George Will, White Elites, Justify Use of “Redskins”

White elites who first developed the terminology of Indians, Savages and Redskins, are now desperately trying to justify that racist language.

George Will has been the latest to weigh in on this defense of racial privilege and hegemony, while abusing the English language. In a column titled “The government decided ‘Redskins’ bothers you“,  Will arrogantly dismisses the controversy as the result of “some people” who are “professionally indignant” and chides what he sees as the overreach of government into being coercive “about wedding cakes and team names.” 

KKK discuss term "redskins"

Cartoon by Marty Two Bulls, Indian Country Today

Will insults the lead plaintiff, Amanda Blackhorse, Navajo, in a long-fought suit on trademark protections from the Washington Redskins, that itself borders on direct racism, then he “discovers” an infamous school on the reservation that uses the moniker Red Mesa High School Redskins, and then states All Navajo support its use, when if he had done the most basic homework, would have found the Navajo Tribal Council has recently condemned its use for professional sports.

But Will is not satisfied insulting Amanda Blackhorse and the Navajo Tribal Council, but goes on to repeat the mantra-like falsehoods that “90% of Natives support” the Redskins team name usage, even as my own survey work underscores that a majority of 67% of Native Americans say “Redskins” is offensive and see it as racist, a point reinforced in work I did on the (chief) Wahoo racist icon nearly 20 years ago with similar findings. The dominant society and its white elite discourse masters simply ignore any evidence that doesn’t support what they say, and this is acceptable to a general public that wants to believe these icons and words don’t really matter.

 

R2 chiefy R3 helmet R4 wahoo plain2

 

In his racist rant, Will states “The federal agency acted in the absence of general or Native American revulsion about “Redskins,” and probably because of this absence.” Even without acknowledging recent work on this issue, the National Congress of American Indians (representing 30% of Native people in the U.S.) has been criticizing this and other mascots use for more than twenty years, along with most other Native organizations, especially those in higher education.  Will and a host of others systematically ignore Native Americans, leading Indian organizations, and the voices of their supporters and then report false information that seems to support their position, created by a dominant elite to justify its position and use of racist icons and team names. They also just flat out lie about these issues, such as their claim it is only recently an issue, when the same newspaper the Washington Post has the article “The Great Redskins Name Debate of … 1972?” stating that “people have been complaining, very publicly, about it since at least 1972. At the Washington Post’s DC Sports Bog, Steinberg presents excerpts from eight articles published in 1971-72 that challenge the name, as well as an editorial cartoon from the same era.”

 

1972 Cartoon

 

Cartoon from 1972

This is also found in Will’s support for genocidal discourse, using a Choctaw set of words for Oklahoma in justifying an English word of R*dskins, and forgetting or ignoring that the state was originally called “Indian Country” by the United States that forced the Cherokee, Choctaw, Creek and Chickasaw into those lands by what nearly all scholars call Genocide in what is known as the Trail of Tears.

Will makes reference to a study done by Ives Goddard from the Smithsonian Institution that finds Blackhawk as the first being recorded to use R*dskins, even as he leads a notable fight in resistance to U.S. invasion and conquest, and from there they decide that Native peoples invented the term as a benign description of themselves. This nonsense is underscored by reference to William Clark (of Lewis and Clark fame) as a great influence over many students and leaders who learned from him, when Clark’s most powerful racist statement is in calling the Tetonwan Sioux (Lakota) the most “miscreant, savage race of people in the world” underscoring the rationale for the upcoming conquest of the Great Plains.

 

R5 Scalp D Review(Image from The History Commons)

All of this matters precisely because George Will is an erudite, refined columnist with a great command of language and meaning, however conservative his politics may be. Not only is Will ignorantly wrong, but he is playing to language that arose from the vast genocides of the 16th and 17th centuries where bounties were indeed paid for “scalps” of “Indian” men, women and children, all across this great land, going through the origin of the R word around 1800 (if accurate) and actually in print in 1863 Minnesota where the R word was used interchangeably with Savage, Indian and on the list goes.

