Monday, April 26, 2010

Native American Mascots (Final blog)

The United States is a place of tradition; no one can argue against that. Tradition is only the illusion of permanency. People take these ideas, images, songs, etc., and hold them close to their hearts. But what if a tradition is offensive? Does the majority have to stop enjoying a tradition because of the will of the minority? These are all questions that pertain to an argument that has been raging for the better part of a century: are Native American mascots acceptable, or outdated and racist?
The history of this subject really begins with the colonization of the Americas. It was common (and still isn’t uncommon) for kids to play “cowboys & Indians” and re-enact popularized misinterpretations of Native American customs. Later on and into the 20th century, sports teams dubbed themselves with Native American monikers because of the widely acceptable image of natives as warriors, savages, or simply insane and uncivilized people. Of course, in any public or social setting, these qualities are unacceptable. However, when applied to a sports team, violence and barbarity can be positive and pleasing with fans and anyone who wants to jump on the bandwagon.

A good local example would be the University of Idaho Vandals. Clearly, this mascot is not meant to be a Native American. He is undeniably a brute, however. The Idaho Vandal is a large, bearded Viking-type man. Vikings can be associated with looting, rape, and destruction of innocent people. But in the context of sports, these negative connotations are ignored and fans simply enjoy being the fiercer, rowdier team amongst other more tame mascots.
The Vandals are not the issue here, though. Native Americans have been speaking out over the last several decades to end the humiliation of their culture through sports. This began in the 1960s with the Civil Rights Movement. The National Congress of American Indians began a push for the elimination of negative stereotypes of Native Americans in cartoons, movies, and sports teams. Surprisingly, cartoons and movies did not pose too much of a problem or a threat; it was generally agreed that many cartoons (especially those of the WWII era) were inherently racist. However, people seemed to take sports teams a little more personally.
One of the main contenders in this movement is the Washington Redskins, who still refuse to change their mascot. Although the logo itself (see below) isn’t blatantly offensive, there are other issues. Mainly there is a problem with sports fans. Opposing and rival teams find no problem in yelling things such as “Kill the Redskins!” or “Kill the Indians!” Many white fans don’t find this offensive, but I believe everyone can agree that the situation would be different if the mascot were a grossly exaggerated black male and fans were calling for him to be killed.

I believe this is an issue having to deal with the deep seated social barriers that Native Americans face. In my other blog posts, I’ve written about how Natives are ignored, pushed to the side, and generally not cared for by the federal government. They are the least vocal and least visible of all the minorities, and are treated poorly almost nation-wide. Like I wrote before, if a sports team had a mascot that was a man in black face and dancing around circa 1910, there would be serious problems in the media. If a sports team had an Asian man with a rice paddy hat and railroad tools circa 1850, there would also be problems. If a sports team had a “white trash” man wearing a tank top and beating his wife or smoking methamphetamine as a mascot, the local residents would undoubtedly be offended. Contrarily, a “redskin” wearing culturally inaccurate head dresses and smoking a peace pipe causes few issues. Why?

