UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues – supplemental submission

The Southeast Indigneous Peoples’ Center reached out to me via Twitter earlier this week, asking me to supplement their submissions to the UN in NY today and to Geneva in two weeks.  They had seen the work I was doing for #IndigenizeZuckerberg and also the mascot issue in Biloxi this past week.  This is their reviewed version of the piece I threw together to supplement their report on how the mascot issue is a form of hate crime in violation to UNDRIP:

Since Manifest Destiny first targeted the indigenous peoples of North America, Native Americans and Alaska Natives have become a marginalized race of Peoples, suffering worse afflictions than any other racial group in the United States.  The U.S. Government holds a special trust relationship with the hundreds of sovereign indigenous nations within the 50 states, yet treaty rights continue to be ignored and Indian services are severely neglected in federal spending priorities.  As a result, Reservations have become concentration camps where the descendants of genocide victims are expected to either lose their indigenous identities, leave, and assimilate, or to continue suffering in silence.  Centuries of wrongful U.S. policy has demonstrated the desire to erase cultural identity from the indigenous peoples, to reap tribal lands of resources for the benefit of the non-indigenous and leaving pollution in its wake, and continually neglect the high youth suicide rates, murdered and missing indigenous women, and discrimination on indigenous peoples by outside communities.

 

Not only is tribal self-determination not being adequately promoted, but mainstream America is being taught a biased history of the vast crimes committed on indigenous peoples.  Their skewed view is multiplied when their only modern exposure to Indigenous Peoples are the grotesque and stereotypical caricatures, racial slurs, and cultural appropriation used as mascots in educational systems and lucrative sports industries.  These inaccurate representations perpetuate ignorance and provide platforms for hate speech and the continued silencing of Indigenous Peoples who live in fear of verbal and physical repercussions to their dissent of such mistreatment.  The continued mascot issue therefore perpetuates and worsens the continued neglect in Indian Country.

 

The Onedia-commissioned study documents the direct impact these stereotyped imageries have on the self-worth of indigenous youth who already have the highest rates of suicide of any group in the country.  It also demonstrates how these images continue to teach non-indigenous youth prejudice, even if the mascots are meant to be positive and even if the children do not intend to learn racism.

 

According to the Aspen Institute,

• American Indian/Alaska Native (AI/AN) poverty rates in 2009 were 23.6%

• AI/AN average household income was $33,300 versus a National average of $46,200 in 2000

• AI/AN in Indian Country have incomes of less than half the National average

• the IHS estimates, historically, annual Congressional appropriations have only met 52% of AI/AN healthcare needs

• in 2009, 24.1% AI/AN lacked health insurance coverage, yet had more than double the suicide rate, with indigenous teens the highest suicide rate of any group in the country, a 514% higher alcoholism mortality rate, a 177% rate of diabetes (and the highest Type 2 rates in the country), and 500% higher rates of tuberculosis.

• 16% of students at BIA schools in 2001 had attempted suicide in the preceding 12 months

• the second leading cause of death is suicide, 2.5 the national average, among AI/AN ages 15-24

• in 2003, the national graduation rate was 49.3% for AI/AN versus 76.2% for whites, 13.3% AI/AN got undergraduate degrees verses 24.4% for the general population

• drop out rates for AI/AN high school students are more than double the national average, and are over 50% in states with the highest AI/AN population

• AI/AN children make up 2% of American children, yet 8.4% of American foster care children

• violence accounts for 75% of deaths in AI/AN ages 12-20 years (malicious injuries, homicide, suicide)

 

Statistics from the U.S. Department of Justice:

• AI/AN women are 2.5 times more likely to be raped or sexually assaulted than women in the U.S. in general

• 1 in 3 AI/AN women will be raped in her lifetime versus 1 in 5 of American women in general

• a larger percentage of victimization against AI/AN women is committed by white offenders than by AI/AN offenders

 

All of these statistics are relevant to demonstrate how, across the board, AI/AN youth, women, and whole communities are suffering as a race at unacceptable rates.  The U.S. Government is obligated to provide services to these communities, and to promote self-determination.  However, self-determination requires self-sustainability in four community aspects: environmental, social, cultural, and economical.  All four of these components are being inadequately addressed if not completely neglected, as evidenced by these atrocious statistics.  Furthermore, the lack of education and the perpetuation of hate speech and silencing of indigenous peoples that revolves around the presence of indigenous mascots in non-indigenous communities directly contributes to these disparages.  These symbols encourage the dehumanization of human beings.  This dehumanization washes away identity and cultural significance, leading to the cultural appropriation of sacred indigenous symbols and beliefs.  The lack of proper education on indigenous histories and current issues contributes to this ignorance.  All in all, indigenous peoples are lumped together as a lesser human race and are silenced and continuously marginalized.  Youth have lower self-worth and self-respect, and suicide rates remain terribly high.  Indigenous women, by the thousands areraped, murdered, missing, and ignored by the populations who are statistically more likely to have committed the crimes in the first place.

