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.

Reflection Paper on Stolen Treasures segment of Native Americans: The Invisible People

Native Americans: The Invisible People was a documentary released by CNN in 1994 about the complications of Native American politics and other social issues. One of these segments, titled Stolen Treasures, discusses the looting crimes of Native American artifacts. The segment features the Santa Fe Indian Market, the things being sold at the market, and the kinds of people the business draws in. Viewers are shown scenes of predominantly white American vendors and shoppers with countless pieces of undated pottery, artwork, clothing, dolls, jewelry and other “Indian artifacts” for sale. The vendors boast how pieces sell for thousands of dollars each, and the shoppers talk about their obsession with buying – even at these prices. Then the mood of the segments shifts and viewers learn that an unknown amount of artifacts are illegally obtained and sold, often at places like this market. One of the many convicted looters in this country discusses the rock art he stripped from a wall in a canyon which earned him his felon status. The documentary argues that this is not a victimless crime, as one might think.

My first thought about this film is in regards to its title: Native Americans: The Invisible People. “Invisibility” is a modern issue, but for reasons people may not realize. Some might think Natives are invisible because they don’t think there are many if any “left”, or they’ll argue they aren’t invisible because they love “Indian art and culture”. Both of these ideas are misled.

Natives are thriving all around the country, all around North, Central, and South America, but the only way they are “visible” to the public is when they are stereotyped to satisfy American cravings. These stereotypes include Pocahontas, the Plains Indians of the American film industry, and other sentiments of racial inferiority. The Pocahontas stereotype derives from an inaccurately told story of an abducted child, resulting in an obsession with non-existent “Indian princesses”, being “one with nature”, and dressing up like “Pocahottie” for Halloween. The Pocahontas obsession is visible, but the fact that 1 in 3 Native women will experience sexual assault in her life – and that over 70% of these crimes are committed by men – that remains invisible.

Americans are obsessed with the headdress, the war paint, the warrior on the horse – stereotypes of “Indians” derived from Wild West films. Since Euro-American and Indian conflict occurred notoriously during westward expansion onto the Plains, the cultures that lived on The Frontier – namely the Lakota, Nakota, and Dakota (Sioux) – have become fixations in film to represent what Euro-Americans have labeled as an entire race. Ironically, the actors in these films were predominantly white people sprayed red and wearing headbands to keep their wigs on. These characters were the noble warriors and the savages, blamed for making American expansion and Manifest Destiny a dangerous duty. This film stereotype – the same that makes up nearly all school and sports mascots – is very visible, but the diversity of an entire race remains invisible.

Today, this invisibility thrives as stereotypes teach Native youth that they can’t possibly be the doctors and engineers and teachers that they have the right as Americans to be. Americans are trained by film and limited exposure to Natives to see uneducated, wild Indians with war paint and tomahawks. They see a monoculture that they call “Indian”, and they say things like “I love Indian art!” and “I love Indian culture!”, but neither of those concepts exist. When people in Stolen Treasures talked about their obsession with “Indian art and culture”, all I could do was think about how ignorant they sound. When we learn that they are likely buying artifacts robbed from graves and cultures that they don’t really understand, I imagine non-Europeans digging up Catholic graves in England, defacing Turkish mosques, and selling stolen pieces from Holocaust museums, arguing how they “love European art and culture”. How do so many Americans understand, for example, a Polish-American taking offense to being called Russian-American, but the obsession with Indian stereotypes and “culture” – singular – doesn’t raise any red flags? As I watched the segment, I decided this attitude is why so many people can rob, vandalize, buy, sell, and disrespect cultures. They think they can get away with profiting immensely from someone else’s repeated cultural loss, because, to them, these people are invisible and less than human.

In other words, this film segment reiterated to me how little respect Americans actually have for Native Americans. Part of this is due to complete lack of education on Native histories, cultures, and intergovernmental policies. Without knowing the history, they can’t know the present either. To make matters worse, the only exposure to Natives that most Americans seem aware of include the stereotypes proliferated by film and by mascots. With this immense lack of understanding, mainstream American society doesn’t as easily recognize the wrongness behind the stereotypes, or that stereotypes are a mechanism of racism. They don’t recognize the lack of respect for cultural diversity because American history has subconsciously brainwashed American students of the importance of it. Historical American policies cared about color and race, not how one identified. There were “free”, “slave”, and “Indian” categories on census forms for most of the 19th century. The only mind any government had in identifying by tribal nation was when agreements were being made to take land or resources, or to make alliances that would later result in taking more land or resources. Where does that leave us today? Many people obsessively collecting “Indian artifacts” without understanding the histories and cultural significance behind the artifacts, without thinking about the people living today to whom those artifacts rightfully belong. All they care about is decorating their homes for themselves, or making a profit at the expense of someone who is invisible to them. They think it’s a victimless crime because they have no respect for the victim or care for the damage they’re causing.