Studies by many different independent sources have shown that the overwhelming majority of Native Americans do not find these images and mascots offensive, or at least are apathetic about how they feel. This has been used as a defensive by the Washington Redskins in recent history; but is it really an excuse? I feel like this issue and argument can be closely related to that of the accepted standards of sexual harassment. In just about any modern workplace where sexual harassment is completely unacceptable, the rule is that if any one person finds anything offensive, be it verbal, visual or somatic, then it is an issue. For instance, if a man makes a “blonde joke” in the office where every single person doesn’t mind with the exception of one person, then he can be reprimanded. Some may argue that this issue is completely irrelevant to that of Native American mascots, but I disagree.
If there are any Native Americans who feel debased and humiliated by the extremely public mascots that imitate their culture and heritage, then the issue needs to be resolved. Studies have shown that Native Americans do feel humiliated by the public portrayals of their culture and that this can lower their self esteem, self image, and pride in their heritage. So is it any wonder that the majority claimed to not be affected by the imagery of Native American mascots and rowdy sports fans doing drunken imitations? I propose that the results of these surveys are proof that the routine humiliation and degradation of Native Americans is one of the last completely socially acceptable forms of racism left in the United States. This structural racism is so deep that it has convinced even the victim race itself that it is okay to embarrass Native American culture and history. Images have an extremely powerful effect on people and their views, and the routine exploitation of natives as a savage race of people has helped keep their nations subdued and in poverty across the United States.
There are many counter arguments to everything I have just proposed. It is easy for Caucasians to brush these problems off of their shoulders and suggest the Native Americans get a sense of humor or just learn to “deal with it.” Most opponents of mascot change will claim that this is an attack of “political correctness,” and that anything social is being moved liberally to the left in order to make everything vanilla, PC, and peachy. This may seem like a valid argument until it is analyzed carefully. Not many people would dare say the same thing about racism towards blacks or Hispanics. It is simply okay to make this claim against a “lesser” form of racism because of how acceptable it is to be racist towards a seldom-defended group. On the other hand, why is political correctness such a negative term? And why do people want to defend their freedom to be racist? People cling onto these traditions as if when their freedom to be racist is dried up and gone, they will have no freedom at all. This is because racism is a tradition just like Halloween or the 4th of July.
What about the Notre dame Fighting Irish? They might as well rename their team to the “drunk and belligerent micks,” or the “Catholic alcoholics.” If we get rid of Native American mascots, won’t we have to get rid of this tradition as well?
I don’t believe we do. Like I mentioned before with the sexual harassment argument, an act is offensive as long as someone claims it as offensive. If one person has their feelings or self esteem hurt by a joke, then whatever the joke is should be considered for appropriateness. The Fighting Irish, however, are poking fun at themselves. Most Americans of Irish descent celebrate their rowdiness, and I believe you’d be hard-pressed to find a Notre dame fan who is offended by their team mascot or imagery.
There is an even better example in Florida. The Florida State Seminoles teams are an interesting change from previous examples like the Washington Redskins. This is mostly because the Seminoles are the only team to be officially endorsed by a Native American nation; in this case, the two remaining Seminole tribes. Florida State University worked with the Seminoles to create an honorable interpretation of their tribe that was practically universally approved of. However, there can still be problems with rowdy fans.
One of the largest complaints voiced by Native Americans is not with college sports teams, but with younger children. As of 2006, there were over 2,500 teams from elementary, middle, and high schools that imitated Native Americans in some way. If these children aren’t properly educated about Native Americans and their team mascots, it can only continue the generational racism that is so prevalent in the United States.
But why should we care? As a middle class Caucasian male, I clearly have nothing to worry about with this issue. However, I find it insulting to separate racism and declare some of it acceptable and some of it not. Exploiting the culture of Native Americans against their will for the entertainment of sports fans is not justified in any way, shape, or form. By accepting these images as silly, playful, or unimportant, we are downplaying the history and heritage of an entire race of people who we (as a nation) have already unseated and treated as refugees over the last couple centuries. In order to legally be able to use a Native American image as a mascot, the sports team should need to get explicit permission from the tribe they are borrowing the culture from, such as in the case of Florida State University. If we don’t discontinue the acceptable racism against Native Americans, then they will never be able to prosper and fully integrate themselves into American society.

There is a documentary on this subject made last year. Here is a trailer that includes some interviews with Native American activists.