 

So we ask, as indigenous youth who accepted the Gen-I challenge this year, are we expected to accept that we or 2/3 of our friends and family will be raped in our lives?  Are we expected to accept the perpetuation of dehumanization against us and all Indigenous Peoples through the continued use of native mascots in our schools and sports?  Are we supposed to lose more indigenous friendsto suicide, because we are just an expanding statistic?  Are we supposed to believe this is what is constitutional to Indigenous Peoples?  When will the international community stop ignoring the disparities in between indigenous and non-indigenous communities and the lack of education on indigenous realities in mainstream US?

 

Start with the easy fix:  Change how we educate Americans on Indigenous Peoples, and change how they view the mascot issue.  Banish all mascots and public uses of racial slurs, such as by the Washington football team, the Cleveland baseball team, and the hundreds of schools still using these images like the Biloxi Senior High School in Mississippi.

 

We are harassed, ridiculed, and live in fear of the consequences when we ask others to stop dehumanizing and mocking usWe fear for our lives and the lives of others, just because we are representing IndigenousPeoples in an overwhelming non-indigenous society.  

 

We ask: 

Why does the United States refuse to protect our rights as defined by the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (DRIP)?

We recommend:

1. ALL RACIST MASCOTS eliminated before the close of schools June 1, 2015. Indigenous Peoples will define what is racist.
2. US comply with all Articles of the UN DRIP and eliminate all derogatory images of Indigenous Peoples and indigenous persons and culture and obtain permission to use indigenous cultural heritage in accordance with Article 11 and other relevant Articles of UN DRIP.


hope, and hypocrisy.

I decided I no longer want to wait to write this post, so I am writing this from my iPhone while I sit in my work truck, waiting for site construction work to start up again.  (At least I get to engineer outside this week.)

When it comes to social justice, creating equality, erasing prejudice, fighting global warming, etc…. Sometimes I just get downright depressed.  In one moment, I am so strong and so ready to make a difference, then in another I am deflated.  I look at the immensity of change needed and I feel defeated.  And when I end up talking in circles to people who don’t see my side, two things happen: 1. I start questioning why I am so headstrong in my opinions, and have to reassure myself that I am on the most open-minded side; and 2. I start really disliking people.  A generalization, yes, but sometimes humanity straight up depresses me.

I’ve worked for several years now on a clean water engineering project in Cameroon.  For the first couple years, I felt like I was responsible for fixing community sanitation and water problems.  After a long time of working with the community, learning their culture, and having heartfelt conversations in Cameroonian French about their views of the world – over some palm wine, of course – I began to realize was the one with the problem.  

My American experience had trained me to transpose my own understanding of how the world should be – and of how happiness should be quantified – so that I failed to see my own impact on the community.

I saw villages with not enough water projects.  I saw our own village only reaching so many households per water tap.  I saw kids in December 2012 trough January 2013 wearing the same clothes every day…and they were wearing the same clothes on my next visit in March 2014.  I saw poverty.  I saw a lack of impact.

What I wasn’t seeing is “wealth” that isn’t measured in U.S. dollars, “happiness” that isn’t quantified by gallons of clean water delivered.

These people in the village may have only received a small amount of clean water, but they are rich in culture and avocados, in music and laughter.  They may wear the same clothes on any ordinary day, but they don’t have a need for more.  What we were giving them was more than just an education on how and why to wash their vegetables and hands – it was also a sharing of cultures, a new perspective, and friendships.  We gave them RESPECT, and they gave it back by making us honorary nobles and queens of Batoula-Bafounda.  The King even stamped my passport with a jolly laugh of pride and power.

I bring this story back up because I think it reflects a couple lessons I have recently learned in my travels across four continents.  And I suppose it is fitting since I turned a quarter of a century old today: 1. Culture is the most important context, and 2. It’s not up to me to fix the whole world but 3. I will fix it through others if I mend what I can reach, because sometimes people are more broken than the planet, and there IS hope.

Reverend Daniel Budd of the First Unitarian Church of Cleveland – where I teach 8th graders on social justice – recently posted an opinion piece on Cleveland.com calling for Native American mascots to end.  This was a confidence booster for me as I respect all the things I have hear Reverend Budd preach on.  On Earth Day, he gave a sermon about Global Warming. In many ways, it was depressing – but he uplifted us by saying, We cannot expect to mend the whole world ourselves, but rather we can mend what is within our reach.

After a year of being away from the village in Cameroon, I returned and was met by a wall of screaming children.  The minute I set foot out of the passenger van, they flung themselves at me, shouting Linda!  (They nicknamed me that after hearing stories about my family, and liked the name of my late Aunt more than Kayla, apparently.)

