The White Gaze: Teaching on the Rez Edition

Why education MUST incorporate Indigenous values, history, and contemporary social studies. Also: Indigenous teachers wanted.

I received a comment today on my latest Everyday Feminism article that totally triggered me. I generally don’t take comments quite so personally, but… I’m human. The only response I can come up with right now is, “You should not be teaching Native kids, because it’s obvious you have nothing but disdain for our people. Leave now before you do any more damage.”

Here is the message, which I’ve broken down into its many thoughtless components (read the complete text at the end). This is what happens when I free-write in the #angerzone

Hi, I am a teacher on a reservation in Wyoming and I had a few comments about your article.”

Joy.

First off, it was really good. I don’t agree with everything your wrote, but I do for the most part.”

Translation: Actually, the white parts of me couldn’t comprehend why he included these statements. He liked it, he didn’t, but kinda…? *shrugs*

I want to share with you what a ‘white teacher’ on a reservation sees.”

Nuh-uh. No. Didn’t ask.

You mentioned in your article that only 51% of students graduate. Did you know that since 2001 (no child left behind law) the ONLY ethnic group not to gain was Native Americans?”

Did you really just use NCLB as an educational barometer? Because for anyone paying attention NCLB was crap legislation that did absolutely nothing but to further marginalize already marginalized kids. This law rewarded schools for high test scores and defunded schools with the lowest scores – pure capitalist economics, not education. The rich got richer and the poor got poorer, especially in areas with large populations of impoverished kids, kids with disabilities, and kids of color.

Native kids improved microscopically during NCLB’s reign, but not necessarily because of its policies (I attribute gains to the proliferation of social media and Native people distributing their community news to global audiences and advocating for change).

Regardless of Native student NCLB achievement, this sums up the NCLB  nicely: “The standards and practices [of NCLB] are not sound for the teaching of Indian children. Our children see and order their world very differently from most other children, and, as a result, demonstrate their knowledge in deepening and unique ways. The current push to meet the academic standards set out in the No Child Left Behind law rejects the need to provide culturally competent instructions.” Sound familiar?

Get outta here tryna school me on this stuff. You must not know ’bout me.

The students on the Reservation have no desire to make changes and parents for the most part (not all) don’t push change. A teacher can teach to the best of their ability, but if families don’t encourage it or support it– you get a school where kids are just pushed through because it is ‘bad’ to retain and we want to keep students in school.

Translation: It’s not MY fault. Even though I fully admit to teaching at a school “… where kids are just pushed through…” using BS education policies like NCLB, it’s not MY fault! I do the thing that teaches the kids (which I will lump all together as failures) and it’s on them to figure out how to overcome hundreds of years of genocide and contemporary systemic oppression. Because BOOTSTRAPS!

Look, buddy: You’re talking to a former middle school teacher whose students were 99% Native in an urban area. I get that teaching can be frustrating, that it seems these kids are failing just to spite you (I promise you they’re not). But in all this the keyword you should wrap your mind around is “kids.” They’re just kids, man, and you’re talking like that genocide and systemic oppression mentioned earlier is the easiest thing in the world to overcome. #CheckYourPrivilege #GetOffTheBoot

And the bit about parents not pushing for change? Well, I mean, with teachers like you welcoming them with understanding and open arms, what have they to fear, amiright? Your empathy looks a lot like judgement – I bet those kids and parents see right through you, and all the other wannabe white saviors looking down their noses at them.

The average age when someone dies on this reservation is 42 years old. Most die from diabetes, suicide and alcohol. I am sure this statistic isn’t new to you. This information has been around for years—why hasn’t the tribes tried to change this?

OK don’t throw out stats to a journalist (especially one with a social work background) – we love data and love backing it up (#AllTheLinks!). I don’t know what rez you’re teaching on, but Wyoming Natives living on reservations have an average life span of 51-53 years. STILL SUPER LOW, I get your point, but 42 is, like, fifth-world conditions. Americans can live with third-world conditions, but not fifth-world.

To be clear, Natives aren’t inserting themselves into these statistics of death and disease by choice. There are NO resources and the ones in place are so underfunded they can barely keep a roof over their heads.

I want to talk about suicide here for a second, because, again, your assumption seems to be that Natives can just get over all this genocide and oppression stuff (or that those things are at least as simple as making quick, decisive changes). Quick answer: We can’t (and they’re not).

My teenage cousin was recently admitted to a mental health facility  for suicidal ideations. Like most of the teens I’ve worked with as a teacher or as the coordinator for a juvenile justice reform program, my cousin is a good kid. He’s one heckuva baller and he’s surrounded by a caring, loving family. But he’s also (say it with me) just a kid. And unfortunately for him, he’s a Native kid, which means in addition to dealing with the normal teenage angst stuff other teens deal with, he’s also living in an isolated area filled with gang violence, drugs, and NO RESOURCES. That mental health facility I mentioned earlier? Yeah, it’s located across the state in an urban area – far away from his family and community.

THAT’S what I’m talking about when I say systemic oppression (here’s a piece on that topic specifically for teachers). Systemic oppression in this scenario is the refusal (despite LEGAL TREATY OBLIGATIONS!!) to appropriately fund programs to address issues like mental health and violence. Thankfully, my cousin has a support system with the ability to travel to be with him… But what about the hundreds of other Native kids who don’t because of epidemically high unemployment rates, the family has no vehicle, or the parents have to work out of town??? There are too many obstacles to list and tribes HAVE made attempts (are making attempts) to do what they can with the resources (and capacity) available. This is why resume-padding programs like Teach For America are tolerated on reservations, because (despite a massive disconnect between non-Native teachers who leave after the two-year classroom commitment and their Native students/families) there aren’t many other options.

“Yes, many tribes aren’t funded as much as they should be…,”

Let’s just stop right there. That’s a HUGE reason. See above. Or reread my post, which discusses this problem at length.

