Tag Archives: racism

Dear J.K. Rowling: Wakanyeja Video Response to History of #MagicinNorthAmerica

When J.K. Rowling’s History of Magic in North America launched last week, many Indigenous fans like me were crushed.

Read my initial response here. Then be sure to check out Debbie Reese’s blog, American Indians in Children’s Literature, which has a nice roundup of Indigenous criticisms to Rowling’s phoned-in, bare-minimum, stereotypical depictions of Native wizards.

Since then, I’ve been asked to discuss my views specifically as a fan and Native mother. Check out my interviews with The Humanist, Native America Calling, NowThis and local newspapers.

But the most important interview I’ve done is with my daughter, Mimi. She’s 7 years old (well, 7-in-a-half!) and the light of my life. We tag team the Harry Potter fandom in our house. We’re reading the books together (again – this time around she helps read and instead of the paperbacks, we downloaded all of the illustrated iPad versions) and try to get a least an hour of book time in a few times per week.

Last week she jumped into bed, eagerly awaiting Chapter 10 in The Order of the Phoenix and I gave her the bad news (honestly – I’m too stressed to read HP now, a series that used to function as a comforting safe space to escape to when the real world was too much to mess with #microaggressionsFTW). I read Rowling’s first post to Mimi. After I finished, Mimi said, “What else?” She meant, what else did Rowling write? Where was the rest of it? I said, “That’s it.” Rightfully, Mimi was angry Natives rated just a few short paragraphs when things like snakes, tournament trophies and horcruxes get fully-realized story arcs. I also explained how some people were mad that Rowling was equating medicine people to mythical fantasy (code for medicine people aren’t real) and was taking stories that didn’t belong to her. Mimi: “Like land?” I could only snap.

Mimi is smart. She gets it without me having to lead her to conclusions. I’ve never done more than present her with (basic, age-appropriate) facts. With those, she’s given testimony at legislative hearings regarding mascots, marched in protests, advocated for survivors of domestic violence and has generally let her heart lead her. I can’t take credit for it; aside from giving her the information and space to process ideas and concepts like racism and sexism on her own, I’ve pretty much let her choose her own adventure.

The other day Mimi asked if maybe Rowling “just doesn’t know” about Native Americans and perhaps it would benefit the author and her legions of fans if she (Mimi) threw down some wakanyeja knowledge (I am constantly telling her the importance of speaking up as a young person – wakanyeja is a word often used for child in Lakota, but it literally translates to spirit being). On one hand, this made me even angrier at Rowling: In one of our conversations about this issue, Mimi equated Rowling to Columbus (the land bit), but where she wouldn’t give Columbus or his supporters any kind of excuse, she loves the world of Harry Potter so much she believes the author deserves a chance at redemption. How dare Rowling do this to my kid (I mean, anyone who has been or works with victims of abuse knows cyclical behavior begins with excusing the abuser #SheDidntMeanIt)! But… On the other hand, I was pumped: As someone who often functions in the realm of digital storytelling, you can imagine my elation to hear Mimi wanted to make a video letter to Rowling.

Remember: “IT TAKES A GREAT DEAL OF COURAGE TO STAND UP TO YOUR ENEMIES, BUT EVEN MORE TO STAND UP TO YOUR FRIENDS.” — Dumbledore (and we’re going to hope JK Rowling is a friend)

The video is 15 minutes long (yikes, I know). And, you guys, this is all ad-libbed. Obviously, we’ve talked about this a few times, but mostly we’re just riffing off each other (and tbh, I nearly cried a few times at the powerful words Mimi spoke). I thought about cutting it down into a digestible 3-minute trailer so more people would watch it, but the uncut, undiluted, stream-of-consciousness discussion that happens is, in a word, magical. It demands to be watched in full.

You can feel Mimi’s anger and frustration at Rowling, witness her obvious passion for her culture (and OMG you can’t imagine how it feels to know she actually retains what her father and I tell her about her heritage!), and recognize the desperation in her voice to simply be heard. Our hope in making this video is that J.K. Rowling will edit/redo her Fantastic Beasts promos and screenwriting. Native people – and fans worldwide – deserve better than what Rowling has offered. Mimi has some truly fantastic ideas on how to incorporate Native characters into magic (historical AND contemporary) and I’m working with some great (and busy) minds to try and recreate Rowling’s HOMINA into something both entertaining and respectful. Yes! It can be done!

But first, Rowling needs to listen. Start here:


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.


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.

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.


Color me NOT entertained: Award shows are made for white people & white ideas



I can’t… I just CAN’T with Hollywood.

Oscar nominees were announced today and while it’s no big surprise for anyone paying attention that few ethnic minorities are represented, my Mac nearly received a spewed-Earl-Grey shower at my shocked dismay that The Lone Ranger was nominated in not one but TWO categories: Best Makeup and Hairstyling and Best Visual Effects. Um, apparently you don’t need any kind of a good narrative or storyline to get nominated for an Oscar so long as one of your racist characters has a dead bird on his head.

This is how I feel today.

For a recap on everything #LoneRangerRacism, read my post on dangerous Hollywood imagery, plus check out anything Adrienne K. has ever written on her amazing Native Appropriations blog. 

I don’t think we in the POC activist crowd really expect a whole lot from the entertainment industry in terms of fair representation (I mean, nothing for Fruitville Station???), but when a movie that flopped BIG TIME – a movie that caused a lot of anguish in Indian Country – gets two nods from Hollywood’s most prestigious (and totally overrated) awards show, it really smacks in the face. And all this after my Twitter feed went NUTS the other night after the show How I Met Your Mother took a nosedive into yellowface by channeling their best Katy Perry impersonations and appropriating Asian cultures with stereotypical makeup and costuming – you know, super-similar racist BS The Lone Ranger shoved onto indigenous peoples.

HIMYRacism #fail
HIMYRacism #fail

This is why studios and writing teams NEED marginalized voices on the payroll, to help avoid disasters and also to recognize talent (go watch Fruitville Station – now) that is too often passed over in favor of white faces and white narratives. Look at the photo below: Not ONE person of color won a Golden Globe this year; sure, 12 Years a Slave won best picture, but that award goes to the producer – the money behind the show – not the director or acting team behind it. Golden? Nah. These globes are definitely white. As the Oscars will surely be, too. The following Ebony article said it best:

Is it just me or is it bright in  here?
Is it just me or is it bright in here?

It may be easy for those of us keeping track at home to console ourselves with the “awards are pointless” musings, but there are measurable reasons why this matters to Ejiofor, the seasoned British veteran who’s gone so often under-awarded, or Nyong’o, whose future in Hollywood may very well be contingent on how well this season goes. It would’ve mattered to first-time director Ryan Coogler, as well, if his riveting “Fruitvale Station” had received even one Globe nomination.

In truth, audiences of color will always have an emotional, perhaps even psychic, stake in Hollywood’s awards season. According to a 2011 BET Networks Corporate Research study, Black consumers make 195 million trips to the movies annually. What we see, how we connect to it, and how that connection is acknowledged matters to us. As great as it would be to be able to ignore the import of mainstream validation, we can’t and we shouldn’t. In a year like this, when the front-running films featuring Black actors are based on real people and events, we should feel fully justified in wanting these powerful dramatizations to be revered. Award wins are one way to affirm that we’ve told our stories to someone other than ourselves, to someone who would not have otherwise known them, to someone who may have been loath to acknowledge that they happened.

The only shining light here is that The Lone Ranger is up for several Razzie noms, including Worst Picture, Worst Actor (Johnny Depp – hey, wasn’t he supposed to buy land in Wounded Knee???), and worst director, among others. At least it’s getting some earned recognition here. Hi-ho Silver – GO AWAY!

And at least Canada knows how to rep its First Nations at awards shows.

Halloween: Your Racism is Showing

I never feel so oppressed as a Native American woman than on days meant for mass-scale celebration. Holidays, in particular, are cesspools teeming with the ignorant, the misguided, and the bigots. All those well-intentioned people wanting to “honor” my culture by giving crappy plastic toys to “poor” reservation children (without offering genuine solutions or acknowledging generational PTSD of events like the Wounded Knee Massacre or the hanging of the Dakota 38), or dressing their kids up in paper headdresses to showcase a totally false dramatization of the First Welfare Line. I’m thinking specifically of Christmas and Thanksgiving here, but even holidays like Independence Day and, of course, Columbus Day make me feel like less of person because I can’t fully partake in the shenanigans. “Yay! Most of my ancestors were completely WIPED OUT by colonialism! Pass the explosives!”

Or pass the candy. Today – Halloween – is the one day each year the nation’s indigenous populations double or triple in number thanks to feather-heavy and over-sexualized (or hyper-masculine) costumes. If you follow me on Twitter or Facebook, then you know I’ve used the past several weeks to post and re-post anything and everything anti-ethnic costuming. Redface, Blackface, and everything in between: It’s not cool, people. Stop.

Screen Shot 2013-10-31 at 3.24.30 PM

Just. Stop.

This isn’t about being PC. It’s about respecting POC, our cultures and heritage, our struggles and our successes. There’s really no “right” or respectful way to pull off these kinds of costumes, folks. Your good intentions mean absolutely nothing to my 5-year-old daughter, who is bombarded with the message that hers is a culture of sexy woodland sprites. They mean nothing to this lovely lady, either.

asia black bull

What did these strong, beautiful young Lakota girls, and other youth like them ever do to deserve your concept of honor? They are the next generation of Native people still trying to survive. Their ancestors were purposefully and systematically wiped out physically and spiritually for hundreds of years. And today? Have you seen our rates of alcoholism/youth suicide/poverty/diabetes/domestic violence/rape/etc.? Let’s add your objectifying gaze and wardrobe to the pile.

To be clear: Your crappy imported strip of polyester fringe does not honor my Lakota ancestors. Show honor by supporting our causes, or pick up a book (this is what I’m reading now – FAB!), watch a documentary, listen to our young people, or visit our communities and buy goods made and sold by Natives. Otherwise, STFU. Honor doesn’t come with you appropriating our image for the sake of entertainment. You know what that does for us? It sets us back decades in the eyes of the world. Because how can we be human beings if we’re constantly subjected to the whims of those seeking to be amused?

We are not your fashion accessory, your mascot, or your white-washed history lesson on sharing. Respect us by respecting our boundaries. Native-themed Halloween costumes cross the line. Appropriators beware: You’ll be called out, shamed, and seen as racist.

Still have questions? Here is a great resource to help you figure out whether you should rethink your costume. Remember, Native Americans are living, breathing people. Vampires are not. Dressing up as a sexy nurse or cop may offend some nurses (and, you know, women in general), but since professions and careers (and monsters) don’t actually count as a demographic race category, your argument that the Halloween Police are going to ruin it for EVERYONE will not be added to the discussion. Being asked not to be racist doesn’t mean you can’t have fun dressed as a vampire. Or Harry Potter (my costume the last 8 or 9 years).

Have fun, be safe, and be respectful. Check the mirror and check your privilege before heading out to trick or treat.

"Courtesy of Hampshire College, this checklist will help you to determine whether your Halloween costume is racist or not."
“Courtesy of Hampshire College, this checklist will help you to determine whether your Halloween costume is racist or not.”

Follow up: Exactly .345 seconds after I published this blog, someone shared THIS on Facebook and I fell in love. #truth

On Why Hollywood’s Images of Natives are Dangerous

Producers of the Al Jazeera English show, The Stream, reached out last week to ask if I’d provide some commentary on today’s episode regarding Hollywood DEPPictions of Native Americans (that’s my pun!). It’s a neat, interactive show, and they had some good questions. However, I was given a 30-second window to comment, plus tweeting. For a topic this complicated (and controversial, especially among fellow Natives), I felt a little strangled for time. So in addition to my video on The Stream, I also wrote up this piece. By no means am I dropping anything here someone much smarter and more qualified than me hasn’t already discussed in detail. For more in-depth analysis, check out Native Appropriations and Reel Injun, just to point you in the direction of quality critiques.

@AJStream asked: “…[U]sing Tonto as an example… How do stereotypes affect the perceptions and treatment of Native Americans? And to what degree are racist depictions in mainstream media holding back progress within Native American communities?”

Following is the answer I’d have liked to have given:

Hollywood’s go-to design of a Native American character is this: The stoic Indian of bygone yesteryears, with his bow and arrow, feathers and paint, and a HUGE chip on his shoulder (and now a bird on his head – the new acronym is SMBH, shaking my bird head). The character is generally under-developed, very surface-y in his motivations, and never the title role. The character is usually male, as well. Outside of the newest Disney-generated Native bird-wearing archetype, I’m thinking of movies like Dances With Wolves, Last of the Mohicans, and The New World, among others. Then, if you’re showcasing the rare female lead character, say, someone like Pocahontas or Sacajawea, you get the over-sexualized woodland sprite communing with nature and navigation alike. In both cases, Hollywood presents us with under-developed, historically and culturally inaccurate characters depicted as noble savages fraught with need for a great white savior.

Now, critics of this line of thinking will often say, “It’s just a movie. It’s fiction. There are LOTS of fictional characters out there absolutely no one believes is how a real person acts.” Yeah, OK, but those characters are generally white, male, and heterosexual. The Privileged, if you will, because there are so many incarnations of them in media that it’s OBVIOUS there is no one mold for them. Hollywood tells us a white male can be anything he wants to be – today, yesterday, or even in the future. But a Native American male wears face paint, leathers, feathers (with or without the body of a bird – yeah, I have a big problem with avian appropriation, too), has a caring and protective white friend, and exists between the years 1492 and the late 1800s.

Therein lies a big chunk of the problem: We have no modern representations of ourselves on the silver screen. This is a big reason I supported Twilight, and I get a lot of flack for that. (Side note #1: Chaske Spencer, aka Sam Uley of the Twilight Saga, was featured on The Stream show and he was amaze-bombs.) Believe me, I get it, and I whole-heartedly agree that just as Johnny Depp donned redface for Tonto, so too did Taylor Lautner for Jacob Black. Beyond this, however, Twilight did a great job of casting several talented indigenous actors for various big roles; in addition, the story behind Jacob Black (and I’m talking the book here, to deviate a little) describes him as a lead character who just happens to be Native. His ethnic heritage (usually the only depth a Native character has) takes a backseat to the love triangle, and his character development as a son and capable leader. And I really enjoyed that this was the case for most of the wolf pack characters in the books and – to an extent – in the movies. No war paint or feathers (albeit a lot of fur) or alcoholism to be found.

This issue kinda came up during The Stream conversation, too. Chaske Spencer was asked about people seeing his role in Twilight as a sort of sellout move on his part. He had a fantastic reply, saying the franchise gave him an international platform to not only choose a more diverse range of films to act in (catch Winter in the Blood if you can!), but also to advocate for great indigenous causes. Then the host asked him something along the lines of: So, you’re using your heritage as a selling point? And Chaske Spencer was like: No, I’m not “selling” my heritage. That’s just who I am… I was proud of Chaske in that moment, because he brought to light the point I make over and over again in this post: Native Americans are relevant only when cultural byproducts (like regalia, and smudge sticks, and feathers) are involved. We are not individuals.

I’ll end the Twilight discussion here. For me, the biggest thing was it jumpstarted a new generation of readers. (Side note #2: I was introduced to The Twilight Saga by my then-15-year-old mentee, Tiffany, who recently turned 20. There were times throughout our relationship I didn’t expect this kid to graduate high school, for various reasons, so when she started telling me about this great book with a Native main character, I had to check it out. Thanks – in part – to Twilight, Tiffany and I built a stronger relationship and I have been entertained by the series – including the movies – ever since. I’d hang my head in shame if I weren’t so jazzed. *shrugs* Never said I was perfect!)

Returning to the topic at hand, even including Twilight, these Hollywood images leave us with few – if any – ways to interpret how a real, modern Native American looks, behaves, or what she desires. In our own familial and friendly circles, many of us will joke about how people ask if we really live in tipis, or ride horses all day, or if they can touch our hair. Funny, right? It happens far more often than any of us want to admit. We have to laugh to keep from crying. The frustrating reality here is this: We don’t exist as people until they actually meet one of us. And even then, developing a relationship beyond the silver screen takes a lot of time and patience on both my part and the part of the non-Native, which means true exchanges don’t often occur, because it really is just easier to live life based on assumptions (you know, like Skittle-wielding Black kids are inherently dangerous).

So where does that leave us? On one hand we have a Hollywood Indian dramatized as a paint-and-feather-wearing warrior whose people have all but disappeared from the face of the Earth. On the other hand we have the fantastical Hollywood Indian, a werewolf. And in these depictions lie the danger of the Hollywood Native Stereotype: We’re like museum artifacts from “back then,” and the imaginative creations of a white profiter; we’re fun to look at, but absent from any modern or realistic context.

That being said, you’d be hard-pressed to find either of these stereotypes in the real world today, and because those Hollywood images are what many people are working from, real Natives – and our issues – remain invisible. So when we have very real issues like crippling poverty, staggering unemployment, laundry lists of health issues, or even when we’re trying to enact positive change with protests against pipelines and predatory alcohol sales, we rate less than the latest celebrity gossip on the local news channels.

Stereotypes hold everyone back, because they don’t allow outsiders to see the human beings underneath all that black and white makeup and stupid bird hats. Stereotypes allow non-Natives to appropriate indigenous images and traditional aspects of our heritage with offensive whooping and tomahawk chopping, dancing in fringed costumes and war bonnets, Navajo panties at Urban Outfitters…


It is so normalized and accepted in America that we see this (mis)appropriation of ourselves in music videos, fashion shows, Halloween parties, frat shindigs, and sporting events. We become obsolete pieces of art used solely for entertainment purposes. And just as Depp’s Tonto ended up as a carnival sideshow, so too do important tribal issues.

How does this all come back to harm Native people and communities? In one of my favorite books, The Lucifer Effect, Philip G. Zimbardo talks about how stereotypes and misrepresentations are classic tactics of those in power to marginalize, dehumanize and ultimately do away with specific populations:

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. (Zimbardo p. 307)

Zimbardo explains how dehumanizing can trigger ‘good’ people to commit atrocious acts, i.e. the Jewish Holocaust, Rwandan genocide, and abuse by guards at Abu Ghraib Prison in Iraq. Dehumanization allows people to redefine harmful behavior as honorable, minimizes personal responsibility, maximizes apathy, and “reconstruct(s) our perception of victims as deserving their punishment” (p. 311). <—- Sound familiar? Read through some of the comments on my blog… Or better yet, through the troll-infested comment sections of news stories about Indian mascots or Hollywood depictions of ethnic people. In case you were operating under some delusion to the contrary, let me be the first to point out how alive and thriving racism is today. Let’s stop that whole "post-racial" fantasy, mmmkay?

In the case of Hollywood whitewashing, the context behind the offensive Native imagery is at issue. In relegating Native Americans to Western or mythological roles, Hollywood perpetuates and popularizes racist trends proponents say “honor” Natives; mascots, in particular, which are the little racist brothers to Hollywood’s stereotypes.

Perhaps one of the biggest concerns regarding AI [American Indian] mascots is that, because AIs may be largely defined by (and socially represented in terms of) mascot stereotypes, AI people have ceased to be perceived as real. From the time of first contact with European explorers, AIs have been portrayed fictionally as barbaric, wild, and savage––terms that imply AI people are less than human. Thus, it could be argued that AIs have existed as mascots for the 500+ year history of this country, and one consequence of AI sports mascots is that they keep AI people allegorically fixed as a kind of ‘cultural souvenir’ preserved in the American identity. (Chaney, Burke & Burkely, 2012, p. 43)

Mascots and Hollywood stereotypes exacerbate the issues plaguing Indian Country today by making the American public complacent and indifferent to those “Indian-only” problems, in addition to totally leaving out the fact that many of these issues are because of past and current U.S. POLICIES (I’m thinking in terms of assimilation, allotment, boarding schools, ICWA, VAWA, and – most recently – the sequester)! These images further divide Us and Them, because we Natives are nothing more than ticket sales and sports jerseys. Who cares about the Indians when there are REAL issues to deal with? Dehumanizing Natives through racist imagery has been the most effective modern means of annihilating the few of us remaining.

Let’s Do This: Slam Poetry for Trayvon Martin

From PolicyMic.com
From PolicyMic.com

It’s dangerous to be
A P.O.C.

When skin color
Makes you ‘Other’

A baby dies
And we ask why

You’re attacked
If you’re Black

Thrown down
If you’re brown

No acquittals
For carrying Skittles

Multicolored riddles and joke’s on us
Ha! What Justice?

When racist sinners
Always the winners

Courtrooms of oppression
Living rooms with entertainment obsessions

Make us guilty on sight
For not being white

It’s too bright in here
Put a hoodie on dear

And the world will go dark
When Zimmerman’s shot hits its mark

Tonight, all hearts are bleeding
Those with hearts all needing

To see our loss, our rage
Be noticed, take a grand stage

For change, for hope
For movement, to cope

To heal, rise above
Hang haters with Love

Fight harder for the future
Our kids no longer butchered

So my daughter can walk at night
No worry, no fright

Because we’re strengthened, we’re heartened
By the sacrifice of Trayvon Martin

Couldn’t adequately put my feelings to words last night. As a mother, person of color, a former delinquent myself, and someone who works daily with juvenile offenders – many who do FAR worse than wear hoodies or flip off cameras – this whole thing scares the ish out of me. BUT, it also makes me want to work harder for justice reform. And as I was praying recently in memory of RieLee Lovell, all I keep thinking now is: Let’s keep our kids alive, folks. Let’s give them a world worth living in.

Dear ND Voters – Thank you. Love, Me

Let’s get this out of the way: I have never claimed North Dakota. I graduated from Bismarck High School in 2001, and my dad’s family still lives on the ranch-type property they bought back in the summer of 1997. But that’s it. Aside from family, I have no connections or feelings for that state just north of South Dakota. Thanks to some rough-and-tumble times during my volatile teen years, I dread driving through the state for any reason. You couldn’t pay me enough to live there.

With THAT said, I am all smiles today. North Dakota voters – those amazing oil-stained dontcha knows (I write that in a loving, Fargo-style accent) – effectively ended a terrible and racist legacy in yesterday’s state primary: The Fighting Sioux nickname and logo at the University of North Dakota. At least, those of us who have struggled and opposed the nickname for years (me) or decades (many brave others) hope this is the end of that hurtful era.

From the Associated Press:

Voters in Tuesday’s North Dakota primary were asked whether to uphold or reject the Legislature’s repeal of a state law requiring the school to use the nickname. The vote sends the matter back to the state’s Board of Higher Education, which is expected to re-retire the nickname and American Indian head logo that seven years ago was deemed hostile and abusive by the NCAA.

That the issue became a political one (who ever heard of a college nickname being placed on a ballot, honestly??) is irrelevant now. The demeaning moniker is on its way out (ding dong!) – FINALLY! I get kinda choked up every time I think about it :*) I can’t tell you how often I have spoken to students, teachers, friends, family, and the general public about the need to retire mascots like the Fighting Sioux. I wrote last semester’s ethics final on the subject (posted for your enjoyment below). I even wrote my first editorial in high school opposing the nickname; I’ll never forget the backlash. How dare I be offended by a stereotypical image and its historically and culturally inaccurate pejorative?!? I mean, really, Taté – you should be proud, because every time a hockey puck hits its mark, a Native gets her wings (or some other “honorary” dismissal of MY feelings).

So, cheers to North Dakotans, who broke state elections primary turnout records to vote overwhelmingly in favor of chucking the nickname and logo overboard into the dirty annals of America, filed right next to Custer, land theft, broken treaties, reservations, boarding schools, and Wounded Knee, among other atrocities.

Onward to Washington’s hateful football team name.

My ethics final, in case you were interested 🙂

USD Masters of Public Administration

Administrative Ethics Final Spring 2012

In which I argue Indian mascots are America’s new-age gas chambers.


The Fighting Sioux nickname, alongside its logo, an Indian head in profile, has generated both alumni foundation dollars and major athletic and community controversy. Those who study ethics, such as Philip Zimbardo, as well proponents of ethical justice, such as Martin Luther King, Jr., would argue against the use of Indian mascots, which not only dehumanize Native American people, but also contribute to their continued unjust treatment.


Beginning in the 1960s, colleges across the country began dumping Indian mascots: in 1969, Dartmouth College swaps “Indians” for “Big Green;” in 1972, Stanford University changes from “Indians” to “Cardinals;” and in 1978, Syracuse University drops its “Saltine Warrior” (Rosenstein, 2008). Dozens of institutions followed suit; some, like the University of Iowa, refused to play teams with Indian mascots, making it difficult for schools with offensive names to play regular season games (Rosenstein, 2008). Then, in 2005, the NCAA “banned the use of American Indian mascots by sports teams during its postseason tournaments, but will not prohibit them otherwise… Nicknames or mascots deemed ‘hostile or abusive’ would not be allowed on team uniforms or other clothing” (ESPN, 2005). While many of the 19 schools targeted by the NCAA ruling complied, UND held out:

North Dakota challenged the NCAA edict in court. In a settlement, the school agreed to begin retiring its nickname if it could not obtain consent to continue its use from North Dakota’s Standing Rock and Spirit Lake Sioux tribes by Nov. 30, 2010.

Spirit Lake tribal members endorsed the name. But the Standing Rock Sioux’s tribal council, which opposed the nickname, has declined to support it or to allow its tribal members to vote.

The law forcing the school to use the name and logo was approved in March [2011], despite opposition from university officials and Grand Forks legislators…

The law was repealed during a special legislative session last November, with many former supporters switching sides and saying it had not accomplished its purpose of influencing the NCAA.

Supporters of the nickname, including some members of the Standing Rock Sioux, said they turned in petitions with more than 17,000 signatures…in support of the law. (CBS News, 2012)

Then, on April 4, 2012, the North Dakota State Supreme Court ruled voters should decide whether to keep the UND nickname before the courts judge whether the 2011 pro-nickname law violates the state constitution (WDAZ Television 8, 2012). Until then, UND’s president, Robert Kelley, said the school and its athletic teams will continue to use the nickname and logo – and comply with NCAA sanctions – until June 12, when North Dakotans have the opportunity to vote to keep the nickname (Kelley, 2012).


But the issue here is not a legal one, nor is it a question of tradition or honor. The use of Indian mascots and nicknames is an ethical issue – a question of whether Indians are people to be respected or whether it is acceptable to dehumanize an entire culture. In 2005, the American Psychological Association (APA) “called for the immediate retirement of all American Indian mascots, symbols, images and personalities,” because it found this brand of racial stereotyping to have harmful effects on the “social identity development and self-esteem of American Indian young people” (APA, 2005). Even more harmful is the effect stereotyping and dehumanization have on the ability of seemingly normal citizens to commit evil and horrendous acts against those seen as mere “things,” according to psychologist and researcher Philip Zimbardo (2008):

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. (p. 307)

Zimbardo (2008) explains how dehumanizing can trigger an ability in ‘good’ people to commit atrocious acts, i.e. the Jewish Holocaust, Rwandan genocide, and abuse by guards at Abu Ghraib Prison in Iraq. Dehumanization allows people to redefine harmful behavior as honorable, minimizes personal responsibility, maximizes apathy, and “reconstruct(s) our perception of victims as deserving their punishment” (p. 311).

In the case of Indian mascots, the context behind the offensive nicknames and logos is at issue. Many schools adopted Indian mascots and nicknames during the early part of the 20th century, “a time when American Indian people had little political power, rights, and were not very respected as a result of the United States enforcement of federal Indian policies” (LaRocque, McDonald, Ferraro, & Abe, 2012). Along with this are the inaccurate portrayals of Native Americans throughout United States history; according to Chaney, Burke and Burkely (2012):

Perhaps one of the biggest concerns regarding AI [American Indian] mascots is that, because AIs may be largely defined by (and socially represented in terms of) mascot stereotypes, AI people have ceased to be perceived as real. From the time of first contact with European explorers, AIs have been portrayed fictionally as barbaric, wild, and savage––terms that imply AI people are less than human. Thus, it could be argued that AIs have existed as mascots for the 500+ year history of this country, and one consequence of AI sports mascots is that they keep AI people allegorically fixed as a kind of ‘cultural souvenir’ preserved in the American identity. (p. 43)

NOTE FROM ME: Not in the essay, since this was more my opinion than anything else, but I argue the use of Indian mascots exacerbates the issues plaguing Indian Country today (including, but unfortunately not limited to, extreme poverty, youth suicide, diabetes, unemployment…) by making the American public complacent and indifferent to those “Indian-only” problems. Mascots further divide Us and Them, because we Natives are nothing more than ticket sales and sports jerseys. Who cares about the Indians when there are REAL issues to deal with. Dehumanizing Natives through mascot imagery has been the most effective modern means of annihilating the few of us remaining.


Thankfully, this ethical dilemma is easily resolved by doing away with Indian mascots, logos and nicknames altogether, not just among high school and college athletics, but in professional sports, as well. This would not only bring an end to the hurtful and demeaning practices of mascot stereotyping, but also offer Native American people a sense of justice. Martin Luther King, Jr., classified racist and stereotypical acts against minorities as unjust: “An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust,” (King, 1963). King goes to explain how a moral and ethical citizen has the obligation of confronting injustice and demanding redress.

Therefore, while Indian mascots may generate hoots and hollers at athletic events, and perhaps even have been in use for decades, the continued use of these inaccurate depictions of Native Americans is both hurtful and harmful not just to tribal people, but to the society in which they live. For any nation that can take one segment of its society and turn it into a caricature of itself for the purposes of entertainment and capitalism has sunken into Zimbardo’s world of evil. Yet just as King’s message of justice and morality swept across the nation, so too can the knowledge that Indian mascots, logos, and nicknames are wrong and should be brushed away in the dustbin of history.


American Psychological Association. (2005). Summary of the APA resolution recommending retirement of American Indian mascots. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/pi/oema/resources/indian-mascots.aspx

CBS News. (2012). UND to keep contentious Fighting Sioux nickname. Retrieved from http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-400_162-57373510/und-to-keep-contentious-fighting-sioux-nickname/

Chaney, J., Burke, A., & Burkley, E. Do American Indian mascots = American Indian people? Examining implicit bias towards American Indian people and American Indian mascots. Retrieved April 27, 2012 from http://www.ucdenver.edu/academics/colleges/PublicHealth/research/centers/CAIANH/journal/Documents/Volume%2018/18(1)_Chaney_AI_Mascots_People_new.pdf

ESPN. (2005). NCAA American Indian mascot ban will begin Feb. 1. Retrieved from http://sports.espn.go.com/ncaa/news/story?id=2125735

Kelley, R. (2012). Statement from the UND president Robert Kelley for the campus community. Retrieved from http://nickname.und.edu/logo/

King, M.L. Jr. (1963). Letter from Birmingham Jail. Retrieved April 28, 2012, from http://abacus.bates.edu/admin/offices/dos/mlk/letter.html

LaRocque, A., McDonald, J.D., Ferraro, F.R., & Abe, S. Indian sports
 mascots: Affective
between American Indian and
non‐Indian college
students. Retrieved April 30, 2012 from http://www.apa.org/pi/oema/resources/affective-difference.pdf

Rosenstein, J. (2008). Banned mascots: American Indian mascot & nickname changes. Retrieved from http://jayrosenstein.com/pages/honormascots.html

WDAZ Television 8. (2012). ND supreme court won’t block Fighting Sioux election. Retrieved from http://www.wdaz.com/event/article/id/13007/

Zimbardo, P. (2008). The Lucifer effect: Understanding how good people turn evil. New York: Random House Publishing Group.