The U.S. Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990 has been helping to resolve this issue, but with some difficulty. The act doesn’t protect artifacts on private land, and the origin of artifacts can be hard to trace at times, but the threat of a federal offense is real. Looting has been an issue for decades, and obtaining remains of Native ancestors has been doubly troubling to modern Natives. Not only is taking the remains of someone else’s ancestors problematic, but, for Natives, it has been done for scientific testing that has been historically used against them. Starting in 1868, the United States Army Medical Museum was founded and Army surgeons performed craniological research to support theories of racial inferiority. In other words, graves were robbed and skulls were examined by the U.S. Army to allegedly demonstrate that Native Americans are less intelligent beings than the white race, based on cranial characteristics. While this act has helped put a stop to some crimes, it is still challenged by International policies and also by archaeologies and anthropologists who insist it’s their right to preserve and study artifacts of other cultures. It also doesn’t adequately protect lands from being robbed in the first place, or protect artifacts that have been looted from being broken or damaged beyond repair during their smuggling and relocation.

To really address this issue would be to truly respect the distinct cultures being tampered with, and to recognize them as existing, continuing, thriving groups with recognized sovereignty in this country. To recognize the past and present crimes committed against Native peoples. And, as Natives, to stand up for our special rights, ones that many lives were lost to protect and maintain to the present generation. Until we do these things, the stereotyping and cultural genocide of Native American communities will only continue as it has since the 1400s.

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:

IMG_2943

“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:

TOB reservation

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!                      

change the name.

The “mascot issue” is a completely tiresome topic.  I feel like I have reiterated, time and time again, the need to change the name and change the mascot.  It baffles me that people continue to not get it, ignore the situation, or, worse, continue to wear gear with Chief Wahoo and “Indians” on it.  When you do that, you’re saying “it’s okay – it doesn’t affect me.”  And sure, it might not affect you to the gross intensity that it affects the people targeted by the racism, but it should still affect you.  You should still be a human being, therefore you should be appalled by inequality.  And if you’re white (or part white) and you feel attacked by issues of racism, then turning a blind eye is only perpetuating the colonized attitude that it’s “not an issue”, perpetuating how the non-indigenous opinion is still considered the only valuable one.

Tomorrow, thousands plan to gather for the Opening Day of the Cleveland MLB team.  Dozens – maybe hundreds, who knows? – are also planning to gather in protest of the continued mascot issue.  But it’s not just an issue about a picture and a name; it’s about the symbolism, the racism it perpetuates, and, in my opinion, the most important thing: the health of our youth.  I could spend a lot of time reiterating the history of the hundreds upon hundreds of indigenous nations who have been victims of genocide and broken treaties, but I don’t want that to be my focus today.  I shouldn’t have to go through that history every time to make my point.  The takeaway from the historical point-of-view is: The US government has a dark history of genocide, the indigenous nations have been continually marginalized, and to this day we are lumped together as a singular dying race, represented by inaccurate, disrespectful, and even blasphemous symbolism.  Today, I want to focus on the most common counterpoints to our cause that folks ignorant of the reality tend to use as justification for their actions.

THE HONOR ARGUMENT: It’s honorable.  We are honoring your people.  We are honoring Sockalexis.  You should be proud.

There’s nothing honorable in being dehumanized, especially when you say “stop” and you’re being blamed for speaking out.  “Our people” are the Dine, the Anishinaabe,…names that you probably don’t even know.  That’s because “our people” are hundreds of peoples, with our own languages, with our own names for who we are.  The tribal names you give us are often not even what we call ourselves, and many of them have dark origins.  The point is, you can’t honor something you don’t understand.  And, if you really want to honor something, don’t make a caricature of it, perpetuate a racial slur as being “okay”, and encourage fans to grotesquely stereotype and misrepresent who an “Indian” is.  Especially don’t do it to make disgusting amounts of money off of a sport and off of alcohol.  Honor the truth, and respect it.  Respect the peoples and their rights.  When they say, “That offends me”, realize they’re hurt and that the only way to fix it is to listen.  THAT is the way to respect.  Telling us what should make us proud is NOT.  That is YOU being prideful, or, at the very least, incredibly misguided.  What honor can we feel when people dress up and “play Indian”, then stand in shock when they meet a “real Indian” and ask to take a picture?  Like we’re a dying or mythological being that they can’t believe exists in the modern world?  Furthermore, the Sockalexis story is a cover-up and not true.  What IS true about the origins of the baseball team name (and mascot) is they were founded in a time when racism was widely accepted as the “norm”.  When the newspaper could publish things like this to put a smile on the faces of Cleveland fans:

