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Time to Stop Playing Indian

By Arlene Hirschfelder

It is predictable. At Halloween, thousands of children (and adults) trick-or-treat in Indian costumes. At Thanksgiving, thousands of children parade in school pageants wearing plastic headdresses and pseudo-buckskin clothing. Shops stock holiday greeting cards with images of cartoon animals wearing feathered headbands and load shelves with Indian figurines. Thousands of teachers and librarians trim bulletin boards with Anglo-featured, feathered Indian boys and girls.

Fall and winter are also the seasons when hundreds of millions of sports fans root for professional, college and public school teams with names that summon up American Indians—Braves, Redskins, Chiefs. War-whooping team mascots are imprinted on team clothing, pennants, notebooks, tote bags, towels and car floor mats.

All of this seems innocuous; why make a fuss about it? Because sports trappings and holiday symbols offend tens of thousands of Native American people. Because these invented images prevent millions of us from understanding the authentic Indian America, both long ago and today. Because this image-making prevents Indians from being a relevant part of the nation’s social fabric.

Halloween costumes mask the reality of high mortality rates, high diabetes rates, high unemployment rates. They hide low average life spans, low per-capita incomes and low educational levels. Plastic war bonnets and ersatz buckskin deprive people from knowing the complexity of Native American heritage—that Indians belong to hundreds of nations that have intricate social organizations, governments, languages, religions and sacred rituals, ancient stories, unique arts and music forms.

Dozens of children’s picture books about Thanksgiving depict generic Indians harmoniously dining with Pilgrims. These books, Thanksgiving school units and plays mask history. They do not tell how Europeans mistreated Wampanoags and other Native peoples during the 17th century. Social studies units don’t mention that, to many Indians, Thanksgiving is a day of mourning, the beginning of broken promises, land theft and near extinction of their religions and languages at the hands of invading Europeans.

Toy companies mask Native identity and trivialize sacred beliefs by manufacturing Indian costumes, headdresses, pipes and trick arrow-through-the-head props (all available online) that equate Indians with playtime. Indian figures equipped with bows and arrows, guns, knives and tomahawks give youngsters the harmful message that Indians favor mayhem. Many Native people can tell about children screaming in fear after being introduced to them.

It is time to consider how these images impede the efforts of Native parents and communities to raise their children with positive information about their heritage. It is time to get rid of stereotypes that, whether deliberately or inadvertently, denigrate Indian cultures and people. In 2001, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights condemned the use of Native American images and nicknames as sports symbols. It said the images are “particularly inappropriate and insensitive in light of the long history of forced assimilation that American Indian people have endured in this country.” In 2005, the American Psychological Association called for the immediate retirement of all American Indian mascots, symbols, images and personalities by schools, colleges, universities, athletic teams and organizations. Over the past decade, more than 100 organizations have gone on record to oppose the use of Native sports imagery.

Geronimo Lives: 

9/11 Memorial and Terrorists

By Roy Cook

As this country marks the anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon. We hear that this was the worst terrorist attack to happen in this country since Pearl Harbor.

While my heart goes out to the dead, their families and those who are forever scared by these events, there have been millions of people murdered in this country by terrorists.

It would be impossible for me to list all of the acts of terror our People have faced, but just to mention a few of them because our People are also worthy of remembrance.

You won’t find many monuments to these, the unquiet dead. But their bones and blood make up the soil where your shopping centers and homes, schools, highways and churches now stand. Where is their memorial? It is in the hearts of those who remember.

Native Americans know about terrorism.


Native Americans Endure 500 years of Terrorism

By Tim Giago

After the death of Osama bin Laden a column I wrote on September 11, 2006 seems to be an appropriate column for this time and place. Living in a world of violence and terrorism, reflections on the 500 year assault upon the Indian people of the Americas is something all Americans should read about. Most Americans have short memories, but the Native Americans of 2011 will always remember the terror that stalked them for centuries.

The Indian people never knew what act of violence or terror would befall them from the invaders. But death did come. It came in the form of biological warfare when small pox tainted blankets were distributed to the unsuspecting victims.

It came to them from the muzzles of guns that did not distinguish between warriors, women, elders or children. It came to them in the ruthless name of Manifest Destiny, the American edict that proclaimed God as the purveyor of expansion Westward.

Indian people were often slaughtered like animals often while waving the American flag in pitiful efforts to convince their killers that they were not bad people.

At Wounded Knee in 1890, a slaughter took place that the white man often called the last great battle between Indians and the United States Army. It was not a battle. It was one the last heinous acts of terror against innocent men, women and children. The attack by Islamic terrorists on 9/11 was another.

The Indian people died not knowing why as did the people in the World Trade Center. The Lakota died in fear. They died in the frozen snow of that bitterly cold December day at Wounded Knee while fleeing to find safe harbor amongst the Oglala Lakota. These Lakota experienced terrorism by a government that did not consider them to be human beings. Americans died in the Twin Towers at the hands of a radical people seeking revenge for reasons the victims did not understand.

When human beings can be labeled as less than human their deaths become meaningless. This is the apparent belief of the terrorists and the early settlers. By portraying all Indians as murdering savages, rapists, kidnappers and worse, the national media of the day laid the groundwork for Wounded Knee. In article after article urging the government to remove the Indian people by any means from their homelands, the media stood guilty of fomenting acts of terrorism.

Similar articles in the media and speeches in the mosques in the Nations of Islam expressed similar views of Americans. This laid the groundwork for 9/11. A lie repeated often enough becomes a fact in the minds of impressionable people. Indians are savages, Americans are infidels and Arabs are heathens. Do you see how this logic works?