Eurocentric Curricula: A Modern-Day Colonizer of Young Minds and Perspectives

This is a paper I did for HST102 at Dine College.  I probably could have written thirty pages, but I already went over the limit…

 

Kayla DeVault

Dr. King

World Civilizations 102

20 April 2016

Eurocentric Curricula: A Modern-Day Colonizer of Young Minds and Perspectives

Formal public education in the United States has its roots in the American Colonia Era. During this era, Christianity and white supremacy affected every aspect of political and social life in the United States as well as in many places in Europe or colonized by European countries. With an educational system being borne from this era, it is therefore understandable that the subsequent system be entrenched in Christian values and a Eurocentric perspective on the world and on racial equality. As eras have passed, more and more work has been done by the government and pressuring citizens to rewrite the curriculum, resulting in changes of religious content in curricula, the inclusion of a more racially diverse student body, and even topics like anthropology that explore more human histories. However, are the curricula in public schools still heavily Eurocentric? In particular, how are the histories First Americans portrayed today in these systems, if at all, and how does it reflect on how they portray themselves?

Until the Indian Citizenship of 1924, any Native American who did not relinquish his or her tribal citizenship could not be considered an American citizen. In some ways, becoming a citizen of both a tribal nation and the United States was controversial as it could be seen as undermining tribal sovereignty. Even so, this change means that it has been less than a century that Native American histories have become part of American history rather than an “us vs. them” viewpoint, i.e. a Eurocentric perspective. The question is whether or not the curriculum has shifted to reflect this societal change. Considering the heightened “Indians and Cowboys” film activities in the 1950s and 1960s, the American obsession with “us vs. them” and the Plains Indians cultures prohibited non-Indian Americans from seeing anything but the 1800s, stereotypical Indian fighting invading frontiersmen.

Even as the American Indian Movement rose alongside other Civil Rights movements in the 1970s, old-fashioned mentalities continued to affect modern Natives. The involuntary sterilization of thousands of Native women by the Indian Health Service during this era, under the guise of “helping” Native communities, demonstrates the prevalence of this outdated, “us vs. them” concept of Indians in the popular American viewpoint. Furthermore, the continued lack of coverage on such acts of genocide reinforces the disparities in including Indians in American history. Yet this is merely one example; American Indian histories extend for thousands of years over thousands of miles, and those histories are living. How well is our public school system doing to address such an enormous spread of topics and in a way that is culturally appropriate, accurate, and inclusive?

One of the first methods used for reviewing the curricula in public schools was to study the guidelines for Social Studies provided by the Bureau of Education. Various public school superintendents, from Flagstaff to Tuba City, confirmed that the Arizona Bureau of Education’s standards are the best resource for studying the curriculum of social studies from Kindergarten through 12th grade. Having also been a student in the Pennsylvania public school system, I spent some time analyzing that curriculum as well. I also took Advanced Placement United States History (APUSH), and so materials were reviewed for APUSH as another “American History Standard”. In all areas, the curriculum was reviewed for: 1) inclusion of Native histories; 2) presentation of Native peoples as historic-only, contemporary-only, or both; 3) breadth of Native cultures included; 4) emphasis on local history, including local tribes; 5) perspective on Native histories (Eurocentric or unbiased); 6) included or excluded historic events that are significant in Indian Country; and 7) Navajo history, especially the Long Walk.

Having attended several public and private schools in Pennsylvania, I am particularly interested in the changes being made to curricula as well as where there are still disparages. Indian mascots are used widely across eastern States, yet so many curricula fail to educate students on proper Native history, thereby perpetuating a vicious cycle of ignorance. One of my private schools is currently looking into a curriculum revision that includes training teachers on how to present materials in ways that are more culturally inclusive. In a conversation with my former school’s headmaster, she described the old curriculum as being “written and presented from the view of the oppressor”. In my years at that school and others, I can only recall a focus on the Removal Act, the Cherokee Trail of Tears, and a very general view of Indian Policy. Otherwise, topics included “Indians”. My younger brother was even given an “Indian name” in 5th grade, and we were both made to create paper headdresses to celebrate Thanksgiving. These activities not only inaccurately depict past and present Native peoples, but they also assume no Native child is on the receiving end of that education by the nature of how the information is presented. These lapses contribute to the Eurocentric curriculum perspective.

Today, education in Pennsylvania still lags behind in quality like much of the nation, but changes in the curriculum are evident. In fact, after reviewing resources for public education standards in Pennsylvania, I was pleased to discover some social studies curricula specifically geared to dispel “Indian” stereotypes in young students. One example of this is a 3rd grade activity that focuses on Anishinabe peoples relative to the Great Lakes region of the United States. This activity introduces students to past and present cultures of the various Anishinabe/Ojibwe people, discussing both original and contemporary locations. The culture and tradition of the Ojibwe people are studied in depth. The class is then tasked with researching the topic of migration of the peoples and reflecting on this migration’s role to culture. Another section, specified for grades 3 through 5, is “Not ‘Indians’, Many Tribes: Native American Diversity”. The point of this section is to show similar interactions between environment and culture for the Abenaki, Hopi, and Kwakiutl Nations. Students are asked to contrast and compare these wildly different groups and to demonstrate how their environment has shaped their cultures. These activities are encouraging to find in the curriculum guidelines because they demonstrate an effort to dispel stereotypes and create a better understanding of native peoples in both a past and present context.

However, not everything in Pennsylvania’s standard curriculum is up-to-date. While the examples found were great ones, they are not representative of the efforts across the board. These two examples were perhaps the only examples that could be made of this myth debunking, and the word “Navajo” only returned results for a collection of poems under a long list of books recommended under one track of high school history. Searches for the term “Long Walk” returned nothing, and so it is expected that even an intensive scouring of commonly used textbooks in the Pennsylvania curriculum will likely result in very little representation of significant southwest tribal history. Even the vocabulary used by these curricula to teach the most disgraceful parts of American history is rather biased. Textbooks are quick to describe the actions of Nazi Germany as “genocide” by means of “concentration camps”, but the reality is these Nazis replicated American designs that were used against tribal peoples – and yet we continue to use language like “walk”, “march”, “relocation”, and other milder terms.