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Saturday, April 17, 2010

Reservation Poverty

It's a sad reality that ghettos still exist in the United States today. In infamous places like Compton, the South side of Chicago, and Harlem, minorities are forced to live cut off from the rest of the population by an invisible wall of poverty. However, there are different and more desolate ghettos that fewer people know about; in Native American reservations.
Starting with the Indians Appropriations Act in 1851, the majority of tribes and natives were forced to live on inferior land and within the confines of the borders given to them. Although some of the restrictions have obviously changed over the years and Native Americans have equal legal rights as individuals, tribes are still kept low on the social ladder by way of poverty. Federal funds are miniscule and have not even matched inflation in recent years.
The following information from a 1997 article in the Washington Post states clearly:
The country’s 2.1 million Indians, about 400,000 of whom live on reservations, have the highest rates of poverty, unemployment, and disease of any ethnic group in America

The article went on to state that nearly 2/3 of Native Americans live in poverty, which is more than twice the rate for Americans as a whole. So why is it that we've never heard of all this strife?
This generational poverty has been caused by our country. By forcing relocation to desolate areas with little to no economic opportunities, the Natives of our country have had no choice but to accept what was given to them. Rarely, a tribe will be able to take advantage of tax situations and find funds to build a casino on the reservation. However, this will usually become the focal point of the economy within the reservation, so that when the casino fails or loses money, so does the entire community. This has also fueled a stereotype of casinos on reservations and does not help the case of racism against Native Americans, which is one of the last acceptable forms of public humiliation (as seen by the numerous caricatures of Native American mascots).
What is such an oppressed group of peoples to do? I believe the answer is simple: protest. This is an issue that has been hidden from the public eye for too long, and the system of laws and funding to reservations is outdated. I may be simplifying the problems and the solutions, but I believe that if the largest nations of Native Americans were to group together and make a very public protest of living conditions on reservations, it would spark new interest into the subject and into a younger generation of people who are trying to be more socially active.
I can't pretend I know enough about taxes and funding to propose solutions. I believe one of the major problems is that funding towards reservations is controlled by the federal government, which already has massive money problems. I don't think it would be wrong to assume that Native Americans are low on the list of priorities to the federal government. On the other hand, I don't believe states would want to take on the responsibility of distributing their funds to reservations because certain states and areas of the country have much larger populations of Native Americans than others.
However, if there is any way out of this mess, I believe it might be able to be accomplished with better educational opportunities. Schools in reservations are notoriously underfunded, but I also think there can be improvement in the amount of scholarships given to Native Americans and even the spread of information to reservations about financial aid and how to apply for colleges and scholarships.
Also, I believe it could be beneficial to improve public transportation to and from reservations to the nearest economic center available. This way it would be easier for Natives to get into cities to apply for and keep steady employment.
Clearly, as a middle-class white student attending a university, it may seem hypocritical for me to propose solutions to problems I've never had to live with or experience. But I believe there's a golden coin at the bottom of every pail; and when the nations of the Native Americans unite, we can find solutions as a country to problems that are long overdue for fixing.

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Friday, April 9, 2010

Resource Guide (#5)

This is the website for Native Peoples magazine. It's a good site to learn about the pressing issues affecting native peoples and to learn about different cultures.

First people is mainly a cultural and educational site. It is child-friendly, with a lot of good pictures, articles, and history about Native Americans and Canadians.

This is an expansive website that has a plethora of links and pictures. The site defines itself as a "web magazine," which is fairly accurate. One unique feature of the website are the "video essays" by Native American contributors across the country.

This link leads to law directories dictating the federal laws pertaining to Native Americans. They are broken up by the different laws and acts, with detailed explanations of all of them. This is an extremely useful website for trying to understand the legal state of Natives in our country.

Native Web is a large database that has information on all different indigenous communities. It is run by a non profit organization whose mission is to simply gather information. There are links to any subject imaginable that show different websites and real locations where you can learn more.

This is the website for the Center for World Indigenous Studies. As well as providing links and useful information, there are also web publications of original sociological research conducted by the CWIS.

This is a relatively simple website that explains many different aspects of the indigenous Australians, otherwise known as Aborigines. Although it doesn't go very far in depth, it's a good place to start if you're interested in learning about these lesser-known natives.

This website has extensive information on the history and culture of Aborigines, but is unfortunately almost all text (with some pictures). A great site if you're intrigued by link#7 and want to learn more.

A good site with history and issues of the Native Pacific Islanders. It has many recommendations and links to research and suggested reading on various subjects.

