She’s Canadian; next thing we know, she’ll take it to the UN.

I remember reading that comment a couple of weeks ago on one of the Biloxi Facebook pages.  A Biloxi alumnus and supporter of the continued use of BHS’s racist and stereotypical mascot/name was stereotyping and discriminating Deloria Many Grey Horses.  This was in April, before I realized how involved I would be getting in indigenous human rights issues.  But now I find the comment funny, because Deloria has not gotten the United Nations involved in this issue.

I did.

Several blog entries/articles I have been writing have recently gained the attention of a number of organizations.  The Southeast Indigenous Peoples’ Center in particular asked me to write a supplementary document for the Permanent Forum in New York on April 30th.  Roughly a week later, I found myself on a plane bound for Geneva.  That’s where I am now, as a representative for indigenous youth, the US Human Rights Network, and the SIPC.  On Monday, I will be sitting in the UN room with all of the media and delegates, the representatives at the podium to be addressed for the second time ever on their shortcomings in human rights issues.  For the first time ever, delegates in the room have likely seen (or at least heard) about the complaints of “Native mascotry” in the US.  And, if they attended one of the side events, it’s likely these spokespeople even have a copy of my one-pager with three pictures on the back page: one of the Cleveland Indians mascot, one of the Washington logo and name, and one of several Biloxi band members marching in Northern Plains-style headdresses.

Ironically, the comment I read on Facebook motivated me the most to travel to Geneva and address the U.N.  It wasn’t just because someone was being snarky; it was because someone thought this is a joke, not worthy of the UN…or worse, that the UN is a joke.

But these issues are already being talked about, just in a different context – and in a different country.

For example, when I first arrived on Thursday, I was given a general pass.  I sat in the gallery and listened to the review on Bulgaria.  Most commentary was friendly and kind, suggesting that more be done but congratulating Bulgaria on its progress thus far.  Until Russia stepped up to the microphone.

Russia was incredibly harsh regarding the way Bulgaria continues to mistreat Roma peoples (or maybe just the linguistics of Russian are so harsh that it translated as such).  Russia accused Bulgaria of not providing enough care for children and called for funding to be cut to state groups who promote racism of the Roma peoples.  And for those of you who don’t know, The “Romani” is the correct name for what you might call “gypsies”.

Next, Serbia adds to Russia’s opinions, concerned by the racism that exists in Bulgaria despite existing ethnic diversity.

Sierra Leone offered a different perspective, focusing on gender stereotypes and how to prosecute people for their hate crimes.  The delegate also addressed her concern for victims of hate crime (“hate speech relief”), such as a need for women/domestic violence shelters in Bulgaria.

Slovakia called for more than just Bulgaria to work in unison, as part of a larger Roma integration strategy, especially in regards to children welfare.

All of these perspectives were interesting and I realized the Romani are, in many ways, like the indigenous peoples of certain parts of Europe.  They don’t live a “standard” life, are stereotyped, and are viewed often as less than humans.  It made me wonder what it would be like if the United States were finally scoured for all of their similar mistreatments of indigenous peoples protected by broken treaty rights.

Then, today, I visited two side events.  The first was the International Indian Treaty Council, focusing on indigenous problems (but all of those discussed regarded the United States).  The second was a more general discussion on American human rights deficiencies.

Andrea Carmen (Yaqui) discussed the US’s process of authorizing itself to dismiss treaties, and to declare it will make no more new ones.  She argued this is how the US silences indigenous peoples, by ignoring them and putting them under plenary power with no legal basis.  In later discussions, she brought these points up again in the case of the seizure of Hawai’i.

Chief Gary Harrison (Alaska) called for the decolonization of Alaska, proving that, by legal definition, the United States does not own Alaska.  Alaska was “bought” from Russia, but Russia never conquered Alaska, therefore it was not Russia’s to own in the first place.  He even explains how the process to vote for Alaskan statehood was completed by only settlers as it took five white people per Native to verify their “competence” in voting.  He spoke out against mining in Alaska and how it causes problems in indigenous villages, such as pollution, rape, and murder.  He defended their right to clean drinking water, and for salmon to live and spawn in clean waters, saying they have spent so much money cleaning up, yet mining companies want to return and re-pollute recently cleaned salmon streams.

Christina Snider spoke first about the concern of children welfare and having cultural households, then also about women’s rights and violence against indigenous women (and children).

