In Which We Discuss my new job and say farewell to my old one OR We Gotta Work on Getting San Diego State University to change their Native American Mascot
'Announcement time - I have a new job. I accepted a position as an Assistant Professor of Native American Studies at Humboldt State University and am now up in Nor Cal teaching classes and taking names (no for real. Please give me your name, I have to take roll).
It was a bittersweet decision for me because the American Indian Studies department at SDSU was such a wonderful place to be a new Professor. The students I met were awesome. My colleagues were supportive and funny. I had only positive interactions with my cohort of new faculty. I learned so much and I was given a lot of space to explore, research, write and grow. The Department of American Indian Studies is a wonderful place to work and ever since I moved away and started this new job I think about my fellow AIS folks often. I also... cause I'm a lame-o city person now, really miss the Starbucks that was so close to my office.
But now I'm back home. I was born and raised in Humboldt County and it has always been my intention to return home and be a Professor at Humboldt State.
I hadn't planned on being at SDSU for such a short time. I'd planned to be there at least long enough to make a real stink about their Native American mascot (as one is wont to do) but home was calling and the opportunity was there and I took it. And before I left SDSU I had to send a resignation letter, one that demonstrated my respect for my colleagues and made sure to end with "and by the way, change the mascot. It's beyond time. You all are way behind the time. If you're on the same side as Danny Snyder of Re*skins fame, then you best take stock of your clock cause it's BEHIND." #TakeStockOfYourClock
The thing about SDSU is their famed mascot is "The Aztecs." In fact, walking around campus you are often confronted with signs declaring "Our Aztec tradition" and "Aztec for Life." This was jarring to me when I set foot on campus. I kept thinking "Our Aztec tradition? What kind of #SettlerNonsense is that? It's so claimy. All these scholars write about how Naming and Claiming are used as tools of colonialism and if you think about it "Our Aztec Tradition' is the ultimate in claimy BS. OUR Aztec tradition. ARE YOU AZTEC?"
While I was a Professor at SDSU I made it a point to educate about why portraying Native people as mascots is so problematic. I made it a point to talk to students, community members and administrators about why the mascot was such a problem. I worked mascot issues into every syllabus - we, as a class, had to talk about our own campus. We had to get all the information. And dag-nab-it (that's right DAG-NAB-IT) if after a semester of learning all about sovereignty, survivance, self-determination, and decolonization most of my students went "of course we shouldn't make Native people mascots. OF COURSE THIS IS A PROBLEM."
There are two things we gotta clear up before we get to the part where I tell the Administration it's high time they get rid of their racist Mascot.
1. Someone's gonna be all "But this is OUR Aztec tradition! We have always been AZTECS! You can't just CHANGE A MASCOT."
San Diego State (much like many colleges and football teams and other teams) changed their mascot to a Native American mascot. Their "Aztec Tradition" dates back to around 1925. And the tale of how SDSU became the Aztecs is not only quite fascinating - it actually highlights how much patriarchal BS and fragile masculinity is all caught up in this mascot nonsense.
In the case of SDSU they were at one time known as the "Wampus Cats." SDSU began as a teaching school that was primarily attended by women and the "Wampus Cat" was the semi-official mascot because it was popular with the student body. But whoa the tale of a man and his concern that real men can't possibly be "Wampas Cats." Allow Ozzie Monge to relay the story of Coach Peterson:
...with the introduction of the Junior college, a marked increase in the number of men enrolled. With this fundamental change in the campus demographics, Coach Peterson actively went on a campaign to create a far stronger athletics program, with a particular emphasis on football.
Students at the time made several suggestions like: Thoroughbreds; Balboans and Panthers. But apparently none of these met the "man man manly men" standards of a new mascot. While there had not been an official suggestion of the "Aztec" for a mascot in any of these student nominations, suddenly on January 21, 1925 this happened: a story headline about the school’s debate team appears on page one announcing “Aztecs Tackle Ancient Rivals in Debate Soon.” (Monge 31-33)
Rumor has it that a student named Frederick Osenberg had been walking through Balboa Park when he got inspired by the murals, some of which featured Aztec peoples. He came up with the idea of the San Diego State Aztecs. And it was manly enough to fit the manly bill of manliness that Coach Peterson wanted - so the rest is history.
So it's more like... Our Wampus Cat Tradition.
2. At some point in the illustrious Aztec Tradition of SDSU one of the SDSU Presidents declared that Aztecs are "not Native American."
See the NCAA put a limited ban on Indian mascots in 2003 which is when President Weber made the declaration in his letter to the San Diego Union Tribune that Aztecs are not Native Americans. And as Monge points out in his amazing thesis about SDSU mascot history:
And if that causes one to wonder why, there is also the highly questionable declaration that Weber made in his letter to the NCAA on January 3, 2003 that Aztecs were not Native Americans (please refer to the San Diego Union Tribune article “NCAA puts limited ban on Indian mascots” by Brent Schrotenboer from August 6, 2005, which can be found at this url: http://www.utsandiego.com/uniontrib/20050806/news_1s6mascots.html); begging the question on which continent, precisely, was the Aztec Empire located? Another way of interpreting Weber’s “Aztecs aren’t Native Americans” declaration would be that he unilaterally, albeit by inference, re-defined all Native Americans within the boundaries of the United States as “Native United Statesians of America,” or something along those lines. Whichever way you look at it, it is should be evidently clear to anyone capable of forming a critical thought that Weber’s redefinition is dubious, at best – and completely unethical and underhanded, at worse. However you may want to characterize it, it is clearly wrong. Weber’s unilateral removal of the Aztecs from the continent was later echoed by the NCAA in 2005 when it banned the use of Native American mascots and imagery, which is how San Diego State managed to elude the prohibition (Weber’s position on the NCAA Division I Board of Directors at the time may have had something to do with this, a situation which deserves further investigation as it hints of a conflict of interest).
That's right, SDSU is hanging on by a "Aztecs? Well they aren't Native American?" thread.
In my resignation letter I explained that I would be posting the entirety of the letter on my website because I think it is important for people to see that this is not a settled conversation and that there is real work being done on this issue. I post it here now for your perusal. Please feel free to share. Please feel free to write to the President, Provost and Deans at SDSU. It's about time.
It's beyond time. #TakeStockOfYourClock
In Which We Discuss my new job and say farewell to my old one OR We Gotta Work on Getting San Diego State University to change their Native American Mascot
November 16, 2016
Dear Dean Bouchard:
Please accept this letter as formal resignation from my position as Assistant Professor of American Indian Studies at San Diego State University. As we previously discussed, I will be leaving at the end of fall semester, effective date December 31, 2016. I have accepted a position as an Assistant Professor of Native American Studies at Humboldt State University, which allows me to return home and live close to family and my reservation. The decision to leave San Diego State has been difficult. I enjoyed my time here and want to extend a heartfelt thanks to all of the faculty and staff in Arts & Letters who have been so supportive of my work, my teaching and my academic growth. I will truly miss my amazing colleagues and students and am honored to have been part of such dynamic and talented faculty at SDSU. The American Indian Studies department at SDSU has been an amazing source of support and from my first hand experience it is obvious that SDSU has developed a truly innovative environment for faculty research and teaching.
I also would like to provide some commentary in regards to the continued use of the Aztec mascot and moniker at SDSU. I plan to send copies of this letter to the President and Provost of the University, and will be posting it publically on my website in the hopes that it will educate people about the ramifications of the continued use of mascots like these at universities. I believe the College of Arts & Letters can lead the way in retiring the use of the Aztec moniker and mascot. It is the role of the humanities to challenge and engage these types of issues. It has been and continues to be the role of the social sciences to demonstrate the lasting impact of these mascots on children, students and community members. It is also the role of all faculty and staff to create an environment for students that encourages thoughtful engagement with issues and does not dismiss the very real concerns of students, faculty and staff who are well aware of why the continued use of the Aztec moniker and mascot is a dismissal of the ramifications of these types of mascots on student learning, community-wellness and support for Native nations.
There are many other campuses throughout the United States who have already done away with their Indian mascots. Dartmouth and Stanford University led the way in the early 1970s. Both schools had administrators, as well as students, faculty and staff, who recognized that the continued portrayal of Native people as mascots diminished student understanding of Native nations, sovereignty and self-determination. They also realized that the continued use of these mascots encouraged students to hold on to discriminatory and derogatory ideas about Native peoples. Eastern Washington University got rid of their mascot “The Savages” in 1973 and they are now known as the Eagles. St. Bonaventure University also changed their mascot from the Indians, as did The College of William & Mary. In the case of Stanford University, there were administrators, students, faculty and staff leading the way to removing the Indian mascot, but this did not mean that there was not resistance to this change. Many of the alumni protested against the change and some students on campus resisted as well. It was the Student Senate and the President who remained vigilant at moving forward because it had become very clear that the Indian mascot was contributing to a campus climate of discrimination and institutionalized racism against Native people. It required this type of leadership at the administrative level to help guide the university in the right direction. My mother shared her memories of being a Native student at Stanford during this pivotal time in a symposium at the Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian in 2013. She spoke about the “continued Stanford Indian tradition” that tradition, she said, was “Indians as diggers, Indians as relics, Indians as nameless things that you can visit at the museum on Stanford.” She recalled “When I got to Stanford in the 1970s I asked, ‘who lived here?’ And they said ‘Indians. Digger Indians.’ I said ‘No, Ohlone people. Ohlone people live here; they still live here. No one knew their name, they don’t care to know their name – only the Stanford Indians.”
On the first day of my classes I often ask students to name the Indigenous people of San Diego and several times students will write “Aztecs?” complete with question mark. I don’t fault them for believing that Aztecs might be Indigenous to San Diego, perhaps they see this as a reason or justification for the mascot. But what this reinforces for me is why teaching American Indian Studies at SDSU is so important, because otherwise students could leave this campus without any knowledge or engagement with the Kumeyaay people. And this contributes to the idea that Native nations in California do not exist, that Native peoples are not real, and that there is no need to engage with us as real people, because most students (who may not take an American Indian Studies GE) engage with us only as mascots.
This has real ramifications for our communities. We are faced with such high rates of violence; a majority of that violence is committed against us by non-Native people. Our lands are constantly threatened with environmental violence. We must contend with ever-present challenges to our sovereignty and continued challenges to our abilities to protect our people, our lands, and our futures. In 2010, we had to lobby Congress to pass the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which would help Native people to prosecute non-Native violent offenders who commit crimes on the reservation. Research had shown that because current law would not allow Native nations to prosecute non-Natives and left it to the federal or state courts, close to 52% of these violent crimes went unprosecuted. VAWA included provisions to protect Native people against these violent offenders and was objected to by some members of Congress in part because it extended these provisions to Indian tribes. Members of Congress, believing in stereotypes of Indian people as savages, as primitive, as warrior-like, argued that Native nations would infringe upon the civil rights of non-Native people. They did not, however, extend this concern to the civil rights violations that continue to happen to Native people. If students see Native peoples as mascots, if they only encounter them in “show,” dressed in “costume” these images become a part of how they see living Native people. They believe, and are told, that they are “honoring” Native people by turning them in to caricatures and reducing them to a mascot, but they are not honoring real Native people, they are honoring the University’s commodification of Native people.
It is a major concern for me, as an American Indian (Hupa, Karuk, Yurok) Professor, that this mascot continues to be venerated at San Diego State, as if the continued use of the mascot is not harmful to student learning. Several studies have been done to highlight why mascots like this are so problematic.
Most recently, a colleague of mine pointed out that on the admissions website “My SDSU” there is an image of SDSU students in “redface,” convinced that they are showing their school spirit by painting themselves with “war paint” and wearing feathers to support their team. When a Native student is confronted with a school that continues the use of this mascot, blatantly disregards the research about the effects of mascots, and also encourages students to continue this disrespect by using these types of pictures in a tongue-in-cheek approval of this behavior, I cannot see this building confidence in Native students that they can succeed at this school. Especially in consideration of the study mentioned above, Native students confronted with Native mascot imagery report depressed self-esteem and fewer achievement related possible selves. This cannot be the environment that SDSU builds for students, faculty or staff.
I want to reiterate that I am in no way resigning from SDSU because of my concerns with the use of the Aztec mascot. SDSU has been an amazing place to research, teach and learn. I’d hoped to stay much longer, in part because I wanted to work with colleagues, students and community members on retiring the Aztec mascot and moniker. I have also encouraged Native faculty to come to SDSU, because of the innovative support for new faculty, but also because it is important for students to engage with Native people as living, educated and informed and not just as mascots. If SDSU is truly dedicated to recruiting leading faculty, they need to demonstrate that they do not value the use of the Aztec mascot and moniker over a supportive educational environment. I leave SDSU with the recommendation that the administration work as advocates for the removal of the Aztec mascot. I would highly encourage you to work with my colleague Ozzie Monge, a lecturer in the American Indian Studies Department, to move forward with a resolution to the University Senate, and also a recommendation to the President, that SDSU prove its commitment to diversity, community and student success by finally retiring the Aztec mascot and moniker.
Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to continuing work with SDSU on this and many other amazing projects in the future.
Cutcha Risling Baldy, Ph.D.
American Indian Studies
cc: President Elliot Hirschman; Provost Chukuka S. Enwemeka; Dr. Joanna Brooks; Dr. David Kamper, Dr. Margaret Field; Ozzie Monge
I hope that others will be inspired to write to the President, Provost and Deans. Tell them "Come on guys, a Native American Mascot really?"
Read this thesis. FAIL MONTEZUMA! THE LAST VESTIGES OF AN OBSCURED YET STUBBORNLY PERSISTENT CULTURE OF RACISM AT. Diss. San Diego State University, 2016.
Follow this Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/failmontezuma/ and share everything. Share every post. Make the top trending thing on Facebook and Twitter be #NotYourMascotSDSU
It's beyond time. #TakeStockOfYourClock
Andrew Jackson (AKA Donald Trump) is President once again… now what? or I can’t guarantee that this blog entry won’t just devolve into a bunch of angry face emojis
Listen. Last week when I wrote a pithy little blog entry about how I’m 30% convinced Donald Trump IS Andrew Jackson (not the reincarnation of Jackson. Not the heir apparent to Jackson. Not the clone of Jackson BUT ACTUALLY FUCKING ANDREW JACKSON) I was being (mostly) cheeky because what are the odds that Andrew Jackson is actually some kind of immortal who made an unscrupulous deal with an evil demon so that he could live forever and figure out new ways to terrorize people of color and “elitist” politicians FOR THE REST OF TIME.
The deal is, I said it, I compared it and I basically went “look once again we are faced with choices like the election of 1824 and 1828.” Remember the one where John Quincy Adams was like “I am experienced, but boring, and I can’t campaign for shit, but vote for me because I actually know how to run a country!” And Jackson was like “Vote for me because PEOPLE ARE COMING FOR YOUR LAND! And THE BORDERS, THE BORDERS!’” And then at the end I said:
I wish I could say for sure that we are not just doomed to repeat ourselves. I really hope not. Because it's easy to be like "yeah, he is a lot like Andrew Jackson and that's crazy and Jackson was a bad dude and that's weird." But when you think about what it really means for people of color, for the continued violence enacted on their bodies, for the policies created to justify their removal, their degradation, their dispossession - that's real stuff. That matters. We have to remember that our elections matter.
And then on Tuesday November 8, 2016 (FUCKING TUESDAY) the United States of America elected zombie Andrew Jackson as President and the whole world went “WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON!”
And then Rudy Giuliani said on National television the night of the election:
“And Chris, I know you're a historian,” the former New York City mayor told MSNBC’s Chris Matthews late Tuesday. “This is like Andrew Jackson's victory. This is the people beating the establishment…
Rudy, this is not a compliment. This is a terrifying assertion of settler colonialism and the ongoing continued violence that has built this country. Violence that sees the elimination of Indigenous people and the exploitation of people of color, their bodies, their livelihoods, their talents, their minds, their children, their labor – as a logic of exploitation and a logic of elimination.
This is Rudy Giuliani proudly standing up and saying:
I HAD THE WORST HISTORY TEACHER EVER. Also, I see the normalization of violence against Natives and people of color as really just an awesome way to assert my white supremacy. In this Game of Thrones scenario I’m like god damn Qyburn (because Trump is Joffrey. Face it, he is. Face it.)
Anyway. Less we end up in an entire Game of Thrones discussion and trying to figure out where our Jon Snow is (even though he knows NOTHING) and how long until the White Walkers take over (according to climate scientists, maybe not that long) I want to instead provide a little bit more context about Andrew Jackson.
Because Andrew Jackson (immortal demon seed) is once again the President-elect of this country, so now what?
What people think Andrew Jackson did:
Democracy. “Jacksonian democracy” to be exact.
Everybody knows that Jackson did that whole “Trail of Tears” thing but they tend to excuse that and go “it was complicated because he’s also really important to democracy cause of his democracy. So the whole forced removal of Indians is like, a thing, but not as much of a thing as the democracy thing.”
I like that this website also describes his “Jacksonian Democracy” and policies like this:
Beyond these general principles, however, Jackson's campaign was notably vague about specific policies.
So his platform was a little like “I’m gonna have so much democracy. It’s gonna be great democracy. The best. The best democracy that anybody ever democracied.” SOUND FAMILIAR. It should.
Other things Jackson is often known for:
He won an election based on the will of the “common man.” And he was a “champion of the common man” saying that elitist politicians could care less about the common man. This would shape what would become the Democratic Party’s (yep, ha ha ha, Jackson is known as one of the founders of the Democratic Party) reputation as the party of farmers and workers.
I KID YOU NOT. Jackson was such an asshole that his political opponents would often refer to him as a “jackass” which he liked because THAT’S HOW TROLLS ARE, so he started to use the symbol of a jackass on his political posters etc. And that is why the Democratic Party is the frigging donkey.
Jackson railed against and hated the political “elites.” He also thought smart people were dumb. And even though his opponents made fun of him for misspelling words like government and implied he had a low IQ Jackson was like “STUPID ELITIST SPELLERS!”
For instance, when Harvard granted an advanced degree to Andrew Jackson in 1833, John Quincy Adams boycotted saying that Jackson was ''a barbarian who could not write a sentence of grammar.'' To which Jackson replied: ''It is a damn poor mind indeed which can't think of at least two ways to spell any word.''
Translation: I CAN SPELL IT HOW I WANT TO.
What did Andrew Jackson really do?
Consider, if Trump is highlander Andrew Jackson (and you know, I’m 35.5% sure he is) then what are the (very possible) basic tenants of this Presidency going to be?
1. I am the King President (I am right, you are wrong, deal with it).
Jackson basically blew up the government banking system because he felt like it. The Bank of The United States had been around since 1791. It was owned by the US and investors and was the government’s bank. According to this website because of his “economic nostalgia” (you know like Jackson thought getting rid of the bank would MAKE AMERICA GREAT… again) Jackson went and vetoed the bank. But not only that he used this veto to extend the powers of the President. And people were pissed. They started calling him “King Andrew. the First” AND some scholars have pointed out the destruction of this bank wasn’t so much about how much he hated the centralizing of money and the possible corruption of the bank, but that it was just another way for him to mess with people from the Northeast who he felt had wronged him.
2. Infrastructure can suck it.
Jackson also didn’t like using government funds to do things like build roads or fix bridges. Mostly because he didn’t like the government getting involved in corporate dealings. Fuck those roads.
3. If you support me and never disagree with me I will give you a job in the government.
Jackson instituted the “spoils system” which meant he planned to replace basically everyone who was already working in the government with people who were supportive of him. He said these people didn’t have to have any experience or background. And he used it to ensure loyalty from people. “To the victor go the spoils.” You’re welcome Chris Christie and Sarah Palin. WHAT? SARAH PALIN.
4. Remember I said I was going to round people up and forcibly remove them. I was serious. You might think I wasn’t serious. I was serious.
I cannot stress this enough, Jackson ordered the mass removal of Indian people from their homes, so that they could be walked through their homelands in the dead of winter, many of them dying along the way, so he could open up that land for settlement by white people. These were his base voters, the ones who thought that these Indians were in the way. One biographer wrote about Jackson:
“Indian removal was Andrew Jackson’s major policy aim. Historians, however, have failed to place Indians at the center of Jackson’s life. They have interpreted the Age of Jackson from every perspective but Indian destruction, the one from which it actually developed historically.”
Now, pay attention. He began his Presidency by calling for a “voluntary” emigration of Indian people. He also reiterated that this wasn’t just about removing Indians, it was about keeping law and order. Should the Indians choose to remain, they must be subjects to laws and obedience.
The State of Georgia was already on pins and needles trying to get rid of the Cherokee and when Jackson got elected they were emboldened to move forward with Cherokee removal. The Cherokee Nation sued, and it went all the way to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court ruled that the Cherokee could not be removed. And Andrew Jackson was like “COME AT ME BRO.”
See, even though Jackson was (supposedly) all about State’s rights, he’d actually made it so that the President would have jurisdiction over Indian-State relations (where this had been the jurisdiction of Congress). Once again, consolidating power to the President to get what he wants (King Jackson).
He ignored the Supreme Court. The Cherokee were removed. And it sucked. IT SUCKED MAJOR BIG JACKASS BALLS.
Take this testimony from an eyewitness:
I was sent as interpreter into the Smoky Mountain Country in May, 1838, and witnessed the execution of the most brutal order in the History of American Warfare. I saw the helpless Cherokees arrested and dragged from their homes, and driven at the bayonet point into the stockades. And in the chill of a drizzling rain on an October morning I saw them loaded like cattle or sheep into six hundred and forty-five wagons and started toward the west. … The trail of the exiles was a trail of death. They had to sleep in the wagons and on the ground without fire. And I have known as many as twenty-two of them to die in one night of pneumonia due to ill treatment, cold, and exposure.
Okay, so undead Andrew Jackson is back in office. Now what?
For the past few days I have been consuming as much as I can from all sides of the panic-don’t panic spectrum. There are many people who want to believe that maybe Trump isn’t this racist, hateful person who is going to round people up and march them out of the country. “Don’t worry” they say “there’s more of us who support immigration and gay marriage and civil rights then there are of him.” MOST people didn’t vote for him because they want to remove people, MOST people are just upset because of jobs and stuff. The other branches will stop him. Being President doesn’t mean you have all the power. People talking about being ‘scared’ are just being dramatic.”
And I just want to scream “WE HAVE BEEN HERE BEFORE!” And that scared feeling, that’s because this is not a new story. It’s because it is entirely possible. It’s because even if you truly believe it’s not possible, Trump said it’s what he wanted to do! He has the same mentality of a slave-owning, plantation master, Indian killer and people voted for him or didn’t vote at all.
We are allowed to be scared/sad, because our DNA, our heritage memory knows. And we also know what a Jackson 2.0 Presidency really means. Take this lovely description of Jacksonian Democrazy:
On the one hand it was an authentic democratic movement that contained a principled egalitarian thrust, but this powerful social critique was always cast for the benefit of white men. This tragic mix of egalitarianism, masculine privilege, and racial prejudice remains a central quality of American life and to explore their relationship in the past may help suggest ways of overcoming their haunting limitations in the future. (READ)
This is a real thing that is happening right now. Dismissing it, that’s not going to effect change. And guess what, change is coming. Because even though I walk out the door and see the sadness on people’s faces, the disbelief, and in some cases the fear, I also see radical dreaming, radical envisioning, radical love and radical hope.
My baby girl stayed up way past midnight on Tuesday waiting to celebrate the first woman President and the defeat of Jackson 2.0. When it didn’t happen she crawled into bed with me and I held her, mostly to comfort myself.
There was quiet between us for a moment and then she said “Well, I guess I’m running for President.”
In Which we discuss the two Presidential candidates or history is as history does or VOTE
We vote on Tuesday November 8, unless we voted early (which I did). So to celebrate the end of this LONG election we're going to play a little game. Let's see if you can GUESS THAT CANDIDATE.
And now it's time to play "GUESS that candidate?" I'm going to give you some descriptions of the two candidates up for election and I want you to try your best to figure out which candidate is which.
Who are they?
I know! I KNOW.
And so you're probably like "this is an easy game and I don't know why we're playing it or what the point is. And then you guessed this. Candidate 1 is Hillary Clinton, current Democratic nominee for President and Candidate 2 is that other guy, current Republican candidate for President.
So the other day I'm at a Teach-In about Standing Rock and #NoDAPL and why people should use social media to call attention to this ongoing issue of environmental injustice and someone asks me "so what about the election? What's going to happen? Does Donald Trump have a chance? SHOULD I START TO PANIC?"
And I leaned back in my very Professor-y way and tapped my fingers on the table, then put on my tweed jacket and busted out some chalk and said "let me tell you a tale of two candidates."
Of course, like we established before, the people around the table guessed that these two candidates were "Hillary and Donald, what's the point?" And I said "but it is not! It's John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson! It's the elections of 1824 and 1828! Do you know what students are always saying to me WE MUST LEARN HISTORY SO WE ARE NOT DOOMED TO REPEAT IT! And yet we remember so little as how jerk face mcjerksalot Andrew Jackson even got elected to the Presidency in the first place."
Oh, Andrew Jackson (you buttface):
Andrew Jackson was an "Indian Killer." Like he killed Indians. A mass-murdering delusional person. He championed the extermination of Indian people.
His first effort at Indian fighting was waging a war against the Creeks. President Jefferson had appointed him to appropriate Creek and Cherokee lands. In his brutal military campaigns against Indians, “Andrew Jackson recommended that troops systematically kill Indian women and children after massacres in order to complete the extermination.” The Creeks lost 23 million acres of land in southern Georgia and central Alabama, paving the way for cotton plantation slavery. READ MORE
Andrew Jackson was also constantly going on and on about how many threats there were to America, because you know all the foreign enemies who are bad, really bad (and maybe some he assumed were good people, probably not). In Jackson's campaign speech from 1828 he said:
We were invaded by the British only 15 years ago. The enemy is still in the Canadas agitating Indians to attack us, and waiting for another chance to invade. We have foreign enemies at our every border. Don't forget the Spanish forces just to the south in Florida, and Mexico to the west, and Indians constantly raiding settlements all along the frontiers. These foreign threats are many and dire...
That's right, Jackson was campaigning in part because of all those foreign enemies at our every border. (He did not, as far as I can tell, offer to build a big wall, a great wall, a tremendous wall, because even Andrew Jackson was probably like, that's too crazy and not possible).
Andrew Jackson was a major general in 1818 when he invaded Spanish Florida to chase fugitive slaves so that he could return them to their "owners." This became known as the First Seminole War.
The Seminoles were taking in runaway slaves. Jackson was charged with eliminating this threat and lead a bloody campaign, burning villages and destroying food supplies. He urged that, “Seminole women and children be tracked down and ‘captured or destroyed.’” Victoriously he wrote to his wife, “I think I may say that the Indian war is at an end for the present, the enemy is scattered over the whole face of the earth, and at least one half must starve and die with disease.” READ MORE
He also got real mad when he captured these two British men living among the Seminole and found out one of them had written in support of treaty rights for the Seminole. He used these writings as "evidence" to accuse the men of "inciting" the Seminoles to "savage warfare" against the U.S. He then convened a special court martial and had the men executed.
So pretty much, kind of a turd.
The 1824 Election (because we cannot let history repeat itself)
So in 1824 when Jackson was running against Adams (and some other dudes) there was such strong regional preferences that nobody won enough electoral college votes to become President. Adams won in the New England states, other dudes won the West and Eastern South, and Jackson he had the most success in states throughout the nation.
Andrew Jackson did, however, pay attention, win the most electoral college votes and the popular vote.
But he still didn't have ENOUGH to win outright.
So what happens?
Think, think back to your high school history class, think. It goes to the HOUSE who gets to decide who is President.
Now the guy who is in charge of the house is named Henry Clay which basically means he decides who is President and he hates Andrew Jackson. So the House picks John Quincy Adams for President.
And then a little while later, John Quincy Adams picks Henry Clay for Secretary of State.
And Andrew Jackson is like "BUT I GOT THE MOST VOTES! IT'S RIGGED! It's SO RIGGED!"
Jackson called it a "corrupt bargain."
Four years later Jackson was back and John Quincy Adams was all "THIS AGAIN!"
You know scholars also say that Adams wasn't a very good politician in the sense of being personable or easy to talk to. People thought he was stuck up. And he didn't like campaigning. He was good at negotiations, and he was responsible for important things like the Treaty of Ghent (to end the War of 1812) and the Monroe Doctrine. But people didn't want to drink whiskey with that guy, he was too Secretary of Statey for them. Something about her, I mean him. It was just something.
Anyway, the election of 1828 is cray. Adams accuses Donald Trump (I mean Andrew Jackson) of having a low IQ. He would sometimes misspell words like "devilopment" and "Urope" (Europe) in his writings. The press publishes articles that Andrew Jackson's wife was still married when she married him. People are kinds of scandalized. How can this scandal-laden man be President?
In response Jackson challenges the man who published those articles (Charles Dickinson) to a duel. He planned to let Dickinson shoot him first so that he would have more time to aim and fire. Dickinson shot him in the chest and Jackson looked down and shook the whole thing off and then shot and killed Dickinson.
Jackson liked to duel/shoot people. You know, like he could walk right out to the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and it wouldn't lose him any voters.
The campaign of 1828, people say, was the "nastiest" in American political history. Of course that was written before 2016. But still it was hot and heavy and in the end Jackson won, by a lot, both electoral and popular vote.
And Adams, a one-term President, went "well now you're stuck with him. Good job voters."
What do we do?
This is very much why I teach American Indian history so that we can learn to critique our past leaders and also why I think it's important that we are going to replace Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill (but not entirely because WTF?!). When we heroize Jackson we forget that he is no hero, we then have very little information and are not well informed by the lessons we should have learned over a hundred years ago.
Jackson said he was going to remove Indians and that he believed in the mass killing of Indians. And people went "well you know he says that but the Supreme Court will stop him, Congress will stop him if he actually tried to do that so let's not freak out."
And yet, when it came time and Jackson started readying to remove all the Indians, the Supreme Court told him he couldn't and he went "STOP ME THEN!" He knew that they wouldn't declare war against their own President.
He did this throughout his Presidency: consolidating power to the President, making bad decisions when it came to the economy, giving jobs to people who had voted for him, threatening to hang people who went against him (including his own Vice-President)...
And the thing is, people make the same excuses in our current election, like nothing is really at stake, like it couldn't possibly be as bad as people think. "It's not going to be that bad" or "how much could he really do if he got voted in?" But we've seen it before.
So much so that I'm like 30% convinced that Donald Trump IS Andrew Jackson. Remember how he got shot in the chest and went "meh." That's some vampire stuff right there. He's been biding his time. He's been hoarding his money and he has the same ideas he had back in the 1800s - watch out they are coming over the borders to get you, let's get them out of here, everybody else is elitist, big league, BIG LEAGUE.
I wish I could say for sure that we are not just doomed to repeat ourselves. I really hope not. Because it's easy to be like "yeah, he is a lot like Andrew Jackson and that's crazy and Jackson was a bad dude and that's weird." But when you think about what it really means for people of color, for the continued violence enacted on their bodies, for the policies created to justify their removal, their degradation, their dispossession - that's real stuff. That matters. We have to remember that our elections matter.
Learn your history. Know your stories. Vote.
Here's a lot of videos I use when I teach people about Jackson
PS: Jackson was known for having a very quick temper (hence all the duels and what not). You know, the kind that fires off crazy tweets in the middle of the night because he just can't stand what people are saying about him? Yeah, that kind. I'm telling you. TRUMP IS ANDREW JACKSON. Somebody check and make sure he has a reflection.
This is not a post to tell you why you shouldn't celebrate "Columbus Day." No, this is a post to say "Happy Indigenous Peoples Day."
This is not a post to tell you why you shouldn't celebrate "Columbus Day."
Lot's of people have done that. Here are a few I recommend if you are interested.
1. The Oatmeal reminds us that Christopher Columbus was awful. He would cut the ears and noses off of Native people who refused to give him food and gold and allow him to rape the Native women. He used Natives as dog food. And he would sell Native women into sex slavery. The most requested were girls between the ages of 9-10.
2. Indian Country Today reminds us that Columbus never actually landed in America and he enslaved Native people for gold.
3. John Oliver reminds us that there are lots of other Italians we could celebrate who didn't spend their time murdering, raping and enslaving people.
This is not exactly a post to tell you that the reason why Columbus day is still is a thing is because the "Doctrine of Discovery" is still a thing and in order for anyone to buy that you can "discover" something that is already inhabited, owned and used by a whole other civilization Columbus has to be a thing.
But it's true.
Basically in 1493 after the whole "Columbus DISCOVERED a 'New World' so it's ours now!" craziness Spain realized "Uh, so we didn't 'discover' nothing because it belongs to a bunch of people. Also, what's to say that other countries can't just come and 'discover' this land now that we're there. It's kind of a very shaky claim if you think about it. Like we could set up whole cities, be one of the earliest civilizations to use zero, have and incredibly intricate and accurate calendar, and also give the world really important crops like corn and potatoes and then some dude gets lost and gets off his boat and goes 'This is now land for my country! I have discovered it!' And what are we supposed to say? 'It doesn't work that way?'"
So in 1493 the Pope issued this Papal Bull called the “Inter Caetera" which basically said "Spain can discover any land it wants so long as it is not a Christian nation." And then it said "nobody else can discover it after that because we've decided there is this imaginary line that you aren't allowed to cross to discover shiz anymore."
Actually it said this:
It established a demarcation line one hundred leagues west of the Azores and Cape Verde Islands and assigned Spain the exclusive right to acquire territorial possessions and to trade in all lands west of that line. All others were forbidden to approach the lands west of the line without special license from the rulers of Spain. This effectively gave Spain a monopoly on the lands in the New World.
A year later in 1494, Spain and Portugal agreed to the "Treaty of Tordesillas" which divided the western world up between Spain and Portugal. It set another imaginary line and said lands east of the line were for Portugal and lands west of the line were for Spain. Because that's a real thing. They wrote it down on a piece a of paper and all. The treaty also reminded everyone that only Non-Christian nations could be "discovered."
Skip forward to 1792 and Thomas Jefferson who was like "The Doctrine of Discovery is such a good idea." He then tries to use it to set up claims to various parts of the Pacific Northwest, telling Lewis and Clark to go out and discover stuff.
Finally in 1823 there was Johnson v McIntosh, one of Chief Justice John Marshall's "trilogy." (So this one is the first of the Star Wars where Marshall's Darth Vader is all "This is about the republic!" and "Stop bugging me about stuff Obi Wan I'm just trying to secure the republic!")
In this case Marshall was trying to decide if the United States had to honor land sales and agreements where Native people sold the land directly to a person. Marshall specifically used the "Doctrine of Discovery" to solidify his point that the United States was the "owner" of the land by right of discovery.
"Look at all these documents that talk about how you can discover a place, but only if it wasn't a Christian place. Those documents are real things that are real." Says me in my best old man Chief Justice voice.
According to this Native people lost their complete sovereign property rights because they were "discovered" (not by the United States FYI, but by a "European Nation"). Marshall said that Native people have the "right of occupancy" and that only the discovering nation could ever buy land from Native peoples.
And that's our law. The United States can "discover" a place that is fully occupied by cultures and societies. Cultures and societies that they recognized as sovereign nations (through treaties that they agreed to). Because... Christianity and you know, Columbus. (The Doctrine of Discovery is still cited in Federal law cases, like in 2005 City of Sherrill, NY v Oneida Nation because it is a real thing that is real [it's not]. Non Christian nations around the world should be FAR-EAKED).
So you see, we have to believe that this could possibly be a real thing. We have to grow up thinking "yeah, Columbus discovered America." Because then, when we learn about the "Doctrine of Discovery" it kind of makes sense. It has to kind of make sense so that we don't start realizing how tenuous the claim to much of the land in the U.S. actually is. If instead the U.S. had to honor the treaties, or make new treaties for land that was just stolen outright, then what happens? (Decolonization that's what).
But I digress because this is actually a post to say "Happy Indigenous Peoples' Day." And to let you know the best way to celebrate Indigenous peoples' day is to buy some of these awesome things made by Indigenous people that celebrate Indigenous survivance, resilience and futurities.
That's right we are still here. Not "discovered" or "conquered" or "vanishing" or "domestic dependent" or "limited."
We are still here. Not "sad" or "dying" or "lost" or "extinct."
We are still here. Not "the last of" or waiting for our white savior.
We are still here. Making noise, making jokes, making a difference, making tshirts.
You should buy one of them. Here are some I recommend (click the photo to go to the website!)
Do not shop at any Columbus Day events. Instead tell your local stores to have sales to celebrate "Indigenous peoples' day." And if there aren't any Indigenous Peoples' Day sales in your area, spend the day online #BuyingNative
P.S. I plan to update this entry throughout the day with more places you can #BuyNative so check back!
How about this freaking amazing scarf from J. OKUMA because holy crap I want everything, EVERYTHING from this site.
This week in #SettlerNonsense: The WTF is THIS edition - Mascots, Stereotypes, Costumes, oh my!
I know, I know. It's been a while since I've blogged ANYTHING let alone what was supposed to be a weekly roundup of #SettlerNonsense. But I been busy. And the truth is that while I hope to get back into at least a few blogs I've been working on over the next few days, I may also get distracted and need a few more weeks before that happens. SO MUCH is going on in Indian Country these days that I just want to say a few things before I begin:
This week in #SettlerNonsense: The WTF is THIS edition
WTF is this?
This is a card made by TOPPS cards that people can buy and collect as part of this series. You buy a package, you get some cards. This is one of those cards. Made in 2016. For collecting now, in 2016. Brought to my attention by a colleague and student. A student who bought this card. In 2016.
BUT SERIOUSLY WTF?
Hey you don't gotta tell me. I really don't know WTF this is. It's supposed to be a (humorous?) advertisement/cartoon for an Atlanta Braves cutlery set that uses tomahawks to "chop, slice and dice" things? The worst is the "Carve up the competition..." slogan.
Now somebody is going to say "It's just a cartoon" and also "It's SUPPOSED to be kind of offensive cause it's SATIRE and you have no sense of humor."
I don't. I'm one of those "merciless Indian savages" who never jokes about nothing. Instead I mercilessly savage all over the place and then cry cause someone littered and then go home and be offended by Indian mascots. This makes me a hoot at dinner parties.
The problem with this cartoon/card is that it is yet again a publicly consumable and (seemingly) socially acceptable stereotyping of Native people as savage, primitive and magical.
"But there are no Indians actually in this picture."
True. But there are tools associated with Indians in stereotypical ways. And the name of the team is the "Braves" (also stereotypically associated with Indians) and, come on, everybody knows that this is associated with the Indian warriors/ hunters/ savages of "yore."
In this photo the stereotypes are so prominent it's hard to see how anyone could look at it and not go "oh yeah, you use the tomahawk like those Indians, chop and throw and carve up the competition.'"
Point 1: You know who was actually being carved up back in "yore" times? Indians. It was Europeans who introduced scalping to the Americas (not a common Indian practice FYI). Settlers were then paid money for Indian scalps and heads. Prices ranged depending on region. But this was a practice that happened all throughout the United States. Here is one example from Massachusetts.
By 1702, Massachusetts offered 10 pounds for every scalp from a male Indian age 10 and older. That price increased to 20 pounds then 100, Grenier wrote. Scalps taken from women fetched 10 pounds each, while children under the age of 10 were sold into slavery with proceeds going to the scalp hunters.
So really? This not only recalls Native stereotypes of savagery but also turns around and reminds Native people how much settlers like to "carve up the competition." #Nope
Point 2: There's a flame of some sort? Or a big BOOM thing coming out of the tomahawk when it hits the baseball. See, the implication is that Natives are magic. Our tomahawks were like magic. They were strong and made big booms?
Ever notice how in the movies a Native person can throw a tomahawk and it travels miles upon miles and hits someone square in the head? That's also a throw back to "yore." See in people's minds, "yore" was so dangerous for the nice, civilized settler. Any magical Native could come about at any time and just kill them. These stories of all powerful, all warrior, all savage Natives were all over the country. (Hence the MERCILESS INDIAN SAVAGES in the Declaration of Independence.) These tales SOLD MORE PAPERS after all. So when people would go out and encounter a Native they were perfectly okay with a shoot first mentality. Because Natives can throw a tomahawk from miles upon miles away and hit them square in the head!
And now, Natives have one of the highest rates of being killed by police (AND WE ARE LESS THAN 2% of the POPULATION). Why did I go there? Cause it matters. It matters that in our cultural imagination Natives are "merciless" and "savage." And that when you "honor them" (you know, cause these mascots are supposed to be all honoring) you do that by saying "they were so warrior like and savage and their tomahawks were good for carving up the competition." And then when you encounter Native people (as we did back in yore, as we do today cause... still here) they are not human like you, they aren't civilized like you, they are the merciless Indian savages. A stereotype brought to life.
P.S. If you need a tutorial about why stereotyping is a problem (and you shouldn't) let me leave you with research about why stereotypes of ANY GROUP are harmful and damaging. For this research I googled "Why are stereotypes bad?"
Wanna know what you can do other than buy a card that is degrading to Native people that REALLY shows how much you honor and respect Native people: Contribute to the Legal Defense Fund for Sacred Stone Spirit Camp.
WTF is this?
This is "Pawa." He is the mascot for Justin-Siena high school in Napa, California. In 2016. You can find out all about him here on this website, in 2016. He goes to games and poses with students and wears traditional looking regalia that is supposed to be representative of local Native people to the area. In 2016. Apparently Natives are very beige.
We must pause to consider that according to articles written about "Pawa," the school worked with a local tribe who gave approval over this iteration of the mascot. Of course there have been others who have come out against it as well.
BUT SERIOUSLY WTF?
I'm not going to argue about "which Indian gets final say over whether or not we can do a racist/derogatory thing?" This happens a lot. "But my Native American friend said..." Fine. You got someone to approve your racist/derogatory thing. Good for you. That doesn't make it 1. less racist or 2. less problematic or 3. less damaging and in this case 4. any less creepy. This guy kinda creeps me out. Why is he so beige?
I have come across lately several instances of people trying to convince me that there has to be some way to make Indian mascots more socially, politically, and psychologically "acceptable."
"What if we didn't do a tomahawk chop?"
"What if we didn't paint the face or the body?"
"What if we didn't do any war whoops or do any of the dances?"
How can we fix this racist Indian mascot? JUST DON'T HAVE AN INDIAN MASCOT.
It's so simple. Sometimes I hate that it is that simple but people make it so complicated.
Because consider this. What is a mascot?
"a person or thing that is supposed to bring good luck or that is used to symbolize a particular event or organization." (dictionary.com)
No but really, what is a mascot?
Is a mascot a complex story and engagement with identity, culture, history, sovereignty and Indigenous futures? Is a mascot a literary, artistic or musical testimony to survivance? Is it a decolonizing methodology? Does a mascot provide legal, political and social support for the return of stolen lands? Does it intervene on settler colonial systems of law, environment and education that are set up to erase and degrade Indigenous peoples continuing existence? Does a mascot support treaty rights? Does a mascot make you stand up and chant "Natives are still here! This is very clear! Honor the treaties every day. Honor the treaties in every way. Oh yeah, and beat the other team at this sports game."
No? Then sit down.
Because we KNOW that mascots are damaging for Native people (especially Native children). Take for instance:
And WhateverTF this is (in the picture) is NOT the image that is going to inspire people to finally get up out of the stands and support Native people in their self-determination. THIS mascot is cray. It's cray. Maybe the regalia is a little bit more accurate to local Native people of the area, but it's still a mascot.
Wanna know what you can do other than continue to support a mascot that just contributes to stereotypes that will REALLY show how much you honor and respect Native people: Contribute to the Legal Defense Fund for Sacred Stone Spirit Camp.
WTF is this?
This is "authentic Native American Regalia" being marketed to the masses as "perfect" for a Halloween costume.
BUT SERIOUSLY WTF?
I've written about what it's like to be a Native on Halloween.
I've written about how people should STOP wearing headdresses, dummy.
Other people have written about why we should stop dressing up as Indians on Halloween. Freaking, Cosmo got in on the action.
There are videos about it.
So there is really NO EXCUSE for this to ever happen, ever.
But the caption is what made me and my friends giggle:
Authentic Native American Regalia also perfect for Halloween.
So of course as inspired by my friend Ozzie I started coming up with other (stereotypical) things this "Authentic Native American Regalia" is good for...
ALSO perfect for going to the side of the road and crying while somebody litters.
ALSO perfect for dancing... with wolves.
Wanna know what you can do other than dress up as a stereotype for Halloween that will REALLY show how much you honor and respect Native people: Contribute to the Legal Defense Fund for Sacred Stone Spirit Camp.
Palette cleanser: Here is a video about all the awesome that is going on at the Sacred Stone Camp.
Contribute to the Legal Defense Fund for Sacred Stone Spirit Camp.
Thank you/Shout out to Ozzie Monge and Grace Sesma for calling my attention to these problematic/cray images.
In Which I Explore the Native Cameo In Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Season 2 or Lets Band Together And Take Down The Washington Racial Slur Team Name
Confession, I heard that the writers of The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt have actually read my blog about season 1. I also heard that they read pretty much everything that people write, not because they are a glutton for punishment (NEVER READ THE COMMENTS) but because they want to make more informed decisions in the future. This may have (probably did) unduly influence me as I was watching Season 2. Like, “hey they are sincere people doing work that they want to be well received.” So with my rose colored glasses on I sat down with some corn chips and salsa and vowed to give the show a chance.
After a few episodes it became kind of obvious that The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is trolling me. There’s this one episode (which plenty of people are talking about) where Titus wants to do a one person show telling the story of his past life as a Geisha. The Internet commentators are out in full force and even come in person to his show to be offended and yell at him for all his appropriation. He is a black man pretending to be a Japanese Geisha who feels like he really was a Japanese Geisha in a past life. (Why, WHY WAS THERE NO RACHEL DOLEZAL JOKES?) In the end, however, he stands up to his worst and most offended Internet critics, does the show and wins them over. And the internet commentators wonder “what will we be offended over now?” and then one of them reaches enlightenment (or the aliens suck her up to study her?) when she realizes she offended herself. The point of that episode was “stop making fun of Titus” I guess. Also, the Internet needs to calm down about being offended because nice shows like Kimmy Schmidt are just trying to underdog it in a world that is always trying to take down the underdogs (even if they are participating in problematic stereotypic portrayals).
Touché Kimmy Schmidt.
All that being said, thanks for trolling me, and also I’m about to write about Jacqueline and her Native character arc on your show, not because I’m offended, but because I am intrigued. You have intrigued me Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. I’m not ready to shed a tear and let you have your award for best performance as a Geisha, but I am ready to put my hands up and say “alright, alright. Since you’re listening, here’s some real feedback.”
In Which I Explore the Native Cameo In Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Season 2 or Lets Band Together And Take Down The Washington Racial Slur Team Nam
It’s Season 2 of the Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (now on Netflix) and I’m back investigating the Native Cameo. What’s the Native cameo?
“Native Cameos” are those 1-2 episode, sometimes intermittent appearances by Native characters on television shows. What I have found *spoiler alert* is that these Native Cameos resettle settler colonial claims to legitimacy, meaning, they justify, and normalize colonization and settler colonial occupation of Indigenous spaces and Indigenous histories
You can read more here about the Native Cameo and why NBC hates Adam Beach if you want to.
Jacqueline (played by Jane Krakowski) is back, still being Lakota, and now living with her parents. I don’t know if she’s actually living on a reservation because that isn’t made clear, and it’s not like she is surrounded by community or attends any community events. Her parents’ house is obviously located near corn fields, although this could be on the rez, or it could be on their own piece of land that their family pried from Custer’s cold, dead, hands. Jacqueline spends the majority of her time annoying her parents with stupid questions about things she doesn’t know or understand about her own culture. Her parents never look at each other and go “What went wrong here? Must we blame ourselves? Can we blame the school system? CAN WE BLAME CUSTER? Cause he always deserves it.” At one point they send her to the corn field to do a special corn dance ceremony because they just want to get rid of her, and she just wants to feel useful (or really, feel like she’s being a “real” Indian). The corn ceremony is actually the electric slide. The corn is probably like “that’s cool; we also like doing line dances. You should watch us when the winds change!” but nobody really asks them. Instead some little kid makes fun of her for being so stupid, she comes back home upset and her parents tell her that she should go back to New York because “you belong to another tribe now…”
No she doesn’t. But I digress.
Jacqueline throws a big fit, tries to curse her parents with a dreamcatcher and then ends up locked in the back of a police car where she has a pseudo sweat, comes to a vision, and then realizes she needs to do something bigger with her life. Like go back to New York and take money from rich people to give to the Indians. (We’d rather have the land back. Heck, I’m sure her people would rather have the Black Hills, which is already theirs but they have to fight for it cause… CUSTER.)
It sounds bad right? Writing it out I have to pause and think “man, that sounds bad. It sounds like the show is portraying Native stereotypes like they are funny without commentary on how they are not funny, but just sad, which makes it funny if you think they are funny because you haven’t realized they are not funny.” And that is what I wrote down after the episode that re-introduced Jacqueline and her Native family. Well that and “uh oh…”
*The only thing that saved this entire arc for me was that when Jacqueline is having her “vision” the Washington Racial Slur team logo comes up and says “HOW AM I STILL A THING???” #BlameCuster *
But guess what – it’s not all bad. And that’s where my fully invested Friday night binge watching made a difference because by the end of it I was actually excited for Jaqueline and her next season. I was surprised how her character grew more confident in her Native identity, and also how she started to realize that even if she ignores or pretends like it is not there, she is Native, and it is a part of her. Also if you’re going to make fun of Washington Racial Slur team owners… I’m on board.
Was it all perfect? NO. Is there room for improvement – ALWAYS. What now? – More Custer jokes. Also, more Natives.
More Native actors, more Native activists, more Natives.
So let’s get to our pros and cons shall we?
PRO: Mascots are bad
Yeah they are! Jacqueline’s big story line throughout the season is that she is searching for a husband (more on that later) but really it becomes about the ever present “how is this still a thing” Native mascot issue that she must finally (and firmly) confront. When it turns out *GIANT SPOILER* that Jacqueline is dating one of the Washington Racial Slur team owners she has to decide, does she want to be the rich wife she kept trying to be all season, or does her Native heritage matter? She picks her Native heritage. She confronts her paramour. They decide to band together and take down the team name.
Con: There is no con to this storyline in my opinion. This was the part where I saw a more nuanced portrayal of Jacqueline. While at the start of the season she was working from a collection of stereotypes, by the end she is able to see that her Nativeness is in her, dark hair or light hair, blue eye contacts or brown eyes, New York or on the rez. So deciding that what she can dedicate herself to is using her (now) insider status to take down the Washington Racial Slur – go girl.
What the writers should know: Jacqueline doesn’t have to do this by herself! In fact, there are lots of Native activists that would help her out. It might be fun to actually bring them on the show. I say invite the 1491s to come on the show next season as informed Native people to tell Jacqueline about #NotYourMascot and to bring her into the super-secret meetings we have (shhh).
Suggestion: I really, really, really hope that you have a pseudo Dan Snyder character on the show next season. Someone who keeps speaking the hype of “Our Reds*ins Nation” and “we are honoring you” but behind the scenes is just a very whiny, spoiled child who doesn’t understand why EVERYONE DOESN’T LOVE THE DARK SIDE! WAH!” #KyloRen
PRO: Jacqueline is Native, whether she is at home with her parents or in NYC
Even though Jacqueline spent the entire first season denying her Nativeness and it seemed to come out of nowhere, it becomes more obvious throughout this season that she cannot deny who she is. She goes about it in her own crazy Jacqueline ways, like when she starts a “First Americans for Turtle Island” foundation and tries to raise money by getting old rich white dudes to come to a fundraiser, but it stays with her even after she decides that she failed at taking all the money back from the rich white people to give to Natives (ahem, work on getting the land also…thanks). I see all of this as part of her journey to realize that her rich, white world is actually just fake, and that all those needless things she values, are not what is really going to matter to her. So okay, that’s important.
Con: And then Jacqueline’s parents are all SEE YA WOULDN’T WANNA BE YA. Which is the same that happened last season. Look, are Gil Birmingham and Sheri Foster (the actors who play her parents) on such tight schedules that they are only available for a few days? Is that why we have to constantly experience Jacqueline’s rejection by her parents? In the first season I wondered how they would be able to let her go, to accept her rejection of her culture and to not call or bug her on occasion? And then at the start of this season, they are actively annoyed with her because she has very little knowledge of true Native culture, but they do not have any moments of reflection of (1) how this could very well reflect a school system that she was forced in to which teaches THIS about Native people even to Native children and (2) how this plays in to continuing identity politics about what a “real” Native is really like and (3) how it’s ultimately Custer’s fault (if not Custer then Andrew Jackson and if not Andrew Jackson then take your pick of founding fathers and if not that then blame Kevin Costner). But because Jacqueline’s parents (who are the only other Native characters on the show thus far) are treated more like props to advance her storyline, it becomes painfully obvious that the humor relies on stereotypes to help people access that Jacqueline is, in fact, Native. She’s not Native because her parents have dreamcatchers and her parents should want more for her than to leave their house thinking that.
What the writers should know: Did you know that NYC currently has the largest population of Native people in the United States? For a long time it was Los Angeles. This is for a number of reasons, but one of them was the policy of the federal government to relocate Indian people to cities in the hopes that they would reject their culture and become white. This didn’t happen. In fact, many Indian people founded Urban Indian Centers and groups. They came together across tribes to laugh, sing, dance and eat. They created what Native scholar Renya Ramirez calls “Native Hubs.” So rather than degrade Native culture, Native people came together and did things like – started movements to found tribal colleges… Jacqueline doesn’t have to be alone in NYC, which has a huge pow wow each year BTW. Also, I would think this would mean something to her parents so that instead of saying “You belong to another tribe now” in NYC, they would say “you will always be Native and you will always be Lakota. If NYC is calling you back, then go there. You always have home to ground and center you.”
Suggestion: MORE NATIVE SCREEN TIME.
PRO: Jacqueline has storylines that don’t just revolve around her Native identity yet are still informed by her Native identity, because we are also people who fall in love, question our futures, want to play dress up with snooty designer’s clothes
Jacqueline’s other story lines intersect with who she becomes by the end of the season. She thinks she can continue to play the role of an upper class white woman who cares only about taking down other white women and flaunting her money around. Her biggest storyline is her consistent pull back into the life that Kimmy helped her to get out of, one where she is just a trophy wife, and where the wealth accumulated by her husband keeps her tied to him so long as she wants to continue her lifestyle. Kimmy calls her out on this throughout the show. Which brings me to my con...
Con: Where are her aunties? Her cousins? Her mother? Kimmy is always her voice of reason, but wouldn’t her mother value her enough to teach her about the very long, rich heritage of strong Native women that built our nations?
What the writers should know: Again, here’s another opportunity to include some important information about Native cultures, where many of them valued women, where women were leaders, doctors, and maintained their own wealth. So while in many European cultures women were forced to marry in order to secure their futures, in many Native cultures women came into marriage with their own property and their own wealth. Marriage was very different in this sense. Now here is Jacqueline participating in this very European approach to marriage and you start to wonder, where are her grandmothers? Her aunties? I hope as she gets more involved with giving back to Native people next season that you can round out this Native universe to include all different types of characters that can support and educate her.
PRO: Jacqueline’s last name is “White” which was “given to us in the 1920s by a sarcastic census taker.
Anyway. If you want to have Jacqueline take a Native American Studies class in the hopes of learning more about Native peoples, histories, futures and feminisms and then she gets a mad crush on her bad ass Native woman professor who also happens to be a big fan of 30 Rock and constantly mistakenly calls her Jenna, call Irene Bedard.
If you want some more suggestions, feel free to email me.
I’m looking forward to next season actually. No more electric slide corn dances.
We need to talk about the Indian Child Welfare Act or In Which I Try To Talk About the Indian Child Welfare Act
Guys, listen, we need to talk about the Indian Child Welfare Act. All day and everywhere. We need to tweet about the #IndianChildWelfareAct. All day and everywhere. We need to pass along articles and write our own. We need to write open letters (even though, you know, everyone knows open letters are so last year) and put up Buzzfeed .gif stories or lists (Top 5 reasons why Indians aren't trying to steal a child from a nice white family but instead are trying to be reunited with a child that IS their family). We need to be the voice for all of the people who can't do press conferences and sit down with CNN or even local news shows. We need to take apart every single piece of rhetoric that is put out there. You know the ones that are like "Save this child!" or "They are seizing a child from a loving family" or "This child is ONLY this much Indian." We need a thousand million billion voices to counteract all those voices that want the story to be about a nice, non-Native (usually white) family who just wants to love this child they love so much. And not about how hard and long the child's Native family has also been fighting to be reunited with this child. We need to have all those voices out there. You know why? Because of this:
Going into her room and seeing her toys without her playing with them is the worst pain I’ve ever felt. Me and my wife, Veronica’s grandparents, her sister, cousins, aunts, uncles, extended family our friends are heartbroke without her. I know we did everything in our power to keep Veronica home with her family. During this four year fight to raise my daughter I had to make many difficult decisions, decisions no father should ever have to make. The most difficult decision of all was to let Veronica go… -Dusten Brown
The "Baby Veronica" case, that's a thing that happened and it sucked. It resulted in a 2013 Supreme Court case where a Native father had his child seized away from him. The scene was heartbreaking and resulted in the legalized kidnapping of a Native child, who according the Supreme Court of the United States did not belong with her Native father, but instead belonged with the white couple who had illegally and immorally adopted her years before.
I wrote about it then. A few times. And one thing I said was this:
Writing this blog entry has been hard because this case hurts. Every time I wake up and read another news alert that something has happened in the Baby Veronica case that something tends to be disheartening, ill-informed, sad, racist, jerk-ist, craziness that makes me start shake my head and wonder, what's the point? Because the true nature of people comes out with stories like this. Suddenly, we are having to defend the right of a father to be with his daughter. Suddenly the adoptive couple is making a website called "SAVE Veronica." And my immediate thought is, save her from what? From her father? From a loving home with her father? From an extended family, grandparents, cousins, aunts and Uncles? From her Cherokee heritage? SAVE her from what?
But this is not a blog to tell you about why we need the Indian Child Welfare Act. Or why it is a law. Or how if the shoe was on the other foot you know all these nice white families would be yelling "OBEY THE LAW" at everyone instead of "SAVE THIS NATIVE CHILD FROM HER NATIVE PEOPLE! SCREW THE LAW!" If you want to read that blog entry you can find it here.
This is not even a blog to tell you about the latest case where a nice Non-Native family really wants to keep a Native child that they are fostering (law be damned) so they are going to fight it out in court for years and years, say that is in the best interest of the child, dismiss how the child's Native family has tried to stay an active part of her life even though they have been rebuffed at every stage, and also not mention how hard the child's father worked to try and get her back in the first place. Or how they did what all these nice Non-Native (usually white) families do. They started a "Save Lexi" page and campaign. They told their story to as many news outlets as they could. They are dominating the media right now. "Save Lexi" people say.
Read the full back story if you'd like from Indian Country Today. It is infuriating. Also this part:
In January 2014, Lori Alvino McGill signed on as counsel for the Pages. Alvino McGill worked onAdoptive Couple v. Baby Girl last year as a spokesperson for Veronica's mother, Christy Maldonado, who had given Veronica up for adoption to Matt and Melanie Capobianco of South Carolina before the girl’s birth in 2009. As Maldonado’s pro bono counsel, Alvino McGill argued in the media and on social websites against Veronica’s father Dusten Brown, using foul language and, in one particularly heated late-night exchange on Facebook, referred to Veronica’s biological father as a “sperm donor.”
I bolded that last part because that is what it's always about. Overturning ICWA. And they are not only going to do it legally. They are going to do it by controlling, manipulating and steering the conversation in popular media.
You may notice that while there are plenty of interviews with the nice white family who just want to protect their Native foster child from her Native family... there are not many with any of the Native people connected with the case. This happened in the case of Dusten Brown as well. Dusten followed the gag order, he believed in the law, and he thought cooler heads would prevail in a case that was about a father who loved his child. The media could have cared less, because if he wasn't going to sit in a chair with them and get them good ratings, they were going to go with the whole "isn't this so sad to have a child seized and kept away from a family that wants her?" (Isn't it sad that they are trying to do that to the father and his family as well? No? It should be...)
I actually wrote about this media insanity for an article that will be published soon. Because what I noticed about the media in these Indian Child Welfare Cases is this:
The representation forwarded by popular media of Native people in this case was specifically designed to diminish tribal sovereignty in public discourse. In most instances the national news media did not invite Native intellectuals to participate in this public dialogue. Public opinion was swayed because of the portrayal of Native nations as racist and discriminatory against nice white couples who wanted to adopt Indian children. On October 18, 2012, Dr. Phil dedicated an entire show to the case. Anderson Cooper also joined in the discussion of the case on CNN, which he argued was about the seizure of a Native child away from a white adoptive family. Wolf Blitzer (also on CNN) questioned why the Cherokee Nation felt like they deserved jurisdiction in the case. --Cutcha Risling Baldy
That's right news media. Maybe you can't talk to the exact Native family involved, but you can AT LEAST ask Native people to comment on what the case means and why it is important. You know how when you do a story on Donald Trump (like a milllion and a half of them) but you can't actually get Donald Trump to come on your show (cause he busy tweeting) so you call up one of your political analysts to make comments.
WE CAN DO THAT TOO!
But we were never asked. And what I noticed about the Baby Veronica case was the palpable lack of representation of any Native voices in the discussion. I also wrote about this too:
Native intellectuals were not invited to participate in meaningful public discussion, nor were they featured on popular media sites as guest writers or editors about this issue. Instead there was a tentative silence about the case, and a whispered hope that the Indian Child Welfare Act would be enough to protect this Native father. It was not. And though the Cherokee Nation had promised to uphold their sovereignty by refusing to give in to the demands to hand over the child to the Copabiancos, in the end Veronica Brown was taken from her father and driven away in front of national news cameras and a gathering of protestors holding signs saying “Cherokee children are not for sale.” -Cutcha Risling Baldy
What's the point? We cannot afford to be silent. Things have changed since the Baby Veronica case. Native twitter is a thing that exists. #HashtagActivism has told people we are #NotYourMascot #NotYourTonto and that #JKRowling needs to take a Native American Studies Class.
There are whole articles written now that are just a series of tweets. Here's what this person said on Twitter. Hey here's another thing someone said on Twitter. And because of this, there is NO DENYING that Native public intellectuals exist. I call it the #NewNativeIntellectualism
The new Native intellectualism is about interrogating popular discourse on Native peoples and offering a pointed and engaged critique. It's being passionate about online activism and presence because we know there are interconnections to how this informs public discourse about self-determination and the future of Native Nations.
It's every blog entry. Every re-tweet. Every voice that says "You may think there is nobody that can come on your show and explain sovereignty to you Wolf Blitzer, but there are many of us."
So if you do anything today, right now, head on over to your Twitter or your Facebook page and say "It's time to talk about the #IndianChildWelfareAct."
And refuse to be silenced.
What's some stuff I can do now?
Check out the Twitter feeds of some of these Native people, retweet, repeat.
Founder @ A Tribe Called Geek. Managing Partner @ Native Max Magazine. Producer/Host @ SuccessNativeStyle. Board Member of Not Your Mascots. (Opinions are mine)
Tribally enrolled at Nambe Pueblo. Publisher of American Indians in Children's Literature; PhD and M.Ed in Education, MLIS. See CV at website for list of pubs.
I'm an educated, professional Native woman. My very existence is a political statement. *No DMs*
And let me end with this. When Dusten Brown was finally able to speak publicly about his daughter, and the case that was all over the news media and took him all the way to the Supreme Court, what quickly became obvious was that he was not the callous, neglectful, brash or even arrogant person that the Capobiancos and their media team had made him out to be. He was a loving, caring father. And I end here with his message to his daughter because he is right, one day she will read about this time in her life, and I hope instead of Dr. Phil and CNN nonsense she is able to find this video and hear his voice to remind her how loved she will always be. And to remind us why our voices matter now, and can matter many years in the future as these stolen children find their way home.
And to Veronica, one day you will read about this time in your life. Never ever for one second, never ever for one second doubt how much I love you, how hard I fought for you, or how much you mean to me. My home will always be your home and you’re always welcome in it. I miss you more than words can express. You’ll always be my little girl, my princess, and I will always love you until the day I die. I love you and hope to see you soon. -Dusten Brown
This week in #SettlerNonsense: Fantastical Natives and where to find them or WHY JK ROWLING WHY?! WHYYYYYYYY!
I promise you this whole thing is not going to be about #MagicInNorthAmericaGate but a lot of it will be. This week in #SettlerNonsense JK Rowling forces me to revisit my love of Harry Potter through a critical scholarly lens (HOW COULD YOU DO THAT TO ME JK ROWLING) and other people prove that in the public imagination fantastical creatures exist all around us, and they are usually Native Americans who are so "other" to us y'all.
What is #SettlerNonsense you ask
Settler Nonsense is dehumanization and dismissal of Native knowledges so prevalent in discussions about Native people. It is the ever present "vanishing Indian" story where we all just up and disappeared one day and NOBODY KNOWS WHY (it was genocide. Yep. Genocide.) Natives are always vanishing, dying or losing something, our languages, our futures, our health, and our cultures. In this story, if we haven’t lost these things, we are on our way to losing them, one step away from an extinction that often feels inevitable and in many ways, improbably, accidental.
#1: JK Rowling published some short (short) stories about the history of #MagicInNorthAmerica and there were Natives mentioned in it and it was not good. It was mostly 1. Natives are magical 2. But they don't use wands cause all the good wand makers are British (touche) 3. They do know a lot about plants though 4. Skinwalkers aren't bad. The people who said they were bad are just jelly. 5. When the wizards immigrated here they were like "where's the apothecary?" And Natives were like "walk 1/2 a mile up that way and get the stuff yourself. We are busy." 6. So the poor British wizards were like "It's a mad wilderness here. There are few amenities." And the Natives sat back in their cities and villages and went "sure, no amenities. You are right. Stay far away from our amenities-less villages."
I'm not going to spend a whole lot of time going through the stories because once they came out several really fantastic writers and bloggers put on their capes and used their non-wand filled hands to do what needed to be done. Here's an excerpt.
Dr. Adrienne Keene of Native Appropriations.
This whole wandless magic thing is bugging me. So Rowling has said multiple times that it takes a lot more skill to perform magic without a wand (Dumbledore does it at several points in the books), but points out that wands are what basically refines magic. Wands are a European invention, so basically she’s demonstrating Eurocentric superiority here–the introduction of European “technology” helps bring the Native wizards to a new level. AKA colonial narrative 101.
Dr. Debbie Reese at American Indians in Children's Literature
What J.K. Rowling did yesterday (March 8, 2016) in the first story of her "History of Magic in North America" is the most recent example of white people misrepresenting Native people. Her misrepresentations are harmful. And yet, countless people are cheering what Rowling did, and dismissing our objections. That, too, is not ok.
Simon Moya-Smith at Indian Country Today
“I’m saying American society hasn’t evolved. Its conception of us and our spiritualities remains seriously antiquated. People all across this fading country still believe Native Americans cast curses, heal with magic potions … I’m saying there’s very little difference between what a 3rdGrade teacher will fleece to students in November about Native American spirituality, and what J.K. Rowling scribbled about Native Americans and magic.”
Over on Righting Red
For me the representation issue boils down to this: The mass media narrative around Natives is intensely problematic; if we’re mentioned at all, it’s within a stereotypical or fantastical sense, and very rarely goes beyond 1 or 2-D. Many consumers of this media have no idea we still exist as contemporary, multi-dimensional individuals, which makes these fantastical/fictional perpetrations very much a part of the problem in that NO ONE knows or cares to know any of the very real issues our communities face. Who cares about the epidemic levels of Native youth suicide when OMG JK ROWLING IS WRITING ABOUT MAGICAL INDIAN SKINWALKERS!!!
I also really liked what author N(ora). K. Jemisin wrote
It would’ve taken some work for her to research Navajo stories and pick (or request) some elements from that tradition that weren’t stereotypical or sacred — and then for her to do it again with the Paiutes and again with the Iroquois and so on. But that is work she should’ve done — for the sake of her readers who live those traditions, if not for her own edification as a writer. And how much more delightful could Magic in North America have been if she’d put an ancient, still-thriving Macchu Picchu magic school alongside a brash, newer New York school? How much richer could her history have been if she’d mentioned the ruins of a “lost” school at Cahokia, full of dangerous magical artifacts and the signs of mysterious, hasty abandonment? Or a New Orleanian school founded by Marie Laveau, that practiced real vodoun and was open/known to the locals as a temple — and in the old days as a safe place to plan slave rebellions, a la Congo Square? Or what if she’d mentioned that ancient Death Eater-ish wizards deliberately destroyed the magical school of Hawai’i — but native Hawai’ians are rebuilding it now as Liliuokalani Institute, better than before and open to all?
You're welcome Internet. Now that we have covered all the bases I'm sure we can all agree that what JK Rowling wrote was problematic, dismissive and hurtful to Native peoples. Also, ill-informed and contributes to continuing issues that face Native peoples who are just trying to get some good literature written about them so that kids/ students will stop writing book reports about how nice it was that Columbus brought some Natives back to Europe with him when he left so they too could visit the apothecary (I am guessing here. I know for a fact that some students write that Columbus was nice enough to run a quick cruise line back to Europe because nowhere do any children's books call it a SLAVE TRADE).
Except we can't all agree. The backlash was swift. There was a lot of "it's only fiction!" or "Stop being so PC!" or "You should just be grateful someone like Rowling even mentioned you!" or "Stop being such a cry baby!"
jSo here's my two cents.
$.01: Here are some times where things that JK Rowling wrote in Harry Potter really super mattered and also were more than just fiction.
$.02: JK Rowling has a lot of money. This does not mean I think she owes me anything but I think she owes herself to really take some of that money and enroll in a Native American Studies class. Heck, at least a Native American literature class. It is there that she will start to see how the language of "fantasy" and "magical realism" and "magic" is part and parcel to language of vanishing, pretend Indians. Like if we can make Natives kind of foggy in our imaginations it just feels a little bit like millions of people being killed or displaced isn't all that gut wrenching (it happened a long time ago in a land far far away you know?) We have to be real as well as fantastical. Because you know what, I'm not going to argue that we aren't fantastical. But we are fantastical and magical not just as wizards but because of the sheer strength and power that comes from our cultures, stories, songs and ceremonies.
Also we can be wizards and have an awesome wizard school and teach all about why magic with no wand is so much better but our schools would not and should not be divorced from our histories in the "no-maj" world as well. You know why? Because our wizards would not turn their backs on their no-maj family. And we would want even the newest wizard immigrant to know that.
P.S. Listen. If you're gonna do a whole boarding school thing with the magical school in the U.S. that has a background in Indigenous magic (which you said before) you really need to read up on the history of boarding schools in the Americas and be very conscious of that as you move forward. Please. Please stop what you are doing and do this right now. Please.
#2: Some girl on Instagram put up a photo of her "hot boxing a hobbit house" which just so happened to be her hitting a bong in a traditional Northwest California home in a State Park.
I'm not going to put up the photo of this girl that she posted publicly to Instagram and then let people make a bunch of comments and like it a lot before finally deleting it because many Native youth were all "excuse me?"
Her defense was that 1. She's native? And 2. It just looked like a Hobbit house because of the hole or something and she didn't mean to be disrespectful. Okay.
The reason why I was struck by this particular instance is the mention of Hobbits. It was the second time in a number of weeks that I had seen someone say these were "hobbit houses" or refer to Native people from the Northwest of California as possible hobbits. I don't really feel the need to correct that we are in fact, not hobbits because hobbits aren't real and if anything hobbits probably stole their ideas from us when we were exchanging ideas with Maori's from New Zealand long before Columbus got lost and thought he found India. Because hobbits are from New Zealand right? They were in the movie.
Somebody's going to write me a letter now explaining it's fiction and hobbit's are from MIDDLE EARTH to which I say, yes, exactly.
Why does it matter that some people refer to our houses as hobbit houses? It's just more nonsense really. I often explain that these houses were very well designed homes and in fact draw on principles that are now being used as part of sustainable building design. They were made from redwood planks, they were sturdy, they were warm in the winter and cool in the summer. They were energy efficient. Also, they were permanent structures (so all those things you hear about Natives being nomadic wanderers... nope). And they survived. In some places in Northwest California Natives were living in homes like this through the 1920s. They were holding steadfastly to their village sites despite pressure to move and to destroy or build over those sites.
The particular site that the young woman was at is a recreational site in a state park meant to educate people about the Natives of the area called the Yurok. After she posted the photo a young woman posted a response to her trying to explain why the photo is so infuriating. That posted letter got the young woman who wrote the letter temporary blocked from Facebook for not meeting Facebook's standards? AND THAT ladies and gentlemen is why Facebook wins the #SettlerNonsense badge of the week.
Here is the letter for everyone to read.
*Update* The young woman who had her account banned from Facebook for a while posted a statement on her own website which you can read here. https://sineadtalley.wordpress.com/
So that's it for this week folks. Enjoy your #SettlerNonsense
I'm going to go and see where all my Fantastical Natives are at. #WhereMyFantasticalNativesAt
Palate Cleanser: The opposite of #SettlerNonsense is
My friend Morning Star Gali got awarded a Leading Edge Fund fellowship so that she can work on restoring justice for Native Peoples.
Gali will document the crisis of mass incarceration among Native Americans in the state. Using her extensive network, organizing and community-based and engaged research background, she will mobilize Native nations, incarcerated Native Americans and their families, allies and policy leaders to address and shift the tide of over-incarceration and human rights violations within corrections institutions. She also aims to build solidarity and power among Indigenous Peoples throughout California, enabling them to restore sovereign rights and to heal, care for and resolve differences among their people on their own terms and by their own tribal governments.
Here she is in a video. #AwesomeNativeWomen
This week in #SettlerNonsense: Federal Indian law is a really badly written fiction story, Kevin Bacon is afraid of dirty handprints, Formation is cool but hmmm, and no Vanessa Hudgens... no.
This week in #Settler Nonsense (2/18)
It's the end of the week which means time for a new edition of "This week in #SettlerNonsense" a weekly review of some of the things that are just plain #SettlerNonsense.
#1: Antonin Scalia admits that the Supreme Court is just making shiz up as they go... in Federal Indian Law.
This article -- written by April Youpee-Roll about her experience meeting now deceased Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia highlights one of the things that we've been saying about Federal Indian Law for a long time. It's just sort of made up based on whatever #SettlerNonsense happens to be in fashion at the moment. In her article she talks about meeting Scalia at one of his book signings. (Read her whole article. Seriously. Do it.)
As I handed over my book, I decided to go with, "I just wanted to thank you. When I was 10, I came to watch oral arguments in my family's case, and you joined the majority in our favor."
Take Sovereignty for instance ---
First Indians are sovereign because THEY HAVE ALWAYS BEEN SOVEREIGN.
Then Indians are sovereign because "help we need you to help us cause we don't know how to help ourselves."
Then Indians are sovereign because "you're obviously sovereign governments, obviously. I mean you were making treaties with other countries long before the United States became the United States."
Then Indians are sovereign because "that's what the damn treaties say!"
But then people are like "but having sovereign nations within our nation is hard. Also we want all the land. Boo hoo."
So then the Supreme Court one day says that Indians are not sovereign they are "domestic, dependent" sovereigns and everyone who reads the Supreme Court decision goes "wait? What is that?"
They don't know. They just made it up.
We can play this game all day with Federal Indian Law. Like the freedom of religion. EVERYBODY has freedom of religion. Until one day the Supreme Court goes "except. Well not Native Americans. Okay, really it's not anybody. Because really the government can do whatever it wants with its land so long as they aren't directly targeting a religion." And the people go "wait? WHAT?" #TheyDontKnow #TheyJustMadeItUp
Argument for arguments sake. I guess the Supreme Court is supposed to make stuff up, that's kind of what they do. However, in the case of Federal Indian Law there are actually MANY MANY texts and ideas they could pull from that aren't just "made up" but instead are based in legal precedent. They don't have to make it up. It's just they ignore and/or don't know any real information about Native people, their histories, and their continuing societies and cultures. Why don't they learn about that in school? College? Law school? Clerking? #SettlerNonsense
#2: Kevin Bacon's new move is about a kid who steals haunted Indian artifacts from an Indian site and then the whole family has to put up with the scary Indian spirits that are coming to get them because...
WHY DO PEOPLE KEEP TAKING SHIZ THAT DOESN'T BELONG TO THEM? #SettlerNonsense that's why. This belief that all those things are yours for the "taking" because they don't belong to anybody anymore right? All the Indians are dead now, at least all the Indians that had cool rocks.
WHY ARE INDIAN SPIRITS ALWAYS SO MAD AND SCARY? #SettlerNonsense because they know deep down that Indians are just sort of pissed about all the #SettlerNonsense. This makes our Indian ghosts scary beings that want to come and make little kid's lives miserable. Also, in a world ruled by #SettlerNonsense Indian spirits tend to overreact, the way all Indians did back in the day. [sarcasm ahead!] GEEZ SORRY okay, we made you move out of your house, Cherokees. SORRY okay, we tried to take your children away from you and put them into schools where they were often abused. The whole "you guys are so sensitive" that even after you die you over react to things like some kid taking a rock is #SETTLERNONSENSE
WHY IS THIS THE FILM BEING MADE BY HOLLYWOOD? When there are so many other films that could tell much better stories? We can make a move about scary Indian spirits that haunt rocks but they don't make movies about scary white spirits trying to come in to some Indian families house and tell them they live there now. That's some real #SettlerNonsense
In Hoopa some of our First People who prepared the world for us went into the rocks/rivers/trees etc. This is a good thing. They are always with us. And they provide for and care for us as we provide for and care for the earth and all of its beings.
NOT-- "ooooo scary spirits in the rocks."
I feel like someone needs to make a trailer for what this movie would be with a Native family instead... The spirit shows up and makes dirty hand prints everywhere and the Native grandma is all "who's been touching my couch with dirty hands!" And then the kid gets in trouble and the spirit is all "aren't you freaked out now? I have dirty hands." And the Native kid is like "not really. I'm pissed. Stop getting me in trouble dude." End trailer. #MakeBetterMoviesHollywood
#3: Everybody is talking about Beyonce and how they are gonna get their behinds in Formation and I'm just over here like "wait, the director of Formation was also the director of No Doubt's WTF Native Appropriation video?"
