January 16, 2009

Marching Chiefs today, all Indians tomorrow?

In Wyandotte Indians Aren't Marching Chiefs, an Ojibwe named Michael wrote:All tribes on this continent had to survive by being strong and working hard. They did not require someone to go about threatening kids with a lawsuit to survive. Furthermore you cannot obtain equity for past sins or advance a people by eliminating every reference to that people, not even by a small measure. Academics like yourself teach us the burden for overcoming stereotypes rests with the state and its various mechanisms of law and when that doesn’t work, civil disobedience against the state. But practical life and history teaches me that the burden will rest only on the shoulders of those who call themselves Native American. That which you seek can only be obtained by hard work, and representing our people the best we can everyday, and then trying harder the next day. You go about your foolish cause of cleansing Native Americans from the current culture, and I’ll do as I have been doing, drink only in moderation, work hard, advance myself academically, and teaching my children to be strong and proud of their heritage. I will not be asked to speak at a lecture or be published, but in the end I will have left something more substantial to native history than you. If enough people join me the meaning of the mascots will change, without a ceremony or press conference as is always the case with real change.My response:

By "academics" like me, I presume you mean Native activists like Suzan Shown Harjo, Vine Deloria Jr., Charlene Teters, and Vernon Bellecourt. Not to mention the long list of Native organizations that oppose Indian mascots. They're leading the charge, not me. I'm just chiming in to support their position.

No one's talking about removing every Indian reference in existence. We're talking about removing only the stereotypical Indian names and logos. Sheesh. Is that concept too complex for mascot lovers to grasp?

Why would I want to remove all Indian references when I promote Indians several hours a day, 365 days a year? Do you think I'll delete the 5,000-plus entries in Newspaper Rock after we finish eliminating Indian mascots? Don't be stupid.

I refuted a "removal" claim similar to yours in Mascots Teach Us Indians? I suggest you read it, since it applies to your equally ludicrous claim. Get a clue about what mascot foes actually want, since you don't seem to understand it.

The legal "threat"

Throughout this controversy, the only references to legal action have been these:

Wyandotte band allowed to be 'Chiefs' at inaugurationGunderson said he won’t take legal action against the school district to change the band’s name, but will continue to try and exert public pressure to get a different name for the band.Logo of Chief Restored for InaugurationSchools Superintendent Patricia Cole said in an interview with WJR radio's Frank Beckman that the district received a letter of about 26 pages just as the district was starting the holiday break. Schools personnel began talking to lawyers and considering options.Not surprisingly, you're railing against a nonexistent threat--a straw man.

I don't think Gunderson has held a press conference or a "ceremony," and I certainly haven't done so either. In fact, I'm doing exactly what you recommend: working hard and representing Native people the best I can every day. Thanks for implicitly endorsing my approach, friend, though you may not realize you've done it.

Change a-coming?

"If enough people join me the meaning of the mascots will change"...from what to what, exactly? From what they currently signify: that all Indians are the same "noble savages" represented by a Plains chief?

If that's your goal, I must've misunderstood. Because that's my goal too. Let's change the meaning of the Marching Chiefs so a "chief" no longer represents anybody who wants to proclaim his toughness by associating himself with a savage Indian. So it represents only an actual Plains Indian chief and not every kind of phony "warrior."

In the end you'll leave something more substantial to Native history than I will? That remains to be seen, doesn't it? If your legacy is promoting Native stereotypes and mine is opposing them, I'll take my legacy over yours any day.

Below:  "I'm a scowling Indian chief who's ready for war. I represent all of America's Indians, including the poets, priests, and peacemakers. If you don't agree, I'll scalp you with my tomahawk."

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