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Chief Wahoo chief-wahoo(1947- ), pictured right, is the  American Indian chief who is the trademark of the Cleveland Indians, an American baseball team. Some say it is racist. The NAACP, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and most Native American leaders want him dropped.

Even the name “Indians” is based on a racist stereotype: “In place of the Naps”, said the Cleveland Leader in 1915 when the name was changed, “we’ll have the Indians, on the warpath all the time, and eager for scalps to dangle at their belts.”

In 1928 they started wearing a picture of an Indian on their uniforms. In 1947 along came Chief Wahoo.

Compare Chief Wahoo to the trademark for Coon Chicken Inn, which comes from the same period in history and was still in use as late as the 1950s. Then compare it to the current trademark of another sports team which uses an Indian image, the Chicago Blackhawks:

chief-wahooblackhawkscoonchickeninn

It is bad enough to use an Indian image at all in a country that has practised genocide against them. As the New York Daily News pointed out, it would be like a football team in Germany calling themselves the Hamburg Jews or something. But on top of that comes this image of Chief Wahoo.

After all, what if the Cleveland team had called itself the Cleveland Coons and used a coon image like the one above? And what if fans came to the game in blackface? Who would put up with it? Yet some Cleveland fans come to the game in redface:

Redface

According to a Sports Illustrated opinion poll from 2002 most people see Indian names and images on sports team as not being racist:

Although most Native American activists and tribal leaders consider Indian team names and mascots offensive, neither Native Americans in general nor a cross section of U.S. sports fans agree.

It is unclear where Sports Illustrated found enough Native Americans to poll or why whites, who make up most of “a cross section of U.S. sport fans”, would be a good judge of how offensive it is.

Some point out that white people are used on trademarks too, like the one for the New England Patriots:

patriots

How this is not like Chief Wahoo:

  1. It is a picture with some dignity.
  2. It was presumably created by a white person.
  3. It is not one of the few images of white people that are seen nationwide. Unlike Native Americans, whites have the power to create whatever images they want of themselves and have them seen all across the country.
  4. Whites are mostly not seen as members of a race, as “white” people – but just as people. That is not true for people of colour in America.

Cleveland should go back to what they had before: a stylized “C”. After all, letters are good enough for the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees, who, unlike Cleveland, have won a World Series or two within the past 60 years.

redsoxyankees

Thanks to alwaysright101 for suggesting this topic.

Update (January 30th 2018): Chief Wahoo will be dropped from team uniforms starting in 2019 – but not the team name, the Indians. – The Root.

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The following is based on Dr Beverly Tatum’s excellent book, “Why Are All The Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?” (1997):

Growing up Native American or American Indian is not well understood, not like growing up black or white in America. There are 750 different Native peoples, like the Sioux, Hopi and Navajo, each one different from the next. But since the coming of the white man they share a common history, an experience that makes it useful to talk about them as a whole.

Most people who grow up in America who cannot pass for white go through these four stages:

  1. race does not matter
  2. experience of racism
  3. making sense of your race or ethnicity
  4. becoming proud of your race or ethnicity and moving forward with a secure sense of who you are

Blacks and Asian Americans go through these stages, though some do not make it all the way through. Same for Native Americans,  but with one huge, important difference: stage 3 is way harder.

Native Americans have come through a full-blown genocide that has not only wiped out their numbers but much of their cultures – their language, customs, history and understanding of the world. The very things you need for stage 3.

Blacks and Asians have rich. living cultures to fall back on – to understand who they are and where they come from. It allows them to build an identity, a sense of who they are that is independent of White America, which they will need to stand up to its racism, to not sink into despair, insecurity and self-hatred.

No such luck for most Native Americans: they just have bits and pieces left of their cultures from the war and disease of the 1800s and, even worse,  the forced assimilation of the early 1900s.

In the early 1900s Native children were taken from their families and sent far away to boarding schools. There the government cut them off from their families to turn them into white people, teaching them to feel shame for being Native – instead of pride like their families would have taught them while passing on their culture.

Native Americans gave up their culture to become White Americans. But because of how they looked most were never fully accepted as White Americans. Because White America is more than a culture – it is a race. The melting pot only works for white people.

So trying to make Native children into white people failed profoundly. Many turned to drink or crime or even to ending their lives. Many lived in poverty. Worse still, they had little they could pass on to their children in the way of a culture, leaving them defenceless in the face of a white racism that tells them they are no good.

For Native Americans to function well in an America that is still racist they need roots in their own culture so they can be proud of who they are – because they will certainly not get that from trying to be white.

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delaware-indians

The Delaware in the 1640s.

 

The Delaware or, as they call themselves, the Lenape (leh-NAH-pay, meaning the “common or ordinary people”), were the Native Americans who lived in and near what is now New York and Philadelphia in the north-eastern US. They had lived there for at least a thousand years when Whites arrived.

