“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:

TOB reservation

You can also buy t-shirts such as these:

TBO4shirtsshrits

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

TOB2TOB1TOB3TOB slideTOB party

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

Blackhawk1

Blackhawk 6blackhawk 8

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):

blackhawk7

Blackhawk3Blackhawk4

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.)

blackhawk 9Blackhawk2

blackhawk 10blackhawk 11

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.

profilecomments

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!                      

Not “Indian Enough”

Biloxi High School Alumni Perpetuate Ignorance, Cyberbully Natives, and Dictate Who is “Indian Enough” to Have an Opinion in Cultural Appropriation Debate.

[To read more about Native/Ally response to the cyberattacks, read my last post about #IndigenizeZuckerberg – or visit my featured article on the Good Men Project: Why Are Natives Changing Their Names to Zuckerberg on Facebook?.]

Deloria

Deloria Many Grey Horses-Violich whose Facebook account was repeatedly suspended due to her Indigenous surname. Photo: Courtesy of Deloria Many Grey Horses-Violich

As a Native person in today’s society, it can sometimes feel like an uphill battle to “walk two worlds”, to carry on your traditions while living up to the expectations of your Elders.  These unique, cultural challenges might internalize a fear that you’re not “Indian enough”, not real enough.  With our cultures repeatedly misrepresented, misunderstood, and aggressively appropriated all around us, this fear is only compounded.  We aren’t stereotypes, so how can we expect to live up to them?  It seems that the modern trend is to allow non-indigenous America (and Canada) define who they think are “Indian enough” to be members of our sovereign nations.  This stereotyping also leads to a misunderstanding of cultures, and this misunderstanding leads to cultural appropriation.  Furthermore, the American(/Canadian) government dictates which nations even “deserve” sovereignty.  Not only is this unethical, but it’s unconstitutional.  Yet, here we are today, continuing to stand up to the misrepresentation of our peoples, only to be stereotyped as “alcoholics” while we stand sober, pelted with stadium-priced beer cans from drunken sports fans.  We voice our opinion, try to shed light on the truth of how we feel, only to be told to “go back to the Reservation”, back to our voiceless place that keeps the “Indian problem” from inconveniencing American (and Canadian) lives.

The Biloxi High School cultural appropriation is no different.  In fact, it’s a glowing example of (North) American racism, hostility, and misunderstanding.

Although the Biloxi High School has long been listed on the American Indian Sports Team Mascots website as racist, the recent display of its uniform blasphemy at D.C.’s Cherry Blossom Festival has opened the floodgates of opposition.  Natives and their allies have stood up against racist mascots and symbolism for decades, but this new age of social media has helped to finally level the playing field.  Voices that were once drowned out are finally being heard, especially in Washington where a racial slur is still being casually thrown around in the name of sports.  Seeing this display of mockery – an entire marching band in sacred war bonnets – was something no person with any cultural sensitivity or a sense of respect could ignore.

5196844011_a4ab987b26_z

Biloxi uniform, photo from Des Grange’s Flickr page (Google image search).

Deloria Lane Many Grey Horses-Violich is one of these people.  Peacefully, she generated a Change.org petition calling for Biloxi Superintendent Arthur McMillan to emancipate indigenous peoples from the cultural appropriation of our Tunica-Biloxi cousins.  She eloquently defends the teenagers being subjected to the perpetuation of cultural appropriation, stating, “If you want to play the trumpet and represent your school, you have to wear an item that is sacred to many Native cultures.”  And she’s absolutely right – you see, prejudice is taught, not genetic.

Petition signers’ comments flood in:

1

2

3

4

5

Yet, instead of the Biloxi High School alumni addressing the hurt and validity in the voices of “real Indians” and their sympathizers, they chose to speak on behalf of the present Biloxi student population and target Native peoples.  These products of Biloxi education responded to Deloria’s honest efforts with a petition called “Save the Biloxi High School Mascot & Tradition” – also on change.org, started by Kristen “Krissi” West.

