October 10, 2012

Stanford Indian makes a comeback

Adrienne Keene writes about the troubling reemergence of the Stanford Indian mascot in her Native Appropriations blog:

When offensive Indian mascots hit too close to homeI've written several times about how Stanford was the "Stanford Indians" until 1971, and how student activism was the root cause of the mascot change. Just a few months ago, when I was at the leadership team training for reunion, I posted about how heartened I was to see this passage in the training handbook, declaring that "these images perpetuate stereotypes, are hurtful and offensive to American Indians and others, and are particularly inappropriate and insensitive in light of the history of forced assimilation that American Indian people have endured in this country."

So, imagine my surprise, when in the span of just a few hours I was able to capture all of the following images, without even really trying. I'll include the stories with each of them--though admittedly, I was often too shocked or angered to engage in long dialogues with any of the offenders.
Perhaps the worse of several offenders:So this one I couldn't believe. I spotted this pin within 10 seconds of being on campus, on the hat of an older gentleman walking with a cane. I couldn't get close enough to see what was on it, but then, my friend Elena and I ended up in line next to "Barbara" who had it lovingly pinned to her name tag:

Yeah, that's a wild-eyed tomahawk wielding Indian holding the SKIN of the Arizona Wildcat. Right, this is honoring, this is showing pride in Native peoples and traditions. I felt sick to my stomach as I took the picture. She was babbling on and on about the mascot back in the day, and honestly, my ears were roaring with shame and rage, and I missed the majority of what she said. I caught the end though; "We always said, when they got rid of the Indian, 'well, that's just another Indian out of a job!'" I looked at her with a blank face and turned my back.

Adrienne's reaction when she got home:I can't even tell you how hurtful it was for me to see those images on campus and in my inbox, and to hear the folks defending it (or celebrating it, in the case of Nick's email) makes me so upset. The biggest thing I kept returning to was that these images erase our humanity. Mascots are animals, mythical creatures--meant to be "brave" and "vicious" (and don't get on my case about the Vikings or the fighting Irish, I've covered that ad nauseum, it's not. the. same. thing. There is not current and ongoing systematic oppression and racism of Irish or "Vikings" in the US)--but we are a real, diverse, and contemporary group of people. I can't stand being equated with a "wildcat" or a bear.

There are real issues of power here too--these people that I took the pictures of made me feel, if only for a moment, like an unwelcome outsider on my own campus. A campus of a university that I love with all of my heart, and have donated so much time and effort to, made me feel like I wasn't deserving of a spot at reunion. In their eyes, I was a savage in a loincloth, with a big nose and wild eyes, not a Cherokee woman who graduated with a double major, has a masters, and is completing her doctorate. A campus that welcomes this kind of open marginalization, and yes, racism, of Native peoples is creating a system wherein Native students, alumni, faculty, and staff, will never be seen as equals.

You may say you're "honoring" us--but I'm telling you, as a Native person, that this in no way honors me. My amazing friend M. posted this on Facebook yesterday, and I think this sums it up beautifully:We would like to be honored by seeing our culture taken down from the shelves of costume shops. We would like to be honored by being consistently included as a whole racial demographic in social and scientific research. We would like to be honored by not being accused of taking some other student's place at Stanford simply because we're Native (even though we're often accused of not looking Native enough). I, and so many others, would be honored if we could--someday soon--stop explaining why we are so deeply offended.Exactly. I would add that we would like to be honored by the recognition of our treaty rights and tribal sovereignty as well.
Comment:  For more on the subject, see Whooping "Indians" at 2011 Stanford Powwow, Dreamcatcher = Healing at Stanford, and Eliminating the Stanford Indian.

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