Cowboys are problematic

Big CW: This might contain Death, Racism, and Slurs.

I wasn’t sure where to put this really. But since the topic has been brought up specifically because RDR2 is new and fresh in everyone’s mind.

I want to to bring this up to as many people as I can, because I want people to understand where i’m coming from.

I’m a NB PoC, specifically a native american, myself, of the Kiowa and Comanche Tribes. I even have the little card that says it.

I want to talk about hte modern idea of the ‘cowboy’ in society. Its an identity that has been thoroughly white washed and removed of all the PoC in general that were… which is inherently bad in itself, but even more so is what its representative of today.

In society, the cowboy is a white power fantasy. Its about ‘taming the west’ which means…displacing native americans and committing genocide dressed up in historical and cultural heritage. As something to be proud of.

While our own cultures were forcibly removed from us. Our children taken and put into schools and punished for acting anything other than ‘proper’ ie: white, little white kids form the same era were allowed to run around and play “Indians”

The idea of removing us from our homes, overwriting our culture, displacing us, killing us, starving us via destroying our food sources. Its all tied into and represented by the idea of the ‘cowboy’

It and military outfits from that era might as well be the equivalent to an SS officer’s uniform now days to be perfectly honest. Thats not hyperbole, the identity itself represents that. In attitude, in media, in presence. It represents white people moving forward, and manifest destiny in many ways.

The two’s historical relevance have bled into each other and melded. The idea of ‘taming the west’ was done by ‘cowboys’ and not ‘white settlers mostly urged on by the government and the military.’ The two, in modern society and identity are one in the same. The cowboy represents things like the Wounded Knee Massacre.

Speaking of which, while I was growing up, our people are thought of so little, and our history so thoroughly white washed and scrubbed clean. I was taught it was the ‘battle’ of wounded knee. That the natives started it, but the us military finished it, with minimal casualties, and the act was so great so many medals of honor were given out. (That still haven’t been rescinded)

The big question is how do we change this? Do we discard the identity and heritage entirely? Yes, actually, it should be villified and talked about only in a historical and negative context. The idea that cowboys and ‘indians’ was a thing that was played by children should be seen as disgusting and revolting, not something you encourage.

The reason its so culturally ‘accepted’ is because its been ingrained into modern society through various means, to the point its a cultural heritage identity. Through movies, games, books, music. Its a glorification of that time.

There are very few native voices that can actually reach out and actually push back against it, historically, and even in modern days. Plus with our livelihoods on the line, and barely an ability to garner support for ourselves politically. For the longest time we couldn’t even get sports teams to not use our identity for their branding. We can’t prevent the government and organizations from soiling our land, and important sites even now days… how are we to push back against a ‘heritage identity’?

By doing what I’m doing now, or at least trying to, and bringing it to your attention.

Thank you for taking the time to read this, I’ll try and reply to any questions you might have or want to discuss as soon as I can.


It has been wild to see how ingrained the prejudices of native Americans are so baked into our media.

I work in television, and one of the stations I work on shows a lot of action and western movies. I’ve ingested a lot of western films over the years, and there are constant themes I see people try to justify the colonization of the Americas.

For one thing, the ‘Both sides are at fault,’ narrative is in full force throughout every piece of native American related media within western films. It’s especially apparent through the 50s and 60s, where these films were popular. The natives are attack settlers, cowboys ride out and meet them, realize the natives are attacking for justifiable reason, but ALSO white guys have a justifiable reason too! So it’s this back and forth kind of struggle where eventually the white man’s desires win out. It seems like they want to appear aware of what colonization has done to these people, but don’t want to make any kind of attempt to address it.

They also try and spin narratives that there are good and bad natives within these films. Usually the ‘good’ native Americans are wary of ‘the bad ones’ and the big action scene at the end is the white guys slaughtering all the ‘bad ones.’

This framework is so familiar, and I’ve seen it redone over and over throughout western entertainment. It’s the same kind of problem with Disney’s Pocahontas.

I feel like there are stories you can tell about the wild west era, but it is depressing how these films have now set the bar and dictated the conversation and the perspective to favor the white settlers in almost all cases.

I haven’t seen it yet, but I hear a lot of people talking about Bone Tomahawk and how good it is. Though, the way it has been pitched to me… It sounds like Cannibal Holocaust with Native Americans. :\

Even in modern western films, we see this ingrained perspective skew our media.