Petuuche Gilbert (Acoma) focused on how the entire country was founded on the unethical idea of “manifest destiny”, stating that laws continue to be made in order to keep the land “in the hands of thieves”.  This is his explanation to the continued land-grabs and exploitation.  He also calls “domestic sovereignty” an “oxymoron”, saying “they made it up to control us, our land, our people.”

The floor was then open for discussion, and they took three questions.  I ended up grabbing the third slot.  My statement was (maybe not quite as eloquent because I was nervous!  But this was the gist.): I am here to represent indigenous youth for several organizations.  In indigenous youth populations, suicide rates are incredibly high, and substance abuse as well as the idea of “no hope” are also plaguing communities.  Self-worth is low, because there is also a prevalence of disrespect from outside cultures.  Through my personal experience and the experience of others, I have come to realize the significant of the mascot issue and how it perpetuates disrespect, lack of understanding, and this “no hope”/low self-worth experienced in such indigenous communities.  What I want to know is, why can blackface be illegal and yet redface is okay [especially since it represents scalping, not skin color!]?  Why haven’t these mascots been banned when the change would be so simple and have such a positive impact?  A lack of education of our peoples also perpetuates the lack of respect, thereby perpetuating such discrimination and racism – people don’t even understand why it’s wrong.

I received a lot of nods from the board.  They started with the questions in order, then returned to mine.  Andrea Carmen stated that the UN permanent forum that was just held had a lot of input about the vastly disproportionate youth suicide rates in the indigenous populations of US and Canada, influenced directly by all these aspects of Reservation/urban Indian life that had been addressed in the side event.  She also pointed out the connection between the history of child removal and residential schools, of disgracing what it is to be indigenous.

Christina Snider said that she is very involved at the National Congress of American Indians in the problems of cultural appropriation and the use of indigenous mascots.  She argued it is indeed very intrinsically linked to the issues of youth, like high suicide rates, juvenile justice issues, and the “prison pipeline system”.  She says, “Until we can respect ourselves as people, these issues will keep happening; until other people can respect us as not being pasted on their bumpers, painted on their faces, and worn on their heads at Coachella – how can we help ourselves if others cannot respect us as people?  It’s all connected.”

Finally, as time was running out, Chief Gary Harrison added two key words: historic trauma.  He shared that his father was murdered in front of his whole family and that the man who did it received one night in prison.  He said, “When crimes are not rectified, this causes historic trauma.”  Indeed, I remember reading articles about how post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is experienced by many people living on US concentration camps (Reservations).  Chief Harrison continues, saying the mining camps contribute to these feelings of “no hope”.  He said that, when these camps come in, the men get the jobs, then the community members see all these people come in with money and they don’t have any money or any way to take care of themselves….”And you wonder why they’re committing suicide.”

After the meeting, Chief Gary Harrison approached me in the hallway and thanked me for bringing up that point.  He elaborated more on the psychological aspect of the issue, of historic trauma/PTSD, and we discussed the lack of appropriate education in the American system regarding indigenous histories, affairs, etc.  It was very encouraging to see an Elder acknowledge the complications of Native mascotry and how they’re not acceptable.

Later, we reconvened at the Graduate Institute for presentations by the US Human Rights Network. All sorts of issues were represented.  We discussed indigenous issues, southeast Asian deportations, torture crimes by the US government (delivered by men in the US military, and also an attorney for victims of Guantanamo Bay), police violence, and even a transgender woman of color stood up, nearly in tears, explaining her life expectancy is 35 because she chooses to live as who she is and has no protection.  The event was followed by a social with dozens of students.

Well, there’s a re-cap of the last day and a half.

So, to reiterate the original point I made in this post – yes, the mascot issue is now a prevalent discussion in the 2nd US review… And, yes, Biloxi was used as a prime example of racist mascotry in the public education system.

what makes the savage?

On one of my other pages, I made my banner read the quote by Chief Dan George (Tsleil-Waututh Nation) that says what we don’t understand we fear, and what we fear we destroy.  This is so true.  If a bear stands up on his hind legs in front of you in the woods, he may just be saying “Don’t come closer!  My family is behind me.”  If you don’t understand his gesture, you might think he is attacking.  He might be communicating, but you might pull out a gun, kill him, and now his family has no papa bear because you destroyed him out of ignorant fear.