The Alaskan Native Language Center features a map that shows that territories of the various tribes in the Alaska region. It also contains many links and resources, and an interactive map that shows publications by region/tribe.

This website is an extensive directory of links dealing with the Alaskan Natives. Most of the links lead to professional organizations and non-profit research centers.

This is an older website with information and links to resources that pertain to Natives in Mexico, Central America, and South America. This is a good place to start for anyone interested in learning about these peoples. The links are broken up by tribes and regions.

An excellent website with an interactive map of South American. Below there are links to literally hundreds of different tribes and unique information for all of them. Very in depth.

An entire book online written by a South African native. She depicts life in the early 20th century after the Boer Rebellion. This is an excellent first hand historical account.

An extensive and encyclopaedic list of all of the major tribes in Africa. Each link contains basic information about that tribe and links to where you can find more information.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Manifest Destiny (Post #4)

The great migration of white settlers from Eastern to Western North America will forever be remembered as a source of pride among people of European descent and a scar that will never be forgotten by the Native Americans. Although most people would like to believe that this period of forcefully taking land from its rightful owners is over, “Manifest Destiny” continues to this day. Promises and contracts are continually broken by governments because of the need for more land and because the Native Americans are such a small group of peoples. Why not profit where a small group of protesters have such a small voice that it barely reaches more than a whisper?

Canada has the same problems and disputes with its indigenous peoples that the United States has. The laws that govern Native Canadians, their land, and their nations are complicated to say the least, and it’s difficult to find much information on them. Their tax systems, laws, and rules are very different from the nations that encapsulate them. For example, the Native Canadians in the story below are loyal to the Haudenosaunee Nation first and Canada second.
Starting in February 2006, the Haudenosaunee (or Iroquois) Nation, which is actually composed of six separate nations, staked out a construction site where new homes were being built in Ontario, Canada. Their reason was simple: the land being built on by Henco Industries was owned by the Six Nations and not by the town of Caledonia. In fact, the Six Nations had never even legally sold a parcel of their land to the Canadian government. By this time, though, they had only 5% of the land that was originally promised to them by General Haldimand of the British Army.
The Six Nations own a piece of land that is called the Haldimand Tract which extends from the mouth to the source of the Grand River. Over the decades, the land has been illegally sold piece by piece to various private owners and developers. According to the Six Nations, the entire town of Caledonia is squatting on their land. Unfortunately, there is little they can do about the situation.
Like we talked about in class, these native people are immobilized by the structure of the government surrounding them. If mobility is freedom, then these people are not free. The land they own is slowly being stolen, effectively reducing the size of the cage that was “given” to them.
Although the nations of Native Americans are given civil rights by their respective governments, these laws almost always favor the white nationals. Indigenous peoples are usually given small tracts of bad land and then ignored. They are to be occasionally seen, but never heard. The small population leftover after the massive genocides that occurred in the last centuries have very little political power or lobbyists to support them. So what are they to do?
Protest is one of the few options left. For a group of once powerful nations that claim to be the oldest participatory democracy on Earth, their words have little sway in an unfair world.
Here is the article about the stand-off in Ontario:

And for further reading or history on the Six Nations, I suggest this site:

Friday, March 26, 2010

Photos and Pictures

Native people have a history that is more rich than most people can imagine.

Proud but in a position that is low on the social ladder, their empires, languages, cultures, and ideas have degraded.

Where once there were proud nations, there are now only remnants of groups that attempt to remain together and gather their dignity in an ever-changing world.

Globalization has not been kind to the indigenous peoples of the world. Their heritage and race are still looked down upon in most of the nations that once exerted their colonial powers.

“The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.” - Friedrich Nietzsche

As we discussed in class, I believe the empowerment of native peoples in the 20th century was a type of "botched emancipation."

What sort of empowerment results in the confinement of a race of people on reservations, where the laws are different from that of the majority? Doesn't that violate the fundamental principle of equality?

How, if ever, can a culture be restored? How can thousands of cultures be brought back from the grave?

And where have all of these nations gone?