Need more proof? Check out the funding shortfalls reservation communities experience for addressing domestic violence, education (check out this link, too), and programs trying to meet employment, housing, and healthcare needs.

…but there are so many programs out on the reservation that aren’t being used. The natives who do go off to the reservation to try to get a college degree are called ‘apples’ and not real Indians because they ‘abandoned the way.’

Where are you getting your information from? What programs, specifically, are you referring to? Because no one program is going to solve all our problems. Heck, white folk have a shit-ton of problems, too. I mean, there’s a reason whites use social services like food stamps more than any other ethnicity. The difference is that there are more opportunities for white folks to access needed resources.

Lots of people I love and admire live on the rez and are flourishing in so many more ways than economically or academically (two things I wish weren’t so important to my perception of personal success — #colonized #workingonit). Their success is in sustainability, or justice reform, or cultural teachings/learnings. I also love and admire just as many Natives who, like me, live in an urban area. People stay on or leave reservations for vast and varying reasons beyond your narrow scope of comprehension.

So, congratulations. You’ve managed to reduce a complex system of culture and values down to tired tropes, “Natives who seek/have college degrees are called apples!” I cringe to think how you might break down a subject like social studies for your fourth graders *shudders*

I’ve never been called an apple. I have a couple degrees, and haven’t lived on my reservation since I was a tiny tot. Apple is a slur sometimes used within Native circles to describe someone who is or claims to be Native but operates under a colonized set of values and behaviors (so, red on the outside, white on the inside — see? Tired.). You, sir, should not be using that term. Ever.

The other thing that bothers me is the state of the reservation. O.k. so the houses aren’t the greatest and best built–but there is no pride out there. The amount of litter and animals without owners is sad. You look a lot younger than me, but I remember this commercial when I was a kid. It was a native american sitting on his horse in war regalia. Trash was on the ground and a tear was in his eye. Yes, it was “stereotypical” of what a Native looks like, but it really hit me hard that the Natives loved the land and we destroyed it. But that isn’t what I see on the reservation.”

I may puke. So many things are wrong with this paragraph, I don’t know where to begin. The houses aren’t great? I’m sorry, the pre-fab, single-wide trailers aren’t glorious enough for you? Didn’t we just talk about how underfunded reservation programs – like housing – are? Pay attention and #staywoke: THIS IS PURPOSEFUL OPPRESSION! My elderly, disabled and diseased relatives pay ungodly propane prices to heat their uninsulated and debilitated trailers every winter – people are DYING and you want them to pick up trash?

And that crying Indian you reference? Yeah. Iron Eyes Cody (as he called himself) wasn’t even Native. Your whole concept of the stereotypical one-with-nature Native isn’t even based on a real Native. Read up on cultural appropriation while you’re researching accountability (you wrote “…we [whites] destroyed it.” Don’t you then have at least a partial responsibility – beyond bitching about lazy Native kids and parents – to fix it?).

Don’t hate. Reparate!

PS: SO MANY PEOPLE litter and play host to dirty towns and cities. This is not a reservation problem, but a world problem.

I hope that I haven’t offended you, please keep up the good fight trying to teach ‘whites’ about Native Americans, but please also be an influence in your own culture and try to help the tribes gain back their pride.”

Muthafucker WHAT?!

This whole comment thread has been a study in Us/Them mentality, but you really crossed the line here. You obviously know nothing about me, my background, influences, or impact. Ask the hundreds of Native kids I’ve taught, mentored, and hugged throughout my life how much of an influence I’ve been. I’m far from perfect, but I’ve put a lot of sweat, blood, and tears into every community I’ve lived in as an adult.

Believe me, there are SO MANY Native heroes out there, people worth admiring and looking up to. Just because YOU don’t see them from your ivory perch doesn’t mean they aren’t there. The fact we’re still here, still fighting for a myriad of causes proves we’ve got pride coming out our ears.

Indigenous pride and compassion and competence built this continent. That pride CONTINUES to hold up our communities both on and off the reservation. Ours is just not the colonized pride of useless, green lawns and collections of porcelain figurines you expect Natives to have in their cookie-cutter houses.

Our dream is not American.

It is very sad as a teacher to ask a 4th grader what he wants to do when he grows up, to hear the response of ‘I don’t know.’ Any other child would have had an answer and some of those kids I teach see no future.”

Any other ch-…? C’mon! Again with the us/them? You must be a new teacher who’s never had any interactions with kids anywhere. Or people. In general. Because I’ve had the privilege of living in communities of varying shapes, sizes, and demographics and have never come across anyone – young or old – who really knows what they want to do or be in life. They might throw out something they think people want to hear, but they don’t really know. I don’t even know what I want to be and I’m 32!

A better line of questioning might be, “Tell me about yourself, kiddo. What do you like to learn in school versus when you’re not in school?” Because, as you’ve stated before, thinking as far ahead as adulthood isn’t a privilege a lot of young Native people have these days, thanks to a lack of opportunities, resources, and, you know, lifespan.

And considering this brief interaction you and I have had, I imagine the problem lies with YOU, your approach, and your obvious expectations of whitewashed success. If I’m a fourth grader in your class (#prayforme), I won’t give you much, either, because you obviously don’t care and can’t relate to anything I’m going through.

This concludes the comment. Now that it’s finally done with, I can take a step back and try to assume good intent. So (and I’m talking directly to the teacher here), let’s pretend you haven’t completely checked out of doing your job to educate the future of our world and that you really do care – more than just trolling the websites of writers you kinda/maybe agree/disagree with.

Here’s the best advice I can give to you: Do something about the problems you’re complaining about. Call and demand action (even something as simple as visiting a reservation — which you’ll see in that link lots of Wyoming lawmakers don’t bother with) from your legislators highlighting the needs your white gaze falls upon. Support tribal sovereignty and vote in Native lawmakers (last year’s election cycle had quite a few). There are SO MANY ways for you to be an active and effective ally!