I guess I had more of an impact than I ever realized, for these children told other children and some have even decided to do better in school so they can do more for their communities.  I saw the same effects while traveling in rural communities across India.  It’s amazing – and scary – to think so many children are watching me, maybe even making me a role model in their eyes.  We must always set the best examples.

As I see hope in this, I also see hope in the people I reach out to.  Some folks are quick to shy away when I make mention of the mascot issue, and I’m often afraid of droning on endlessly about it.  Some people won’t listen to me for a second.  Then I got to a peaceful demonstration to me ridiculed by a man in red face, being told I’m being honored by a self-proclaimed Apache in a chicken feather headdress, and being the background of several selfies of fans with Cleveland gear on and their middle fingers up.  “Go back to where you came from!” and wawawawawa sounds ensue.  All in the presence of indigenous children.

It sucks.  And I start to think it will always be this way.

Then a coworker, born and raised fan, posts my blog to his page on Opening Day.  A friend argues via text with me until I tell him “just read my blog”…and he later apologized and said he sees my side.  Another coworker listened to me in silence as I explained for an hour my experience and admitted he never saw it that way, and the mascot is an issue.  A 64-year-old construction worker drilled me with questions just two days ago.  He read some links I wanted to share and saw my side.  “I’m white, white people did horrible things, it wasn’t my fault but I mean just look at the blacks, still… It wasn’t my fault but it’s still happening and I’m old, I was raised prejudice, but I don’t want to be anymore.  I try hard, and folks need to try harder.  They need to be talking more about th, because the world is still so wrong.”

And then, as if by a miracle, this strong mother and Biloxi resident not only reached out to Deloria but she wrote this and posted it today: https://justabiloxigirl.wordpress.com/

One drop makes a ripple.  All of our honest work will pay off.  THERE IS HOPE.

And yet…

Only our HONEST work will get an HONEST outcome.  Only RESPECT will be rewarded by RESPECT.

When I posted the other day about what the alumni were saying, it was a way to expose the hypocrisy in their arguments.  These statements were on social media.  They clearly demonstrated the wrongness in the approach those individuals were using in their defense of “honor” and the mascot.

But I am very disappointed in some of you.

No one – NO ONE – is justified by attacking the people in the screen captures.  Engage in a meaningful dialogue, if you can and must, but if you have cyber bullied Lauren or any of the others from the Biloxi issue, then you have hypocritically undermined the work of both of respectful mascot debate and also the #IndigenizeZuckerberg movement.

Think about it.

Maybe it wasn’t many of you, I wouldn’t know.  None has retaliated by giving me your names.  However, if I were you, I would learn from Lauren’s examples and take ownership of what you have said.  Not just to Lauren, but to anyone.  You are not helping our cause, or yourself.

And, remember – children are always watching, always making role models.

JEAN-LUC PIERITE: Educate yourself about the people of Tunica-Biloxi.

A recent acquaintance, with whom I came in contact while seeking enrolled Biloxi Indians disapproving of the Biloxi mascot, worked with Sun Herald to publish a piece about his disapproval of the mascot, etc.

Read the piece here: http://www.sunherald.com/2015/04/25/6193343/jean-luc-pierite-educate-yourself.html

Thought I would pass it along.

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.

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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:

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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.

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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:

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

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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.

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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:

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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”.

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

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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.

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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”.

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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.

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

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

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

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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.

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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.”

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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.

mascots: imagery, expectations, and modern human artifacts.

The Cleveland Indians logo is antiquated, morally wrong on many levels, and really only here today because native rights have been the slowest of any race in the States to begin, evolve, and finally build momentum.  People’s daily exposure to such logo imagery has allowed it to become a familiar part of life in Cleveland and sports all around.  Having that piece of nostalgia threatened to be removed from fans’ experiences blindsides them and makes them lose their common senses in arguments that truly just boil down to equality and cultural respect.  But I totally agree with them on one thing: It’s a logo, it’s a mascot – it shouldn’t matter.  Yet it does.

“I’m just getting so SICK of hearing about this mascot issue.”  Well, buddy, guess what….The Indians are getting sick of these centuries of marginalization!  You’re not the one standing on your ancestral soil being ridiculed and sidelined in life on a daily basis.  So get over yourself!