“Please Mr. McMillan, keep our Indian tradition alive!” Krissi writes in her petition.

6

Remember that statement for its hypocrisy; she and her fellow alumni beautifully dismantle their arguments as the day progresses.

On April 19th, Krissi announced “We will not allow outsiders to crush our traditions.  We have currently surpassed the other petition that is trying to infringe on our culture, history and traditions…”  Numerous rebuttals were posted, asking for this insanity to stop.  None were heard.  Instead, the alumni’s arrogance that they would “win” took ahold of all their humanity.  A Lafayette HS Class of 1967 replied to these rebuttals:

7

So whose tradition is being honored again?  Absolutely not that of the Tunica-Biloxi.  Absolutely not that of the indigenous peoples.

8

This is just the beginning.  The meaning behind our traditions have been under-rug-swept by genocide, and we #IdleNoMore.

Not long after the petition crossfire began, the Biloxi HS Alumni page was finding many of its comments and postings deleted by Facebook.  When page’s administrators, who repeatedly admitted their incompetence at using Facebook, found that the page had suddenly become an “open” group, all fingers were immediately pointed to Deloria.  She was accused of “creating the issue” around mascots.

9

The assault on Deloria’s account – including her temporary ban from Facebook – has added fuel to the already-growing fire of discrimination against Native names on accounts.  (Read: Facebook Protest)

[UPDATE: On April 22nd, a BHS alumnus wrote on the Alumni page regarding why their page had suddenly become Open, or public, before they made another underground page.  “As for supposedly someone hacking this group and changing it from closed to public,” he writes, “on Facebook it is IMPOSSIBLE to lower this setting after you have 250 members.  Even if an Administrator wanted to make this change it can’t be done.  Only an Administrator can only make it MORE restrictive and never less.”  In other words, the accusations were clearly false against Deloria.]

Later in the morning, Lauren McWilliams demonstrates the lack of proper Native American education at Biloxi and adds the following misinformation:

10

Not only was an enrolled tribal member, daughter of Chief Phil Lane, Jr., being called “not Indian enough”, but suddenly alumni’s claims to blood quanta of “part Choctaw”, “part Cherokee”, and “part Seminole” were being used to justify their actions.  More than once, Deloria was required to provide government-issued identification to confirm her indigenous surname “Many Grey Horses” was not in fact “fake”.  F.A.I.R. Media (For Accurate Indigenous Representation) was also targeted, accused of promoting racism by denouncing “red face” and “black face”.

11

Note the irony of the commentary.  Others remain apparently completely unaware of the last several decades of mascot activism.

12

In addition to targeting F.A.I.R. for being “racist”, Biloxi alumna Tara Harrell Duett called for a cyberattack on another woman in the Native community who had expressed her disapproval of the Biloxi alumni’s group movements.

13

After some debate, and a lot of deletion by Facebook, the Biloxi movement went underground.  They created a private group littered with hashtags “#BHSFORLIFE” and “#GOBIGRED”.

14

Members had to prove that they were “Biloxi Indians”.  Every single Biloxi graduate who made comments in favor of the anti-mascot argument was immediately deleted from the group, usually after efforts to prove they didn’t graduate from BHS and therefore were not “alumni” and “BHS Indian enough”.  This means the movement is in the hands of ex-students, not even the children who are being affected by the mascot and made to wear sacred symbols without adequate education regarding them.  Furthermore, one member admitted he didn’t attend all of his high school years at BHS, but because he graduated from BHS, that made him an “Indian” and capable of kicking out others who didn’t spend their Senior year at BHS.

Once under security of their group’s privacy, Biloxi alumni Tom Thurber began generating T-shirt and suggestions follow, as if adding insult to the injury of the Native #NotYourMascot campaign.

15

The alumni decide to sell the t-shirts to the students to raise money for their “cause”.

16

Thurber concurs, and Lateacha Tisha-Rose Reversè finds humor in the proposal.

17

Krissi West later suggests using booster.com and making a Native American Heritage Month celebration out of the “BHS tradition”.

