I can’t sleep. And I don’t know why but I started read all the articles about Indian Mascots that have been floating around recently. Tomorrow Savage Media is planning to film a video of Preston Well’s poem that is addressing that exact issue. The name of the poem is “If the Indian Mascot could speak.” It is beautifully written and probably one of my favorite poems. It invokes a sense of anger, that I’ve never been able to express before.
I often find myself thinking about the time before I came to Dartmouth College. I came from a small Lakota community, Pine Ridge, South Dakota. A community that not only takes care of its own but neglects its own too. A community that has Indian Mascots in high schools and middle school. Growing up, I didn’t see the big deal, and I honestly never thought about it. If someone told me that they were “honoring me” I’d probably believe it. Because 1: At home boys would pray and put war paint on as if they were going into battle before sports games 2: There were no predominantly white schools that had Indian mascots in South Dakota that I knew of. I had never seen red face in my life.
It was until my freshman fall at Dartmouth College that I would see red face for the first time. It was homecoming and Halloween of 2010. Frat Row was popping with dance music and girls in skimpy costumes, just a regular Halloween night at any college I guess. It was my first time really stepping into a fraternity and with it came an experience I would never forget. I saw a white man standing there with a fake headdress or as we call it a war bonnet. I couldn’t help be angry and instead of starting a scene my friends and I left to make our way to the cafeteria. As we walked there I saw a white girl in a skimpy Indian costume. Oh hell no! I was so angry and this time I couldn’t control my rage. I yelled at her… screamed at her. “What the fuck do you know about being native you dumb white bitch” (who know if that’s what I really said… I was enraged).
It was turning point for me. Why was I so angry? Because she didn’t know. She doesn’t know what its like to grow up Lakota. Grow up on a reservation where every day can be a struggle for the youth there.. for the adults there. Alcoholism, domestic violence, poverty, rape… you name the bad shit.. we got it. It was then that I realized that I wanted people to know it offended me. Their Halloween costumes offended me. Their Indian Mascots offended me. Hell even their fake native jewelry, geometric designs and dumb fake moccasins offended me.
It was then that I decided that I would articulate why it offended me. I wrote a research paper in first year writing class to figure out what psychological affects Indian mascots had Native American youth. What did it do their self-esteem? Do their pride… do their honor?
To be honest I didn’t find much. Beside a suggestion from the American Psycology Association to retire Indian mascots because of the affects it would have on Indian children, there was no studies.. no data.
There is historical racism. There is the emasculation of Native peoples. There is affects of colonialism. And there is us. Native American still surviving. Still practing our traditions and still resisting.
I’ve realized as time has gone on that fighting the Indian Mascot is a privileged fight.
It’s a removed from your homelands fight and I know that I wouldn’t be fighting it, if I had gone to a school in the Midwest. Something happened inside of me when I saw that white girl in that Indian costume.. maybe it was the same anger that was provoked in me when I first heard Preston’s poem. I am not sure. And with that provoked rage, anger, I’ve decided it’s a fight that is worth it. I think about my nieces a lot. They are 13 and twins that are 8. They are young beautiful Lakota girls. Little girls who once said, “I am not Indian, I am Lakota.” I think about if they saw that white girl the way I did. If they saw that man standing in a headdress in the basement of a frat—surrounded by alchohol.
Would they feel honored?
And what part of that experience would make them feel honored? When the owners of these Indian Mascots say that they are honoring us—what part of us are they honoring? Because when I look in the mirror I don’t see a man, brown skin, tomahawk and headdress. I see girl far removed from her homeland, in modern day clothes, with light skin, and glasses. Are you honoring the part that is gone? The brown skin that I’ll never have because the system of blood quantum made it that way? The bucksin dress that I won’t wear because the white man removed all parts of my culture so that they can settle on land that was never theirs to have?
They are honoring all parts of me that they have taken away. Its not me, they are honoring , its themselves, for doing such a good job on killing all the Indians. And that’s just what we are—Indians, not Lakota, not Ojibwe—despite was my 8 year old nieces might think.
I’ll admit over and over. It’s a privileged fight. And tomorrow when I help shoot this video, my community, 3000 miles away are suffering over the loss of a 15 year old boy who hung himself last week.