I have written many times how the mascot issue is a “microcosm” of a bigger problem.  I still stand by that, and I probably always will.  The way I see it, the mascots aren’t worth caring about – but only on a personal level.  As an individual Indian, a person shouldn’t let such imagery haunt him or herself and instead rise above it.  However, finding peace with oneself is only one realm of feeling happy and safe.  When you leave that realm and step out into a world that surrounds you with that imagery, with people who blindly support such imagery because they do not understand your culture or the culture of your fellow Indians, because they will not take the time to understand you… that is a different story.  You can respect yourself, but the outside world is demonstrating its lack of respect for you when it supports these images.  Of course, the claim is classic: IT IS HONORABLE.  NATIVE AMERICANS SUPPORT IT.  Well, I know a hell of a lot of Indians, I’ve sat through many a community discussion on this topic, and I personally agree that it is not okay.  And it all boils down to ignorance of American Indian history, policy, cultures, sensitivities,…  I believe any human with half a heart and a genuine understanding and knowledge of these topics would want to burn the imagery off of their favorite jerseys in a heartbeat.  If any fan doesn’t believe it, it means they are one of those few cruel souls who can’t rise above racism.  Anyone who wants to physically act in rage against Indians over it, well you might as well join the Klu Klux Klan because you are that low of a person.

Perhaps one of the things I find the most frustrating about Chief Wahoo as I live here in Cleveland is that so many people agree with me that the character doesn’t represent an “Indian” at all.  They use that argument to justify why I shouldn’t be offended by it.  Yet, these are the same people who, upon being introduced to me, look at me and say, “Oh, you do look Native American.”  I always want to pull out a picture of Chief Wahoo in that moment and ask, “Like this?  Do you even know what an Indian looks like?”  Well, we look like a hell of a lot of things, and none of them are that.

Ironically, I never really gave much thought about mascots before Cleveland.  Of course, I also was never exposed to them.  I always had a Wildcat as a mascot with the exception of two private schools I attended – one in Ohio and one in Pennsylvania – which had no mascot at all.  My school was predominately white with the second largest population being American Indian, at least in the years I was a student.  My professional sports teams were represented by career titles and animals.  I never even knew Cleveland’s baseball team existed, or paid enough attention to realize what Washington’s team was about.  In fact, in hindsight, I feel like an idiot.  I guess I knew Washington used the word it uses, I knew there was a generic Indian logo involved, but I legitimately went my entire childhood believing that the NFL would never use the R word as a name.  I thought the R word in the Washington team was some kind of football term for the leather used in a football.  I’m not even joking.  I thought it represented pigskin, not my ancestors.

My father is a steeler.  I can take pride in the Steelers representing our Steel City.  My father is also an Indian.  I cannot take pride in any of those teams represented all 566+ groups of our people in one offensive representation, or under one phrase akin to N*****.

Moving to a city, especially one like Cleveland with the logo it has,…that made me realize why the issue didn’t matter to me before.  Because before, I didn’t have it in context.  Before, I wasn’t experiencing it in my face.  When I finally made the move and came here for University, I had it spat at me – often literally.  I was degraded for wearing beaded jewelry.  I was denounced for admitting my heritage.  I was told hurtful things like “Oh, don’t cry a Trail of Tears over that”.  Once, on a bus to a track meet, I was handed a blanket because I was cold and someone joked, “Don’t take that!  It might have smallpox.”  My coach used to call me “Pokey” because Pocahontas was the only Indian he could liken me to.  Then I went to my first Indians game and experienced the racism firsthand.  Not being able to keep my mouth shut, I quickly became a victim of scalping jokes and racial slurs.  I vowed to never return.  Over the years at school, I’ve had my belongings vandalized and found insulting anonymous posts about me to a website that has since been shutdown.  Even in the workplace I’ve sat through a one-sided accusation of how life as a minority, woman engineer must be the easiest life when the government just hands me checks so why do I even work?  To all of these things, I have burst of anger but often just have nothing to say.  Even friends accused me daily of “still caring” about native rights when I wasn’t living on a Reservation.

And they’re right: I don’t even live on a Reservation.  My heart goes out to all those friends I have who do, all those friends that I haven’t made yet, all those people that deal with this on a regular basis who cannot hide their identity as well as I can, a mixed Indian living in an urban setting.  Being exposed finally to these injustices just makes me cringe on how it must feel to be a full-time Indian, to really be in the heart of this dilemma, not just someone like me who can avoid those baseball games, who can shut off the TV or sign out of social media, who can bit her tongue, turn a blind eye, let go of her culture and identity, and pretend to be someone she isn’t.

The imagery…the disrespect…the pressures to change yourself, as if something was wrong with you to begin with (which isn’t true).  I’ve come to realize that, no matter what my blood quantum, tribal status, or living conditions – I cannot just sit and be idle.  I am just too greatly disturbed by the amount of hatred I feel as an urban Indian, and I can never even begin to imagine how these feelings – in addition to the daily struggle that already exists – crush my friends and peers every day as they uphold their identities on the Reservations.  And yet the more I speak out about these issues, the more and more resentment I am faced with.  Every once in awhile I break through and am gracious for a conversation of curiosity and understanding.  However, this often turns in to the making of the human artifact: “Hey kids, come over here and meet this real Indian.  Yeah, she’s American Indian.”  And suddenly children are staring at me, some touching me, some shaking my hand – and I feel like I’m living in Ouidah, Benin or Batoula-Bafounda, Cameroon again where no child has seen a human being who isn’t black.  I become the modern human artifact.