Furthermore, there are many elements in the Pennsylvania history and social studies curricula that, as they stand, continue to present negative figures in a positive light. One prime example of this is the depiction of Andrew Jackson. As most Americans have likely been educated to believe, Andrew Jackson is generally portrayed as a war hero with many great accomplishments. His face appears on the twenty-dollar bill for this reason. Yet, as many modern Natives understand, and as activists like Deloria Vine, Jr. have loved to remind America, Andrew Jackson is far from a hero. Then how is it that, under the standards for social studies teaching for Pennsylvania on the War of 1812, Andrew Jackson is described as having a victory over the British in New Orleans which made him “a new hero” in the United States? (PDESAS). In fact, the link referenced for more information continues by stating: “Added to his fame as an Indian fighter, this brilliant action propelled him to national prominence and ultimately to election as president in 1828” (American History). How would an Indian student reading that line feel about what it was suggesting? Would it even occur to the other students and teachers who are non-Indian that this passage is an incredibly exclusive piece of “history”? The entire section also seems to fail drastically at educating students on contemporary issues, such as why today Andrew Jackson is so widely rejected as a hero in Indian Country. How could a modern, non-Indian student understand the motion to change the face of the twenty-dollar bill when any portrayals of Andrew Jackson in the public system are so positive?

The standards for education in the southwest are similarly governed by the States. In Arizona, the curriculum prioritizes Native history far more than eastern curricula tend to. Various Superintendents across northern Arizona supported this observation in phone conversations about their schools’ curricula. Just by reviewing the very general outlines Arizona sets for education in high school, topics regarding Native Americans appear in history, geography, and government strands. The first mention is in Paleo-Indian topics; an effort is made to differentiate the various kinds of tribal peoples and their specific inheritance. One section is set aside for the southwest populations, relevant as a local cultural topic. Unlike many other curricula for different states, the Arizona curriculum does require students to analyze the movements of American military and government and how these impacted the cultures and lives of the tribal peoples affected. In the government section, students are required to learn about the voting rights issues Natives faced – not just on a National level in 1924, but also following World War II in Arizona. This section also talks about the Code Talkers.

However, one observation is that the “Long Walk” is never specifically detailed in the curriculum, and neither is its famous eastern counterpart, the “Trail of Tears”. Even in descriptions of Kit Carson, his supervisor Carrelton, and Fort Sumner, many American texts shy away from capturing the true brutality, injustice, and Eurocentric mentality that dominated the era (Gordon-McCutchan). Carson, long praised for his efforts as written in White history, is in fact a criminal by modern standards. Especially among the Navajos, this holds true. Students today should be taught the same perspective, for anything short of that would be at conflict with the human rights topics they cover in other classes. Students on the Navajo Reservation or living near it – or perhaps just in the Southwest in general – should absolutely be made aware of not only this topic in history, but of the shift in perspectives regarding how we now reference it. Imagine if we still read passages on slavery in American history books written by those in support of keeping slavery in the economy. There are some perspectives that have to be updated and erased, so why is it taking so long to change Native American passages?

While it is true that local histories should be emphasized in one curriculum more than another, it is still important that the histories being taught at a national level should cover a significant part of Native histories. The curriculum set in place for APUSH is essentially a national standard for understanding United States History. The scores from the AP exams in this area are capable of earning college credits for high school students pursuing higher education degrees. The curriculum therefore should reflect an intense and holistic view of what is widely accepted as “American history”. Yet, APUSH does not define as “American History” starting at its Independence of 1776 or even in just the years leading into that event. Instead, it defines “American History” as 1491 and beyond. This inclusion of one year before Columbus landed in the Caribbean in a way implies that Native history is a part of the American story, but in reality its purpose is to establish an idea that Native populations have been conquered and how it was done. This is a troubling approach as it disseminates Columbus’ viewpoint on the peoples he and the Europeans after him used to justify their actions: Native peoples in a limited, narrow, and uncivilized context that fails to acknowledge cultural diversity and richness. Without making this distinction between how these “conquerors” viewed Native peoples and how they should be viewed, it becomes increasingly difficult to put contemporary Indian issues into a historical context. For example, just the very idea of “Indian policy” as a blanket term for how to “deal with” Indian peoples perpetuates the blurring of lines between sovereign nations and the “us vs. them” mentality that devastates understanding modern issues faced by tribal governments and citizens in the Americas.

Although the curriculum largely focuses on the “Five Civilized Tribes”, the Spanish missions and encomienda system in the southwest, and some of the political movements from the American Indian Movement in the northern Plains, I saw no indication of Hawai’ian and Alaskan indigenous histories. The Dawes Act and subsequent Indian Reorganization Act is mentioned, but no curriculum notes outline the Residential Boarding School Era, the Navajo Long Walk, the Livestock Reduction, the Navajo-Hopi Land Dispute, or even the Termination Era of Indian Policy. In fact, Native history seems to end in 1973 with Wounded Knee – although, sadly, that is much more impressive than most histories that end with the Trail of Tears and which fail to portray Natives as living citizens with professional careers.

In addition to these curricula, one business book for business classes at Coconino Community College was analyzed for material relevant to Indian businesses. The book is “The Legal, Ethical, and Regulatory Environment of Business” by Bruce D. Fisher and Michael J. Phillips (1998). The purpose of the book is to “[emphasize] the relevance of legal environment topics to business functions” and to present a “strong emphasis on ethics, international law, environmental law, and women’s legal concerns”. After scanning the book’s contents for any coverage on Indian businesses or tribal entities, it was found that Native Americans are mentioned very few times in the text.

