October 25, 2014

Tulalip Indian shoots "Tomahawk" students

Most reports on the tragic murders at Marysville-Pilchuck High School noted that Jaylen Fryberg was a member of the Tulalips Tribes--an Indian. None suggested that his Indian status was a cause of the shooting spree--except this one:

Jaylen Fryberg Is Not Your Indian Savage

By Taté WalkerIf you’ve spent any time among Natives in their own communities, you realize quickly that a Native kid living among his people will invariably grow up learning how to feed his family (whether that’s hunting or farming or gathering). This is normal in our Native societies and an important way we pass down cultural teachings.

But that explanation doesn’t rate as news precisely because it doesn’t fit into the narrative of Natives the Western world is primed to accept. The image associated with Native men is that of an aggressive warrior or savage. Redskin. Chief. Indian. Brave. Seminole. Fighting Sioux.

We are mad. We are bloodthirsty. We will stop at nothing to win. We’re told these images of us used by sports teams are honorific. Be proud, we’re told. We’re honoring the only part of you we can accept: The way you looked centuries ago when we defeated you. But, hey, your team wins and gets millions in advertising so let’s just ignore the unrestrained racism on your helmets.

For those of us who have spent years studying the effects of mascots and Native representation in mass media, it’s no coincidence that Jaylen turned to violence when his own football team was the Marysville-Pilchuck Tomahawks, a nickname that came under fire several times over the past couple of decades as school boards across the country became hip to the fact Native-associated mascots are damaging in ways that utterly dehumanize and erase Native youth identities.

Claims debated

Taté Walker aka Missus Wrackspurt seems to be making two claims. One, that the media characterized Fryberg as an Indian warrior or "savage." And two, that Fryberg thought of himself as a warrior or savage.

I read a lot of the news coverage. I didn't see any sign of the first claim.

Showing him with a gun is what the media would've done with a shooter of any race. It's not an image tied to his being Native.

An early posting on Fryberg's background was this one:

Jaylen Fryberg: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know

It noted he owned guns and was an Indian, but didn't dwell on these facts or combine them into a "warrior" or "savage" meme. I'd say this was the norm for the reporting on this story.

As for Walker's second claim, it's impossible to know without knowing Fryberg's history and psychology. But it's not uncommon for minority shooters to feel angry because they think society has prevented them from achieving the American dream.

In any case, Walker's readers criticized her claims and she defended them in the comments:Student
I knew jaylen, and despite all of your “research” this was not a crime born from racism. Natives are 100% equals at our school, generally being very well liked, as jaylen was. This crime was not the result of bullying as you seem to think. Now, nobody but his family who may or may not have read a suicide note that he may have left knows for sure, but from every knowledgable source I have heard ANYTHING from, this was completely the result of a severe depression from relationship problems. I know that your post was in good taste and had no bad intentions, however I think you are over looking possible serious mental disorders this child may have had and are instead placing partial blame on things such as school mascots. Ask any native person in OUR community and you will see clearly that natives were extremely well respected in our city and one horrible decision/incident does not reflect on us as a whole.

Missus Wrackspurt
Student: I am so sorry for your loss. My prayers to you, your family and community.

Nothing about my commentary was in any way related to who Jaylen was as a person, positive or negative. Obviously, I don’t know him. Will never know him. His motives were his own and unknowable, as they are for all individuals.

That said, I am constantly looking at the intersections of race and society, especially as those issues relate to Indian Country, because I work with Native youth and understand the struggles they face, even if they might not know some of the *systemic* causes themselves. If you are willing to learn more, please check out the links toward the end of my piece. This “research” is scientific, nonpartisan, and proved over and over again. In this scenario, systemic racism IS mascots, IS the media’s portrayal of Jaylen, as a teen, as an outdoorsman, and as a tribal citizen. We must address these issues and have these conversations if we want things to get better. As a mother, this is of the utmost importance to me.

Thank you for taking the time to read and comment.

OUR community not yours! this is not a native issue. Do not let it become one

Missus Wrackspurt
I’d normally trash a comment like this, because it adds nothing to the conversation. But since you’re the millionth person to say this to me in the last two days (and since you didn’t call me a derogatory word – thanks), I’m putting it up to say it is indeed a Native issue. You are part of the problem in erasing Native identity with comments like this. Do better, Anna, which for people like you means shutting up and listening to the many marginalized voices trying to tell you how to make things incrementally better.
Comment:  Without knowing anything, I'd speculate that the warrior mentality prevalent in Native cultures did influence Fryberg. Being a football player, a homecoming prince, and a Tomahawk all may have contributed to a toxic sense of entitlement.

That is, he may have felt he was an alpha male who deserved the girl (his girlfriend). When he didn't get her, that may have shattered his "warrior" pride and led to the shootings.

For more on the subject, see Santa Barbara Shootings Show America's Pathology and Dunn Trial Shows America's Pathology.

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