Why am I so fascinating?  Because suddenly that logo has come to life and it’s not up to the expectations?  “You do look Indian”, justifying that I meet some standard expectation society has of my appearance?  One that isn’t the logo, yet is surely not informed either?  I hate these encounters, when I feel like an artifact.  I hate it because not only does it feel miserable but I sit there and think I am not a representative sample of all 566+ nations.  I am one single person with one unique heritage.

See, the mascot and logo issue delves a lot deeper than just the imagery and the sports.  It’s all interconnected, just like the planet.  It rebounds in places the general public cannot see and does not take the time to seek out.  And I am just one person, and this is just one perspective, I am fairly confident it is not a unique one.

And, no, I do not live in a tipi.

 

110% human.

When I go to an Indian Country event, this is the kind of dialogue I encounter:
“So are you native?”
“Yes.”
“Which tribe?”
“Potawatomi.”
“That’s cool, I’m Dine.”

When I discuss my passions for improving the health of native communities with “outsiders”, this is the kind of dialogue I encounter:
“–and I’m really passionate about it, partly because of my grandfather and my Potawatomi heritage.  I’m especially concerned with–”
“You’re Indian?”
“…um, yes.  But it’s really irrel–”
“Feather, not dot, right?  But you have light eyes.  You can’t be full blood, can you?”

Until two years ago, I never networked with other tribal students.  I never experienced positive conversations like the first.  I only knew conversations like the second.  And to be honest, it made me extremely insecure.  I almost didn’t want to be a part of the community because I thought anyone who wasn’t a part of my family would ostracize me like that.  Because I didn’t fit some stereotype.  Because I wasn’t full-blood and I didn’t grow up on a reservation.  I began to understand why my brother feels uncomfortable acknowledging his heritage.  I might have light eyes, but I have my grandfather’s features and a darker complexion.  My brother, on the other hand, inherited blond hair from some mysterious, hidden gene pool in our family history.  We don’t look anything alike.  He doesn’t even look like our parents.

Well, I’m really glad I got over my looks because, quite frankly, I probably inherited a proportionately unbalanced amount of traits from my grandfather’s side.  I’m not full-blood Indian; of course I’m going to look like all of the many things that I am.  And that’s just fine, because it’s what I am.  I don’t need to live up to someone else’s stereotype, especially if that’s going to keep me from doing what I want to do.

My experiences with AISES really opened my eyes to that.  That first conversation was actually part of a real conversation from a trip in Alaska in 2012.  No one cared what my blood quantum is.  When heard the word Potawatomi, they didn’t interrogate me about its validity; they asked me to explain my culture.  They explained to me theirs.  I learned that many of my friends were also from very, very, very diverse backgrounds.  Some were 100%, sure, but some were 10% with a heavy dose of Latino, or Chinese, or German.  Many friends had French last names for the same reason I have one.  (My one friend even jokes that anyone from our region’s “got some kind of French in there somewhere”.)  Probably the best part from the first conversation is when my to-be friend took in the word Potawatomi and said, “Wow…I can see green in your eyes.  They’re so beautiful!  You don’t see too many of those here.  So are you in the research competition?”

This was so not a conversation #2.

That’s one of the reasons I really love the diversity of my AISES community.  We’re all so different, and yet so similar.  We all have crazy histories, and some of us are still living crazy, oppressed lives.  But we come together and we share and there’s no comparing or edging one another out.  Maybe that’s why there’s so much oppression on the outside; others look at groups of people and make it all black-and-white, talk them down, crush them if they pose a threat.

I actually really hate the blood quantum rules.  I mean, each tribe is different.  Some are certainly more lenient than others, but not all tribes are even federally recognized and even less have reservations.  While I think it’s necessary to protect minority communities from undeserving people who might raid any benefits, the rules also make it difficult to have an identity that is separate from a label.

I’ve had people ask me: “You’re like, what?  50?  20?  10% native?  Why do you even care?  You don’t live on a reservation.  It’s not like you need anything.”

Right, because I’m perfectly fine living an ordinary life while other people who share many of my histories are suffering so that you can have your freedoms.

How can I not care??

I’ve worked twice now in Cameroon on an Engineers Without Borders trip.  I flew a bunch of construction boots over to donate this last trip.  No one asked me to, I just saw a need and filled it with the means.  I’m not Cameroonian.

I’m traveling to Haiti in December on a social justice trip that will help impoverished communities with their farming techniques.  I don’t get paid for the trip, I will just gain experience.  I’m not Haitian.

