Tag Archives: Native American

Monumental

redskinstrademark

Tomorrow evening, October 27, the Dallas Cowboys will play the Washington Redskins at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Currently, the Cowboys are on a winning streak, and hopes for a successful season look brighter than a cure for Ebola. But, amidst the usual revelry of a brutal contact sport, the issue of naming has arisen once again – the Redskins’ name.

Yolanda Blue Horse, a Dallas resident and member of the Lakota Nation, has scheduled a formal protest outside the stadium for 3 p.m. on Monday.

“When we all stand together as one, we also honor those before us and those to come after us,” Blue Horse declared. “The continued use of this negative word is not only derogatory, but it is offensive and we demand that the owner, Dan Snyder, stop using this racist word to promote his football organization.”

For years Native Americans have been demanding that Washington change its team name; a racial slur as bad as nigger, spick, chink, or elected official. And, for years, Washington has balked at the suggestion. But, in recent years, I’ve noticed something different: people are starting to pay more attention to the issue. Moreover, the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) has taken greater interest in the subject. For the first time in memory, they’ve actually contemplated banning radio and TV stations from using the term ‘redskin’ while broadcasting.

“We will be dealing with that issue on the merits, and we’ll be responding accordingly,” said FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler. Wheeler admits he’s a critic of Washington’s name, calling it “offensive and derogatory” in a recent interview. He refers to the club as “the Washington football team” instead.

Banning the term ‘redskin’ would effectively prevent radio or TV outlets from utilizing it while on the air. If they do, in other words, they could lose their license. That would mean any TV network or radio station broadcasting a game featuring Washington couldn’t openly refer to them as the Washington Redskins. The announcers couldn’t utter it, and the name couldn’t be displayed even in written form. Therefore, it’s possible a network wouldn’t take the chance and decide not to televise the game. That could result in millions of dollars in lost revenue for the network and its sponsors. If Washington should make it to the annual Super Bowl, that could create a financial calamity. Earlier this year the U.S. Patent and Trade Office went so far as to cancel the team’s trademark; denouncing it as disparaging to Native Americans. That’s the closest anyone has come to banning ‘redskin’ from public usage at the national level.

This past spring 50 members of the U.S. Senate sent letters to National Football Commissioner Roger Goodell prodding him and the league to endorse a name change for Washington.

“The NFL can no longer ignore this and perpetuate the use of this name as anything but what it is: a racial slur,” said one letter, signed by 49 senators. “We urge the NFL to formally support and push for a name change for the Washington football team.”

Not surprisingly, owner Dan Snyder has refused calls to change the team’s name, proclaiming it a noble moniker, not a slur. In a recent interview with ESPN, he once again insisted he won’t bow to public pressure. “It’s just historical truths,” he said, “and I’d like them to understand, as I think most do, that the name really means honor, respect.”

Snyder highlighted both William Henry “Lone Star” Dietz, Washington’s first coach and for whom the team was named to honor his “Native American heritage,” and Walter “Blackie” Wetzel, the late former president of the National Congress of American Indians and chairman of the Blackfeet Nation, who helped design and approve the team’s logo, as true-life examples of the positive history of the nickname.

I wrote up an essay on this issue a couple of years ago; wondering aloud if anyone would tolerate sports team names such as the Washington Niggers or the Houston Hebes. The word ‘redskin’ has a muddled history. Many claim it was a reference created by early European explorers and / or colonists who took note of the often-ruddy complexion some Indigenous Americans have. Others declare it was a reference to the reddish body paint some native peoples adorned themselves with, as they prepared for battle, or engaged in some kind of religious ceremonies. Whatever its origins, redskin is still a vulgar and racist term.

Quite frankly, though, some people of Indian extraction aren’t offended by it; seeing it strictly as a name only, with no racist overtones. In the ever-mutating world of American English, however, plenty of folks view attempts to ban ‘redskin’ and force Washington to change its name as another chapter in the ‘Book of Political Correctness.’

In an editorial last year, “Washington Post” columnist Charles Krauthammer lamented, “I don’t like being lectured by sportscasters about ethnic sensitivity. Or advised by the president of the United States about changing team names. Or blackmailed by tribal leaders playing the race card.”

The “Conservative Tribune,” deemed calls for Washington to change its name “absurd,” adding, “If anything, the team is showing respect to native Americans by actually naming themselves after them.” The same site also just published this brilliant photo of a “conservative’s reaction” to the ‘Hands Up, Don’t Shoot’ mantra over the Michael Brown shooting.