 

 

R6 Bounty Minn 1863

“State reward for dead Indians” news clipping from The Daily Republican, 1863

 

In our research, we find the same conditions from studies done on the Wahoo to more recent work on the Redskins, including that 1.) institutionalized “white racism” (Feagin, Joe and Vera, Hernan.  1995.  White racism: The Basics, New York: Routledge) is evidenced in the display, distribution, and defense of the racial icon Chief Wahoo, and the team name Redskins; 2.) ethnic group orientation towards symbolic issues is influenced by perceptions of one’s own group interests, Gamson’s “framing” (Gamson, William. 1995. “Constructing Social Protest” in Social Movements and Culture edited by H. Johnston and B. Klandermans, Pp 85-106.  Minneapolis: U of Minnesota Press)  of the issue (such as what Will does above) ; 3.) the racialized content and target of iconic symbols is controlled by dominant groups and a white elite  (Fenelon, J. “Indians Teaching About Indigenous Issues: How and Why the Academy Discriminates” American Indian Quarterly, Volume 27, number 1 & 2 (2004: pgs. 177-188) ; and 4.) collective ethnic group activism on racism is more likely to cause changes in perceptions of whites.

Dakota Conflict Concentration Camp (Image source) 

 

The George Wills of an educated elite join with the Snyders of an institutional  sports elite, to reinforce racist team names and sports mascots, deny their historical roots in genocide, redefine their meanings as benign or as honor, distort social science to fit the rationales, and denigrate those who resist their “white racism” calling them as “in the business of being offended” and “professionally indignant” as if their Native roots are cut off from the rest of Indigenous America. Will even ends his column in discussing these “serious matters” as including “comity in a diverse nation, civil discourse,” and “not only how we make decisions, but how we decide what needs to be decided, and who will do the deciding.”

 

Inadvertently Will touches on the heart of the matter. Will, Snyder and many other white elites want to define what race means and what qualifies as racism, with the foundationally racist and genocidal term Redskins twisted to mean “honor” and with Native leaders dismissed as radical outliers, so that racist rationales, words, images and denigrating statements can continue to be used with flagrant arrogance, and deep supremacist ideologies. As Joe Feagin points out, “white elite men get to decide what is, and is not, offensive and get to go unnamed as the racist progenitors in the first place.”

 

 ~ Guest blogger James Fenelon, is Lakota/Dakota, and serves as the Director of Center for Indigenous Peoples Studies and Professor of Sociology, at California State University – San Bernardino. 

The Superbowl Ad You Won’t See, but Should

The National Congress of American Indians did not have the funds to run this ad during the Super Bowl. You should watch it and share it anyway.

Want to get involved? Here’s how to contact the DC team, the NFL, and the DC team’s hometown paper: DC Team @redskinsFacebook.com/redskins http://www.redskins.com/footer/contact-us.html Roger Goodell & NFL @NFL @NFLcommishhttps://www.facebook.com/NFL Washington Post DC’s hometown paper is still using the R-word in its coverage of the team.

More ways to take action at ChangeTheMascot.org

 

~ originally posted at Films for Action 

U.S. Native Prisoners of War

One of the ways I came to be interested in issues around race, was that my father identified as Native American and with the struggles of native peoples, yet for the most part passed as white (what a friend of mine refers to as a “chera-honkey”). My dad also frequently expressed overtly racist and antisemitic views about black and Jewish people, while he spoke with admiration about our Mexican American neighbors in South Texas. That, my friends, will set you on a lifetime of trying to figure out race and racism.

I mention this personal history because there was a something really flawed – and telling – in my father’s logic of “comparing” the plight of Native Americans with what he referred to as the “whining” of blacks about racism. In his view, Native Americans had it “much worse” than black Americans and still do. I think that my father’s “reasoning” here is not isolated but rather a common misunderstanding about the politics of race in the U.S., and a view I’ve seen here on this blog in the comments.

Rather than trying to rank order oppression and which group “had it worse,” it’s important that we see these as connected. Here, for example, we’ve talked a lot about “the new Jim Crow,” and the system of mass incarceration of black and brown people. Of course, this system isn’t all that new, really. In fact, it’s directly connected to the legacy of colonization, forced migration, and oppression faced by Native Americans.

