Words Unglued

The following is is a guest post by Skylar Henry. It was created as part of the COP23 SustainUs Delegation creative challenge.  Please see the end of the submission for his bio.
Poster PictureThis is a photo of six SustainUs members at the 2017 Native Voices Rising march in Washington, D.C. I provided the materials for these posters which I was able to source from the Arizona State University’s American Indian Student Support Services at the West Campus. My friend, Remy Franklin, is holding the awesome poster I created for the event. It reads, “We are not protesters. We are messengers.”

Hello, my name is Skylar Henry and I’m from Cedar Ridge on the Navajo Reservation.  I would consider myself an artist because the tribe I’m enrolled in has a rich culture and creative, artistic people. Not only do I recognize the creative culture of the Navajo Nation, but I am also recognizing that of the other tribes, both federally and non-federally recognized. This is because, collectively put, our cultures encompass the artistic values of our customs and traditions, and, with that, our point of view.

Climate justice is directly affects the lives and cultures of all of our nations.  In drawing on my perspective as an American Indian witnessing the direct impact of climate justice in my community, I chose to contribute with a poster to the 2017 Native Voices Rising march in Washington, DC. My piece incorporates a peaceful message emphasized by the soft background; however, the font also makes a bold statement.

Although I, sadly, was not in the picture, or at the march, I was and continue to be with those pictured in spirit and through my creation, the poster itself. If given another chance to be part of the cause, and possibly access to the resources to get there, I would be more than happy to show up in more than just spirit. As a student, I could allocate my time and notify my professors what I am doing and how it is important to my identity so that I would never miss this opportunity again.

My poster appears simple on the outside, but the story behind it and the energy put into it are far more complex. I was limited on resources – both material and time – but was determined to contribute my piece to the movement. The colors I had to work with were just as limited, but I made the most of what was available to me. With creative, artistic beauty and with a purpose, one is able to create any media that I would call a success.

Once completed and in reflecting on the process of creating my media, I soon realized the true effect my piece could have. To me, the colors of the font are the themes of America and of patriotism, reflecting on our Code Talkers’ view of how and why we must defend this land. That is one underlying fact in the appearance.  The overlying fact – much less abstract to the viewer – is what the statement on the poster has to say.

One of the most appealing and noticeable parts of the poster is its background. With my limited resources, I combined the colors available to me in the best way I could that would still transmit my message. I believe this palette sets the peaceful tone and feeling which was the goal of my work and the goal of the Water Protectors at Standing Rock. Not only is that, but the palette I chose also eye-catching to the audience and you can tell by yourself. The audience can relate to the colors and capture a tone of what they are feeling from the colors. Combined with the written statement, this poster has an effect as a whole that transmits the message the heart, mind, body, and soul.

I designed my poster so that certain keywords are of a different color, highlighting the important pieces of my short and sweet messaging. The word “protestors” may have a negative connotation, so I thought the color red would be an ideal symbolism for CAUTION. The word “messengers,” however, is in white, promoting a more peaceful tone and feeling. I added blue as well to the poster as it carries a more relaxed ambiance and meaning. The juxtaposed expressions of “we are” and “we are not”, written in this blue, illustrate the steady path to the truth and transitions to the main keywords and ideas embodied by the message.

In addition, I believe that messengers are a once-in-a-lifetime deal. To some, Jesus is a messenger.  To Navajos, it might be the coyote crossing their path. Messengers appear in our lives and may vanish as quickly as a shooting star, but their message can still be eternal. Messengers are here for us – all of us – and that which they have to say and do is what we should listen to and be concerned about. Messengers should be taken seriously, not lightly, as they may be transmitting knowledge and a concept greater than our mortal selves.

Image may contain: one or more people, snow, outdoor and natureSkylar Henry (Navajo/Paiute/Zuni) is a Junior at Arizona State University and an upcoming artist.  He draws on his heritage as inspiration and frequently incorporates artistic interpretation into his interdisciplinary Business and Communications studies.  Having grown up in the Western Agency of the Navajo Nation, which is near the Grand Canyon, he is familiar with the intersectionality of natural resources, culture, and climate justice.  In December 2016, he was fortunate enough to visit to Standing Rock and deliver artwork at the sacred campfire.

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

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

NOT their racial identity.

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

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

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

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

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

So about Blackface.

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

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

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

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

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

EXCEPT.

Except
except
except
except
except
except….

If you’re a sports fan.  #TELLMEWHY

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

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

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

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Tell me why this is “socially acceptable”?

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

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.

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.