The comment:

Message Hi, I am a teacher on a reservation in Wyoming and I had a few comments about your article. First off, it was really good. I don’t agree with everything your wrote, but I do for the most part. I want to share with you what a “white teacher” on a reservation sees. You mentioned in your article that only 51% of students graduate. Did you know that since 2001 (no child left behind law) the ONLY ethnic group not to gain was Native Americans? The students on the Reservation have no desire to make changes and parents for the most part (not all) don’t push change. A teacher can teach to the best of their ability, but if families don’t encourage it or support it– you get a school where kids are just pushed through because it is “bad” to retain and we want to keep students in school. The average age when someone dies on this reservation is 42 years old. Most die from diabetes, suicide and alcohol. I am sure this statistic isn’t new to you. This information has been around for years—why hasn’t the tribes tried to change this? Yes, many tribes aren’t funded as much as they should be, but there are so many programs out on the reservation that aren’t being used. The natives who do go off to the reservation to try to get a college degree are called “apples” and not real Indians because they “abandoned the way.” The other thing that bothers me is the state of the reservation. O.k. so the houses aren’t the greatest and best built–but there is no pride out there. The amount of litter and animals without owners is sad. You look a lot younger than me, but I remember this commercial when I was a kid. It was a native american sitting on his horse in war regalia. Trash was on the ground and a tear was in his eye. Yes, it was “stereotypical” of what a Native looks like, but it really hit me hard that the Natives loved the land and we destroyed it. But that isn’t what I see on the reservation. I hope that I haven’t offended you, please keep up the good fight trying to teach “whites” about Native Americans, but please also be an influence in your own culture and try to help the tribes gain back their pride. It is very sad as a teacher to ask a 4th grader what he wants to do when he grows up, to hear the response of “I don’t know.” Any other child would have had an answer and some of those kids I teach see no future.

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Land, Labour, and Loss: A Story of Struggle & Survival at the Burrard Inlet

missuswrackspurt:

Check out this awesome blog, Ad Astra Comix (@adastracomics), which is featuring #IndigenousComixMonth through April. Fantastic First Peoples stories!

Originally posted on :

By Taté Walker, Mniconjou Lakota

Taté Walker (Mniconjou Lakota) is an enrolled member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe of South Dakota. She is a freelance journalist who lives in the Colorado Springs area. She can be reached on Twitter at @MissusTWalker or www.jtatewalker.com.

 

Speaking as a former middle school teacher, it isn’t easy feeding bloodless and battleless history lessons to the masses. Even more difficult is featuring published histories from marginalized perspectives – either they don’t exist, or people don’t care to know them.
Working on the WaterTitle: Working on the Water, Fighting for the Land: Indigenous Labour on Burrard Inlet
Authors: Robin Folvik and Sean Carleton
Illustrator: Tania Willard (Secwepmec Nation)
To be Published: by Between the Lines in 2016 (part of an anthology, Drawn to Change: Graphic Histories About Working-Class Struggles)
More information: To see the full preview, visit the Graphic History…

View original 817 more words

How To Argue Against Racist Indian Mascots: In *Honor* of the #SuperBowl

How many of you have been in the presence of someone using an (illogical and ludicrous) argument supporting racist ‪#‎IndianMascots‬?

This mascot honors Native Americans.

You’re messing with tradition!

Well I’m Native and I approve of this mascot.

STAHHHP!

By artist Bunky Echo-Hawk (Pawnee)

I’ve been at this for more than a decade, and many other amazing women for far longer than that (check out my heroes Dr. Adrienne Keene, Dr. Stephanie Fryberg, Suzan Shown Harjo, Amanda Blackhorse, among many others). Those of us in this battle know well the depth of fanaticism sports franchises and their supporters will travel to in defense of their precious team names and logos.

So while I’m aware a bazillion people disagree with me, I go forth with the following premise, for the sake of brevity: I’m going to assume good intent from readers. I’m also going to assume you understand the basics of racism and cultural appropriation, that you’re against these things, and hope you agree things that marginalize and dehumanize an entire race of people are wrong.

This is where the bulk of my non-activist friends reside when it comes to sports teams that use Native American-themed names and/or imagery: They know seeing a Washington or Cleveland jersey worn on game day makes them feel yucky inside, but when confronting a supporter, they lack the ability to explain their anti-mascot views effectively and succinctly.

How many of you have struggled to find the words to argue against these poor excuses for racism?

Well here’s a handy guide (produced by yours truly for Everyday Feminism) to help counter some of the most common statements from pro-mascoters:

[TW – racist images, words, phrases]

How To Argue Against Racist Mascots 

*A note about the Irish and oppression bit within the article, which many readers are using to derail the conversation: I apologize. I assumed readers would understand what I meant when I wrote “… the Irish… never experienced oppression or genocidal policies at the hands of the US government.” Because, I really do get what you’re trying to say when you write, “But the Irish HAVE experienced oppression and colonial-based genocide!”

Trust me. I get it. Your comment about historical Irish oppression is true. Immediate members of my family are Irish (I am part-Irish) and grew up dirt poor in major East Coast cities. They experienced lots of poverty-based oppression, and my statements in no way erases the struggle for any immigrant, refugee, or impoverished person. I studied the Sinn Fein movement during my undergrad and often compared it with those tactics used during the Wounded Knee occupation.

But the key part of my statement from the article is “… at the hands of the US government.” That distinction is huge because no federal laws ever oppressed the Irish specifically. I thought it was a clear statement, but obviously it wasn’t and the uproar has detracted from the main point about racist Indian mascots.

Were they oppressed in similarly horrific ways on their own soil of Ireland by colonial British rule? Oh yes indeed. They have an indigenous history very similar to Natives. But NOT here in the US.