On page 459, a section devoted to “Exclusions from Coverage” mentions employer discrimination policies. In this, it explains that Title VII does not apply to Native American tribes, but nothing more is stated to explain why this is so. For the Navajo Nation, for example, there is a complicated business arrangement. Not only is employment priority Navajo (not simply Native American), but all business transactions fall under a complicated bidding process with Navajo Priority 1, Priority 2, and Non-Priority. Indian services provided by the Federal government, on the other hand, are Indian Preference. This concept is so widely misunderstood by the non-Indian population that it should be emphasized in all business texts. In a school like Coconino Community College, surrounded by Indian Country, it is somewhat surprising that is excluded. Another mention, on page 783, casually describes the Department of Energy attempting “to convince Native American tribes to accept [nuclear] wastes on their reservations in exchange for federal money”, as if this is ethical business practice (Fisher).

All in all, it appears as though states are making an effort to be more inclusive of non-biased Native histories that assist in dispelling stereotypes. However, the transition is slow, and it is especially slow in areas where there are less Native students or Native populations – i.e. areas that may have a higher tendency to not see Natives in a modern perspective and who would, therefore, benefit from these contemporary lessons the most. So many curricula focus on the expulsion of Spanish powers from the southwest without consideration that people already lived there. That is why incorporating lessons on the Long Walk is such a key point for introducing the atrocities committed by all armies during the 1800s in present-day New Mexico and Arizona. The real story of the Long Walk is not lost among today’s Navajos, however. Modern music about the walk can be heard regularly on KTNN, the local Window Rock radio station. There is also the famous song Shí Naasha, written in 1868, that sums up the true emotions of the walk back from Fort Sumner:

Ahala ahalago naashá ghą

Shí naashá ghą, shí naashá ghą,

Shí naashá lágo hózhǫ’ la.

Shí naashá ghą, shí naashá ghą,

Shí naashá, ladee hózhǫ’ǫ’ lá.

I am going in freedom.

I am going in beauty all around me.

I am going, I am going, in beauty

It is around me.

This song reflects the anxiousness and relief of the people returning. It is also cultural significant when one realizing the story and the impact of reentering the boundaries of the four sacred mountains. Furthermore, “walking in beauty” and “harmony” play such an important part to Navajo culture, and seeing it as such a positive way to recover from Fort Sumner demonstrates the resilience and cultural strength of the Navajo people. The spirituality is completely interlocked with their experience at Fort Sumner, despite the conditions and lack of hope. Their song and prayer is what kept them together. These are things students are not able to learn from modern curricula and therefore are not able to understand wholesomely when visiting the Navajo Nation or surrounding areas.

In conclusion, the American education system still has a ways to go before it will be truly and equal and unbiased learning experience. Once students are able to recite the culture, history, capitals, and names of tribal nations as well as they can European ones, they will be closer to understanding the country they actually live in; and once students can stop using descriptors like “African”, “Asian”, “Indian”, and “French” or “Italian” as if they are parallel words, equality will be better established in the way we perceive the world. We have had numerous battles about removing religion from schools; it is time we begin making greater strides to reform the “Native American” curricula in these schools as well.

why “blackface” is a problem,… but only black?

When kids dress up for Halloween, sure, they’ll paint their faces to become an animal, wear a mask, or add appendages like tails or antennae that they don’t have.  They’re dressing like other species.  When kids dress up to be human-like characters, say from a movie or cartoon, or even a celebrity, they adopt the clothes and accessories necessary to be recognized as that character or person.  They are already a human being, so they can alter things that are socially acceptable to alter: clothing, hairstyle/wigs, jewelry, etc.

NOT their racial identity.

I’m sure I don’t have to go through the history of the United States to explain why the color of someone’s skin has been used to single them out or embrace them with open arms as an equal.  Racial tension still exists in this country and throughout the world.  Furthermore, light-skinned Americans are shoveling over dollars to go to tanning beds or laying out on beaches weekly to risk cancer for darker skin.  On the other side of the world, like in India, women are paying to bleach their skin to a Caucasian white.  Skin color still equates to social status, no matter how jumbled the message is getting.

India2India1

Above: In the United States, L’Oreal sells the tan Caucasian look; in India, the same company pushes the appeal for Asian women to look “white”.

Skin tones have historically been a way to segregate people, and, as a result, they can be ways to unite people who struggle the same struggles.  However, civilized society should strive to move away from these racial stereotypes and identifiers and instead focus on the individual and his/her identity.  Identity shouldn’t come with a Behr’s color palette.

Ever since I was a little girl, I used to argue with older generations that skin color wasn’t black, white, yellow, brown, and red (if those are even accurate groupings anyway).  I would always argue that skin color is a spectrum, and even certain colors don’t mix the same way those on an artist’s palette mix. Genetics can come with surprises.  But when we see the world in very restrictive color palettes and racial labels, ones that don’t take into account ethnicity, social-economic statuses, citizenship, and actual culture, we are once again emphasizing an outdated viewpoint on identity.

So, back to Halloween: The skin color of a Trick-or-Treater shouldn’t have to be an identifier for what “costume” he or she is choosing.  Part of that is because race is not a costume.  Also, at what point do we decide “Oh, that character is like, half a shade darker than me – I need make-up!”  Sure, Avatar Blue is one thing because that’s not “human”.  But should a person have to paint his or herself black to be Obama?  On the flip-side, should a white person feel he or she can’t dress as Obama because he or she isn’t black?  (HELLO, Obama is ALSO white…Why can’t we see that part of him too?)  And, finally, does that mean a woman cannot dress as a Obama without a sex change? ————– No, I don’t think it’s any different.  “Race” is something you can’t change, something society (include police forces) currently identifies by a visual assessment.  Likewise, sex is predominantly identified biologically.

So about Blackface.

