Sunday, February 26, 2017

The Trump Years: Staying Sort of Sane While Resisting

On election night in 2016 I swirled around a few glasses of cabernet and tried to not watch too much of the coverage but also checked my phone relentlessly wanting the reassurance of some strong numbers for Hillary or seeing her even take a state.  I had started the election cycle as a Bernie Bro and even logged some volunteer time for his campaign and served as a delegate to the state convention.  All in the name of the environment, fighting the corporate greed and 1%, rights for Indigenous people, and all the other tenants of democratic socialism that he delivered with messy hair and that endearing grumpy uncle accent.  I was all in for Bernie and watched with tears as he conceded to Hillary.

On the other side of the aisle we watched the dark orange horse climb steadily to winning the nomination against all odds and I didn't believe it was actually happening until the final delegate was counted and his children announced that he had achieved the unthinkable.  He gave the sort of speech he usually gives that leaves you confused and uninspired and I knew that although Hillary was not my first choice we would need to support her to beat this rising dictator.  She is not a perfect candidate but would not take drastic measures to change so much of what President Obama had worked for.  If you care about Mother Earth it seemed there was only one realistic way to to vote.  I admire the Green party and Jill Stein but in our political system it seems the way to feel as though your vote counts is to support the major party candidate.

The election got closer and all things seemed to support Hillary.  Her debates were strong, her numbers looked great, she was even approaching a level of likability that had so long eluded her.  Trump was a joke right?  We all sit around Saturday nights and poke fun of him as a united country laughing at the impeccable Alec Baldwin making a mockery of his whole appearance and schtick.  I talked so much shit on Facebook, called her madame President, I told concerned family members that even if his base gets him the popular vote there is no way the electoral college will go for him.  I mean isn't that why they are in place? To protect us from ourselves? To ensure the confederate flag waving mullet sporting KKK enthusiasts can't actually elect the leader of the free world? Right????

Wrong.  Me and CNN got it way wrong.

We all know how this story ends.  While Hillary beats him by about a 3 million vote lead in the popular vote he was able to attain the majority of support from he electoral college and sealed the deal.

I watched that night, feeling warmer and fuzzier from all the wine but nonetheless concerned and panicky.  I cried when he won.  I slept about 40 minutes that night.  I went to work with a wine headache and watched a lifestream of Hillary conceding.  I cried with her and for her.  As a woman, as a mother, as someone who has worked very hard to have a career and be taken seriously, as a human watching another human have the rug ripped out from under her so publicly and so shockingly.  I cried.

The night before Trump took office my husband found me in bed curled up in a ball.  He asked what was wrong and through sobs I said when I wake up tomorrow President Obama will not be the president anymore and the racists have officially taken over and I'm scared.

Blogs are for honesty.  And honestly I haven't been myself since the election.

I am admittedly a dramatic person.  I have 18 or so very distinct feelings and feel them all very hard.  I am sensitive. I soak up the energies of those around me. I probably drink too much and use way too much social media.  It would make sense that would have some personal reactions to the public events events since that Tuesday in November.  What gives me some sort of solace is that others are quick to tell me that I am not alone.  There is hopelessness, shock, disappointment, fear, outrage, distrust, uneasiness, and anger all around us right now.  Someone like me soaks this up like a sponge and it feeds my own demons.  And they have been so very hungry.

The root of why this election was so upsetting is that as marginalized people (people of color, women, transgender people, homosexuals, etc.) we already live with the knowledge that we are minorities and will have to work harder for equality in all areas of life.  Trump and his team fed on the fear of white people that felt threatened by the growing amount of equal rights that all these groups were attaining.  To them it seemed like we were getting special rights but it was actually us reaching the same level that they had been used to.  The term white privilege became a way to start war with them on social media as they asserted that since they grew up poor or got turned away for a job or haven't made it big in life even though some of their black peers have then it must be a false notion developed by those us practicing "reverse racism" which is about as real as unicorns.  Trump wanted to erode those equal rights. He wanted to restore a sense of white power. He mocked disabled people, he promised to advance oil drilling on sacred Indigenous lands, he made it quite clear that the ruling class would include elites and likeminded conservatives and yes men.  Those of us that are not favored by this alt-right movement are to be second class citizens.