Why do I need to be FROM something or AFFECTED directly by something to justify caring about it??

That is why I have decided on a new motto, a new mantra that I will think about every time I am discourage in my fight for social justice among rural, native, whatever communities:

“It doesn’t matter if you’re 100%, 50%, or 0% by blood.  You just have to be 110% human.”

Because being 100% human apparently doesn’t mean being humane, compassionate, or caring anymore.  You have to be that little bit more, and you have to act on it.  And that’s what I’ve decided I am.  I am 110% and x, y, z% a million other components, but I will still continue to work on my projects and I will still dedicate my time to US Indian Reservations and native communities.  I don’t care what percentage anyone is.  It doesn’t matter.  It shouldn’t matter to care.  In fact, (ridiculous example, but) the US Census Bureau could call me today and say “There’s been an error, you’re actually 100% Blackfoot.”  They could call me and say “You’re actually 100% Polish and all of those other census records were forged.”

I DON’T CARE!  Either way, I would continue my work.  I don’t care.  And NO one should care.  NO one should have to justify being 110% human, and that’s the identity I choose to live with.

a case of social injustice.

Social Injustice is a bizarre concept. It is complex, multi-faceted, and takes different forms relative to perspective. By its very definition, social injustice embodies the deliverance of unfair treatment and bias by a group to an individual or subset group with differing views. It is often made synonymous to immorality, or being contrary to accepted principles. It is a particularly difficult reaction to withhold when judgment is passed cross-societally when fundamental beliefs are more likely to contradict, even acutely.

Without a single, universally-accepted version of “truth” or even a universally-accepted and plain definition for the word, society naturally diverges into a plethora of worldviews, principles, and opinions. This divergence in moral views is what has given birth to variance in political parties and in religious beliefs among humanity. It creates diversity. It creates democracy. It also creates conflict.

Conflict, when used as a tool to address issues and deliver justice, can be a healthy side effect of social-moral divergence. It’s what makes democracy work: discussing how matters do or do not conflict with a nation’s fundamental principles and laws. Oppressing a way of thinking because it is not the popular opinion is when society causes democracy to fail. When these outlying opinions are disrespected and punished, social divergence and moral conflict transform instantaneously into a case of social injustice.

In the United States, Canada, and much of Western Europe, the employment of democratic governments has solidified moral foundations on which the governments operate. Amongst these and in the forefront are the rights to freedom, equality, and free choice. Not only was such freedom almost denied to a young Canadian Aboriginal Makayla Sault and her family, but their principles continue to be assaulted online and elsewhere by ignorant and self-righteous critics.

Makayla Rain Sault

Makayla is the eleven-year-old daughter of two Pastors, Ken and Sonya. They are members of Ontario’s New Credit First Nation. In January, Makayla was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, a blood cancer. She had been going through chemotherapy treatment per standard procedure until her story surfaced in the media around early May. It surfaced because Makayla reportedly asked her parents to quit chemo. She felt sick, she didn’t want to die sick, and wanted to exercise her rights to seek traditional medicine instead.

This story surfaced in communities such as Indian Country News as another tidbit of relevant happenings in the native community. Comments were of the supportive nature from other Indian Country community members who demonstrated their belief in the power of traditional medicine and the right to choose. In Canadian and American media outlets, however, articles ranged from liberally supportive to accusatorily denouncing. Comments on such electronic copies of the articles ranged as well. The supportive ones either came from people claiming native ancestry and thus having no qualms with traditional practice or from others who agree with the fundamental right for people to make their own choices, regardless of what one’s personal viewpoints were on traditional medicine, leukemia, or modern medicine.

The comments and the articles, however, which denounced Makayla, her parents, and their choices, built their foundations on their own beliefs of what is knowledge and of what is truth. A nauseating number of comments even took stabs at Native Americans as a whole, laying one inappropriate racist remark after another. Such comments served no purpose toward the end-goal and only exposed the grotesque ignorance Americans and Canadians have regarding the cultures that originally founded the landscape on which they now supposedly exercise freedom and equality for all. And while it would be hypocritical to withhold these people from their opinions, no matter how racist and ill-informed, their actions still work backwards against justice, freedom, and other constitutional pillars.

Between all the outcries, Makayla returned home to her reservation – but the medical “professionals” spat their protest in return. (I quote “professionals” because of, well, the whole what is truth and what is knowledge thing – on which I will elaborate in a bit.) Child Services was thus brought in to investigate. Should Makayla’s parents be deemed incapable of providing her the sound minds and care she was owed by them, the outside, non-tribal government would step in to take over. During the wait, Makayla’s parents released a video of their daughter reading a letter about how she felt in chemo, how much healthier she felt she was already becoming using traditional medicine, how she would rather die this way than in chemo, and how Jesus came to her in the hospital and assured to her that everything was going to be okay.