Maybe you don't remember that video? It was ALL KINDS of #SettlerNonsense. Gwen Stefani was dressed up as an Indian. She then gets kidnapped by white lone ranger kind of dudes? And they drag her around, tie her to a wall, and threaten her with guns. All the time she is singing "do you think I'm looking hot?" #NotReally
I wrote about it here. http://www.cutcharislingbaldy.com/blog/an-open-letter-to-no-doubt-not-so-hot
What I said then was something like:
The video also features a tee-pee village, Gwen doing some sort of smoke signals dance and sending up red smoke, scenes of cowboys getting drunk and heading out to the tee-pee village to shoot point blank at Indian people. It features Gwen in a weird swimsuit thing dancing in front of a bonfire in combat boots while telling us that we can go ahead and check out her ragamuffin. There's a lot of feathers, a red dress, a tee-pee hideaway which is for some reason filled with a hookah, an African mask and a bunch of other vaguely ethnic looking stuff. And a dog.
Turns out the director of this No Doubt #SettlerNonsense video was Melina Matsoukas and she is also the director of Beyonce's new video causing all this conversation. And this conversation. And this conversation.
One of my favorite Hupa's in the world texted me the day that Beyonce dropped her Formation video and was all "I LOVE THIS VIDEO."
Me too, It's pretty awesome.
And then I find out that it's directed by the same person who thought that No Doubt's video was okay? How do you not walk off that set? How do you not go "listen, this whole part where we have Gwen Stefani dancing around in a Tipi that includes a Hookah and some African masks. It's like Cultural Appropriation threw up in there and she's dancing around in it. I JUST CAN'T. "
There is so much vision in the Formation video. The song is one thing (I love the song) but the imagery that is put along with it, the celebration, the modern nod to a rich and deep culture. It is not Beyonce dressed up in old timey clothes playing -- it is saying "this is a part of who we are and a part of who I am and I am proud."
So what does this mean? I haven't decided yet. There is something to be said about how the appropriation of Native people is so accepted. Also, how little regard there is for how their culture also builds who they are as strong people in modern times. I just haven't been able to really put it in to words... yet.
#4: Vanessa Hudgens and her boyfriend carved their names in Red Rocks in Sedona, AZ
And the world went "Stop with your #SettlerNonsense Vanessa Hudgens."
#5: The Bundy Militia literally pooped all over Native American artifacts
Sometimes people say "Cutcha, what is #SettlerNonsense" and instead of trying to write some kind of eloquent explanation like:
Settler Nonsense is the narrative of loss that is so prevalent in discussions about Native people. We are always losing something, our languages, our futures, our health, and our cultures. In this story, if we haven’t lost these things, we are on our way to losing them, one step away from an extinction that often feels inevitable and in many ways, improbably, accidental. Natives are always in the last stages of their existence. We have long past the time of the last Mohican or the last of our tribe. This is to solidify the settler colonial desire for an eventual inheriting of this land, a rightful, uninhibited, ahistorical passing of ownership from the poor, dying Indigenous to the stronger, healthier, more vibrant settler colonial society.
But instead I'll just say: #SettlerNonsense is a bunch of white dudes taking over some federal land and demanding that it be given to them because they have "rights" to it and then digging a trench and pooping all over it. Also it's kind of #SettlerNonsense that they couldn't just go "discover" it in the first place because, and as we come full circle, our own legal system says that the United States owns the land by "right of discovery."
The head of the militia keeps going on about how the land belongs to "the people" and you have to laugh because in his #SettlerNonsense he's partially correct.
The Burns Paiute tribe are "the people" of that area. The land was never ceded to the government. So if that land should be returned to anyone it's the tribe. Anything else is just flights of fancy, like you're making it up as you go along. Which, as we have established from the beginning is exactly what they are doing.
Palate Cleanser: The opposite of #SettlerNonsense is
Thank goodness this movie doesn't have Kevin Bacon in it because otherwise Zambo Dende would just be wandering around leaving dirty hand prints everywhere and acting like that's doing something. #MAKEBETTERMOVIESHOLLYWOOD
In Which I Show How Racist Chief Wahoo Really Is or Adventures In Teaching About Mascots
Somebody at a talk I was giving once said to me "the name is bad. I get the name thing. Nobody wants to be called that kind of name. But the mascots. Mascots make us feel really good about our teams. Mascots are a source of pride."
And then they waited for a response.
I smiled. "Sure," I said. "Some mascots may be a source of pride. And some mascots may be a source of many questions. But Native mascots do not make people feel a great sense of pride, they mostly just confirm that we are still comfortable with racist caricatures and that when we normalize them and say they are harmless, that just allows these images to keep saying 'ha ha, we think of your group as something beneath us.'"
"How so?" And this person was generally interested.
"Well," I said. "Let me tell you about this exercise I sometimes do in my classes..."
In Which I Show How Racist Chief Wahoo Really Is or Adventures In Teaching About Mascots
In my classes we often talk about mascots and imagery and representation. I assign students articles like this one, this one, and this one. And they usually watch a video about the personal nature of the mascot debate that happened at Stanford University (featuring my Mama). As part of our class lecture I feature a portion where we talk about stereotypical/racist imagery and discuss how to critically analyze this imagery for the story it is trying to tell. I'm trying to get students to understand that it is not just what the image looks like but also the argument that the image is trying to make. What is the story that you walk away with? What is the message that the image is trying to send?
I am often surprised at the visceral response that student’s have to racist portrayals of other cultures and it takes me a moment not to second guess my process of confronting them with these racist images as a way to show them how desensitized they are to racist portrayals of Native people. I can tell many of them are uncomfortable, very uncomfortable actually. They whisper to each other trying to figure out what my angle is and more than one often give me the side eye. I’m guessing they are convinced that my use of certain cartoons is some sort of tacit approval of the cartoon. I can see their heads spinning -- who googles stuff like that? And what does one have to google to find such a derogatory, ignorant cartoon for use in a class? Is this how she spends her spare time?
Turns out – “racist Asian caricature” will work just fine.
I wanted to find caricatures that were reminiscent of Chief Wahoo to lead them to the point where they can start to recognize how this "othering” of people in our cultural imagination is played out in popular stereotypes. I can’t tell you how many times I have gotten the question “aren’t some stereotypes true?” And my favorite answer is “does it matter?” Stereotypes are built on a foundation of lies, half truths, biased interpretations etc. meant to support and justify colonial occupation. Stereotypes are there to influence how we see the world so that we are okay with what our settler-colonial state did to formulate this world.
If settler colonialism is the dark side, then stereotypes are the red light-saber. Also, Dan Snyder is General whatever that guy’s name was who was a general and had some dying heart and was actually a robot and Fox News is the Empire which would make Bill O’Reilly some kind of Darth something (Maul? Sidious?) but I really don’t want to give him that sort of satisfaction.
The first time I did this exercise in my class was one of the most illuminating.
Many of the students laughed uncomfortably at the ridiculousness of the portrayals in the cartoons. Once we started talking about them, it was hard for them to put in to words, or rather to want to say out loud what stereotypes were included in the pictures. I asked many questions – “How do you know the person is a certain ethnic background? What makes you think that? What about them is exaggerated? What’s the point of the cartoon? What are they trying to say about these people?”
And it was so fascinating to me to watch how many of the students were visibly uncomfortable with the image remaining on the screen as we talked about it. I could see some of them recoiling in their chairs and it sort of hit me how uncomfortable it was for them to see this kind of racist imagery because they are able to live in a world where they don’t have to see it if they really don’t want to. I know this type of imagery exists around us in various ways. Katie Perry as a Geisha, black face at Halloween parties on college campuses, but really… in a singular world where you hang out with your friends and check out their Instagrams, well that’s the privilege… the privilege of feeling like this type of overt, confrontational racism isn’t tangible and definitely isn’t socially acceptable. Unless your teacher puts it up as some cartoons as part of a class lecture…
I kept wanting to tell them “this discomfort. This physical reaction, this disgust, this head-shakingly bad taste in your mouth… remember that.” Because as we made our list of what these images confronted us with I was readying them for the blow. Here’s their list of what these images were all about according to my class:
That was their list! I was amazed… When I would flip to the next image they would shake their heads again. Some of them would sink down in their chair. One whispered “she knows these are awful right? Just plain awful…” And I would try to continue. Tell me what story this image is telling you. Tell me how this dehumanizes the person. Tell me which features are exaggerated and why. What story is this image trying to tell you about this person?
Finally I asked them to consider all the ways they were uncomfortable. I asked them to reflect for a moment on their visceral reactions. I said “think about these images and how having them here, on this screen, in your classroom… made you wonder if I was crazy because why would anyone want to call attention to images like this. And then look at this…”
And let's compare.
What’s the same about them?
My students replied: The crazy skin color. The exaggerated features, large mouth, large teeth. The sort of dumb look on their faces, like they are so stupid they don’t even know they are a racist caricature. The stereotypes, what they wear, how they dress, how their faces look.
And then I said "What's the story?"
One of the students replied. "It's that they are too dumb. They are dumb and okay with however we want to treat them. They go along with it. And we can laugh at them and use them the way we want to."
I immediately wondered if it was too heavy handed and if confronting them with incredibly racist and derogatory images would negate the message because they would spend most of their time personally reacting. Part of me wanted to say “it’s not fun is it? It’s not fun, or funny to be confronted with imagery that demeans you. It either demeans you by its portrayal of what may be your culture, or it demeans you by confronting you with stereotypes that you know all too well. Because the image would mean nothing if the stereotypes weren’t ingrained in us… this is what society gives to us. And think about what it means that our starting images caused a stir in the classroom but what would have happened if I had started with Chief Wahoo, something you can see on television today, something that is just a “normal” part of sports… you can go out to a store right now and buy a shirt, pants, posters, keychains and more with him on it. And then think about what it means that we are desensitized to the visceral nature of this image, what does that mean for Native people – but also, what does that mean for everyone else?”
Do I think everyone walked away believing my hype? Maybe. Probably not. If I have taught them anything it is to question everything and to do their own research and come to their own conclusions. But I do think there was kind of a safety-net that had been cast away from those “other” pictures, the ones that had made them squirm in their seats, the ones they didn’t really want to talk about. We ended the class with pictures that Native people posted declaring themselves #NotYourMascot. And I wondered which images they would carry with them as they left class.
I don't want to be an Indigenous Debbie Downer (okay yes I do. I do it a lot anyway. "Hey I love this music video..." "Sure, except it's racist." "Hey I can't wait for the Oscars." "Sure, except they are celebrating a film that is basically a white savior movie for Indigenous peoples or #DancesWithBears) but it's not just the name that we are talking about when we say #NotYourMascot
We are talking about how inundated we are with images of Native people as red faced, dopey, savage, creatures. That's what is all over our television and movie screens. I promise one day your grandchildren will be searching on their tiny watch phones while riding their (not going to set your house on fire) hoverboard and they will go "Grandpa, did you guys really have this picture of Native people as part of your sports teams and people would like wear it around and put it on the bumpers of their non-electric cars and everything?"
And you will have to be like "um. Yeah. Kind of." And they will give you the exact look my students give me when I put up some racist imagery, the one that says "This is bad. This is so bad. This is a joke. It's not funny."
It's not funny.
Cutcha Risling Baldy is an Associate Professor and Department Chair of Native American Studies at Humboldt State University. She received her PhD in Native American Studies from the University of California, Davis. She is also a writer, mother, volunteer Executive Director for the Native Women's Collective and is currently re-watching My Name is Earl...
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