October 05, 2009

Trimble apologizes for "victimhood" insults

Charles Trimble:  A Fighting Sioux womanRecently I wrote a column about the Fighting Sioux mascot controversy that has been raging at the University of North Dakota for much too long. My words were critical, in fact insulting, to some Native people who are offended by the mascot and are demanding that the University discontinue its use. I wrote of them that they are “perpetually-offended purveyors of over-sensitivity and victimhood.”

I did not picture any of them individually as I wrote that description, and later as I described them as a “sulking and sour minority;” I generalized and smeared them all. That kind of smearing is easy when you don’t have to visualize individuals you’re writing about. It’s just “them,” the “troublemakers.”

I received a fair amount of e-mail, and some blog comments, most of them favorable, or agreeing with me. But I received one that hurt. It was not a mean letter, but a powerful one. It was from the daughter of a person I had met many years ago in our common fight for Indian rights--a person I had great respect for and fondness for. I should have known that she’d be up there at UND in midst of the fray, because she’s a fighter, a warrior. And if I had pictured her as one I would be describing, it would have been different, or I would have written nothing at all. Indeed, if I had pictured any of them individually I would not have written as I did.

Her name is Waste’Win Young, daughter of my long-time friend Phyllis Young, and she’s a member of the Standing Rock oyate. Like her mother, she’s a fighter for Native peoples, and a tough lady, a real Dakota, a true Fighting Sioux. With her approval, I am including some of what she wrote. Here’s what she has to say:

My name is Waste'Win Young. I am a citizen of the Standing Rock Oyate. First and foremost, I am “ina” (mother) to my two sons Zuya and Wakicunze. I am also an alumna of the University of North Dakota Class of 2001. As a young woman I grew up reading your columns and always felt quite proud that your words could illuminate a lot of our people's stories.

However, today when I read your column. I literally felt sick to my stomach. In my view point, you went from being a champion of our people's issues into someone who never attended UND, who was easily bought by the neon green of the jerseys and pretty logo.

I’m so disappointed that I can barely fathom where you got your reasoning and your hurtful words that in no way reflect my journey at UND.

As a young Lakota/Dakota I attended the University of North Dakota (1997-2001). I graduated after five years with two degrees in English Language/Literature and American Indian Studies. I have worked for the Standing Rock Nation since 2003. I am the Tribal Historic Preservation Officer.

I have a lot of love for my oyate regardless of politics--and that’s what this nickname issue is--politics. I think it’s extremely unfair and unreasonable for you to make assertions about this issue. Especially when you have not attended school there and have not heard Standing Rock's alumni side.

I think that after five years of living in Grand Forks that my story, my experience should carry a little weight to it. I was just a young girl attending college, trying to get her degree.

I’m appalled to see that this issue has succeeded in turning us against each other. It's not okay for White kids, Black kids, Asian kids to act like "Fighting Sioux." It’s not ok for them to have parties and dress up as Indians. As educators, it's certainly not okay to turn the other cheek. I applaud my peers and professors who have persevered through pervasive ignorance, racism year after year. It’s not just good-old-college fun. It’s not native students being whiny--it’s me as a native mother telling you to "knock that shit off and I mean it." It’s a really simple notion.

Once that nickname is retired we WILL be emancipated. We won’t have that leash around our necks to be the white man's good Indian. I have always respected my elders and I respect your view point. But don’t call us names. We have a right to be heard. We are the ones who lived it, earned that feather, and came home. Never judge a person until you have walked a mile in their moccasins.
Comment:  For more on the subject, see Fighting the "Fighting Sioux" and Team Names and Mascots.

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