THE CLEVELAND PRESS

January 18, 1915

Now that the Naps have been re-nicknamed the Indians, we hope they will become very Indian-like and wake up. A series of real indian war dances is what the Cleveland fans want next season. Let’s hope the team will be equal to the task, even if not equal to winning a pennant. The spiders are to remain the Spiders and, with spidery Jack Knight at their head, ought to show better than they did last season. The Cleveland ball club was anxious to get a nickname that couldn’t be converted into a joke. Indians delighted Vice President Barnard. “They won’t be able to poke fun at the Indians,” said Barney. Oh, no, but wait until they begin to lose and see how soon the fans will dub them the “squaws”.

NOTE: “Squaw” is an offensive term for Native American women.  It basically lumps all Native women together as being heathen whores, and yet – to this day – “squaw” is used for place names, and I have even been called it myself.  In 2015.

To read the complete documentation of the name selection in newspaper history, check out the collection put together by the Committee of 500 Years of Dignity and Resistance: http://committeeof500yearsofdignityandresistance.com/history.html

The origins aren’t honorable, and as I’ll continue to explain – the names and mascots are still not honor.  And, furthermore, we don’t need a sports team to teach us how to respect and honor ourselves and each other.  That idea is simply atrocious.

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On the left is Robert Roche, confronting a baseball fan in Cleveland in the exact stereotypical, blasphemous dress that perpetuates these images.  Ironically, a comic on the right seems to foresee this exact standoff – yet it was drawn over 10 years before the picture was taken.  It’s a large, non-indigenous man guzzling beer, wearing a chicken feather headdress and random paint, “Go Savages” and “Kill Em” on his stomach, telling the completely “normally” dressed Native in front of him that he is honoring Natives.  Ahem…

THE REPRIORITIZE ARGUMENT: Don’t you have bigger things to worry about?

We don’t need people who aren’t even taught proper American history to tell us what our problems are.  We live it every day.  What we also live every day is feeling invisible.  A lot of people, in my experience, like to chalk up our arguments for sovereignty as some kind of “racist” movement.  That just demonstrates how ignorant they are on the diversity of our communities and why they exist.  Race is a western concept.  Biology is a western concept.  In fact, if there’s any “race” viewpoint at all that is broadly accepted across our hundreds of different indigenous peoples in North America, it’s the idea of “mitakuye oyasin” – or “we are all related”.  We are all of the “Five Fingered Clan”.  Indigenous peoples understand their places in the planet and in the ecosystem, so that’s why we are the first to defend the land.  Indigenous peoples respect their resources.  They are stewards of the land, having only 20% of its surface area but hosting 80% of the world’s biodiversity.  They’re not “hippies” and “animal lovers”, as often stereotyped – indigenous peoples haven’t lost touch with the reality of Mother Nature having the last say.  Our creation stories tell us our lands are sacred to us the same way lands like Israel and Mecca have religious importance to others, yet our lands continue to be exploited and our voices are ignored.  Our stories don’t tell us “Indian”, “Asian”, “European”, “African”.  They tell us the origin of our people, our nation, our tribe.  But I digress.

My point is, indigenous peoples have a much different view on where we all come from and who we are, so calling us racist for standing up for our rights to be sovereign nations – essentially making tribal lands our own countries – is perpetuating the issue.  It perpetuates how we are lumped together.  Once we lose our identities as individual peoples with our own stories, histories, cultures, and beliefs, we are stripped down to simple “Indians” with that “heathen-like” indigenous way.  We are forced to adapt western views on who we are, including blood quantum rules that perpetuate and transpose the western concepts of race and identity on our cultures.  In other words, the new majority is telling us who is and who isn’t allowed to be us.  Why is all of this important?  Because when we look at the outside world telling us who we are, we see imagery like mascots and old western films, pieces filled with blatant disregard for our humanity.  If we exist, we only exist on the mystical reservation.  We aren’t seen as doctors and engineers and teachers passing you by on the street every day.