Being a mother of Indigenous daughters and knowing that this might be the first election then really remember and feel the impact of I have a responsibility to work hard to make sure that the political and social climate does not dampen their dreams or affect their safety.  I am no stranger to activism, having worked on Indian mascot removal since my teens and speaking out on many issues.  However it seems like now activism is not a thing I do here and there when needed but has moved to a lifestyle.  We need to resist the alt right agenda.  We need to protect Mother Earth.  We still need to change all the racist mascots.  We gather at rallies and marches.  We call and write our elected officials.  We spend countless hours on Facebook making sure we aren't missing important information or sharing "fake news".  We argue with those that don't agree with us or minimize our concerns.

I don't have all the answers but it seems important to document these feelings and this time in our history.  I never thought that in my lifetime that white supremacy groups would endorse a political candidate and help influence an election.  I have lost many Facebook friends, had bitter arguments with family members, and even felt a disconnect with my own husband because as a white man I feel like he can't fully understand what my life is like now.  It's not just Trump, it is knowing that we live amongst people that supported him and said that his hateful and racist following was ok with them.  I am in no way living in fear but there is a heightened awareness of the differences in this country.  Within weeks of being in office Trump proved through his executive orders and political maneuvering that he is prepared to follow through on his campaign promises and make his base happy.  His base that includes KKK members and oil executives alike.  We watched him sign off of on the Dakota Access Pipeline construction and send militarized police to evacuate the Indigenous people at the site who have endured long winter months just trying to protect sacred land and clean water.  We watched him place an immigration ban on select countries that seemed to be more based in racism than proven terror threats.

So where do we go from here? I don't know.  But I am comforted by the fact that there are so many of us that are getting much more active and involved.  There is an energy that is part rebellious, part healing, part sad, and part hopeful.  By seeking each other out maybe we can replace the scary hateful energy with this conflicted but positive kind.

Indigenous people are one part of the puzzle.  We've always had a unique struggle in this country as being the original inhabitants and first victims of the colonization of America.  Now we are finding a new network of other marginalized groups and many strong allies to our causes.  If there has been one remarkable takeaway from this campaign and election it is that now we have a unity with other groups that wasn't as strong before.  So many helped the NoDapl fight and continue to help us protect the earth.  We have to take care of each other.

This current administration will take a toll on people like me. I take things to heart and don't know how to turn off my crazy.  I hope by giving this stress life on this page it is helpful to me and others that may be going through the same cycles.  It's not just politics now, it is the world that we live in and the future of our planet and society.

Part of self care through this season of our lives as Americans is acknowledging the fears and working towards solutions together.  Educating those that voted for Trump on why that vote has consequences that they may not be aware of because of their privilege.  I will keep working as I know many will but it's important to take a timeout once and a while to be aware of what the work does to you.  Here is to hoping for more results, more outreach, more progress.  And less destruction of our earth and our values.

Like so many that came before us we will keep fighting for what is right.  And we might cry a little along the way and those tears water the ground that sustains us.  Indigenous people have a lot of fight in us, even if we get tired we are a constant reminder that not every powerful take over works.  Our existence defies the nature of colonization.  We are not conquered, we are still here.  I am relieved to give these words life and I hope they help in the the great healing and forward movement.

All my relations.

Monday, June 6, 2016

The Uncle Mike Complex: Donald Trump's Amerikkka and the New Faces of Racism

"Maybe I should start meditating." 

I lamented to my husband and I collapsed into bed after having a "discussion" with some Donald Trump supporters on a mutual friend's facebook page. I was worked up, outraged, anxious, sad, and frustrated with myself that I let strangers get to me. I was successfully trolled and fell prey to some serious "gaslighting" by someone who said that her nephew thought Muhammad Ali was a terrorist when they heard of his passing and this person followed that up with "LOL". Like this somehow funny?

I was very affected by that comment. Ali was a great American and stood up for his people in a time when that was a difficult to thing to do. He lost out on three years of his career for his public protest of the Vietnam war which he felt was unjust. I made the connection that since there is this insidious new "white power" movement created and perpetuated by Donald Trump's Amerikkka; and it is tragic that a child would think that Muhammad Ali was a terrorist because part of the conservative narrative is painting all Muslims as such. It is gut wrenching to me that a peer of my own children is walking around thinking that Muhammad Ali is just some terrorist that died. I made this point and of course it fell on deaf ears. The backlash when you are a person of color and you question the racism that you see more clearly because you have lived it can be hard to take. I was called a bully, a racist, mean, ignorant, and told that I don't matter. Another person said that Ali was a "fucking coward and good riddance", referring to his not wanting to go to Vietnam and his comments on taking power back from the white American majority that built their privilege on the backs of minorities. To top the whole thing off these people brought up the Washington football team and their racial slur mascot as a slap in my face.

The whole thing left me with an awful taste in my mouth. Lately I have been having a few of these online exchanges a week it seems and instead of draining my energy by responding individually to people who are not listening my husband had the brilliant suggestion that I turned that angst into reflection and action by blogging about it. He's a smart guy.

I am looking for a solution for my fear and depression about the current state of affairs. Race relations right now are at a tension that I have not seen in quite some time. However, it's not being carried out (for the most part anyway) in noisy violent riots or setting cars on fire or any other overt signs of trouble and chaos. This racism is creeping up on us like a plague. It used to be Uncle Mike had too much to drink at Thanksgiving and got on his rants about "niggers", "spics", "redskins", "towel heads" or "chinks" and mostly everyone gets briefly uncomfortable but doesn't take him to task because he's old and set in his ways and isn't really racist just old fashioned. We protect people like Uncle Mike because they have a certain ballsiness about them that we like. They go against the grain. They speak their mind because they are a red blooded American who believes in freedoms that their fore fathers fought for and they know their rights to vent about "lazy niggers", "sand niggers", and "drunk Indians" and their rap music, camels, and casinos. (Uncle Mike probably had a black doctor for his heart surgery and a Muslim anesthesiologist and cheers for the Cleveland Indians.)

Just an old man speaking his mind, right? He can go back to his house and sober up and listen to Howie Carr and feel hatred all by himself until next time, right? Plus he used to be friends with someone who knew a black guy so he can't be racist, right?

But what about the 12 year old Nephew that listens to this and shoots his black classmates 5 years later because they kept taking his girlfriends? What about the 22 year old granddaughter that calls the cops on a family of Muslims buying toilet paper in front of her in the grocery store just because she knows they must be dangerous? What if one of those cops has their own Uncle Mike and he decides to shoot the Muslim wife because taking one out at at time is good for the whole country and he knows he can get away with it? What about Uncle Mike's younger brother who feels the same way he does and suddenly has the courage to fire all of his minority employees because fuck those equal opportunity laws they can't tell him what to do?

I bet Dylann Roof had an Uncle Mike. 

There are literally hundreds of potential situations that ripple from the Uncle Mike problem. Racism has consequences, many of which are terrifying for those of us at the receiving end.

We had reached a time in our country that these Uncle Mikes were scattered about and pretty much silenced on a larger scale by social progression. They could spout off but there was enough reason in the world to temper the ill effects of their racist and hateful agendas and rhetoric. The Uncle Mikes don't do much but they talk a lot and we have been able to move forward as a society to a time that we can make positive changes to the racial injustices and inequalities. We elected a black president, we are mounting a huge fight against racist sports mascots, we are accepting the many cultures that call our country home and make it a landscape full of color and contrast.

Then this election cycle started.

And Uncle Mike is running for President as the nominee of the Republican party.

Donald Trump believes that Mexicans are rapists. That Muslims are terrorists. That Native Americans are drunks and crooks. He wants to build a wall to keep people out (interesting side note, if Native Americans had adopted this immigration reform Donald Trump would not even be American). Not only does he believe these things he preaches them from a pulpit of ignorance and hate. And they reach the hearts and minds of the newest group of American racist:

Uncle Mike's Poor White People.

I don't call them poor in the sense of poverty. I call them poor because they perceive themselves as the victims of class and social warfare based on their race. If you tell them this they call you a racist. However let's go over what racism actually is:

Racism = Prejudice + Power

As a person of color I can have prejudice about anything I want. However based on the history of the country, oppression of minorities through genocidal warfare and public policy, allocation of resources favoring whites,...I cannot have the impact of being racist. White people in America have flourished because they are the conquerors and their immigrant ancestors stole this country. We are not asking for an apology but we all need to exist within our own realities. Acknowledge your place in the system and we can all work on this together. Minorities are not asking for anything special, just equality to get on the same footing finally.