This photo essay and talk (h/t @TheAngryIndian) by Aaron Huey of the native Lakota people of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, based on five years of work there, is a compelling example of visual sociology. The talk is on the long side (16:00), but worthwhile (even if he needs to learn to not back out of his own spotlight). It was recorded at TEDDxDU, Denver, September, 2010:

One of the things I appreciate about Huey’s talk is that he clearly situates the health conditions among the Lakota as a direct consequence of forced migration and the loss of native lands, rather than on the pusillanimous “health behaviors” that so pervades the language in public health. Huey’s talk is a powerful reminder of the deep roots of institutional racism in the U.S.

Cherokee Nation Leader Wilma Mankiller Dies

The Tulsa World reports the death of Native American leader, Wilma Mankiller,

the once dirt-poor Oklahoma farm girl who grew up to become an activist for American Indian causes and women’s rights, an author and the first woman to hold the Cherokee Nation’s highest office, died Tuesday. She was 64.

President Barack Obama lauded Mankiller’s legacy. “As the Cherokee Nation’s first female chief, she transformed the nation-to-nation relationship between the Cherokee Nation and the federal government, and served as an inspiration to women in Indian Country and across America,” Obama said. “A recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, she was recognized for her vision and commitment to a brighter future for all Americans. ”

In the 1960s, married by then with two children, she took an increasing interest in Indian affairs. When a group of tribal activists took over Alcatraz Island in 1969, occupying it for more than a year to protest U.S. government treatment of Indians, Mankiller visited them and raised money for the effort. … Mankiller used her fame and position to speak out on cultural issues, something she never shied from. She once said that white culture was to blame for the sexism of Cherokees, who were traditionally more matriarchal, and that Thomas Jefferson deserved as much blame for the Trail of Tears as the more often villified Andrew Jackson. When she slammed country artist Tim McGraw’s hit song “Indian Outlaw” as racially offensive, many state radio stations stopped playing it at her request.

She will be greatly missed.

Native Americans Get a Little Justice in Trust Lawsuit, Maybe



Well, after a century or more of ripping off Native Americans’ trust accounts the U.S. government, that is the U.S. Justice Department, has finally agreed to a

a $3 billion settlement with Indian tribes. This marks the end of a 13-year lawsuit brought against the government by Indian tribes over billions of dollars in valuable land and oil royalties. The class action lawsuit Cobell v. Salazar alleged that the federal government mismanaged more than 300,000 American Indian trust accounts for more than a century. The American Indians claimed they were deprived of money they should have received for sale or usage of land for oil, gas, grazing and timber overseen by the Interior Department since 1887.

Under this agreement half a million account holders will receive some compensation, plus a modest Indian Education Scholarship Fund, possibly as much as $60 million, will be set up for Native American youth. All of this is conditioned of course on the court and the Congress agreeing.

Elouise Cobell, the lead plaintiff and executive director of the Native American Community Development Corp. (and a tireless campaigner for this justice) pointed out in this NPR report that numerous

plaintiffs have died since the suit began to wind its way through the courts in 1996. The original lawsuit was filed by Cobell and four other Indians on behalf of present and past beneficiaries of individual Indian trust accounts, including 300,000 then-current IIM account holders.

I have summarized some of this lawsuit’s history and historical contextin chapter six here:

In this lawsuit these Indian plaintiffs have sought a financial accounting and reform of the government’s trust account system, which had been mismanaged for a century. To this point in time, the U.S. government has fought their lawsuit. Soon after it filed, a federal judge ordered the departments of Interior and Treasury to produce records for the trust accounts for the named plaintiffs, which they did not do. These trust accounts stem from land allotments made to individual Indians in the nineteenth century. Profits from the land—such as leasing fees and royalties for oil, logging, and other land uses—should have been held in trust by the government, but poor or no records were kept. A federal judge referred to this as “fiscal and government irresponsibility.” In 2006 an Indian Trust Reform Act was introduced in Congress, but has yet to pass. If passed, this legislation would have provided $8 billion as a settlement (plaintiffs have requested $47 billion) to individual trust account holders and give some Indian groups control over trust assets on reservations.

The federal government gets off very easy in this settlement, and Native Americans once again get exploited.