I think you can tell cowboy stories in the modern era that address these issues of colonialism. I just wish there were film makers, and game makers too, willing to attempt to.


Bone tomahawk is a pretty skillfully crafted movie that is also extremely racist. Looking at the writer-director’s other output (all essentially modern takes on exploitation films, all with PoC villains) and how the production company that puts out his films for is run by an openly pro trump dude whose stated goal is to make “‘populist’ films for the people hollywood forgot” aka hard-right conservatives and white supremacists, its pretty likely that his own beliefs are pretty in line with that. Bone Tomahawk itself is not as extreme as cannibal holocaust –few things are! But its still pretty gross.


Thanks, I’ll give it a look. I wish I could remember the name of another film, but it was set on a Canadian reservation and about a teenage girl dealing with the prejudices and violence of her community there.

Have you seen Wind River by chance? It’s a modern western, set in modern times, about the death of a native American woman out in the wilderness.

I was curious about a native American’s perspective on that film, seeing as how it’s about how bad the conditions are on the Wind River reservation specifically.

I enjoyed the film, but it still has a kind of ‘white savior’ complex with the leads. But it also kind of flips the narrative a bit on the traditional western bad guys, which is admirable.

I’m a white guy, so my perspective is skewed, but I was curious if that film garnered any kind of recognition within native communities.


Bone Tomahawk literally has a Native American character say to its white leads, that the natives they’re about to go after are not like him, they are subhuman or something along those lines. It was at that moment I knew I was going to have a huge problem with Bone Tomahawk.

It’s well crafted for sure, but uh… yikes?


I’ve seen it. Its not the best, and by not the best I mean VERY Y I K E S
I would legit give it a hard pass just for how ugh it is.

1 Like

Fuck Bone Tomahawk. So many people told me that movie was good. Some of the lamest Django and Sartana flicks I’ve ever seen are nuanced compared to Bone Tomahawk. Hell even Cannibal Holocaust, you could stretch and argue stumbles into being subversive* due to how much trouble and behavior in the movie is directly caused or projected by its white characters. Bone Tomahawk just has nothing good going on in it. Like at least Django Kill… If You Live, Shoot! is cynical as hell about how shitty white people and rich people are.

The Daughter of Dawn is worth checking out. It’s mostly a glamorized romance flick but it’s also considered a docudrama as the clothing, props, etc. was actually all the casts’ actual stuff. I believe the film is still actively researched today both for that reason and because there’s several people in the cast that appear to be in their 50s-early 60s, which means they were alive in the 1870s. It’s not available to see on any streaming service IIRC but it did get officially released on DVD and blu-ray and these typically aren’t too expensive.

*Though obviously by accident since after that and Live Like a Cop, Die Like A Man he made the insanely awful Cut and Run a few years later. :stuck_out_tongue:


Daughters of Dawn is just important to see as a piece of heritage culture, to me at least. I intend to see it soon. I think. Its much more deserving to be preserved for posterity in the library of congress’ archives than hecking birth of a nation. (Which is, due to ‘cultural importance’)

1 Like

I actually just went to see The Sisters Brothers this week which is kind of set a little bit later than I think most westerns are set, and it didn’t have any Native American characters in it which is kind of weird considering the time? But this movie was also more about the gold rush and the west coast, so that might explain it? The movie focuses on “wild west” assassins which seem less like cowboys, but the movie is definitely still a western.

I’m a big fan of the book and it also completely erases the indigenous experience, and non-white people in general. The film bothers to cast a POC actor in a major role, which is more that than the book attempts, but that’s not much.

It’s a weird one. Both the movie and the book have a perspective on the west that is closer to what I’d consider to the truth than most other westerns: that the west was a violent, avaricious grab for natural wealth and resources by the already rich and powerful invaders but there’s no denying that the most progressive it gets is in its environmental politics and rejection of the old west myth, which isn’t exactly groundbreaking considering that was what the Leone films were doing back in the 60s.

If you would like to see a bad example of native representation the game GUN:
Spoilers for it, part of the way through the game after scalping (Which you can do, for ‘fun’ it serves no real purpose, to any enemy really.) various natives and other enemies, you’re revealed to be part native yourself, half, apache and thus it was totally okay, and then you go around with a bow and shirtless in the next scene to establish your ‘totally a native’ standing

Its very Y I K E S as a justification for…anything.


I can’t add much and I said this in J_atlas’s other thread, but it really shocks me how a lot people I know talk about cowboys and westerns so uncritically