What is it?  Well, what it sounds like.  “Blackface” is when a non-black/lighter-skinned person paints his or herself dark (and possibly with stereotypical “black features” like large red or pink lips) to pretend to be…”black”.  There is no concrete date for the origin of “blackface”, but it was notorious for its use in theater starting in the 19th century.  Ah, yes, the Jim Crow era, the times when blacks were gaining more and more rights (albeit snail-slow) as human beings.  Slavery, lynching, segregation…and, in theater, blacks were the center stage.  Except, not actual blacks.

blackface1 blackface2

Blackface in theater was an excellent way for white people to mock blacks for black stereotypes.  Imagine all the dehumanizing things white society could have possibly done or said to black people during these eras and you can imagine the foul things that showed up in white-ruled comedy.  However, to make this work effortlessly, white people were hired to paint themselves as black people.  Otherwise, how could we identify the “less-than-human” as he or she fell victim to the splendid white cracks at these oppressed racial categories?

Knowing the history of blackface and the atrocities that accompanied it will probably help you understand why it was once a horrible practice.  However, the foundation that “blackface” was built on still exists.  Just because we would like to view our society as “free” does not mean “blackface” is a freedom of speech.  It is founded in literally the same segregation principles as in decades and centuries before, and it is a means of segregation.  While wearing “blackface”, or being racist, or demonstrating in the KKK may not be illegal, because of freedom of speech, that does not mean they belong in civilized society.

Can you understand why dress up as a shot Trayvon Martin – in blackface – is so many levels of wrong, racist, and disrespectful?  Because this totally happened:

martin

Maybe, just MAYBE if racial segregation by skin color hadn’t been a historical and systematic way of trampling other people to get ahead, then just MAYBE “blackface” and whatever-else-face wouldn’t be wrong.  But skin color has been and continues to be too connected to social status, so painting your face as another “race” IS wrong.

EXCEPT.

Except
except
except
except
except
except….

If you’re a sports fan.  #TELLMEWHY

mascot mascot2

Or if you don’t even have that excuse, but call yourself a…”hipster”???  (Below: seen at Bonaroo)

indian

“Red” stands for blood.  “Red” stands for the “pelts” of slaughtered indigenous peoples, peoples who were labeled as merely “Indian”, and “pelts” that gave white colonists cash rewards from the government.

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This is wrong because it is REDFACE.  This is even more wrong because  of its historical context (“pelts” = GENOCIDE).

redskins_protest Redskins-Nickname_Protest-0451b-820

Tell me why this is “socially acceptable”?

logos

Do me a favor, and if you ever see, call it out.  The only way it should be “tolerated” (I say that LOOSELY) is if the person flat out admits to being an informed racist…

Northwest Culture and the Recently Pulled Vans Totem Pole Shirt

Recently, a Canadian petition sought and succeeded in removing a t-shirt from the Vans line.  Vans gave a feeble apology online, and so the petition continues to urge Vans to make a bigger statement regarding the offense it caused.  The t-shirt was a drawing of several beer cans taped together in a stack with wooden wings on the side, making a totem pole out of the cans.  Under the picture, “Vans” was spelled with a tipi sketched in as a capital A.  While many Canadian First Nations citizens and allies alike are quite relieved that this product is at least discontinued, many others are retorting with the typical “get over it” statements.  I’ve decided to use this opportunity as an excuse to educate readers – Native and non-Native alike – on the anti-shirt perspective in this case, and the tribal histories involved.

  
RECAP: PAN-INDIANISM

One of the biggest, underlying issues in a lot of Native “imagery” being used on products/mascots is “Pan-Indianism”.  I know I’ve written on this before but, just to reiterate, “Pan-Indianism” is when you call any indigenous person in North and South America an “Indian” and stop differentiating the cultures.  Ignoring the mixed feelings surrounding the continued use of this misappropriated racial title, “Pan-Indianism” has a significantly deleterious effect on the portrayal and understanding of a very diverse racial category of peoples.  Instead of “Indians” being regarded by their tribal Nations and cultural identities, they are classified as one “monoculture” – generally something most closely resembling Plains tribes.  When non-Indians think of “Indians”, therefore, they likely conjure up images like headdresses, tipis, war paint, bows and arrows, tomahawks, and horses.  These images are so prominent because they are the stereotypes portrayed by Cowboys vs. Indians films, largely produced in the 1950s, which portray the western frontier with a largely inaccurate and biased adaptation of culture and the “savage warrior”.  How comfortable would you feel drawing a caricature that represents all European/Middle Eastern peoples from the last 1,000 years?  “Indians” are even more culturally diverse, considering all of these Nations occupy two continents.

NORTHWEST CULTURE

Regions are often the best way to vaguely classify the variances in cultures in the Americas, much like regions of Europe and Africa can be used to loosely categorize kinds of peoples.  Much like you have the Baltic region or Slavic region of Europe, or West Africa, you have the Northeast region or Southeast region of the United States.  A lot of tribes in certain regions have cousin cultures.  Think of the Romance languages, like French, Italian, and Spanish all coming or being greatly influenced by the domineering Romans in ancient history.  Cultural evolution and relationships exist like this all around the world.  In the Great Lakes region, languages like Ojibwe fall under the Algonquin umbrella which covers a lot of the eastern parts of North America.  Certain aspects of Algonquin culture are, too, unique to these areas.

  
Well, we also have what we call a Northwest Culture.  This region is most specifically identified in the Pacific Northwest of the United States and the western coastal region, climbing up into southeastern Alaska.  The Northwest Culture is very distinct from the cultures in other regions, largely on account of the influences and contact the tribes have had over the years and also their local resources.  The Haida and the Tlingit are two examples of tribes living along this coastal area.  Because of their natural resources in this region, they are well-known for their use of red cedar and of their ties to fishing.

  
Red cedar was useful for building plank houses, which these tribes generally lived in.  The lumber resources were also ideal for making dugout canoes for fishing.  In fact, fishing has always been a central part of many tribes’ cultures, depending on their traditional location.  A lot of Tlingit artwork and design, like from other tribes in the region, reflects this by using designs in often red, black, and white of fish and whales.  These tribes do not wear headdresses, not any of their members; however, they are known for their unique, woven basket hats.  

  
Finally, with all the lumber in the area, these tribes are also known for their carving – including their carving of totem poles.

TOTEM POLES

“Totem” actually comes from an Algonquian word odoodem, meaning “his kinship group”.  These poles had many different purposes among the tribes known to use them in their cultures (e.g., Haida, Tlingit, Tsimshian, Kwakwaka’wakw, Bella Coola, and Nuu-chah-nulth).  Sometimes they were used as a welcome sign, sometimes they were placed in front of a residence to shame someone into paying a debt (called a “shame pole”).  Generally, six kinds of totem pole categories are identified that vary by their purpose of construction and placement when erected.  The poles were not regarded as religious artifacts, per se, but they could hold great importance in telling a story or representing important events in one’s life.  

  
Sometimes the stories told might be mythical, and many times they told about the experiences of a living person’s life or a known ancestor’s.  No tribe ever worshipped these poles, as once misunderstood to be the case by settlers, but the specific interpretation of each pole can vary greatly between tribal cultures that use them.

CONCLUSION

After looking over this broad view of Northwest Culture, it should be pretty clear that “Pan-Indian” symbols do not come even close to representing these diverse tribes.  Looking back at the t-shirt Vans pulled, we can immediately pick out the totem pole – a symbol of many of the cultures along the western shores of the country the shirt was produced in.  Yet, there is that tipi again in the Vans name.  Why is that?  It is very out-of-place.  But the real kicker is the totem pole being comprised of taped-together beer cans.  What is Vans trying to say?  Is this a shame pole?  Are all Haida, Tlingit, Tsimshian, Kwakwaka’wakw, Bella Coola, and Nuu-chah-nulth citizens drunks?  Is this a family history pole, telling us that beer was an essential part of all Haida, Tlingit, Tsimshian, Kwakwaka’wakw, Bella Coola, and Nuu-chah-nulth family lives?  Is this a mythical story, telling us that all Haida, Tlingit, Tsimshian, Kwakwaka’wakw, Bella Coola, and Nuu-chah-nulth worship beer?  Are we now disregarding the amazing craftsmanship of carvers from the Northwest tribes (who didn’t have metal knives until European contact) and paralleling their work to made-in-Canada aluminum cans held together with tape?  Seriously, what do you think it means?  What would you think if you were shopping?  Would you even recognize the great totem pole as a cultural identifier of Northwest peoples?

 
Above: Another example of how Clevelanders are taking stereotypes way too far and mocking cultures. 

It is a commonly known fact that whiskey and other alcoholic products were used to trade with many tribes during settler expansion – a tool to addict and manipulate the populations at the time.  This has led to the stereotype of the “drunken Indian”, accelerated by the continued alcoholism experienced in many impoverished tribal communities.  However, a lot of pieces to the modern story are ignored today.  One of these pieces is the connection between alcoholism, as a coping mechanism, and poverty.  With the majority of North American tribal members living in poverty, and the high rates associated with any community’s alcoholism to poverty, this is not strictly an “Indian problem”.  It is a human problem of substance addiction, concentrated by race on concentration camps Reservations and Reserves.  Furthermore, here are two more facts for you to consider, provided by SAMSHA: 1. Natives have the highest rate of ABSTINENCE, and many Reservations forbid the sale of alcohol on tribal land; 2. The highest rates of alcoholism (in at least the United States) occur in white men – not Native, not black, not anyone else, but white men.  Yet Natives bear the stereotype, largely put on them by the historic majority culture – white men.

Well, I hope you’ve learned a little about indigenous diversity today.  I also hope you can see how inaccurate a lot of stereotypes are to indigenous cultures.  Although I understand a t-shirt isn’t going to be the weapon being used to murder indigenous peoples, I do believe the false imagery and associations are a microcosm of traumatic experiences.  Like many other inaccurate depictions, images like these demonstrate how indigenous peoples viewed by dominating society (microaggression) and how the stereotyped indigenous peoples end up viewing themselves in an already often-depressing environment.  Finally, the symbols used on the shirt borrowed from different cultures of a diverse race and labeled that race with a negative characteristic of alcoholism; this, by definition, actually constitutes as racism, regardless of Vans’ statement that it was not Vans’ intention to offend in any way.

What do you think?

“My Indian Name is Runs With Beer”, an example of racism.

Before I even launch into yet another example of mainstream racism, I have to ask: At what point did “political correctness” – or being “PC” – become a pejorative?  By its very definition, it’s a mechanism for cultural sensitivity to protect minorities from being marginalized.  Now I see kids on the Internet every day using it like a slur against one another.  Respect is becoming extinct.

The purpose of today’s piece is to expose an example of racism towards indigenous peoples and why it’s not okay.

This morning, my friend Michelle texted me a picture and her commentary on a cooler design she found on Facebook.  The page is a closed group, called “The Cooler Connection”.  She described it to me as being a page that largely consists of sorority girls sharing cooler designs (presumably for college drinking and whatnot).  She added me to the page so I could see its content: Most posts share designs of coolers people have done, some posts ask for advice on cooler painting, and there are even posted guides to how to paint your own cooler.  Although the idea of college students dignifying all things binge-drinking terrifies me, I also see the page as a neat way to add creativity to ordinary objects.  It’s like an interactive, DIY Pinterest board of cooler art.

Seems harmless, right?

Wrong.

Michelle’s reason for sharing this page with me to day was so I could see a cooler design by student/artist Jess Merry of Appalachian State University.  Miss Merry, from the Raleigh/Cary area, went to school in Boone in western North Carolina – i.e. the heart of Indian Country.  The Tsalagi, in particular, reside in this area on the Eastern Band of Cherokee reservation.  You would think anyone spending considerable time in this vicinity would be privy to cultural sensitivity and the concentration of an ethnic minority in his/her area, but sadly this does not seem to be the case.  I say this because Miss Merry’s design was an example of racism against the indigenous American race:

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“This is gorgeous, but that is INCREDIBLY offensive!!” wrote my friend in a flustered response.  And she’s right: The artwork should be commended, even the Papyrus handwriting, but the truth behind it is none of its content is acceptable.  Well, it shouldn’t be acceptable.  But, as evidenced by the commentary on the post, few people seem to grasp exactly why.  Instead, virtual eye rolls and accusations of “here we go with the PC comments” and “get over it” statements alternated with ones saying “this is not okay”.