That’s just a bear example.  But, as people, we do this to each other all of the time.  Americans who don’t understand what it’s like to immigrate from Mexico and learn English make fun of Mexicans for their accents, poor English, and mock their customs.  Every single time a “New World” has been discovered, thousands of cultures – if not peoples – died for the sake of expelling the unknown.  Manifest Destiny operated at the heart of these cruel crusades to kill the savage in people and save the Christian, a mentality that I hope is an ancient, long-gone misinterpretation of “God’s will” so that I don’t have to live in fear of future Holocausts and genocides.  Sadly, I see how much hatred is expressed towards the Middle East.  That is to me confirmation that our “forward thinking” is still as backwards.

I strongly believe that morality comes from one thing and one thing only: Religion.  That doesn’t mean you have to be Christian to have morals, it just means that, if you’re Christian, you center your morals around the 10 Commandments and what your version of God tells you is right and wrong.  If you’re another world religion, it’s slightly different.  (But, in reality, I think all world religions are different versions of the same single belief, that their Commandments, etc., are just verbalized standards of how to live harmoniously, i.e. are common-sense, and yet tons of people are dying over vain dispute and have been for centuries.)  Religion can be just about anything, though.  It can mean you have certain values and you hold yourself to those values.  For example, many Native American religions or religious stories are based off of how the earth has created and continued to support man.  These peoples refuse to separate life from the health of the planet and they often view animals as spiritual beings of equal belonging.  I most certainly find my values aligned to these practices before I could ever agree with the controversial passages of Genesis which declare man as made “in the image of God” and as having “dominion over” all of the animals.  Talk about egocentric.

I find it ironic that “savage” i.e. indigenous cultures, who all live so closely to the land and are attuned to its pangs as modern society plagues it, are the only ones who have ever revered the land since Judaism took root in the Middle East.  Is it not common sense that the land comes before all?  I guess it’s not if you think the land was made by and in full control of its “creator”, but even indigenous peoples have come to acknowledge a “Creator” and refuse to sit back and watch some other being clean up messes for them.  Yadda yadda I can go on about a lot of things here, but I have one major point in writing tonight: HYPOCRISY.

When Pilgrims first came to the New World, they were all Puritan and devout and desperate and whatever.  They heard about this new place, and they were like, okay, cool, let’s hop on that…boat…and then months later they finally got there.  Well, some of them did.  Everyone else just died because of like scurvy or whatever.  Or, like, your neighbor got on the boat with tuberculosis, which no one knows until they’ve already left, and everyone’s like, “Really dude?  Rude.”  Anyway, now they’re all in Massachusetts and who really knows how the story went exactly but the gist is PROBABLY that the tribes who encountered the first settlers were respectful to them and helped them in exchange for respect back.  (And later empty promises ensued, and lies, and Constitutional rights revoked, and genocide,…but not today’s point!)

Long story short, Manifest Destiny was the reason for the attempted annihilation of any native person in America that white settlers could get their hands on.  Boarding schools, relocation, laws forbidding traditional dress or religious practices, punishment for speaking native languages, etc. – these were all techniques used.  Andrew Jackson, in fact, was a total bully who thought it was cool to set up a lot of the cultural stripping of natives, including stripping them of land and going back on promises that he probably never intended to keep.  So like Tuberculosis-Dude-on-the-Boat, Andrew Jackson was just rude.  He was exercising his rights and duties as a Christian which, by the way, included stripping these homelands to expand the cotton industry (and, thereby, African slavery as well – which was totally chill because they weren’t white Christians so God apparently didn’t care about them or whatever).  Oh, but wait, it’s not like Galatians 3:28 says this or anything: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”  Okay, it does say that – I guess it just means Jesus loves you even if another human owns you and doesn’t love you…and dudes, keep your hoes in line,…or whatever.

So when white immigrants were coming to America, they were like “Holy Toledo, these people are weird!!!  Look at their hair, their jewelry, their clothes, their swagger,…”  (UMM, HELLO???  That’s exactly what I say every time I look at my parents’ yearbooks!  Not to mention a history text… like, nice ‘fro, George Washington.  It’s whiter than my grandma’s doo.)  They were all flipping out because these people ate strange foods, lived in weird accommodations, and practiced strange traditions.  They were probably watching rain dances or some ceremony and scoffing, saying “You really think you have a say in that?”  They were comparing the lifestyles they had chosen to what they were observing and were completely convinced that these were modern heathen Canaanites., these strange (i.e. different) tribal people.  It never once occurred to them that they get down on their knees and talk to themselves every night and that maybe some cultures think THAT is weird.

