Respect the Natives

I was running a little late to ASM last Wednesday. As I was making my way through the massive crowd on the steps of Cochran Chapel, trying to reach the attendance clipboards, I noticed out of the corner of my eye a few bright feathers. I thought, “Well, I didn’t know turkeys caught the hair coloring craze. Perhaps a new strand of swine/turkey flu that changes their pigment color…” After settling into my seat in the balcony, I was aghast. There were more of them. The JV girls’ soccer psyche of the day: Native American-themed costumes. On the eve of Native American heritage month and the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday, I am disappointed by the team’s choice of psyche. Such racial ‘costume’ imitations demean Native American peoples and cultures. More so, this action doesn’t just reflect on the soccer team’s questionable judgment. It also reflects on the entire PA community. It was apparent that there wasn’t strong opposition to the apparel as the students saw friends and faculty throughout the day without receiving much critical feedback. Nevertheless, I give the soccer players the benefit of the doubt that they did not mean any harm—after all it was a psyche—but their careless action brings up an issue of Native American respect, which I thought I left behind in New Mexico by coming to Phillips Academy. This leads me to ask: why wasn’t it a psyche imitating Asians? Africans? Latinos? Indians? Dominicans? Haitians? Armenians? Gays? Lesbians? Hindus? Muslims? Jews? If it was, there would be an outcry from the entire PA community, not to mention the students of Alianza Latina, Asian Society, African Student Union, Hindu Student Union, Jewish Student Union, Gay-Straight Alliance, International Club, Muslim Student Union, IndoPak or one of other many affinity groups on campus. Native Americans still exist today and we struggle constantly to preserve our culture in the midst of a changing society. This racial insensitivity not only occurs at Andover, but across the country as well. As a Native American, I feel obligated to bring this to the public’s attention. Every year in my hometown, there is a memorial march through the City of Farmington in remembrance of a 1974 hate crime during which three Navajo men were found burned and bludgeoned in Chokecherry Canyon. The history of prejudice against Navajos isn’t just a “memory.” Racial tensions exist at sporting events, within the educational environment and even in the police department. For example, in 2006, following a domestic argument in the newly opened Wal-Mart parking lot, Clint John was shot four times forty seconds after an officer arrived at the scene. The family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the officer and the Police Department. They lost. In addition, Native American imagery and stereotypes used in school mascots are often the subject of much controversy. Some argue that Native American mascots do not humiliate or discriminate against Native culture but embrace and promote it. They claim that teams would not discriminate against something they are making the symbol of their teams. However, they don’t realize that mascots such as redskins, Indians, braves and so forth frustrate Native Americans and promote the spread of negative views of Native Americans. It desensitizes the public to the historical progress America has made in the field of racial equality. A prime example of this occurred only two years ago at Brigham Young University. The BYU Lady Cougar volleyball team was playing their bitter rivals, the Utah Lady “Utes.” The Utes are Native peoples indigenous to the region. Two photos were released to the press of a young BYU student who was holding an erase board that read, “Back to the RESERVATION for ‘U’” and “Trail of Tears Part II.” I must point out that the University of Utah adopted “Swoop,” a red-tailed hawk, in 1996 to use instead of “Utes.” However, “Ute” is still exchangeable with “Swoop” in that community. The student’s defense was that her signs weren’t focused towards the Ute Tribe but the “Ute” team. Nevertheless, even if only one student produced the signs, she was comfortable displaying them in public. That is the problem. No one around her disagreed and confronted her about a possible dual interpretation of the signs. The entire school was not conscious of the signs’ racial implications. Despite the girl’s soccer team’s seemingly harmless actions, their decision to wear mock-Native American outfits points out how unaware we have become as a community. I am offended by the students who committed this act since they did not have any inclination to ask whether or not it would be acceptable. If they had, I am sure they would have chosen not to wear such offensive clothing. I am disappointed to come to this community and encounter such tacit encouragement of racism. After all, especially in the realm of Native American education, we have far better resources than most colleges across the country. We have the Peabody Museum, which is currently working hard to return artifacts back to the tribal lands they came from under the 1990 Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. With these resources at our disposal, ethnically themed psych costumes are especially unacceptable I hope this article can serve as a conversation starter more than anything for the PA community because I’m hopeful that this can be a great learning experience for everyone. Dressing up like American Indians is not okay. Tristan Moone is a Post-Graduate from Waterflow, NM.