February 17, 2013

Indians named for first thing they see?

A friend of a friend posted this letter to the editor on Facebook:

She added the following comments:This letter is totally nauseating. It appeared, on Feb. 11, in "Opinion" in The Daily Post, a local newspaper in Palo Alto, CA. Palo Alto is supposed to have an excellent school system, yet according to Ray Dempsey, ignorant drivel is still being disseminated.

The damn fools think there is only one "tribe" and one language and one set of customs. How about taking on the school system? I was taught there was only one tribe in CA, the Diggers. Now, how difficult is it to figure out what that rhymes with?
Comment:  If Dempsey was trying to make a joke, it was a poor one. "Car" isn't any funnier than "house," which isn't funny.

If Dempsey was trying to make some point about the education system or Native Americans, he failed that too. As did the newspaper for printing the letter.

If Dempsey reported the events accurately, the school is apparently teaching homogenized stereotypes about hundreds of diverse tribes. And he's apparently swallowing what 9-year-olds tell him uncritically. So everyone's a loser in this situation.

We could deconstruct this letter further. The past tense "named" is misleading, since Indians still exist. Today many Indians are Christianized or urbanized and don't follow old traditions. Some still get "Indian names," but they also get Christian names such as Tom, Dick, or Harry. Surnames such as White Cloud or Flying Eagle are passed down from parents, not made up on the spot.

In short, the letter is a failure all around.

For more on "funny Indian names," see Montessori School Mocks Native Culture and "Dodge Coronet Scalpum Competition."

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