Every five years or so, the PC police turn their attention to Washington, D.C., ready to confront the worst event that has ever happened to Native Americans: the naming of the city’s professional football team.
Sports writers near and far are all on the bandwagon, calling for the team to change its name, all in the interest of finally achieving that “kumbaya” moment of an American utopia.
Contrary to the ideals of journalism, the Kansas City Star, local newspaper for the Kansas City Chiefs and Arrowhead Stadium, goes as far as censoring itself when writing about D.C. football by referring to the team as “Washington.”
The Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian held a symposium on Feb. 7 to address this supposed symbol of racism. A panel made up self-congratulating intellectuals — including Washington Post sports columnist Mike Wise — concluded that the name must go in order for the native peoples to rise up from their plight in life. Wise went as far as saying that the high rate of alcoholism and suicides among Native Americans is a direct result of this and other insensitive nicknames and mascots.
Suzan Shown Harjo, lead panelist and attack person on this issue, is the president and executive director of The Morning Star Institute, a national, non profit Indian rights organization. Harjo claims, among others, that the name “had its origins in the practice of presenting bloody red skins and scalps as proof of Indian kill for bounty payments.”
Sounds heinous enough. The only problem is that it is revisionist history and not true, refuted by Ives Goddard, curator and senior linguist at the Smithsonian’s Department of Anthropology at the National Museum of Natural History. Goddard’s research into the matter concluded that the first known use of the term was in this 1769 message from a chief of one of the tribes of Illinois to Lt. Col. John Wilkins, inviting him to talks between the British and their tribes after Pontiac’s Rebellion: “I shall be pleased to have you come to speak to me yourself if you pity our women and our children; and, if any redskins do you harm, I shall be able to look out for you even at the peril of my life.”
In Goddard’s essay, “I Am a Red-skin”: The Adoption of a Native American Expression (1769-1826), he went further and said “the actual origin of the word is entirely benign and reflects more positive aspects of relations between Indians and whites. It emerged at a specific time in history among a small group of men linked by joint activities that provided the context that brought it forth.” He ends the book by saying “The descent of this word into obloquy is a phenomenon of more recent times.”
I am not advocating racism. Maybe the team should change its name, if it causes so much misery. But, this panel should turn their collective ire toward the root cause of the centuries-old suppression of the indigenous peoples of this land: The U.S. government.
Racism toward the Native Americans has been institutionalized in our most sacred of documents: The Declaration of Independence. In addressing colonial grievances against King George III, among others, Jefferson wrote, “He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured (sic) to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.”
Where is the outrage? Would a trip to the National Archives cause a Native American to fall in the death spiral of low self esteem, as said by Wise?
And speaking of symbols of repression and hate, look no further than the $20 bill and President Andrew Jackson.
Ole’ Hickory, as he is affectionately known, was a wealthy slave owner and polarizing figure who forced the relocation of thousands of Cherokee, Muscogee, Seminole, Chickasaw, and Choctaw from the East Coast to Oklahoma — which, incidentally, means “red people” — on what is called the “Trail of Tears.” The Indian Removal Act of 1830 caused thousands to die, amounting to what is known as “ethnic cleansing.”
Two years ago, I took a trip to the Cherokee reservation in North Carolina — part of which is located in Jackson County, ironically. A tour guide at the museum addressed this issue by saying that “Jackson on the $20 bill is the same as if Hitler were on an Israeli shekel.”
Again, where is the crocodile-tear outrage?
By bringing attention to words and not the root causes, however noble, self-perpetuates racism by keeping people divided. As long as we continue to dwell on words as the cause of racism, racism will not go away. Too much energy is focused in the wrong direction.
Better instead to focus our attention on the actual cause of the plight of Native Americans by recalling all the broken treaties, stolen land and massacres. Their penning up on reservations ensures they have virtually no chance of employment or a college education. Could this be a cause of the high rate of alcoholism and suicides on reservations, Mr. Wise? Has changing the name of other mascots alleviated the suffering that is still imposed upon these people? No, it hasn’t.
I propose that the next symposium be held at the Bureau for Indian Affairs.
Until the real cause of this oppression is addressed, I have one thing to say: Hail to the Redskins.