The Unsettling Ignorance of Settler Colonialism In Twilight

Regrettably, my tweenage fascination with Twilight pursued me into teendom and has yet again found me in my 20s. It is frightening to think the saga has repeatedly snared my interests with so little force, but I know I am not alone with my past obsession. Perhaps, the film’s 2008 debut provided many individuals’ solace in the dark days following the financial crash. Indeed, watching sexy vampires on the silver screen might have soothed the scores of people recovering from the subprime mortgage crisis. However, this is all just speculation.

Yet upon rediscovering the franchise this year, my greater understanding of indigenous oppression casted the film in a very different light. It (breaking) dawned on me that both the films and books blatantly ignore the racialised history of the United States. The presentation of Native Americans throughout the series explicitly demonstrates how the White narratives of both Bella and Meyers overlook the oppression Jacob’s Quileute tribe had endured.

This piece will explore how Twilight should be perceived as a postcolonial text. Settler colonialism is deeply embedded and echoed in the plot of the story. Whether this be through the presentation of the Cullens to the misrepresentation of the Quileute tribe. Wolfe (2006) expresses that settler colonialism is a structure, not an event. The forceable elimination of indigenous peoples does not occur within one treaty or timeframe. Instead, it is marked by the continual repression of culture, access to land and entrenched racial hierarchies. One must consider the primary fact of Twilight: The Native American community presented is written by a white woman who owes her wealth to dispossessing the culture of genuine indigenous peoples.

It is first worth noting that the Native American tribe described in Twilight are based on the actual Quileute community found in Forks, Washington. Quileute Indians have inhabited territory in the Pacific Northwest for thousands of years. Before the arrival of colonists, their land stretched from the Pacific Islands onwards to the start of the Olympic National Forest and the Mt. Olympus glaciers in the north of the state (Pettitt 1950). This expansive territory was a testament to the tribe’s advanced salmon fishing and trading abilities. Complex traditions inherited from Quileute elders ensured that beneficial practices continued to aid the expansion of the tribe. The community still exists on the shores of La Push today.

Like Jacob states in the books, the tribe lives on a reservation. However, Jacob neglects to mention that real life Quileutes were forced to condense their territory down to a single square mile on the La Push beach, an area highly vulnerable to tsunamis and rising sea levels. An Executive Order signed in 1889 by President Benjamin Harrison forced the tribe to the confines of the beach. The 252 Tribesman had large swathes of their hunting and fishing ability violently stripped from them. However, Meyers presents the fictional Quileutes as comfortably satisfied with their allotted space. No qualms are vocalised in the movie by any tribe member over the dispossession of territory their ancestors were subjected to.

In the film, the involuntary relocation of the Quileutes was explored by the tribe’s fictional Chief making a voluntary treaty with the Cullens. The Cullens, or the “cold ones”, represent the White colonialists that threatened indigenous lands. Meyers presents the Treaty as consensual and beneficial to both parties. To her, indigenous people are compliant in relinquishing their lands to the white man as it is in their interests.

The racial hierarchy legitimised by the Discovery Doctrine is upheld by Meyers’s presentation of the reservation Treaty in Twilight. The Doctrine declared that once a European country had discovered a territory it fully belonged to them unless another colonialist power had claimed it first (Miller 2019). In Northern America, many nations such as Britain felt they were being righteous in allowing indigenous people the right to occupy the land that Europeans had conquered (Weber 2006). The protagonist Cullens symbolise this settler colonialist tactic, acting as the considerate giver of a territory that never belonged to them in the first place.


The actual Quileute tribe does in fact claim to be descended from wolves. Their creation story maintains that the tribes’ ancestors were transformed into humans by a wandering transformer. However, the tribesmen lacked the ability to shapeshift back into animals again. This myth is central to Quileute culture; something they are proud to believe in and an aspect of their heritage they never wished to be commercialised.