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Thursday, February 25, 2010

A (very) brief history of my topic

The history of “natives” in various parts of the world dates back to as far as human history can reach. At one time, every race of people, nationality, and creed were a native of somewhere. However, the history of native people in a globalized world really begins in the 17th century. In the western hemisphere, Europeans were beginning to land on and colonize North America (even though there were some interactions before this). South, West, and East Africa were also starting to be utilized for natural resources which included both minerals and slave labor. Finally, in the 18th century, Australia was colonized for the purpose of storing criminals, and the Aborigines started to feel the presence of the white foreigners.

The history of native people is such an incredibly broad subject that I am going to focus on two main populations in order to keep this post within a reasonable length: the North American Natives and the Aborigines of Australia.

Native Americans played a large role in the colonization of the United States. Like any native people, it would be wrong to assume that they are one nation of people instead of many. Their tribes and nations took part in wars and treaties with the United States over hundreds of years, but were for the most part exploited ruthlessly for land reasons. The United States forced the tribes out of their original homelands and into reservations which still exist today.

One of the leading factors of the dwindling numbers of Native Americans over the centuries, besides the mass exodus and genocide, were the diseases that Europeans brought to North America. Native Americans were especially susceptible to small pox and some other diseases of which there was no cure without vaccinations.

The displacement of the Native American tribes and their generally low place in American society have greatly affected them as a whole. Even today, reservations are often places filled with extremely low income housing and have very high unemployment rates. The only way the tribes are able to make money is to take advantage of the strange and lax laws that are placed upon the reservations to build casinos or sell discounted tobacco products.

Driving through Idaho and seeing the trailer parks in reservations was my main inspiration for writing about native people. I realized that Native Americans never make the evening news in any way, and there is virtually no talk of them in politics or equal rights discussions.

If you’re interested in reading about some famous Native Americans, I suggest these sites:

The Aborigines are an often overlooked population of people. Like Native Americans, the uneducated usually assume they’re just a scattered race, when in fact there are hundreds of Aborigine nations. When Great Britain colonized Australia beginning in the 18th century, the Aborigines were grossly mistreated. Immigrants trying to claim land would run the natives off of “their” property and possibly kill them. Although it wasn’t completely acceptable to rampantly kill natives, it was definitely overlooked by the authorities and performed innumerable times. Also like the Native Americans, the Aborigines suffered from a smallpox epidemic that killed an estimated 90% of their population.

Aborigine has become almost a derogatory term in Australia, as well as the term “black” as an insult. However, there are now several famous Aborigines in Australia including many athletes and cricket players.

For a quick timeline of Australia, read:

If you’re still interested, I suggest you watch the movie Quigley Down Under as it has a lot to do with the plight of Aborigines and a man who comes to understand and protect them.

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Sunday, February 14, 2010

An introduction

I created Natives in Distress to highlight and get people interested in the plight of natives around the globe. In just about every part of the world there are native peoples who have, and continue to be, exploited, ignored, and subjected to unfair policies and social treatment. Although these peoples are of innumerable races, creeds, and backgrounds, their situations are similar in that they have all been debilitated by colonization and globalization.

Moving to Eastern Washington made me more interested in learning about Native Americans and native peoples in general. Having driven past reservations and small Native American settlements, I could help but notice how poor and destitute they all looked. Other things that have piqued my interest are simply movies: Little Big Man, Quigley Down Under, etc.

I want to learn more about the how globalization has affected natives around the world. Do they have any hope or are they just another oppressed group among others, and what makes their situation unique?

Here is a good article to get anyone interested started into the subject:
In case you don't have time to read it, however, it's about the lack of aid a South Dakota branch of the Lakota Sioux Nation have received after the recent debilitating snow storms in the area. This immediately reminded me of our class discussions on Haiti and Hurricane Katrina, but perhaps to a lesser extent in terms of the number of people affected.

Using this blog, I hope to learn more about the people that time and history seem to keep forgetting. If I write well and do my homework, I hope to get you interested too. Keep checking back for updates and new blogs!