Language of Savagery: Stop It Now
By Rob Capriccioso
Some Natives have grown so tired of the disrespect that they simply choose to ignore it. Others, like Rhonda LeValdo, the Acoma Pueblo president of the Native American Journalists Association, take a different tack. She is one of the most proactive warriors combating what she calls the “sad and disrespectful commentary” against Indians; her battles are fought with words—lots and lots of words. She regularly sends e-mails and letters on behalf of the organization when someone in the dominant society does something she thinks is insensitive. In the past year, she has had to send plenty of messages, each loaded with explanations and calls for rectification, but always presented in a respectful manner. Her take on this case is straightforward, “I would never disrespect any other religion based on how they pray and or what ceremonies they do.”
LeValdo says the negative reactions to Gonzales’s prayer are part of a growing number of arrows launched toward Indians from conservatives.
Stephanie Fryberg, an assistant professor of psychology and affiliate faculty in American Indian Studies at the University of Arizona, has concluded that, “Most Americans do not even consider whether the language they use about Natives might be considered discriminatory. In fact, when they think about ‘Native Americans,’ the image that comes to mind is a romanticized, historical image, not a contemporary 21st century Native. The notion that we might feel offended by their language does not even enter their minds.” She said the problem tends to plague Natives more than other minority groups in America because of the age-old cultural practice of “playing Indian”—“Whether playing ‘cowboys and Indians’ or using American Indians as sports team mascots, these cultural practices trigger positive childhood memories of play rather than the historical injustices with which they are factually connected.”