Country facts (circa 1500):

  • Name: Lenapehoking;
  • Location: New Jersey and parts of neighbouring states;
  • Population: 30,000 to 85,000, maybe more;
  • Area: about 55,000 sq km;
  • Languages: Munsee in the north, Unami in the south, both Eastern Algonquian languages (related to those that Squanto and Pocahontas spoke);
  • Religion: ethnic;
  • Technology: Eastern Woodlands;
  • Government: decentralized, ruled by sachems (religious chiefs);
  • Currency: wampum, aka “glass beads”.

cropped-371926-gf1

The Delaware grew maizebeans and squash, gathered strawberries and hunted deer (pictured), bear and elk. They lived in long houses, sometimes in towns of up to 300.  They were not the wandering bands of hunter-gatherers that most Whites imagine, much less “savages”.

Whites began arriving from Europe in number in the 1600s. Many Delaware died of White diseases, like smallpox, cholera and measles.

Whites got their land in three main ways:

  1. war, preferred by the Dutch but practised by Anglos too, like George Washington, who fought them.
  2. purchase, like when Manhattan was bought for $24 worth of trinkets and glass beads – a statement so misleading as to be a lie.
  3. court cases – where White judges upheld fine print, where the Delaware had few rights or protection. Preferred by Anglos.

Money: mostly wampum, shell beads on a string. Whites sometimes call it “glass beads”, which is like calling their money “pieces of paper”.

The Delaware knew how to fight in the woods better than most White men did, and they even had guns (which were too slow-loading till the 1800s to be much better than bows and arrows). But one thing they did not have were numbers. More and more Whites kept coming over the seas every year. And whatever land Whites could not get by sale or the small print of a contract, they took by force.

An excuse to fight the Delaware could always be found. Once it was because one of them took a peach. Small things like that grew into years of war. Even those who had taken on Western ways were killed. Even those who had become peaceful Moravian Christians were killed. Even women and children were killed. It did not matter to Whites.

lifeam1The Delaware who had lived through the White diseases and the White wars were pushed west bit by bit – through Pennsylvania in the 1600s and 1700s,  Ohio, Indiana and Kansas in the 1800s and so on till most of them came to Oklahoma by the 1860s. Some, though, wound up in Wisconsin, some in Ontario. By 2000 there were about 16,000. Unlike other Native Americans, few married Blacks.

 

LenapeDelawareForcedMigration

Languages: They spoke Unami and Munsee.  In 2009, Munsee had seven or eight native speakers, Unami had none. You can still hear them in prayers and in place names, like Manhattan, the Poconos, Hackensack, Rockaway, Massapequa, Carnarsie, Parsippany, Minisink, Raritan and Jamaica (in Queens).

Manahatta

Mannahatta in 1609 | Manhattan in 2009. Image Mark Boyer WCS. Click to enlarge.

– Abagond, 2009, 2016.

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Most Americans remember the Lakota Sioux Indians as Native Americans who live in the state of South Dakota: In 1876 Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull defeated Custer at his Last Stand. In 1890 more than 300 men, women and children were gunned down by the American army at Wounded Knee.

But where are they now?

The Sioux are among the poorest people in America. Of the ten poorest counties in the country, six are in Sioux lands in North and South Dakota. I once drove through one of those counties, through the Rosebud reservation: it looked poorer than Mexico.

On the reservations most men have no work, many turn to drink or drugs. Most families live in poverty. They live in small houses with too many people, some without power or water. They do not eat well, so many become fat or diabetic. Many do not have safe water to drink. Cervical cancer is way too common. Half drop out of high school. They have a high suicide rate. Their men are at least twice as likely to wind up in prison as white men.

They live in a ghetto with a big sky.

There are about 150,000 Sioux. Some live in white towns and cities, some on the reservations, what is left of their country. Only 14% can speak their own language, which was not allowed to be taught at school till 1978.

The Lakota Sioux had owned western South Dakota and neighbouring lands. In the middle of their lands were the sacred mountains, the Black Hills, which had silver and gold. When the whites found out, they took the mountains, robbing the Sioux of billions of dollars. Later they cut the giant faces of four white men into the side of one of those mountains, Mount Rushmore.

The Sioux fought several wars against the American government in the 1800s. In the end they lost. They lost most of their land. They lost the bisons, their livelihood. The men had no way to support their families. They had to go hat in hand and take government hand-outs.

It got worse.

The government took their children from them too. They put them in boarding schools far away to learn to speak the white tongue, worship the white god and live the white way. And to feel shame about being Sioux.

But it did not work. The Sioux were never accepted as whites. The government still ran their affairs as if they were children, telling them how to use their land. To this day they remain extremely poor, as they have been for over a hundred years.

In the 1960s they started taking pride again in being Sioux. They started to learn their language and their ancient ways.

In 2007 they said that since the American government has not lived up to any of the deals they made with the Lakota Sioux down through the years, neither would they honour any of the agreements. They wanted their land and their nation back, the Republic of Lakotah.

Thanks to the Angry Indian for his help on this post.

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