Erick Erickson, editor of RedState, blamed President Obama for the USPTO’s decision. “The lesson here is that guilty feeling white liberals are a threat to freedom and, in Barack Obama’s America, the key to survive is to not appear on the radar of in Washington, D.C.,” Erickson wrote. He further implicated “a bunch of overeducated white guys who cry during ‘Love Actually’” and “a class of men who pee sitting down.”

Rush Limbaugh noted the Patent and Trademark Office is part of the Obama Administration, which, in turn, is the source of all this “tyranny.”

Right-wing blogger Matt Barber sees an unsettling trend looming on the horizon with the USPTO’s decision. “Whether or not you believe the Redskins should change its team name, you should be concerned by this troubling development,” he wrote. “It’s a harbinger of things to come. The American free market and private enterprise are no longer free nor private. Liberty is under threat as never before. Here’s to the good ol’ U.S.A.! We’ve officially become an Obamanation.”

Comments to a “Dallas Morning News” piece about the matter last week displayed an exorbitant amount of vitriol. One man complained that he felt like suing the Cracker Barrel restaurant chain for its obviously racist name. Yes, I’m sure millions of Caucasian-Americans get sick to their stomach when they see the Cracker Barrel sign; that’s why so many of them keep patronizing those stores!

Okay, I get it! A bunch of middle-aged White conservatives are pissed off that someone dares to challenge their view of American society. It’s the same reaction many had to school desegregation and the 1964 Civil Rights Act. They’re the ones who believe the United Nations still has covert operatives hovering along the U.S.-Canadian border, just waiting for the right moment to launch an assault and force gay marriage and mandatory abortions on God-fearing Americans.

No, you idiots, this isn’t political correctness. Political correctness is saying that all Indian people are great and wonderful, even if they’re drunk-ass bastards who engage in criminal behavior. Political correctness is telling men they must always respect women, no matter what stupid or awful things she does or says to him. Political correctness is U.S. foreign policy towards Israel.

Since Snyder is Jewish, he could easily change it to Washington Kikers, but then, political correctness would really get turned upside down. But, I believe the Washington Monuments would be appropriate. Washington, D.C., is home to some of the nation’s premier monuments to its heritage. Besides, a monument – as in the Washington Monument – is a long, thick column of granite, sticking straight up to the sky. I think it’s appropriate, considering football is the last bastion of male athleticism in the U.S.; a tribute to excess testosterone and men’s aggression.

Despite the right-wing rancor, this issue isn’t going away. And it’s never been a matter of political correctness; it’s simply a matter of respect.

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In Memoriam – Chester Nez: 1921 – 2014

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“My wartime experiences developing a code that utilized the Navajo language taught how important our Navajo culture is to our country. For me that is the central lesson: that diverse cultures can make a country richer and stronger.”

Chester Nez, 2011

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When you were born, you cried and the world rejoiced. Live your life in a manner so that when you die the world cries and you rejoice.

– Navajo Proverb

 

Navajo Code Talkers

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Happy Cinco de Mayo 2014!

aztec eagle codex mendoza

“Oh, only for so short a while you have loaned us
to each other, because we take form in your act
of drawing us.
And we take life in your painting us,
And we breathe in your singing us.
But only for so short a while have you loaned us
to each other.”

– Aztec prayer

From “The Spirituality of Change” by Joyce Rupp.

Cinco de Mayo.

Image: The Aztec Eagle, from the “Codex Mendoza,” courtesy Colonial México.

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A Matter of Respect

Imagine – if you can – there are two professional sports teams, the Washington Niggers and the Houston Hebes.  And, they are meeting to play a game; football, basketball, whatever.  And, outside of the arena, large numbers of African and Jewish American citizens have gathered to protest against the teams simply because of their names.  Meanwhile, fans of both teams – many of whom may be part Black or Jewish themselves – parade into the stadium dismissing the protesters by saying things like: ‘It’s just a game.’  ‘Don’t take it so seriously.’  ‘You people are so sensitive.’

This is taking for granted, of course, that any sports team could get away with names like those in these times.  But, if you can imagine the uproar that would cause, then you can understand how Native Americans feel about the Washington Redskins football team.

The term “redskin” is as vile and demeaning as any other racial slur; one created by early English settlers to describe the native peoples, a direct reference to the latter group’s often-ruddy complexion.  Yet, the Washington Redskins insist they will not change their name and that any such attempt is just political correctness run amok.