In the United States:

  • The Irish were allowed to practice Catholicism and rewarded (in terms of employment and eventual political/religious success) for being Catholic – Native people were slaughtered for practicing their religion and only got the *legal* right to practice ours in the 1970s.
  • The Irish received immediate citizenship; Natives weren’t even considered legal people until we were granted citizenship in 1924 (although many states, like my home state of South Dakota, didn’t enact citizenship until the 1960s).
  • Unlike Natives, the Irish could vote, hold jobs, take office, and feel fairly safe in dominant culture, because no systemic oppression targeted them as a race (no federal laws barred them from these things – ever). The “Irish Need Not Apply” job ads were cruel, but not a federal employment policy.
  • Native still experience this kind of systemic oppression. We are still suppressed as voters, still at the bottom of every negative statistic. The Irish – considered by the US Census Bureau (a federal agency) as white people in America – are doing just fine, in terms of race.
  • The Irish’s proximity to whiteness has been a huge factor in their (continued) success in the US. This is what we call privilege, something Natives have never known, in any capacity, in colonized America.

So I return to my original statement “…at the hands of the US government.” The Irish never experienced colonial-based destruction on US soil, by the US government. The Irish have been powerful presidents, Supreme Court justices, senators, clergy and more. Natives have not. There is no comparison here, folks. If we want to start a movement to change the Notre Dame mascot, I am HERE FOR THIS, but do not make the claim that the Irish face the same or even similar racism and systemic oppression experienced by Natives.

So when we talk about Indian mascots (the original issue, remember?), the dehumanization is based on systemic oppression in the US at the hands of the federal government. To compare the Fighting Irish (a school founded and the mascot approved by many Irish Catholics) to an Indian mascot isn’t logical because the Irish have “never experienced oppression or genocidal policies at the hands of the US government” (original quote).

I hope this helps clarify the statement, and I apologize for not being clear within the article.

Submit Your Application for the Great Plains Emerging Tribal Writer Award

The Great Plains Writers’ Conference, in cooperation with South Dakota State University’s American Indian Studies Program and American Indian Education and Cultural Center, sponsors an annual award – The Great Plains Emerging Tribal Writer – to encourage tribal writers in the early phases of their writing lives and to honor those of extraordinary merit and promise.

Learn about our 2014 winner, Marcus Bear Eagle of Chadron, NE.
Learn about our 2013 winner, Taté Walker of Sioux Falls, SD.

The 2015 winner, judged by the SDSU English Department, AIS and AIECC, will receive an award of $500 and be invited to read at the Great Plains Writers’ Conference at SDSU, in March, 2015.

WHO CAN SUBMIT: Tribally-enrolled writers from the Dakotas, Nebraska, and Minnesota who have not yet published a book of creative writing.

WORK ACCEPTED: Fiction, creative nonfiction, drama, or the screenplay (20 double-spaced pages maximum) or poetry (15 pages maximum).

LOGISTICS: Send materials to arrive by January 15, 2015 to Emerging Tribal Writers Award, English Department, South Dakota State University, Pugsley Center 301/Campus Box 2218, Brookings, SD 57007. 

There is no entry fee. Finalists will be asked to demonstrate tribal enrollment to the AIS and AIECC.  More details are available at https://greatplainswritersconference.wordpress.com/awards/great-plains-emerging-tribal-writer-award-submission-guidelines/

For queries or to submit electronically, email April Myrick at april.myrick@sdstate.edu.


 

Blogger’s Note: As described above, I won the inaugural award back in 2013. You can read the winning submission here. This is a great opportunity for Great Plains indigenous writers to not only to get published and share your work, but also to attend a great conference of other (indigenous) writers. I got to meet the son of Vine Deloria, Jr., Elizabeth Cook-Lynn, and Craig Howe, who founded CAIRNS. It was an amazing experience and truly inspirational.

Jaylen Fryberg Is Not Your Indian Savage

NOTE: This wasn’t an easy post to write. There are layers and layers of oppression here, and I’ve chosen the one I’m most familiar with: How the misrepresentation and misappropriation of Native culture hurts our youth. I’m not condoning or excusing the violence perpetrated by Jaylen, but I also refuse to condemn him as the sole person responsible here. I see a beautiful boy who loved his culture, loved his parents, and loved his peers. And I also see a kid who was hurting in so many ways, a kid society failed miserably, and who, in turn, failed the people he loved in the most devastating way possible. We can do better. Prayers for all the families involved.

It didn’t take long for news outlets to turn real-life tragedy into some spaghetti western hopped up on Shakespeare Friday.

Jaylen Fryberg, a 14-year-old freshman at Marysville-Pilchuch High School in Washington state, shot and injured four students and killed a girl and himself Friday during lunch.

Fryberg was Native American, and a citizen of the Tulalip Tribes active in his people’s culture.

Images of Jaylen used in the media move from his normal teenage wear (you know, the clothes that render him a “thug”), to him in his traditional regalia, to him with the weapons he used to hunt and fish. These aren’t just random photos news outlets are exploiting from the social media accounts of an underage kid (problematic in and of itself). They are purposeful and part of a long history of system racism pervasive in mass media.

Widely used images depicting Jaylen Fryberg.
Widely used images depicting Jaylen Fryberg.

Like most stories involving a person of color committing a crime, the news zeroes in on the ethnicity and culture as a sort of explanation for actions. Brown people do bad things! is the message. When white folks commit crimes, they’re painted as mentally disturbed loners, the connotation being they aren’t responsible for their actions. Rarely is the white perpetrator’s religion (Christian-based upbringing) or heritage (Norwegian? English? German? Icelandic?) brought up, because the default is white, no explanation needed.

But put a gun in the hands of a kid of color, and all of a sudden he was being primed to kill since birth, part of a community that relished death and gave rifles as birthday presents.

If 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.