“For all of you that don’t understand why it’s offensive [you] are what’s wrong with this country right now,” Michelle continues.  She is referring to the attitude that cultural sensitivity needs to die out and that too many people voice opinions about “getting over it” when there are social-economic-cultural crises so deeply rooted in historic trauma and perpetuated prejudice that there is no “getting over it”.

Not only was Michelle addressing the problem of stereotyping indigenous peoples, desecrating a headdress and chief nobility, and having no respect for one another’s’ culture, she also calls out the unacceptable treatment of ceremony.  “To put it simply, it’s disrespectful because you’re mocking a Native American tradition,” she writes.  She’s referring to “Indian names” – or really, naming ceremonies – which is a very important custom in some, but not all, groups of indigenous peoples.  Mocking this ceremony is not only a religious assault, but it continues the stereotypes through pan-Indianism with which Western film culture has brainwashed the ignorant.  In other words, the design was borne out of a racist interpretation of a homogenous indigenous culture – which simply does not exist.

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Okay, so I’m going to break this down and try to explain exactly why we should be upset about this cooler:

1. Racism.

Before everyone gets all bent out of shape about me using this word, let’s bring up the definition and then see how this fits snuggly into it:

racism

[ ˈrāˌsizəm ]

NOUN

noun: racism

the belief that all members of each race possess characteristics or abilities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races.

All members of each race meaning we are looking at the overarching, identity-stripped, cultural whitewash that we call “Native American culture”.

Possess characteristics or abilities specific to that race meaning we are using a stereotypical profile (like those being removed currently from mascots across the country), we are blaspheming religious symbols and ceremonies to a limited number of cultures and also applying them broadly and stereotypically (“pan-Indianism”), and we are insinuating alcoholism is an inherent part of “being Indian” (and paralleling it to a religious name-giving custom).

Especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races meaning the ideas entrapped in this cooler design, which are all rooted in outdated stereotypes from Western films and past “Indian policies” (explained in the subsequent points), exist purely as remains from a culture that believed indigenous peoples to be savage, uncivilized, and an amalgamate race far inferior to whites.

So to conclude, this design does in fact perpetuate racism.  What’s even worse: not everyone understands why it is racist against a marginalized race of people in this country, and people continuing to act out of ignorance – that is a very damaging thing.

2. Cultural appropriation.

Cultural-Appropriation3

Race relations is still largely a problem in the United States – in fact, as I experienced through the US’s Universal Periodic Review at the UN this past week, our country is largely frowned down upon for its backwardness in race issues.  In the United States, we tend to look at race rather than at culture and individualism.  This is, in my view, still a product of past, racist policies where someone could be marginalized simply because of his/her skin color.  Slavery is the prime example of this.  So our society still has a lot to learn about culture and cultural sensitivity, which is all exemplified by the cultural appropriation we see talked about more and more these days.

Sure, America might be a “melting pot” and cultures might influence one another, but cultural appropriation takes it a step further.  Cultural appropriation is when a dominant group exploits the culture of less dominant, less privileged groups, often without any kind of understanding and respect for the latter groups’ histories and traditions.  Therefore this cooler, too, is appropriating culture that is not in any way understood by the party-goers who would likely be using this decorated piece.

3. Pan-Indianism.

I will keep this simple: Indigenous cultures are incredibly diverse.  “Indian”, by the concept of “Pan-Indianism”, refers to indigenous peoples from the northern Arctic coast down to the southern South American tip.  Now explain to me how something like a stereotyped “Indian” profile and the contents of the cooler design are not a perfect example of Pan-Indianism?  And the problem with Pan-Indianism?  It washes away cultural identity, eliminates individualism, and allows for stereotypes to branded all over anyone who falls into the category of “Indian” – without any regard for accuracy or respect of someone’s traditions.

4. Alcoholism stereotypes.

If only I could count all the times someone used Cromagnum English to tell me about “white man” bringing over the “fire water”…. Well, actually, alcohol did exist in many of cultures for centuries – maybe even thousands of years – before any “white man” arrived on Turtle Island.  Yet we are constantly making jokes about Natives by building off of these stereotypes of alcoholism in Indian Country.  But none of it is even true.

This is not to say that Reservations don’t face an alcohol problem, because they do – but surely this same trend can be attached to any other traumatized demographic, including those in chronic economic despair (and the majority of some Reservation populations live in poverty).  According to studies by the NIAAA, white people (especially men) are more likely than any other demographic to drink regularly, by a younger age, and drive while under the influence.  A bit ironic since this demographic is also more prone to perpetuate such stereotypes about indigenous peoples.

Furthermore, indigenous populations have the highest rate of alcohol abstinence of any other ethnic group.  Many Reservations and tribal lands forbid the sale of alcohol.

The stereotyping of indigenous peoples in regards to alcoholism, as done by this cooler, is just that: stereotyping.  It is only funny if you believe it is true, and if you have no heart or care about real-world people and real-world consequences of perpetuating such misconceptions.

5. Cherokee royalty defends it.

Any time someone (who does or doesn’t identify as indigenous) states “this is offensive”, a whole slew of people suddenly find red in their veins.  “Well I’m Native American and I’m not offended!” they’ll exclaim, failing to see fallacy in their statements.  I say “Cherokee royalty”, because 9 times out of 10, these people have a great-great-grandmother who was a Cherokee princess.  Well, they claim they do, because there are no “Indian princesses”.  This demonstrates how they either are completely BS-ing, going off of mainstream phrases about “Indian identity”, or they are so disconnected with their might-be culture that their opinion is absolutely 0% indigenous to begin with.

