Tuesday, September 21, 2004

American Indian people and representations of them

During the DNC I felt really horrible when they had the American Indians sing the "Star Spangled Banner" in their native language from their reservation. All I could see was colonization. I was already jaded, and this made it worse. What percent of American Indians are in poverty again? To me it was the wrong to use them as a symbol of wonderful multiculturalism. Then later, I was able to breathe easier after hearing Obama.

On our own campus the mascot is "Chief Illiniwek," which is a divisive issue that ultimately caused our campus to lose a great Chancellor, who still hasn't been replaced. The mascot is a white man (undergraduate) dressed up like a Lakota Souix Chief, who dances at half-times to a song written by a U of I band director. This is our dirty laundry.

There is a new museum in Washington D.C. for American Indian history. Only a generation ago it was common practice for American Indian children to go to boarding schools where they were forbidden to speak their language.

The problem I have is with the various representations of American Indians as symbols, mascots, nostalgic peoples of long ago who occupied this land. Alongside of these representations is a huge abyss, the violent history associated with the building of the United States and removing the people in the way through whatever means necessary. This is too often never part of the discussion, which is why AIM was none too impressed with this new museum as that history is still not told. Not only missing is this history, but discussions of actual living breathing American Indians; they did not all get exterminated, nor are they a timeless relic of the "west".

This museum was partly to commemorate people who have been excluded from the nation's capitol and given a selective and partial history with regard to the nation. It serves as recognition for their cultures and the people still here today. But it doesn't erase the history it refuses to tell. This (along with poverty and self-serving uses of their representations) is why I was uncomfortable with the singing of the "Star Spangled Banner" and why the "Chief" is offensive, and why the museum is good, but shouldn't get too many people patting each other's backs. There's a lot of other work left to be done.


At 6:32 AM, Blogger Goesh said...

The first WMD were used against Native Americans on the Missouri river - smallpox infested blankets were given and traded to them in the 1830s. The encroaching fur trade sparked fierce resistance, so much so that conventional means of combat were not affective. Smallpox devastated the indigenous population. Alcohol, Christianity and European diseases all played their part in the ongoing cultural genocide, and every treaty made by the US Government has been broken. This business of Indian mascots at sporting events is but an extension of domination by the boat people. Some Indians call their response to all of this "the 500 year resistance" - it has never ended, the resistance and the continued exploitation. One recent twist of domination, besides the use of mascots, is the pseudo adaptation of Native culture by non-Indians. 'Wannabes'- Anglos pretending to be Indian, espousing values they are not a part of, wearing Native attire, etc. In the extreme, some of these characters are showing up at traditional, spiritual ceremonies demanding to be a part of them.

I was not aware that the new museum did not address these issues. So, all we really have is a fancy, new trophy house that displays the booty of a conquored people.

At 10:30 PM, Blogger Goesh said...

Additional representations of Native Americans:

I grew up hearing of Custer's famous last battle and how it was the Indian's biggest victory ever. That is not true and the representation I want to comment on is that of the dominant culture naming its defeats at the hands of Native Americans.

Each battle was given a name. For Instance white history records events at the Wabash River encounter, Ohio, 11/4/1791, which produced 832 KIA. To the victor goes the spoils as the old adage goes, but Indians didn't get to name their victory here. What do you suppose they called it? The day we just said NO to the boat people? Why would you call having 832 killed in action an "encounter"?

The Mononghahela River encounter, Penn. 7/9/1755, resulted in 606 KIA. Again, the name of this Indian victory was not recorded. What do you suppose Native Americans called this one? The day we evicted the squatters? Custer's arrogance and mistaken judgement, possibly the real name of that Indian victory, ranks number 10 on the list of defeats.

Number 3 is "the day we extracted back rent" - 500 KIA at the James River Settlements in Virginia.

Number 4 is "administering tough love to the pioneers" -432 Anglos taken out in Michigan in 1813.

The list goes on, and I am not at all surprised that the new trophy house in D.C. does not tell the whole story.

At 8:29 PM, Blogger Goesh said...

I should have referenced the battles in my previous post, as it matters to some folks - VFW Magazine, Feb. 01, pp. 41

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