By Ruth Hopkins
In the midst of this exchange, John Heilemann, an author, journalist and political analyst who frequents Morning Joe (and who occasionally says things that make sense to me), said, “But who’s the SCALP?” John paraphrased this statement by saying, “who’s gonna pay the price for having voted the wrong way?” In other words, John was questioning whether any of the congressmen who voted against the recent legislation in question will be defeated next election specifically because they voted against gun control, i.e. who will be the “scalp” (defined in the dictionary as a “trophy of victory”) that gun control proponents win.
Mr. Heilemann made a perfectly rational argument. Unfortunately his archaic phraseology took me right out of the conversation. The moment he said, “Who’s the SCALP?” my mind immediately raced to the fact that my ancestors (the Dakota people) were hunted down and murdered in their Minnesota homelands in the late 1800s, when then Governor Ramsey placed a $200 bounty on their scalps. Yes, you read that correctly. It was once government policy to encourage civilians to hunt down American Indian men, women and children (human beings), kill them, and rip the flesh from their skulls. Anyone who did so was rewarded handsomely for it.
I wanted to talk about gun control. Hell, I might have written about it. Instead, I’m writing about how colonial language can be used as a tool to denigrate and discriminate against Native people alive today, who are ready and willing to participate in logical conversations with other cogent human beings but are hindered from doing so because of its interjection. These semantics of white privilege serve to enforce old colonial notions that attempt to reduce Natives to primitive caricatures. It suggests that we are not equals. It implies that mainstream society owns Native identity, or that we as Natives are relegated to the past. Mainstream Native appropriation language like, “He went off the reservation,” “Let’s have a powwow,” or “Who’s the SCALP,” and racial slurs like “Pochahottie,” “Redskin,” and “Savage,” among others, all discriminate against Natives and prohibit effective dialogue.
It's why Rush Limbaugh called Sandra Fluke a slut and why conservatives call Obama "un-American." They want to keep the debate on an emotional level because they can't deal with the facts and evidence against their positions.
For more on scalping, see Native Scalpers in Baytown Outlaws and Chicago Councilman Keeps Stereotyping Indians.