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Tuesday, January 24, 2017

New Legislation Proposed in Massachusetts

When I hear that a bill to prevent the use of First Nations (Native American) images, nicknames and logos depicting Native Americans from public schools is being introduced, I think, “It’s about time!” And even though it’s not enough, it’s a beginning.

Those images, and a few films by Hollywood and Disney, are sometimes the ONLY things Americans see and know about indigenous people. “Mascots” keep us “trapped” in a false narrative and don’t show context or how we have evolved over 500 years. The problem isn’t only whether they are accurate or caricatures and respectful or not. The problem is that we aren’t able to share our own story in our own voices. Another problem is that we are not represented at every grade level in every subject from literature to history in our own country. Our narrative is effectively cut off, in favor of someone else’s limited perspective on us.

In order to understand the issue, one has to understand how systemic oppression works. We’re not talking about “individual acts of meanness,” we’re talking about a “system” that is able to perpetuate misinformation, missing information, stereotypes, and prejudices. “Mascots” are part of this system. The “system” includes individuals, as they are part of culture and social structure, but also institutions. By “institutions,” I mean schools, legal systems, houses of worship, publishing houses, movie industry, banks, and such. By “system,” I mean they all work together systematically, that’s why we can all understand (and some would even laugh) at a stereotypes– because we KNOW them, they’ve been perpetuated by these institutions AND by those we know, love, and trust.

For Native Americans, this system has been in place for over 500 years on our own land. Every other person in this country has somewhere else where their “story” is being told, most times they are even able to control their own narrative in that country. First Nations People don’t have that. Someone else is always telling us how we should look, what we did in history, what we didn’t contribute to this country, and more. Where should our story be told accurately and often, if not in American schools and cinema?

Then there is the issue that 20% of us live on reservations, some of which have deplorable conditions, like a “developing nation” or what some might call a “third world country.” Many of us are mixed race, ethnicity, and/or nation. By using mascot images, we are forever kept in the past. Images that use a war bonnet are even more offensive. It is like buying medals on eBay and pretending to be a soldier - our warriors wore those on the plains and earned those feathers (like a medal)!

Everyone is affected by this “system” of oppression which we call racism. Some (indigenous nations) are oppressed, while those who are not Native American are “hurt.” Those who are hurt may not know that they are missing out on their own country’s history, but with education and awareness it can become clearer.

Yes, mascots, logos, chanting, appropriated music, images, and all other racist propaganda need to go from schools AND sports teams, but it’s not enough.  We need to include the voice of indigenous people throughout the public educational system, so that our history can have its rightful place as American history.