Now that it is June, the court has made its decision: to let Makayla stay at home with her parents. It was realized that Makayla’s parents were of sound mind, that Makayla was aware of her choices and knew which one she wanted to make, and that forcing her against her will might actually cause more stress, strain, and damage to her life than it would be an act to preserve it. Again, Indian Country comments praise her choices, her freedom, and traditional medicines. Mainstream comments either praise her right to choose and the strength of her family to let her, or they again denounce Makayla with such keywords as ignorance, stupidity, and shame. Some commenters are even gracious self-righteous enough to suggest her parents order the coffin now.

To me, the choice is obviously Makayla’s and her family’s. To me, disagreeing with her choices is fine, wanting to withhold her choices is diverging from the fundamentals of American and Canadian society, and choosing to actually withhold her choices would be an act of social injustice. To me, acting on racist comments, ignorant opinions, and cross-societal judgment is also a form of social injustice. My viewpoints are obviously not universal, so I will break down the key components of this situation.

Race

A lot of reactions that I have encountered in arguing the rights of Makayla have been ones that insist race is an irrelevant factor and that it should be. But I don’t think that’s the case, that it is either irrelevant or that it should be (although it would be great if past conflicts hadn’t kept that from being the case). For one, if race were truly irrelevant, why is it in the majority of the posted reactions online? Why is it even mentioned in the article? Well, it’s mentioned in the comments because self-righteous, ignorant people evidently choose to base their arguments on fallacy, or maybe they are just cruel and insecure. I’m not about to attempt explaining why humans diverge from their own social standards, because maybe it’s just an inherent folly of our race as a whole. As for the article, it is an important factor in two ways: It, as with the mentioning of Christianity in the Sault household, lays the moral foundation on which the Sault family operates. It also develops a slightly more complicated situation as far as governmental procedures are concerned.

Although education on the histories and present states of indigenous cultures in North America still lacks significantly considering the proximity and relevance these groups of people have had and continue to have to America and Canada, the majority of the populace should have a basic understanding of their past conflicts. Without delving into a whole other argument, consider that the American government has been notorious for not delivering social justice to the hundreds of peoples encompassing the aboriginal population in North America. As a result, several factions exist separately from the mainstream government.

In America (I’m more familiar with this system), this means that certain tribes own reservations, which have their own tribal governments. The land of a reservation is technically not part of the state or states in which it geographically belongs. The federal government oversees both the state and the tribal governments. The tribal governments operate separately, as state governments do.

There is no way to easily summarize the complexity of issues on the average reservation, but here’s how I see it: Between the sudden relocations and unfair land allocations made through past acts of social injustice by the American government, many of these tribal communities find themselves with insufficient natural resources. So many societal and governmental changes over the last century, too, means that many have struggled to develop rapidly enough to catch up with “modern” society around them. Yet, these tribes still function under the same federal system and they still choose to exercise the cultures, traditions, and beliefs as those who have immigrated to the same lands also choose to do. Unfortunately, such exercise was not permissible until the 1970s, later than any other “race”. So between struggling systems, depleting natural resources, and culture shocks, these people have a lot of justified fear and have not forgotten what has happened to their cultures over the last few centuries by a government that has since absorbed them.

How does this pertain to a modern Canadian such as Makayla? Well, Makayla lives on a reservation. She is protected by treaty laws that would be violated if the Canadian government removed her from her reservation. (History repeating, anyone?) Furthermore, Makayla is of Ojibwe descent and actively living with her family in their tribal community. It is not surprising that her family values their culture and traditional medicine much like it is not surprising that a daughter of Christian Pastors speaks of Jesus having come to her. To denounce her and her family of their belief in medical healing would be, in my view, the same as denouncing her for their Christian beliefs – and I bet a lot more people would have a problem with the latter. But what is the difference? They believe God is Truth just as they believe traditional medicine is the same, better, or at least more peaceful than “modern practice”. So, please, save your comments about “white man” and his “strong medicine”. I don’t know whose egos are even boosted by such disrespect. And please respect the reason for reservation treaties, rather than mocking natives for being “racists” and “trying to isolate” themselves. It wasn’t that long ago that Canada had residential schools for “savages”. And by not long ago, I mean 50 or 60 years ago. Maybe within your lifetime. What oppressions have you faced in your lifetime that are of that intensity? Honestly and without making this a pity competition?