President Signs Order to Renew Promises to Native Americans

The largest White House Tribal Nations Conference in history happened recently (Nov.5), although it received scant coverage in the mainstream media.  At the conference, President Obama signed an executive order before representatives from most of the nation’s 564 federally recognized tribes, giving federal agencies 90 days to submit proposals on how they plan to have “regular and meaningful consultation and collaboration” with American Indians when making policy decisions that affect their lives.

In a speech to the conference, President Obama said:

“Today’s summit is not lip service. We’re not going to go through the motions and pay tribute to one another, and then furl up the flags and go our separate ways.  Today’s sessions are part of a lasting conversation that’s crucial to our shared future.”Few have been more marginalized and ignored by Washington for as long as Native Americans, our first Americans.”

There’s a long video (45:34) available from whitehouse.gov where you can watch the speech in its entirety.

Indigenous People’s Day: Reflecting on Racism against Native Americans

A few blocks from where I live, the annual “Columbus Day Parade” is about to disrupt traffic along 5th Avenue from 44th Street up to 79th Street, but I won’t be joining in this celebration.  Like most school children in the U.S., I was fed the lie that Christopher Columbus was “an explorer” who “discovered America.”   The local news stations here relentlessly refer to the parade as a “celebration of Italian heritage.” In fact, this is a holiday that disguises more than 500 years of church-sanctioned atrocities against indigenous peoples as well as the on-going, present-day racism against Native Americans.

While many of those who celebrate this holiday will participate in a Columbus Day Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral along the parade route (50th Street/Fifth Avenue), many others will protest the church’s participation in genocide.  In fact, for the past dozen years, there has been an ongoing counter-protest, an Annual Papal Bulls Burning.  At the Parliament of World Religions in 1993, over sixty indigenous delegates drafted a Declaration of Vision, which was originally “endorsed by resolution in a near unanimous vote” of the Parliament (Taliman 1994). It reads, in part:

We call upon the people of conscience in the Roman Catholic hierarchy to persuade Pope John II to formally revoke the Inter Cetera Bull of May 4, 1493, which will restore our fundamental human rights. That Papal document called for our Nations and Peoples to be subjugated so the Christian Empire nd its doctrines would be propagated. The U.S. Supreme Court ruling Johnson v. McIntosh 8 Wheat 543 (in 1823) adopted the same principle of subjugation expressed in the Inter Caetera bull. This Papal Bull has been, and continues to be, devastating to our religions, our cultures, and the survival of our populations.

Many indigenous peoples around the world have, since the Columbus Quincentennial in 1992, have reclaimed October 12th as International Indigenous Peoples’ Day (h/t @DinkyShop via Twitter) with celebrations and protests, with a particular focus on pressuring the Catholic Church to rescind the papal edicts (known as “bulls”), that sanctioned the genocidal practices of “explorers” like Christopher Columbus.  Here is one account from Hawai’i:

Twelve years ago, Tony Castanha, a Boricua (Puerto Rican) in Hawai’i who was reconnecting with his Taino ancestry, began commemorating the day with a ceremonial burning of the 1493 Papal Bull Inter Caetera. The Papal Bull was the holy decree which gave Columbus the Church’s blessing and authorization to “establish Christian dominion over the globe and called for the subjugation of non-Christian peoples and seizure of their lands.” This racist law became one of the foundations of the Christian Doctrine of Discovery and many laws authorizing the taking of native peoples’ land.

In a small sign of progress, the Episcopal Church recently passed a landmark resolution entitled “Repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery.”  As of yet, there’s been no response from the Catholic Church on this global movement of indigenous peoples.

The myth of “discovery” that’s woven into the celebration of Christopher Columbus as a mythic hero also serves to cover up the on-going, present-day racism against Native Americans.  In a terrific piece on “Native Americans Long Battle Against Racism,” at Global Voices Online (well worth reading in its entirety), Bernardo Parrella writes about the fact that even though there are almost 2.5 million Native Americans live in USA (0.87% of total US population), this group is largely “forgotten or invisible to the vast majority of Americans.” There are lots of resources in Parrella’s post if you decide to educate yourself about racism against Native Americans.    He also includes ways that Native Americans are using online citizen media to fight racism and stereotypes.   Just one example of these is a video called, “Racism The Way We See It” (7:50) statement about how young Native Americans experience racism within their own community: