Neil Young loves Canada’s Indians. After all, he wears a fringed leather jacket and just finished a concert tour telling Canadians to “Honour the Treaties,” even though he couldn’t point out how we’re not.
But at least he’s got that leather jacket. Has since the ’60s. He explained it in one rock biography:
There I was making 120 bucks a week at the Whisky as a musician. . I’ve always liked fringe jackets. I went out and bought one right away with some pants and a turtleneck shirt. Oh yeah, I thought I was heavy. I wore them on some TV shows and whenever we worked. Then I went to this place on Santa Monica Boulevard near La Cienega. I saw this great Comanche war shirt, the best jacket I’ve ever seen. I had two more made. The group was Western, the name Buffalo Springfield came off a tractor, so it all fit. I was the Indian. That’s when it was cool to be an Indian.
So he was in California playacting to be an Indian. To make some cash.
His Indian-sounding band name was just the brand of a tractor, like John Deere.
Soon Young was appearing on stage with giant wooden Indians as theatrical props. Not totem poles – no real Aboriginal artifacts. A white caricature of Indians.
That wooden Indian thing became an obsession for him. In 1982, Young released a psychedelic movie called Human Highway . It was awful and it bombed in theatres. Young played an amateur musician, who had wooden Indians as back-up singers.
And then, in the movie, the wooden Indian singers were torched. That’s weird. But what’s even weirder is that Young actually did that in real life too. From another rock biography:
“.the cast and crew communed with the local Indian tribe. We lived right with the Indians,” said bus driver Paul Williamson. “This guy Carpio, it was my job to take him home. We were f—d up, partyin’ for days . . . . Neil said, ‘Take the Indian home.’ I get in the middle of this reservation. I was like ‘F–, when are the arrows comin’?”
Things grew extra tense one day when Young decided to film an obtuse scene that involved the burning of. a few of Young’s wooden Indians. It was a bizarre event. “Neil burnt his Indians.” said Hopper. “Everyone danced around the fire.” .the actual Indians were completely nonplussed. “It was ‘These f–in’ white people are really nuts.'”
Sure, his backing band Crazy Horse is named for the famed Indian war leader and some songs he’s written are sensitive to Native Americans. But some are just weird. In the song “Pocahontas,” he writes:
“I wish I was a trapper/I would give thousand pelts/To sleep with Pocahontas/And find out how she felt.”
Sorry, Neil. She was an Indian princess, not a prostitute. Or his song, “Last Trip to Tulsa”:
“Well I woke up in the morning/With an arrow through my nose/There was an Indian in the corner/Tryin’ on my clothes.”
It’s unclear if that’s an Indian woman he slept with, or an Indian man stealing from him. But as he said, Indians are cool, so does it really matter?
Did Young actually ever get to know a real Indian? Here’s what Young told a reporter about a sex romp:
“I don’t think I got laid for f—in’ years after I got into rock and roll. I think I was in Fort William when I got laid. Me and a nice little Indian and a deejay. The first time was not really that great. at least I didn’t get any diseases. So it was good.”
No name. Just that she was a good little Indian, who didn’t infect him. With Neil Young, it’s always about Neil Young. And maybe the odd deejay in on the action too.
Neil Young doesn’t hate Indians. But he doesn’t respect them. He’ll dress up in Indian drag, burn wooden Indians and sleep with Indian girls.
His anti-oilsands tour was called Honour the Treaties. Sounds like he ought to start honouring Indians a bit more too.