“Indianness” isn’t a costume, a trend, or even a blood quantum – it’s an identity, an identity that includes everything from participating in your heritage, knowing your clan/blood line, enrolling if enroll-able, and promoting your culture.  When you promote your culture, you’re also protecting it.  You understand the true histories about “Indian policy”, you know the current struggles of your tribe and also many struggles of other tribes, and you are familiar with the pieces of “Rez life” that don’t get romanticized by non-indigenous America: commodity cheese, HUD housing, and corruption within your own government.

Furthermore, I consider stating your blood quantum to be a rude attempt at weighting the value of your voice by western society’s concept of how “Indian” you are.  It gives the ignorant a chance to take a stab, saying things like “Well you’re only 50%, so you’re not a real Indian” or “You might be Navajo, but you’re also 50% Lakota, so you can’t have an opinion on anything Navajo”, as an example.  If you’re a dual citizen, you just say your citizenship.  What’s sad is, even when I do this, I find myself inserting “Indian” into my statement to address the blank stares I get.  The flipside to stating blood quantum as a way to identify yourself is when people who are most likely not genuinely indigenous at all (but rather fantasize about the “cool” parts of being Indian, sans marginalization, etc.) make statements like “I’m 6% Native” or “I’m part Native American”.  Umm, what?  Just…just stop.  I already know I have no interest in what you’re about to say.

6. There’s no one left to offend.

You wouldn’t be comfortable making fun of someone to his/her face for something he/she can’t change (physical appearance, religion, etc.), yet this cooler mocks religion, race, and culture.  Therefore we can only assume that this cooler was shared because it doesn’t occur to mainstream society that Indians are not in fact dead, Indians are not in fact savages incapable of technology, and Indians are in fact on social media like any other American sorority girl or other on this cooler page.  This ties directly in to all the studies being done to prove how mascots stereotype and further marginalize indigenous peoples – especially youth – who have to face perpetuated misconceptions of who they are in everyday life, from school to what they see portrayed through national sports team mascots.  Even when these mascots are meant to be “positive”, they still impact these peoples negatively.

If you’re interested in these studies, here are some links to what has been discovered as psychologically damaging to populations that already suffer disproportionate amounts of historic trauma:

http://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/nfl/2014/07/22/indian-mascots-report-washington-nfl-team/13006145/

http://espn.go.com/pdf/2013/1030/espn_otl_Oneida_study.pdf

https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/race/report/2014/07/22/94214/missingthepoint/

7. Hate speech platform.

Let’s be real: No one using this cooler has any interest in educating people on why they find humor in it despite the grave realities behind why its humor is rooted in on-going racism.  You’re not going to go to a party and find people saying, “Oh, hey, funny cooler!”  “Oh, yeah, thanks – it’s actually stereotypical, culturally appropriating, etc., but it’s funny because most people don’t know the truth behind why it isn’t funny!”  Nope.  In fact, given my experience, if anything comes from it there will be a following of more stereotypes, like wawawawa, dancing around like idiots, perpetuating this noble savage interpretation of real living human beings.  And, to add to bullet 6 above, all of this would be done as if it were impossible that someone in the room could possibly be indigenous.

examples
Search: My Indian Name Is Runs With Beer for many more examples.

As I conclude this piece, I have learned that the cooler was apparently already removed from the page.  Regardless, I am alarmed that this is not a rare occurrence.  (See relevant post on Newspaper Rock: http://newspaperrock.bluecorncomics.com/2011/01/aim-fights-runs-with-beer-t-shirt.html)  I am also alarmed that too many people have come to defend the racism behind this example.  I hope that the time I have spent writing this piece will speak to two audiences: 1) I hope indigenous friends and allies can identify and roll their eyes at the classic examples of rhetoric used in defending yet another classic example of racism being widely misconstrued as acceptable; and 2) I hope all of the others have found this piece an adequate summary for why we shouldn’t be taking such things so lightly.  Again, I don’t think “political correctness” should be used as a pejorative.  But I also believe such an example steps well beyond the limits of what is or isn’t “PC” and enters the realm of intolerable racial tension.

“trail of beers” – the perfect example of mascot-induced stereotypes and racism.

When I was at the United Nations conference last week, we held a meeting on indigenous issues.  I brought up the mascot issue in one of the three questions allotted during the panel, and we discussed current work happening to resolve it.  One guest in the room made the comment, “What about Chicago Blackhawks?  I don’t ever hear anyone talking about them…”

I replied to her that they are talking, but that doesn’t mean you’ve heard much about it yet.  When it comes to these kinds of issues, it’s mostly going to be our voices on social media until it causes a big enough stir to be covered by someone else.

I have also heard many people call the Blackhawks name and logo “one of the tamer ones” – which is true in one sense.  It is true in the sense that it’s not intended to be a grotesque caricature with blood red skin, as with the Cleveland mascot, and it’s not a racial slur, as with the Washington team.  But it’s still unacceptable to make racial-based mascots of any kind, including indigenous ones.  This behavior seemed acceptable in a time when treating all sorts of non-Caucasian groups as inferior was part of normal behavior.  It’s been taking a long time to get a voice, but the indigenous opinions far and wide are finally getting a chance to surface in the general public.

But what about the Chicago Blackhawks?

BACKGROUND

Folks see the mascot, they hear the name, and they ask me – what is Blackhawk?  Is that a tribe?

Black Hawk was a Sauk leader who led armies against the United States in present-day Illinois during the Black Hawk War of 1832 – right at the peak of the Removal Era.  Sovereign nations were resisting the French invasion taking place.  This is evidenced by Black Hawk’s siding with the British previously in an attempt to keep America from invading his peoples’ territories.

Long story short: The US cheated Black Hawk and all of the indigenous peoples in the Illinois area.  Black Hawk recognized his people were being cheated – bribed, in fact, to join the US’s side in expansion.  The populations were divided between Black Hawk’s side and siding with the United States.  Sadly, this was likely part of the strategy and, ironically, this was also the war that gave Abraham Lincoln military experience.  Yes, Lincoln did some great things in ending slavery, but he was aggressively racist against indigenous peoples.  He wasn’t all that great of a guy, let’s be real.