We are often mislabeled as other races, or tested when we identify by our nations.  I often get this test – like some kind of checklist.  Are you enrolled?  What’s your blood quantum?  Oh, you do have high cheekbones.  Oh, but your eyes aren’t black – you can’t be more than, what, a quarter?   I don’t need other people weighing in on my “Indianness”.  Many of us have these internal struggles already, feeling like we aren’t enough for our people – or that we’re too different to be accepted by those who aren’t part of our culture.  It’s hard enough trying to live in a competitive world and have the career you want while still being culturally active.  It shouldn’t be that way, but you find yourself making a lot of choices.  Youth, in particular, make choices on whether or not to “leave home” – and often times it ends up being for good.  This is called the “brain drain”, and nations are working endlessly to defeat it.

Those who are aware of the realities of reservation life – especially amongst those groups who have been forced to “remove” – know that many of these communities are toxic environments for the youth.  They ask questions like “Why don’t you just leave?”  I was asked this once by a person whose father came from Poland.  I said, “If Germany invaded Poland and called it New Germany, and the Polish were forced to speak German and become German and destroy all things that made them culturally Polish, would the answer be for them to just leave?  To just get over it?”  I don’t like throwing other groups of peoples under the bus to make my points, but I thought that example offered relevant perspective as to why youth don’t leave, or don’t want to leave.  But the reality of conditions on many reservations makes it incredibly hard to survive.  The youth are our future, so we are well aware of how much protection we have to give them.  That is why it matters to us how they view themselves.  In a country that already has and continues to marginalize their peoples, where they live in poverty with high rates of suicide and substance abuse, etc., any negative opinion of who they are from the “outside” world is of course only going to worsen the situation.  Thus, when the image of the dying brave is plastered as a singular identity for all of these youth in a world that already challenges them, of course it will negatively impact them.  And negatively is an understatement.

Consider how many organizations (including the American Psychological Association) have joined the anti-mascot cause in solidarity to the harmful effects on Native youth and community.  And, rather than me reiterate all of the facts, take the time to read this thorough documentation on why the mascot issue is an enormous microcosm of all Native suffering and maybe you’ll realize why so many Nations have released official statements against these mascots: http://www.changethemascot.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/DrFriedmanReport.pdf

THE OVERREACTION ARGUMENT: Why now?  Why can’t you just get over it already?

The Cleveland name has been in place for 100 years now.  Indigenous peoples weren’t even considered US Citizens until 1924, after its use.  Boarding schools for assimilation were still in operation throughout the 1900s.  The Termination Era from about the 1930s through the 1960s caused many of our parents to lose recognition of their tribal citizenships.  Remember, our nations are sovereign nations.  This country was founded on that promise, despite the hundreds of treaties the US government has broken to carry out its genocide and assimilation.  As the Civil Rights for blacks came underway, Natives slowly began getting a voice in the public as well.  Religious freedom and rights started to become written law in the 1970s, but even to this day we are still fighting for religious freedom.  In 2015.  In our homelands.  The question is not WHY NOW, but WHY STILL?  We can’t get over who we are.  And the only peoples who have ever “given up” in our indigenous histories are the ones who have been exterminated completely and therefore can no longer stand up.  Asking these peoples to “get over it” is asking them to erase who they are, what they believe, and everything that makes up a person – especially after all of the hardships their ancestors have gone through and they continue to live through in order to provide this free country to Americans.  We have been continuing to not “get over it” since 1492, and that’s why (most of us) are still here.  In case you thought we really did all die out.

THE OTHER MASCOTS ARGUMENT: What about the Fighting Irish?  The Pirates?  The Vikings? The Fighting Sioux? The high school teams?

Mascots are chosen to show aggression.  Mascots are generally vicious animals or creatures, or sometimes dishonorable professions.  So, in the example of Pirates or Vikings, or Raiders, – those are all professions with a clearly aggressive, ruthless reputation.  There are also the Cowboys – an American profession and icon.  The Fighting Irish uses a leprechaun and was created by Notre Dame, a school founded by Catholic Irish – so maybe there are some offended leprechauns in Ireland.  As for the Fighting Sioux, it’s not endorsed by the many groups that make the Siouan people – no need to go into the past and present hardships of the various peoples the name and logo stereotypes.  The fact that the R-word is used at all completely flabbergasts me, and I remember being lied to as a kid that No, it doesn’t mean us, it’s a nickname for a football – the mascot’s just coincidence.  But perhaps the argument that really pisses me off is when people make an argument for not being “too politically correct” and end up proving my dehumanization point – and still don’t get it!  Recently, someone asked me what we’re going to do if we change the R-word to The Worms – then all the activists are going to cry that we’re squishing the little wormies?

Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t realize that saying, “Stop calling me a racial slur and dehumanizing me!” equated me to a worm being thrown underfoot.  THANKS FOR PROVING MY POINT.