While the mascot has won continuous approval from many Tulalip tribal people over the years (although some tribal leaders distanced themselves from Native mascots in 2013), the school does ban face paint and Native regalia from sporting events. Still, various reports reference fans doing the “tomahawk chop” at games.

Logo from the Marysville Pilchuck Tomahawk Booster Club http://www.mpboosters.com.
Logo from the Marysville Pilchuck Tomahawk Booster Club http://www.mpboosters.com.
The helmet featured a spear and feather. Photo from http://www.northwesteliteindex.com/2014/08/20/2014-team-preview-marysville-pilchuck-tomahawks/
The helmet featured a spear and feather. Photo from http://www.northwesteliteindex.com/2014/08/20/2014-team-preview-marysville-pilchuck-tomahawks/

Tomahawks. Spears. Warbonnets. People say, Oh, these aren’t Indian mascots because they’re just objects. Objects can’t be racist. Really? Because like associating Blacks with eating watermelons and fried chicken has blatantly racist undertones, so too do these objects undeniably link Native Americans with imagery rooted in violence, aggression, and stereotype.

If you’ve been paying attention at all, you know that study, after study, after study proves mascots dehumanize Native Americans, and are particularly detrimental to Native youth.

According to a 2005 statement from the American Psychological Association: “The use of American Indian mascots as symbols in schools and university athletic programs is particularly troubling because schools are places of learning. These mascots are teaching stereotypical, misleading and too often, insulting images of American Indians. These negative lessons are not just affecting American Indian students; they are sending the wrong message to all students.

I wrote the words below this summer and they are especially poignant now:

The fact of the matter is these words and images – mascots and logos and names like those found on the Washington NFL team – are *harmful.* Like Big Tobacco lobbyists, mascot/name supporters like to say there is no direct link between the Redskins and the vast, plague-like troubles Natives face on a daily basis. “Oh, come on,” they say. “It’s *just* football. The kid who killed himself in Eagle Butte last week didn’t do it because he saw a Redskins football game.”

But like the tar, the arsenic, and the other 4,000-some chemicals wrapped nicely in kid-friendly cigarette packaging, the poison inherent in mascots and racist team names takes root over time. One or two puffs on any given Sunday and you’ll live. But years of exposure to the smoke of systemic, capitalized racism will fester, and, like all cancers, will eventually kill – if not the body, then for sure the spirit.

These aren’t words I write or repost lightly. And nothing – nothing – excuses murder. But a path like the one Jaylen took was written long ago (long before I wrote anything).

One of the most foremost and respected experts on the Indian mascot debate is Dr. Stephanie Fryberg, also a citizen of the Tulalip Tribes. I have no idea if Dr. Fryberg and Jaylen were related (update: related and my sincere condolences). That’s not the point. But I do find it interesting that Jaylen was part of a culture that fought against racism and stereotypes, who went to a school featuring a racist mascot, and who witnesses say was recently dealing with racist comments from peers.

Again: Nothing justifies Jaylen’s actions with the gun, but most of us who have experienced racism can attest to its power in bringing out feelings of worthlessness, anger, frustration, and withdrawl. And, yes, this is despite being what witnesses describe as a “happy” and “popular” kid. Being crowned homecoming prince doesn’t negate centuries of oppression.

Being surrounded by messages of violence, being a part of a society that devalues your culture and heritage (if it recognizes it at all), damages you, especially if you’re a kid. Add that to being an emotionally volatile teenager in the throes of what appears to be a tragic romantic breakup, and you’ve got some intense Shakespearian feelings to contend with that shouldn’t be dismissed easily.

Jaylen was a murderer, but he was also inarguably a victim of a society that surrounds its Native youth in images of savagery and misogyny, a society that trivializes Native culture with mascots and fashion and crap holidays and hyper-sexualized costumes that render us invisible. He was in pain, as many of our Native youth are, a fact that is obvious to anyone reading his social media posts or who have worked with Native youth, as I have for many years.

Vilify Jaylen’s actions, but not Jaylen. Not his culture. Doing so will invariably hurt countless other Native kids watching this horrifying event disintegrate into a racial shitstorm on social media:

One of many racist tweets churned out by the trolls after the story broke.
One of many racist tweets churned out by the trolls after the story broke.
Here's another that stung. Though I understand the anger and wholeheartedly agree their are stark and disturbing differences between media play for this incident compared to how the media covers Black crime, it upsets and angers me that even in death the kid's culture is being erased. Jaylen was NOT white, and that makes all the difference.
Here’s another that stung. Though I understand the anger and wholeheartedly agree there are stark and disturbing differences between media play for this incident compared to how the media covers Black crime, it upsets and angers me that even in death the kid’s culture is being erased. Jaylen was NOT white, and that makes all the difference.

“The thing is, is I don’t always just go out an shoot something. It’s not my favorite part about hunting. My favorite part about it is about just being in the woods. Just me my dad an my brother. An even if I’m sitting in the passenger seat sleeping it doesn’t matter. I like to be in the woods an that’s it.”

– Jaylen Fryberg, from Tangled Portrait of a Student Emerges in Washington Shooting

“1492.0” A Poem to #AbolishColumbusDay

UPDATE: My latest article over at Everyday Feminism: “4 Ways To Celebrate Columbus Day (Without Celebrating Columbus Day)

TW: Explicit images and words depicting slavery, brutality, and other atrocities.

To hear me perform in ironic pentameter, click here

1492.0

In fourteen hundred ninety-two

An explorer sailed for Asia true

But lost, got he, this Italian chap

Unsure East from West – who needs a map?

 

So upon an island Columbus’ ships did land

Land filled with many a child, woman, and man

Despite the Taino Arawak people, Columbus did proclaim

“’Tis the Indies! (Or whatever. I declare it for Spain.)”

 

The explorer could do no wrong

His wit was short as his sword was long

He demanded gold from the people there

When he got some – then none – he did despair

 

So he murdered and pillaged and raped with abandon

All of which he journaled and recorded from his cabin 

And to the royals of Spain he did report

“To bodies, not gold, we shall resort.”

 

For Columbus had found – yes, discover he did

A new use for the savages, on whose mortal parts the wealthy bid

Money for slaves – his voyages he could salvage 

And salvage his name (cuz dehumanizing Natives grants modern passage)

 

Instead of “Lost Explorer” he could be credited

With discovering America (history edited)

Nevermind the people already here

Most would be dead in a few hundred years

 

Now this lost explorer, this terrorist bloke

Makes our country look the biggest joke

As the masses cry “Hero!” and celebrate his deeds

Indigenous people continue to bleed

 

Assault, rape, human trafficking, and death

Columbus squeezed ‘til we breathed our last breath

And today – his legacy – our women still struggle for air

We go missing and murdered and… nobody cares

 

And our kids – Oh, our kids! – have lies shoved down their throats

Their history books filled with mythic discovery boats

“Columbus Day” we recognize every October

Fabrications and falsehoods repeated over and over

 

And yet

And YET

The stage has been set

By learneds and activists all covered in sweat 

 

Fighting to educate our lawmakers and kids

“Better school curriculums!” we say, “Whitewashed histories we forbid!”

We march and we protest and we write up proposals 

“Abolish Columbus Day – to the waste disposal!”

 

And while ridding the world of this monstrous wrongdoing

We find ourselves growing and evolving and pursuing

New heights to our knowledge, better ways to progress

Inclusion is possible with these grievances redressed

 

We ask all to consider – no – really, think bigger

So big a boom sounds in your brain’s pulled trigger

Let’s honor our nation’s first people, we say

Join us in celebrating Indigenous Peoples Day 

 

 

Major shade thrown at Washington DC NFL team; The Daily Show, South Park weigh in on racist name & indefensible positions

Did you catch The Daily Show tonight (the link takes you to tonight’s clip)? Or how about South Park yesterday (or its teaser earlier this week)? A few months ago, John Oliver did a nice piece using the National Congress of American Indians #ProudToBe video.

When parody TV takes notice (well, let’s be honest: When popular white folks take notice…) it’s downhill from there. It’s nice to have allies, but what was so great about tonight’s Daily Show segment was it used real, live, honest-to-goodness Native people on the show. #concept

Dan Snyder and his racists R**skins are going down. Just a matter of time.

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Native Peoples Magazine: 6 Native artists empowering urban landscapes

As more and more Natives move to cities, artists urge merging identities and reject the ‘urban’ label

Native Peoples Magazine, July/August 2014

Native Peoples Magazine
Art by Native Peoples Magazine: (Top, L-R) Louie Gong, Thosh Collins, Lynda Teller Pete; (Bottom, L-R) Dyani White Hawk, Debra Yepa-Peppan, & Brent Learned

[Alternate Intro]

Settling in Denver in 1986 was a practical move for Lynda Teller Pete (Diné). She had graduated from college two years earlier with a degree in criminal justice and knew returning home to Newcomb, N.M., on the Navajo Nation would offer her few employment opportunities to use it.

“Helping Native people was always in the forefront,” says Pete, 54, of her employment history. After nearly two decades working to help Denver’s Native population in social services and government agencies, Pete picked up the loom she had earlier set aside and began weaving full time two years ago. It was a skill she began learning from her mother and other family at the age of 6.

“I grew up in a little community where you didn’t see a lot of outsiders,” she says. “I was very influenced by a fourth grade teacher who came from Maine. When he showed us on a map how far he traveled to get to us, I thought he came from around the world.

“I got a very big education, not from the curriculum, but from the stories he brought into class,” Pete continued. “There was a whole world out there. And I thought, ‘How many of us [Navajo] are out there?’ To this day our people can’t be out ‘there’ without us helping one another.”

Artists like Pete, who teaches Navajo weaving at workshops across the country, help pave the metaphorical roads from reservations to urban centers where Native populations are growing exponentially. Although generally associated with a rural lifestyle, last year, the U.S. Census Bureau released figures showing 78 percent of all identified American Indian/Alaska Natives were living off reservation. That’s a jump from 45 percent in 1970 and 8 percent in 1940.

Assimilation policies, including government boarding schools and relocation programs of the early-to-mid 1900s, encouraged – and often forced – Natives to adopt American culture, language, and lifestyle, and leave reservations for big city hubs like Oklahoma City, Minneapolis, and Denver. These policies continue to have a profound impact on Native identity.

The six artists profiled for Native Peoples Magazine, including Pete, represent the innovative ways art can help heal or enhance Native identity, whether on the reservation or off. In fact, the artists profiled here dismissed the idea of the reservation/urban Native binary, saying more than anything it acts as a divisive wedge among Natives. Indigenous people, they say, have always adapted and evolved, and art has always played a role in keeping traditions and culture strong through the generations.

“Art reflects current situations, in addition to being able to capture the past,” says Minneapolis-based artist Dyani White Hawk, some of whose paintings use a transitional moccasin motif to explore what makes something traditional.

“Natives were always trading and using the influence of other cultures – look at the jingle dress,” White Hawk says. “We have a strong history, but it’s always changing and always dynamic depending on the perspective it’s coming from. Our ‘real’ traditions are the teachings that come with it, the beliefs and world knowledge.”

 


 

My thoughts… 

Photo I took of Frank Waln in Boulder, Colo. Look for his profile in the Sept/Oct 2014 issue of Native Peoples Magazine.

Feeling pretty blessed to participate in some of the interviews and conversations I’ve had lately. Native America: We have heroes alive and well and kicking the shit out of stereotypes and bad news TODAY in all our communities. They are creating photos, music, jewelry, and laws, and hashtags. Support them. Encourage them.

Recently – and over the past few months – I’ve had the honor and privilege to speak to Natives living in Minneapolis, Pine Ridge, Orange County (CA), Phoenix, Bernalillo, Chicago, NYC, Seattle… The list goes on, thanks primarily to the amazing stories I get to write for Native Peoples Magazine and other publications. Every single one of these people are in some way bettering their communities and the people within through art, law, activism, rapping, cultural preservation, volunteering, health/wellness, and even simple parenting or mentoring (wait – what’s so simple about that???).

These individuals: Thosh Collins, Debra Yepa-Pappan, Frank Waln (with a profile coming in the next NPM issue) and others embody the true spirit of what it means to be a thriving indigenous person. Someone who embraces modernity and traditionalism. Someone who understands there is no “two worlds” or there is no “urban” or “reservation.” We struggle but also succeed regardless of location or adjective or blood quantum applied to us by Western narratives.

Collins, a photographer living in Tempe, Ariz., said the binaries we place on ourselves as Native people – reservation vs urban or traditional vs modern, educated vs uneducated, full vs everyone else – only further divide us as a people that really can’t be separated from one or the other. Our traditions have ALWAYS been adaptive and evolving. I’ve said this before, but the whole point of the oral culture was to ensure adaptation and evolution. The Lakota language, for example, is tough to learn because each word and sentence you utter will be different as the time of day changes or whether you’re speaking to your grandmother or your child or a stranger, and what kind of body movements and emotion go into it. The structure is different because you always speak with deference to the subject and everything flows around it. And like water flowing over stones in a river that is always changing, so, too, does the language (and “language is culture is language” – not my quote – I’ll edit post once I remember who said it – I think it was a White Hat…?). It’s about context, not about stagnation. Being Native is to be an ever-moving aspect of Nature.

Photo I took of Scatter Their Own, an alter-Native rock duo out of Pine Ridge helping both the music scene and Native youth through their advocacy and tunes.

Case-in-point: We are indigenous to this land, Collins said, and so to say one of us is urban or one of us is rural and to put value on one or the other is to deny our inherent sovereignty and claim to Turtle Island. When I walk out my door in Colorado Springs, I don’t (shouldn’t) see *just* a military/evangelical mecca/touristy city, but a sacred space of healing waters and mountain scapes with a history AND current importance unique to the Native perspective and experience. While I honor and respect and miss the family on my reservation in central South Dakota (and elsewhere), I don’t need to be on a reservation to live a Lakota existence. You may be reading this and thinking, “Duh,” but having light skin and having attended eight different mostly white-filled K-12 schools, I had a huge identity crisis growing up that somehow I was never going to be “Native enough.” And, yes, there are people — too many of them Native, but a lot of them rich white men who own film studios or sports teams — who will never see me as “enough,” but the point isn’t about them. It’s about me. How I live. What moves me to action or to prayer. About my daughter who will carry with her what I’m able to pass down.

There is something powerful in recognizing just how much control we have over our own identities, surely, but there must also be recognition to the power OTHERS have in shaping that identity… Why appropriation and mascots and media representation have such a significant impact on how our younger people will identify as Native. Because without the voices of people like Warren Montoya, Louie Gong, Brent Learned, and others throughout Turtle Island, we lose sight of ourselves through the fog of mainstream (read: culturally insensitive) entertainment, sports, fashion, and politics. Listen to these voices, support their endeavors, follow them on social media. Our identities – the identities of our children – depend on their messages being spread.

The Mascot Files: “You have an Indian before you.”

‘Redskin’ is a dictionary-defined slur. So I don’t know where the debate is.

– Simon Moya-Smith

Like anything Fox News puts out there, this clip of last night’s Kelly File is hard to watch (for the well-informed progressive-types, that is). The segment looked at a recent letter signed by 50 US Senators asking the NFL higher-ups to endorse a Washington Redskins name change (a reminder that Natives have been pushing for this same thing for decades, including the National Congress of American Indians). Simon Moya-Smith, whom Kelly’s producers brought on the show after CNN published his spot-on op-ed, does a fantastic job holding his own against three non-Native bigots interested only in sensationalism and the bottom line. If you’re looking for a great example of whitesplaining Native issues and concerns, this video is for you.

Ben Shapiro is the definition of patronizing condescension when he says in the clip that Native Americans have more to worry about than mascots. The Redskins name, he says, “… is about 100 on the list of issues facing Native American communities today.” Two things: (1) Please, tell me more about what I need to concern myself with, Mr. Shapiro. And (2) It’s dangerous – DANGEROUS – to bypass the solid, proven links between mascots and the disparities in health, education, and employment Native Americans face.

The fact of the matter is these words and images – mascots and logos and names like those found on the Washington NFL team – are *harmful.* Like Big Tobacco lobbyists, mascot/name supporters like to say there is no direct link between the Redskins and the vast, plague-like troubles Natives face on a daily basis. “Oh, come on,” they say. “It’s *just* football. The kid who killed himself in Eagle Butte last week didn’t do it because he saw a Redskins football game.”

But like the tar, the arsenic, and the other 4,000-some chemicals wrapped nicely in kid-friendly cigarette packaging, the poison inherent in mascots and racist team names takes root over time. One or two puffs on any given Sunday and you’ll live. But years of exposure to the smoke of systemic, capitalized racism will fester, and, like all cancers, will eventually kill – if not the body, then for sure the spirit.

With each game, with each Faux News-like broadcast, and with each successive PR stunt from the Dan Snyder Is Clueless Factory, mascots and team names like the Redskins reinforce to Natives and non-Natives alike that ours isn’t a cause people care about. That football rates higher than Native people. We are only as good as a game-winning touchdown. We wipe our tears with your jerseys, and thank you for the honor. “Here we are now,” the crowd screams. “Entertain us.”

Native youth especially measure their worth based on how others view them. So, yeah, that Redskins game – the one where the opposing team’s fans held high the bloody head of a plastic Indian – may very well have fed into the fears of a Native kid who thought he was worthless. That’s why I, personally, advocate to end the use of racialized mascots and names, which are classic dehumanization tactics used in genocidal campaigns to show one demographic is *less* (read more here). This isn’t just some Angry Indian, butt-hurt, anti-sport, layman’s POV. This is Psychology 101.

From the American Psychological Association:

APA’s position is based on a growing body of social science literature that shows the harmful effects of racial stereotyping and inaccurate racial portrayals, including the particularly harmful effects of American Indian sports mascots on the social identity development and self-esteem of American Indian young people.

From Philip Zimbardo’s “The Lucifer Effect“:

Dehumanization is the central construct in our understanding of ‘man’s inhumanity to man.’ Dehumanization occurs whenever some human beings consider other human beings to be excluded from the moral order of being a human person. The objects of this psychological process lose their human status in the eyes of their dehumanizers. By identifying certain individuals or groups as being outside the sphere of humanity, dehumanizing agents suspend the morality that might typically govern reasoned actions toward their fellows.

Native appropriation and dehumanization – these physically, emotionally, and sexually violent images – makes our decent into the abyss easier for the masses to swallow: “Oh, they’re just Redskins. Just Siouxper Drunks. Just Halloween costumes, fashion accessories, and characters for actors to play. And just a token Indian to run over when we put him on an editorial news show.”

Redskins violence
Check out the t-shirts: Siouxper Offensive
This Victoria Secret model isn’t Native American. If she were, she’d be four times more likely to be assaulted or raped in her lifetime. Let’s perpetuate the “Sexy Indian Maiden” stereotype some more…

Another issue brought up in Kelly’s circus act was the idea that polls and surveys prove Native Americans and the public at large are totally fine with the Redskins team name. Polls? Surveys? “I think it’s really interesting,” Simon says to Kelly in the clip when she asks him about those ‘Polls’ (show me the money!). “It’s like, what Indians? You have an Indian before you.” Sadly, we are not enough, individually. But I digress. These polls are NEVER done on a reservation or in areas of mass Native concentrations. Not many living in those areas have the resources or infrastructure to take surveys like these in the first place. Beyond this, Native Americans make up about 2 percent of the total US population — let’s talk about how much the other 98 percent knows (or, better yet, cares) about our culture and history? <– Those are the people taking these polls and surveys, which we all know can be skewed toward whatever end you’re reaching for (that’s studied in Journalism Ethics 101, btw).

Finally, I want to talk about Simon’s assertion of the term ‘redskin’ being a dictionary-defined racial slur. It is. Like other derogatory terms, it’s hurtful and goes right back into the whole dehumanizing discussions above. Not so long ago, the ‘red skin’ of my ancestors was worth a big bounty. In the clip Simon points out, “Racial slurs toward Native Americans haven’t been rubbed out… People think it’s OK to denigrate Native Americans because it’s ‘their tradition.’ What about our tradition?”

Skins and scalps of Indians worth $200

Kelly demands Simon play the dictionary and asks, “What does it mean to denigrate? Just to say the word? Because let’s take the N-word for example. If it’s uttered by certain people, it’s considered grossly offensive. If it’s uttered by certain people – rappers, for example – it’s not considered offensive. So the Washington Redskins – that name was born at a time that it wasn’t found offensive, and most of the fans don’t find it offensive, most of the nation doesn’t find it offensive. Now, today, you tell me some – some portion of folks do find it offensive. So what makes a name truly derogatory or not?”

Truly derogatory? You mean, if you’re not personally offended by it, then it’s not really offensive? Lot’s of 101s going around today, and this is White Privilege rearing it’s ugly, blonde head. I’m not going to touch the N-word comment. Too many mascot protesters overuse and misuse the “double-standard” concept in their debates and completely throw our fellow minorities under the racism bus in order to prove a point (I admit to being one of these people until shown the error of my ways about a year ago). Yes, there are many people, Natives included, who do not find the term redskin offensive. But there are, in fact, Natives offended by the term, despite its origins, modern intents, and celebrity mouthpieces. The fact that a major non-Native entity supported by a vast majority of non-Native people approves of a term many Natives – Simon and me included – are personally offended by is racism.

The best thing to happen in the clip comes right after the slur discussion when sportscaster Jim Gray jumps in and says, “If you were naming a team today, Megyn, you could guarantee one thing: They would not name the new Washington baseball team the Redskins.” And she agrees, which totally goes back to the White Privilege comment: If a tree falls in the woods, it only makes a sound if a white person hears it.

Still: Point to Simon!

This will continue to be “debated” for years to come, but I promise you Natives will be victorious on this issue. We have to be. The self-esteem and morale of generations of young people – like my daughter – depend on it. I’ll leave you with this piece from “Psychology Today” and the Science of Small Talk:

In the end, these data pose a problem for claims that these mascots are honorific and likely to enhance the self-esteem of Native Americans. Even when that is (or has recently become) the motivation behind a team name, such good intent is not sufficient to bring about good outcomes. As the authors of the paper described above explain, “American Indian mascots do not have negative consequences because their content or meaning is inherently negative. Rather… [the mascots] remind American Indians of the limited ways in which others see them.”

 

Scatter Their Own – Native Peoples – May/June 2014

I’ve been following the music of Scatter Their Own for about a year now. It’s deeply personal and message-laced rock and blues – “alter-Native,” they call it – straight out of the Oglala Sioux Tribe. The creatively cool couple fronting the band – Scotti and Juliana Clifford – spent some time with me a couple months ago to discuss the amazing ride they’re having to the top. The profile is featured in the latest (May/June) issue of Native Peoples Magazine. Check it out, then go buy their new album on iTunes!

Home page of the Native Peoples website.
Home page of the Native Peoples website.