break out of the stereotypes somewhat (such as one tribe selling General Custer's authentic saddle blanket to tourists), but the tipis and totem poles stay.
  • Tomahawk is set in the original 13 colonies during the American War of Independence, yet many of the tribes shown have totem poles, a Pacific West Coast tradition.

    Fan Works 
  • Peter Pan's usage of this is explained in Destiny's Kiss. Tiger Lily was sent to a Native American boarding school and doesn't know much about even her tribe's culture. In her Dying Dream, she mixes up elements of different tribes because she doesn't know any better.

    Film — Animated 
  • Asterix Conquers America is a loose adaptation of Asterix and the Great Crossing. It still stereotypes Natives the same way as the comic book, and adds an evil shaman as antagonist.
  • Peter Pan, and how! The Indians are made to resemble clichéd stereotypes of Native Americans prevalent in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and literally have both tipis and totem poles, as seen in the page image. They also sing a song called "What Made the Red Man Red," which uses terms such as "red man" (naturally), "squaw" (a sexualized slur against Indigenous women), and "Injun."

    Film — Live Action 
  • In Go West (1940), the group stays for the night at a Native American village, bunking in tipis and a totem pole that conspicuously looks like Groucho Marx.
  • In the Land of the Head Hunters was directed by a Real Life ethnographer of Native Americans named Edward Curtis, and his film is an interesting mixture of truth and fiction. Curtis filmed and used authentic footage of the Kwakwaka'wakw people of coastal British Columbia—their potlach ritual, their dances, their clothes, their villages. But he invented the whole head-hunting business to spice up the story, and he also threw in a whale hunt despite the fact that the Kwakwaka'wakw did not engage in whaling.
  • Subverted in Cannibal! The Musical, in which the prospecting group stumbles upon a group of what are clearly Japanese people masquerading as Native Americans. The supposed chief points to their tipis, some of them made with Japanese flags, as proof of their authenticity as Native Americans.

  • Referenced in The Indian in the Cupboard. Omri assumes Little Bear lives in a teepee, but he's an Iroquois (who are from the East Coast, not the Great Plains) and actually lives in a longhouse. He ends up living in Omri's toy teepee because that's all he has at the moment. Later on, he builds his own longhouse. There's also a bit where he's offered a horse to ride, which he turns down, because again, that's a Plains Nations thing. Iroquois walk.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers: Angel Grove is in California. In Tommy's part of the Zeo Crystal arc, he's living among plains Indians, who are implied to be his ancestors, something explicitly confirmed in another episode, when one of them, from a reservation just outside Angel Grove, is his brother. There's even an arrowhead to contain some Eldritch Abomination.

    Video Games 
  • Mortal Kombat's Nightwolf has been Hopi (in the film) and Lakota (in the games), has had Braids, Beads and Buckskins, and has had a number of stereotypical powers that, if not autochthonous to Western stereotypes, are based on one culture or another. In the cartoon, he has a wolf named Kiva.
  • Myths Of The World Spirit Wolf: The "Center for Native Cultures" is in the middle of a desert (and despite the plural, is presented as showing the history of a single tribe), with prominent totem poles and a palisade around the "village" that's either Wild West movie fort or Woodlands note  tribal. The hint button is a Plains eagle-feather bonnet. To be fair, Eipix Entertainment is a Serbian company, so they're probably getting their information on Native Americans from Hollywood.
  • Warcraft III: The Tauren are plains-dwelling minotaurs with a shamanistic culture... whose dedicated structure is a big totem. The tipi is the Horde's spellcaster production building.

    Western Animation 
  • Although the Water Tribe of Avatar: The Last Airbender (which is largely based on the Inuit) generally avoids the stereotypes associated with indigenous peoples, the capital of the Northern Water Tribe has totems made of ice, with some Asian influence.

    Real Life 
  • In modern times, native North American groups who live far apart have sometimes borrowed aspects of culture from each other—including totem poles. One was carved by an Algonquin elder from 2013-2015 and raised by his community in Ontario's Algonquin Provincial Park.

Mitakuye oyasin.