Is Marche du Nain Rouge Racist?

nain rouge detroit

This weekend I attended one of Detroit’s favorite community gatherings–Marche du Nain Rouge. Each spring, Detroiters gather in the Cass Corridor for a celebration ritual in which they get to call upon a myth from the city’s founding and “chase the red dwarf” out of the city. According to legend, an evil red dwarf will be seen in the streets prior to violent tragedies, beginning with an attack of the first white settler in Detroit in 1701 and including Detroit’s surrender in the War of 1812, the Battle of Bloody Run, and the 1967 riots. All of these events are struggles over race and territory.

About 3 seconds after it crossed my mind that the “nain rouge” (“red dwarf”) is probably a reference to Native Americans and that historically, the myth was probably used to villainize Native Americans in Detroit, I saw this:

The woman holding this sign is Doc. She stood alone at the beginning of the Marche du Nain Rouge, affecting the necessary shock to present some critical information that seems to have been lost somewhere in Detroit’s compulsion for community. By the end of the parade, a small group gathered around Doc and conversations ensued about race relations in Detroit, the relationship between the historical European American oppression of Native Americans and African Americans, the lacking conversation about race in Detroit, the practice of ritual, and the making and re-making of meaning. You can watch a video of Doc explaining the history of Marche du Nain Rouge on the sidelines of the parade in the Cass Corridor.

What do you think–how much history still exists in this newly-revived Detroit tradition?