Yet, Meyers was keen to culturally appropriate this myth to suit the story she wanted to present in her book. Cultural appropriation is defined by the utilisation of elements of a culture that fails to observe its original meaning (Lenard and Balint 2020). Meyers’s creation of Quileute werewolves dismisses the premises of their aetiological myth. The werewolf myth has long permeated European folklore since the Middle Ages (Pollentzke 2021). Meyers applying Eurocentric lore to Native American legends culturally appropriates the beliefs of the Quileutes. This dispossession is exacerbated by the popularity of the Twilight saga as the world now believes that the Quileute tribe subscribe to the same lore as their previous European oppressors.

The film’s portrayal of Jacob as werewolf directly juxtaposes Edward as the calm, stoic vampire. A sense of animalistic savagery is implied when Jacob is unable to control his emotions and transforms into a huge beast. In New Moon, Bella is well aware that his unpredictable nature could result in her own grievous bodily harm; his Quileute ancestry makes him a danger to her. Colonialism validates the hierarchisation of white people based on their ability to ‘modernise’ quicker. Many Europeans legitimised their elimination of indigenous tribes by labelling them as uncivilised barbarians unable to escape primitivity. Meyers’s modification of the Quileute mythos only reinforces this idea.

The casting of Taylor Lautner as the shirtless Quileute protagonist does little to properly encapsulate the lives of indigenous people either. In 2005, the actor stated he was of French, Dutch and German origin, explaining that he got his “skin colour from the French side” of his family (Ethnic 2021). Lautner later claimed to possess distant Potawatomi ancestry, though no Native American ancestry appears in any of his family’s birth certificates dating back to the 1750s (Ethnic 2021).

This is evidently an acute case of Hollywood white washing. Other capable Native American actors should have been chosen over Lautner to better represent the community the film was attempting to portray. However, the trend of white Americans claiming distant indigenous ancestry has existed since the times of the Jamestown colony. Claiming distant Powhatan ancestry in the state of Virginia was seen to embellish the status of the settler colonialists. Many elite white Virginians claimed direct descendancy from the union of Pocahontas and John Rolfe. Consequently, native ancestry was not considered a threat to white supremacy, but instead an enhancer to colonists perceived right to the land (Wolfe 2006).

The ‘my great-great-grandma was a Cherokee princess’ legend told by many white Americans today dispossesses many native communities of their identities. To be explicitly clear, this point is targeting individuals who have absolutely zero or very weak claims to native ancestry. I am aware that many children of tribes across America were forcefully removed from their families and raised white elsewhere. This is targeting individuals who reap the disproportionate advantages of being born white in America, who assert they understand the experiences of indigenous peoples purely based on a distant, unproven claim of Native ancestry.

The social construct of race is inherently colonial in nature. Wolfe (2006) maintains that the classification of race registers and reproduces hierarchies. Settler colonialists assigned the same racial grouping to all Native Americans on the continent, omitting the idea that tribes possessed distinctive languages, cultures and beliefs that set them apart from other indigenous communities. Lautner alluding to his unproved Potawatomi genealogy, in efforts to increase his connection to his role, depicts this notion. With the Quileute tribe residing over 1,900 miles to the West of the Wisconsin Potawatomi tribe, establishing a claim to play a character from a completely different background ignores the intricacies of contrasting native cultures. In treating all indigenous peoples of the Northern American continent as homogenous entities, arbitrary racial constructs of the past are replicated.


Depicted above are two elders of Quileute Tribe of Washington State.


References

Ethnicity of Celebs (2021), “Taylor Lautner - Ethnicity of Celebes”. Available at

https://ethnicelebs.com/taylor-lautner

Krischke, M. (2013), “My Great-Great-Grandmother Was a Cherokee Princess”, InterVarsity.

Available at: https://intervarsity.org/blog/my-great-great-grandmother-was-

Cherokee-princess

Lenard, P. and Balint P. (2020), “What is (the wrong of) cultural appropriation”, Ethnicities,

20(2), pp. 331-352.

Meyers, S. (2005), Twilight.

Miller, R. (2019), “The Doctrine of Discovery: The International Law of Colonialism”,

Indigenous Peoples’ Journal of Law, Culture & Resistance, 5(1).

Quileute Tribe Website (2021). Available at: https://quileutenation.org

Wolfe, P. (2006), “Settler colonialism and the elimination of the native”, Journal of Genocide

Research, 8(4), pp. 387-409.



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