Well, there is a stark difference between political correctness and factual correctness.  For example, it’s not politically correct to say Christopher Columbus did not discover America.  It’s factually correct.  The Western Hemisphere wasn’t virgin land, devoid of people, when Columbus arrived.  He had wanted to find a western route to India to gain an advantage in the silk and spice trades.  His own country, Italy, refused to help him; so he turned to Spain.  Spain’s Queen Isabella consented and provided him with financing, ships, and supplies.  When he made landfall, he thought he’d reached the east coast of India and thus, called the people he saw Indians.

But, if you ask the average American citizen who discovered America, Columbus’s name is almost always mentioned.  In fact, in his 1997 book The Perfect Storm, author Sebastian Junger begins one particular paragraph with the statement, “Almost as soon as the New World was discovered, Europeans were fishing it.”  And, for many years, Italian-Americans have hailed Columbus as a cultural hero who paved the way for future generations, even though Columbus wasn’t on a mission from Italy in the first place, and people didn’t begin emigrating from Italy en masse until the 1880’s.

If American history has acknowledged the presence of people here before Europeans, it has done so begrudgingly and then, viewed them as nomadic bands of Neanderthal-like beings with no true sense of community or family.  In reality, most had established large, complex societies and spent more time interacting on peaceful, social levels than they did fighting.  Yet, images of “wild Indians” or, at best, “the noble savage,” persist, both in so-called historical texts and in popular literature.

Whenever I do mention the plight of Native Americans, the most common response is, “What can be done about it now?”  Well, the simplest answer is, of course, nothing.  But, then again, nothing can ever be done about past events, can it?  But, let me take that question, ‘What can be done about it now?’, and apply it to other tragedies.

Take Pearl Harbor, for example.  Sad as it was, shouldn’t the U.S. Navy have known better than to place so many of its warships in such close proximity to one another?  Besides, what’s left of the U.S.S. Arizona is a rusting shell of a vessel that is still leaking oil.  If its hull shatters, millions of gallons of oil could pour into the ocean, creating an environmental disaster.  Shouldn’t that be a far more pressing concern than honoring a bunch of dead sailors?

What about the European holocaust of Word War II, in which over six million Jews were systematically massacred by the Nazi regime?  Notice it’s always referred to as ‘The Holocaust,’ as if no other similar genocidal event has ever occurred.  The decimation of the Western Hemisphere’s indigenous peoples was also a deliberate, concerted undertaking by Europeans, especially here in North America.  One specific example concerns Abraham Lincoln.  During the Civil War, Lincoln directed the U.S. Army to hang over a hundred Indians per day in the western states.  He then limited the number of daily hangings to twenty-eight, but only because the bodies were piling up too fast.  Yet, there are no memorials or museums in this country acknowledging those horrors.

Let me come closer in time: the 1995 bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building.  Only two men were responsible for that act, as far as we know; two devout Christians, two former soldiers with a passionate hate for the U.S. government.  Both were caught and one is now dead.  So, doesn’t that mean justice has already been served?  And, there’s no need for a memorial?  Ironically, Oklahoma is where many Native Americans were forcibly isolated at the end of the 19th century to live out their lives in despair and poverty.

Let me come even closer: the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, in which nearly 3,000 people lost their lives.  But, as horrific as it was, does this mean we’ll be reliving that nightmare every September 11 from now on, just like Pearl Harbor?  Shouldn’t our government have realized sooner that foreigners with expired visas could pose a security threat?  And, why have airlines only recently taken greater safety precautions?  Now a memorial is being erected on the site of the World Trade Center.  Some call it hallowed ground.  Hallowed ground!  They were office buildings, not homes or religious centers.  White settlers destroyed thousands of Native American communities across this continent, believing such destruction was necessary and righteous.

Why do we keep dredging up these awful memories?  Aren’t we supposed to let these things go and move forward with our lives?  Is that how we should remember these events?  Is that how we want future generations to look at them?  Like trite insults.

Well essentially, that’s how this nation regards the Native American experience.  If building memorials means resurrecting the past to do something about it, then it’s pointless.  Jorge Santayana, the Spanish novelist and poet, once warned of such ignorance by saying, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

We are civilized and intelligent enough to acknowledge the injustices done to our native peoples without dismissing them or calling them names.  It’s not an issue of political correctness.  And, it’s not a case of being too sensitive.  It’s simply a matter of respect.

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