October 26, 2009

Sitting Bull's killer on Highway Patrol logo

The man behind the Highway Patrol logo

By Curt EriksmoenThe American Indian symbol of the North Dakota Highway Department is the profile of an actual Lakota Indian.

Marcellus Red Tomahawk was a warrior who actively fought against the whites during the early years of Dakota Territory. He later settled on the Standing Rock Reservation, becoming a member of the Bureau of Indian Affairs police force.

He was part of several peace negotiations, served as a Lakota goodwill ambassador and met with U.S. presidents. Red Tomahawk is most remembered as the man who shot and killed Sitting Bull.
Comment:  On the plus side, this logo features the actual profile of a real Indian. And he served with the BIA Indian Police, which isn't the Highway Patrol but is a form of police work.

On the minus side, he was never a chief--judging by the article, at least--so he shouldn't be wearing a stereotypical headdress. Only actual chiefs should wear them. And he killed Sitting Bull.

Really, North Dakota? Is this your idea of an honorable police officer? Someone who kills a major political figure while trying to arrest him?

The article makes it sound as if Sitting Bull was resisting arrest. Accounts of this incident differ about what really happened and who was to blame. But I don't think anyone has claimed Sitting Bull was armed, so a "resisting arrest" justification seems dubious.

It's always the police's responsibility to control this kind of situation so problems don't occur. Red Tomahawk and the other officers didn't do that. By delaying Sitting Bull's arrest, exchanging hostile words, and letting Sitting Bull's supporters gather, Red Tomahawk was ultimately responsible for what happened.

Sitting Bull probably shouldn't have been arrested. The charges against his Ghost Dance movement violated the First Amendment's guarantees (freedom of speech, religion, and assembly). Red Tomahawk may have been doing his duty, but killing a revered, iconic figure isn't something to be proud of. It's not the kind of thing North Dakota should honor in its logo.

For more on Sitting Bull's arrest, see Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. For more on Indian logos, see Team Names and Mascots.

No comments: