“If we do a census of the population in our collective imagination, imaginary Indians are one of the largest demographic groups,” Spindel writes in her book.

“They dance, they drum, they go on the warpath; they are always young men who wear trailing feather bonnets. Symbolic servants, they serve as mascots and metaphors. We rely on these images to anchor us to the land and verify our account of our own past. But as these Indians exist only in our own imaginations, they provide a solipsistic connection and leave us, ultimately, untethered and rootless.”

At 67, Harjo believes she has made strides in her struggle to do away with racial stereotypes but says Native Americans have a long way to go.

“Because we as Indians, we don’t have the numbers,” she says, referring to the dwindling population. The latest census listed 2.9 million people as American Indian and Alaska Native.

“So we don’t pose a threat,” she says. “If we organized a march, the numbers would be so small. We’ve done it school by school. State by state.”