18

Remember West’s defense of their mascot that non-Biloxians don’t know the history and rich culture associated with her school?  For the entire afternoon of April 20th, the private group went back and forth, trying to decide when and why they actually became the “Biloxi Indians” and adopted headdresses into their school band uniforms.  Therefore, their entire reasoning behind the petition is a blatant and misleading lie.

“From what I remember, IF I remember BHS history correctly, the school board back BEFORE Biloxi High School officially changed their mascot to the Indian, actually approached very important members of the Biloxi Indian tribe to officially as if they (the Biloxi Public School District) could use the Biloxi Indian as their mascot and also to use the headdress and the Indian tunic as uniform items,” writes Jerico Gotte, BHS Class of 2010.

19

Yes, you have a lot more research to do than you think.

“If it turns out that they are in fact offended by the uniform,” McWilliams writes, “we will see if we can compromise as far as uniforms are concerned.”  Not only does McWilliams confirm that there is no known consent by the Tunica-Biloxi people to use them as a mascot, but she states they will compromise  – not resolve – on the issue of their offense.

But next the alumni begin arguing that the Biloxi people themselves are not “Indian enough”.  “Their ancestry cannot be 100% confirmed,” McWilliams states, claiming that many think “the tribe, and factual descendants are extinct.”  Ignoring the tribe’s status of federal recognition, the group focuses instead on how “watered down” the tribe members are, and question if they’re even Biloxi at all.  Lateacha states, “The Biloxi blood line is dead and only traces reside in those at Tunica-Biloxi.  In fact you can find old Biloxi French families with as much Biloxi in them.  I’d still love to hear from Tunica-Biloxi, but let’s be honest there is no real ‘Voice of the Tribe’ left.”

You want “purebloods”?  What are we, dogs?

Meanwhile, BHS “Indians” continue to silence Native voices.  Other members share photos and reminisce on their days as playing “Indians.”

20

See how Biloxi “celebrates” the Indian stereotype?  Will students one day say “I remember when we appropriated Native cultures by wearing headdresses and were called the “Indians”, but I’m glad we no longer do it!”

West continues to defend the use of the Biloxi’s mascot for its symbolism.  Megan Wilson agrees, stating that “The Indian shows bravery, honor, and strength… Mascots are symbols of respect and people need to get a life…!”

And what?  Go back to the Reservation where we “belong”?  So you don’t have to listen to our outrage in being labeled as hostile, vicious, inhuman beings?

These Biloxi Alumni demonstrate they honor nothing but stereotypes, cultural appropriation, themselves, and the “Indian” ideal that genuine Natives are fighting to remove.  They have no cultural sensitivity and refuse to obtain a proper education in the matter.  Furthermore, while indigenous peoples are busy fighting for every aspect of their equality, they are being accused of having “more important things to do”.  Apparently adults reminiscing over high school and working overtime to keep racism in the education system is a more important thing to do.  These “BHS Indians” pass judgment on “real Indians”, calling them “racists” and “whiners” for standing up for their sovereignties and rights as human beings.  As a result, more civilized residents of Biloxi have joined the anti-mascot side in sympathy of the Natives, saying they are disgusted with their ex-classmates’ words and their childish actions.  In fact, many have signed our petition.

It is absolutely imperative for the citizens of this country to wake up and realize the unnecessary harm being done by the continued use of racist mascots.  The documented psychological damage on both Native and non-Native children should be proof enough of the necessity to change.  Humans are not predisposed to prejudice; instead, we are teaching our non-indigenous children cultural insensitivity and our indigenous children low self-worth.  We are perpetuating the lies of what constitutes being “Indian enough” and what doesn’t.  Stop this injustice, Biloxi, like you finally stopped racially segregating your students in 1970.  It’s time we moved beyond delusions of racial inequality.

If you are as frustrated by the exposed truth of the Biloxi resistance as I am, and see the need to discontinue the perpetuation of these stereotypes and the appropriation of cultures, please join us by spreading the word and signing our petition here.  Thanks.