Knowledge

Accompanying the denouncing of traditional medicine is the belief that modern medicine is in fact the answer. Wow, talk about history repeating. This is looking down on another culture’s view of the human body and of its traditional knowledge. This is the same attitude that landed so many innocent people in those residential schools to begin with. It is the same attitude that, if unchecked, blossoms into a hatred as strong as Hitler’s for a single race or a single way of thinking. People believing they know the absolute moral truths of the planet are exercising their rights to moral standpoints, but forcing those beliefs on others is where lines are crossed. The truth is, we don’t know what truth is – at least not as a collective when so many varying fundamental truths exist amongst today’s cultures. All we can do is hold our own truths and respect the truths of others. These truths are what allow us to live and practices ways that we believe are correct. The combination of truths and beliefs allow us to ascertain what we consider “knowledge”, but “knowledge” is word that has been of strong philosophical debate since at least the time of Descartes. Why does this matter? Because knowledge is also a cultural perspective.

We might have facts. These are statements that are made and cannot be disproved because they are true. But to say something is factual is a difficult process. Religion is one of constant “factual” debate. In my view, Science is, too, a religion – something that cannot be humanly controlled and therefore is difficult to prove. Maybe things can be disproved. But to prove something? To actually make something true? You can expect society to develop diverging opinions. As mentioned before, that’s why we have different branches of government and different denominations of religion. (If “the Word” is “truth”, how are there so many different kinds of Christianity?) Alas, what makes science any different? Some “believe” in Darwin’s theory of evolution. Some don’t. Gravity is a theory, too, a thing that we can’t see but that we have so far consistently demonstrated – but it could be inaccurate. At what point is it a true, completely defined, controlled thing?

Modern science is no exception. We get statistics. We try to control simulations. We perform experiments, derive theories, draw conclusions. But we haven’t always been right. Do you know how many times chicken eggs have been considered “healthy”, then “unhealthy”, and then only “healthy” if eaten with some arbitrary amount of moderation? Quite frankly, I think the human body is super complicated, that modern medicine has discovered some amazing details and observations about it, but that humans don’t know jack. Humans also love to think they have knowledge and then use those notions as a weapon to beat down others.

One of the steadiest arguments against Makayla’s case is the reportedly high chance of survival with her particular kind of leukemia. Statistics have been report here and there, inconsistently, but most seem to average out at about 70%. That means there are four cups in front of you. Pick one. (Slighly more than) one contains a death sentence. No one denies chemo isn’t horrible, although I bet you the majority of medical “professionals” dealing with cancer patients have not actually experienced cancer or chemo themselves. So back to the cups: suffer through chemo and pick one. Was it worth it? Would it have been worth it if it were 50/50? What about 10%? What if? Someone says this: There’s virtually no way you will survive this, but modern medicine says chemo is your best chance. If you try traditional medicine, you can bet you’re going to die. Without the side effects of chemo. And you can bet it based on that “professional’s” opinion, a “professional” who has only studied and been given the opinions that exist in “modern” medicine to date. Because so many statistics exist regarding traditional medicines. Because, Billy Best anyone?

Let’s not forget where “modern” medicine even came from. Did it just crop up one day, like someone opened a box and declared “I have found modern medicine!”? No! It started with the basics, with plant remedies and simple survival skills that are the reason why we exist today. Our ancestors survived on these basic medical practices. Our bodies evolved consuming(or were simultaneously created with to consume) the plants, the atmosphere, the world that naturally occurs around us. Traditional medicine isn’t some spontaneously invented, unwarranted native voodoo – it is, to some cultures, also a “profession”. A “profession” that not every member of a culture is skilled or knowledgeable to even practice. To be as arrogant as to declare that we know something that we can’t possibly know but that we can only infer from select inquiries? Well, isn’t that like the whole GMO argument? Isn’t that “playing God”?

The Right to Choose

But really, who cares? Who cares who or what Makayla is or anything else? Her parents aren’t lunatics but reportedly loving. They believe they are exercising their love for their daughter by giving her the choice of comfort and familiarity. They are all well aware of the possible consequences, but they believe in the power of natural remedy in the way they believe in their Savior looking over them and making choices that human hands can never make. I don’t care if you believe the Spaghetti Monster is by your side – it’s no one’s business to hold your beliefs against you, especially with something as intimate as a life-or-death matter. With all political, religious, and cultural turmoil aside, they are Canadian citizens with the right to choose. And poor Makayla… To quote her, “I live in this body, and they don’t.” Child or not, Makayla clearly understands her rights and her right to choose, and no Ontario law prohibits her from doing this. Her community supports her right to choose as well and all authorities are in compliance that her parents are of no danger to her. So why is this so complicated? Because doctors disagree with Makayla and some members of the outside community have voiced opposition based on their differing views. All I can say is Thank you, Makayla, the Saults, and the supporting community for recognizing the right to choose and exercising it. Thank you, Ontario, for honoring and protecting the rights of Canadian individuals and choices regarding their own lives. And now let’s show support – whether you like the choice or not – for a sick but strong girl. It’s not a call to liberals, to aboriginals, to Canadians, or to Christians – it’s a call to a humane humanity. Gishwe’ muk kshe’ mnIto pine’, Makayla!