At that point, I was done trying to make my point.  There are some people that are just too stuck in their ways to realize when they’re wrong, when they’re disrespectful.  They can’t swallow their pride and admit to their mistakes.  Kind of like elderly people who still can’t accept black folks as equals.  They’ve been trained to accept inequality.

The truth is, we shouldn’t need to be saying, “well what about this?  Well what about that?”  Look at the issue for what it is.  If one thing is right or one thing is wrong, then it will be addressed in its own time, using the same principles of respect.  Once you understand the issues at hand, it will no longer seem like a senseless battle for political correctness.

Trust me – I do not like making people dislike me for my opinions, and I am certainly not one to stand up and cause a raucous.  But, when it comes to this issue, and when it comes to our food system and our water problems, these are things we cannot ignore.  These are all issues that revolve around respect, and I was taught that respect is one of the highest things to have.  I’m not sure what’s happening in these last few decades that people seem to be losing that mentality, but respect to me is the highest form of honor.  If we cannot respect culture and human rights, just as if we cannot respect the planet and our dependency on its resources, then how will we ever coexist?  How will we ever survive?  Rather than preferring to assimilate cultures and ideas, we should be respecting their diversities and their inherent rights to exist.  Regardless of your background, your religion, your experiences – respect should be a common language.  I speak out against racism, homophobia, and other forms of human mistreatment just like I speak out against the exploitation of this planet.  Educate yourself, swallow your pride, and start respecting our differences – and change the name.

judging a book by its cover.

You’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover, or so they say.  But is that always true?

Well I say – “that cover looks really interesting”.
Maybe the author designed it?  Made it?  That’s cool!
Or maybe the author just chose the design.  Or inspired it.  Or selected the person who made it.
Maybe the cover resonates with me the same way the book will.
Or the same way it did for the people responsible for the book.
The book filled with ideas,
of that same stream of thought,
which I will be reading with a similar resonation.

Of course, sometimes an author puts a lot of work into a cover because there’s no other hope of selling it.
The book wasn’t really up to snuff,
it’s not going to appeal to the right group of people,
there’s something lacking that we can compensate for by making the cover look like this…

In my experience, the cover can be judged – as long as you know how to judge it.
You can judge a cover all you want if you look for its underlying intentions, or message, or motives.

If the book is designed to demonstrate what’s inside,
to capture the eyes of those and only those who know how to respect it or dare to try,
or even if it’s simple, unimpressive, and quiet……
Those are the books that want to be picked up by the right people.
Those books aren’t trying to impress.

But those books that are trying to look better than they are,
the ones striving to meet some elegant standard when the content itself isn’t worthy of that status,
when the cover is tailored perfectly but the inside is empty, bleak, dull,
Those books are trying to impress, and they’re shallow.

JUST LIKE PEOPLE.

And I’ve thought about that a lot lately.
How we judge people by their covers.
And how it’s actually okay to do that – if you know what you’re doing.

If you can perceive why someone is dressing/decorated/mannered the way he/she is,
and if you can consider his/her environment, drive, and most importantly message,
then you might really start to see people in a different light.

True, some people have a lot of tattoos.  And piercings.  Or dress very strangely.  But there’s a reason why they do it, and it might not be so obvious to you, the judging eyes, the person hiding behind your thoughts who could never be as brave as to dare to be that different.

But I see so many people in collared shirts who scoff at others, who earned top grades at school and can’t admit when they’re wrong, who study straight out of the book and lack total creativity, who LIE to people’s faces to win their favor, who SCHMOOZE to work their ways up corporate ladders,… Sometimes I see these people as fancy book covers, the ones who meet all the criteria of being something they’re only pretending to be.

I’m not saying I condone being one way or another because I believe a person has a choice to be how he or she wishes, I just feel like there’s too much hatred towards people who are different because, in reality, they’re daring and unafraid and completely their unconstrained selves.  And that scares people.  It threatens them.  And it’s so much easier to put down those who think outside of the box and dare to be different than it is to accept that cookie-cutter people aren’t always the best, most honest, good-hearted people.

Because they’re often times not.
I’ve worked with enough of them to know.
Enough to see that I want the people I surround myself to be whoever they are.

Whether they look cookie-cutter like, or if they look like those little cookie dough tidbits all stuck together again that didn’t quite make a whole cookie…
Whether they’re intriguing silent book covers, bright and flashy ones, or elaborate works of art…
Whether they dress from only one palette that suits them or if they wear whatever fit their budget that week at the store…
Whether they wear their hearts on their sleeves and come to me or if I have to slowly earn their trust for them to open up…

I just want them to be what they don’t need to try to be, and I don’t want them to try to be something that they aren’t.