So what about the Chicago Blackhawks?

Well, the logo is a profile of what the Wiki page calls a “Native head” drawn in the 1920s.  We can assume this must be based off of Black Hawk himself, as there is no “Black Hawk tribe”, but either way it’s clear it’s just a stereotypical drawing as usual.  Also, Black Hawk was defeated so that the US could settle Illinois, one of the key battles in removing indigenous peoples out of the area during the US genocide/concentration camp campaigns.  Doesn’t seem like a very nice thing to make as a hockey logo, regardless of all the obvious problems behind having indigenous mascots in this country.

Tommy Hawk (tomahawk? Sigh) is the hawk that runs around in the games.  Sure, that’s somewhat tame for what it could be, and at least the tomahawk is Algonquin in origin, but did they really have to go there?  I guess it goes with the whole theme of the thing… Many jerseys and shirts have the crossed tomahawks on the sleeves.

The American Indian Center has been noted as working with the NHL team to educate people on Native history and whatnot.  That’s a start, and it’s definitely a positive example.  But I still question the ethics behind having any kind of indigenous mascot whatsoever – regardless of how you present it.  Studies have shown that negative and positive representations are still stereotypes, still cause damaging effects to the mascoted people, and still generate a platform for non-indigenous people to stereotype, mock, and perpetuate ignorance.  It’s a damaging cycle and honestly none of it is necessary.

Which brings me to my main point that I want to expose: The “trail of beers”.

TRAIL OF BEERS

During the demonstration against Cleveland’s mascot/name this April, I got to hear a passionate speech by Anthony Roy of Chicago about all the wrongs of these mascots, including the effect they’re having on the Chicago community.  He told us a list of things that happen as a result of people taking the mascot and stereotype way, way, way too far.  This is the perfect example of why we have to get rid of these mascots.  People don’t even know the harm they’re doing, the prejudice that they’re accepting and finding humor in.

One event, he said, is the “trail of beers”.

The Trail of Tears is the name given to the Cherokee people’s long walk during the US government’s genocide/concentration campaign that resulted in so many indigenous deaths.  Today, it has resulted in the current struggles we see in many nations trying to recover their sovereignties.  Today it is also, apparently, a source for drinking games for Chicago hockey fans.

I do not know the extent of these games, but I have found two examples on Facebook.  One is in Bloomington, Indiana, called “Trail of Beers” on Facebook, and the other is in Dixon, Illinois, called “Blackhawk Trailofbeers”.

Here is what the description for “Trail of Beers” is on Facebook:

TOB Facebook

About: Celebrating the struggles of America’s native people.  A beer for every tear.

Description: Trail of Beers Official Facebook TOB Staff Grand Marshal – Dexter Volx Asst. Grand Marshal – Casey McCune Head Facepainter – ((OPEN apply now)) Apprentice Facepainter – ((OPEN apply now)) Head Photographer – Adam Scheerer Apprentice Photographer – ((OPEN apply now))

Other volunteer positions are available, if you want to help out contact the GM or the Assit. GM

Traditionally the Trail of Beers has been a house crawl format.  This year we are trying something new with the Trial of Beers Reservation.  It is essentially a block party filled with live music, a slip-n slide, drinking games, other undisclosed activities, and of course copious amounts of beer.

More information is being posted daily.  Like the page and be filled in on the TOB lowdown.

Thank you, Your Grand Marshall

Yes, you read that right: Trail of Beers Reservation.  And in case you want to know where this Reservation is, they made us a map:

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You can also buy t-shirts such as these:

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And you can be wasted and classy in the name of all those “tears shed” like these people:

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But when we check out the Blackhawks Trailofbeers page for the Dixon event, we see some even worse stereotyping, commentary, and just absolute disgustingness in general.  It’s a gathering of parents and locals, all presumably white or other, playing “Indian”.  They’ve got chicken feathers, paint, and fake buckskin pieces that they apparently think is what indigenous peoples wear.  They have a drum with a buffalo painted on it, beer, and plastic canoes, plastic bows, headbands, and fake jewelry.

Blackhawk Facebook

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I’ll be frank: They look like complete idiots.  What’s even worse, they’re contributing to the same things I’m trying to fight, like the sexualizing of indigenous women whose rape, murder, and missing statistics are disproportionately high (and who are disproportionately victimized by white men):

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It’s not just these photos, but it’s the disgusting, derogatory comments that are public on Facebook.  “Are you two part of the Secsee Tribe?  I think so.”  (Meaning “sexy”, probably in “Indian” to that, er, goon.)  “Pocohantas!”  (Oh, yes, the only indigenous woman you can imagine.  Stop living in the Disney dreamland already and learn the truth about Pocahontas.  Or some actual, notorious indigenous women.)

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What’s even worse is these women apparently enjoy whoring out themselves as well as the peoples they’re stereotyping.  This attendee to the “annual river trip”, decked with what appears to be a bindi? (she probably thinks we’re actually from India), liked all of the comments on her new profile picture.  INCLUDING THE ONE WHERE SHE IS CALLED A SQUAW.

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Oh, nooo.  I have been called that in real life.  This is so not okay.  But really, if you want more evidence of peoples’ stupidty and cultural appropriation, just search the hashtag #trailofbeers and you’ll see plenty of “#throwbacks” with “#manifestdestiny” and other disgusting depictions of white people playing “Indian”.

JUST PLEASE EXPLAIN TO ME: Why it is UNACCEPTABLE now to do this to black people?  Which totally was NOT the case 100 years ago, when blackface was in actual practice.  So WHY are we allowed to “PLAY INDIAN”???

Well, for the same reason we’re allowed to have mascots:

  1. People don’t actually understand the histories,
  2. Including the part that gets left out: We’re still here!