Meanwhile, I bet the Pequot and whoever else at the time was checking out these FOBs and going “Oh, HELL no!  HAHA!”  I mean, do I even have to describe any of the past styles of clothing?  Men with their shoes, their hair, their hats, their restrictive and uncomfortable clothing?  Women with their bodies completely tied up, sometimes in corsets, with layers upon layers of clothes to render them even less useful in daily tasks?  Sure, they managed to make some massive boat (Do you want a high-5?), but then a lot of them died in the journey and now what are they gonna do?  (And imagine the first time a native saw a blonde or a ginger…Maybe it’s just a disease?  Maybe that’s why they’re so pale and avoid the sun?)

My  point: They’re different.  This creates a lack of understanding.  Not understanding things generates fear.  Well, the immigrants largely acted on that fear and took advantage of the different cultures they encountered in ruthless means – for the sake of Christianity.

Now, how do they feel entitled to do this?  I’ve already made my point that no one is more or less civilized than the other, they’re just held to different standards, different values, and different opinions on what is right and wrong.  This entitlement surely comes again from this Manifest Destiny where these Christian people are the “chosen ones”, but how in the world do their lifestyles affect their Christian-ness?  If a native person retains his native identity with the exception of his Christian practices, is he not a Christian?  Is it because he lives in the tribal, “backwards” state that he is considered a “heathen”?  This state which respects the land rather than destroys it because he has dominion over everything and so he’s allowed to (and God will fix it)?

Let’s not forget that the Bible – especially the Old Testament – is transfixed on tribal status.  I mean, TRANSFIXED.  There are books just dedicated to genealogy and delegating work based on tribal status.  The twelve tribes of Israel, anyone?  Oh, and how about burnt offerings?  I mean, seriously?  Dancing a ritual dance in thanks for a harvest is a heathen thing to do, but sacrificing “unblemished” goats every day is totally normal and okay?  It’s that very wastefulness, a mentality reflecting man’s “dominion” over other animals that was practiced widely in hunting the Colonies, which places “Christians” in the “heathen” category to those otherwise dubbed as “heathens”.

And finally, it was not that long ago that Europe was divided by tribes.  I’m very familiar with this considering my Celtic background.  Not only am I accustomed to tribal rituals in America, but I’ve also done Scottish Highland Dance since I was 8.  (We literally dance over swords as superstitious ritual.  And the Highland Fling?  It’s danced on one spot because soldiers danced on overturned shields in the marshes – another superstition before battle.)  I’ve been to more Highland Games than I can remember.  I’ve performed the Scottish fiddle, learned the penny whistle, and played the bagpipes in three different military bands.  When I come to the Games, I run off to the Celtic jewelry stands, buy Empire Biscuits, and see if my Clan (Douglas) tent is on-site.  I have designated tartans and a family crest.  My tribal peoples had their own dialect and ancestral lands with “pagan” traditions and monuments, many which came to embrace Christianity and Christian symbols.  (My Scottish family has its most ancient roots in the Presbyterian church.)

How is that any different than competing in dance at a Pow-Wow, representing the Potwatomi or Shawnee, buying beaded jewelry, and eating fry bread?  It’s not.  In fact, I love the similarities and I love recognizing the tribal roots of peoples all over the world.  So suck it, hypocrisy.  You’re ridiculous.  Boo, go home.

And with that…I’m going to end with an excerpt.  In 1995, Sr. Juanita, enrolled in the Mescalero Apache tribe, wrote this piece:

“My grandfather was captured by a band of Apaches near the Chihuahua area in Mexico when he was six years old.  They brought up my father according to Apache ways.  My mother is San Juan Pueblo.  I really consider myself a real New Mexican.  My grandmother was a Spaniard and I’m really proud of that fact because we have a little bit of all the cultures of New Mexico in our family.  The Spanish, Mexican, Pueblo, and Apache.  Now our younger members in the family are marrying non-Indians and when we get together, we are quite a nation.  It is lovely.  It is beautiful!”

Hashtag, BURN.