Uncle Mike's Poor White People are threatened by minorities having a voice after being silenced for so long by colonialism and institutionalized oppression that followed. They don't think the Native American holocaust was a big deal. They gloss over the slavery of African Americans. But they can steal Native American cultural symbols for their sports teams and they can shake their asses to a Beyonce song. They hate political correctness and think we are so annoying when we don't want to be called "Redskins" but they think that Disney's Pocahontas is a great educational tool for their kids. They think black people should "get over it" that the police can get away with murdering their teenagers but they love "Dabbing".

Now these sad, troubled, hateful people have an Uncle Mike in their corner. On the news every day. Sarah Palin is screaming incoherently and everyone wants to make Amerikkka "great again".

Swap out "great" for "white" and that is the real message. We can't sugar coat it anymore. These people hate us and want us gone. And it terrifies me.

I don't know what the answer is but I make a plea to you here to not elect this man that will lead us to war around the world and in our own streets. It is already happening. Uncle Mike has nothing to offer anyone, let's not make him the leader of the free world.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Not Your Mascot: People Versus Product Placement

When I was in my early teens I was watching tv with my father (anyone who has heard this story from him or myself can skip ahead now if you like).  We were watching the high school basketball tournaments for Eastern father obviously didn't have cable because these games are usually about as entertaining as watching someone else's kid sing twinkle twinkle little star for the 20th time while you politely nod and want to stab yourself in the ear with a rusty fork.

The game that we were watching was a battle between two area high schools, the Skowhegan Indians and the Nokomis Warriors.  I don't remember anything about the score or who won.  Why this day is in my memory forever is a moment that I had that shaped my mind in many ways.

The cheerleaders and band conductor all came running out to get ready for the halftime show.  They were dressed in plastic fake leather dresses, had "war paint" on their faces, and had fake feathers in their braided hair.  I watched as they played a chant and made savage faces and they moved through the generic flips and tricks that any small Maine town mediocre cheer leading squad stumbles through.

"That's not right.....that's just not right." I said to my father.

He looked at me thoughtfully as fathers do and I could tell he was searching for words to make me feel better about this.  Something to cushion seeing my heritage, culture, and very essence of being mocked and made to look stupid and cheap. He didn't have the words.  But I had enough for both of us.

I went on a little rant about them not having the right to wear those things and make fun of us.  I engaged my dad in conversation about his experience being a star athlete at a school with an "Indian" mascot.  I used my developing teenaged brain to sort out what I thought versus what I felt.  How many kids at this age have to have these sophisticated internal processes about how their identity is misused and dragged through a circus supported by the mainstream?  I was a teenager, I was full of angst and mistrust anyway for Pete's sake.

I am now 30 and in the years since then I have spoken about changing these mascots at schools (every school I spoke at ended up changing their mascot, not saying it was all my doing but I like to think I have opened a few eyes along the way), school board meetings, different civic groups, and anyone that will listen.  Especially if they disagree, that's my favorite. I have been yelled at, called names, threatened, talked down to, and if I had a dollar for every time someone told me to feel honored I'd be dictating this blog to my pool boy while he fans me and I sip umbrella drinks next to a palm tree.

By now there is nothing I haven't heard when it comes to opposition on this topic.  In college I was awarded a Public Policy Scholarship and delivered an 80 pager on how Indian Mascots affect Native communities in Maine.  I've thought this through and done my research.  Nothing you say will change my stance.  Let me see if I can make you rethink yours.

**Disclaimer** it is my firm belief that these mascots will all be changed eventually and we will look back at them with the same disgust and confusion that we view blackface and minstrel shows with.  So unless you are at a decision making level in one of these organizations I don't give a rat's ass what you think about this topic because your racist and backwards opinion mean nothing at all.  However, I reach out because I want the world to be a safer place for my daughters and that starts with education and outreach.  If we approach each other with open minds and receptive hearts maybe we can connect on our shared humanity and values. 

Carry on.

Here are a list of the biggest arguments I hear folks try to make in defense of their precious racist symbolism.

1.) "It's just a name, get over it.  Don't you people have bigger things to worry about?"

So these bigger things you speak of, I'm guessing they would be along the lines of: alcoholism, drug abuse, poverty, culture loss, suicide, mental illness, crime, obesity, domestic violence, and disease to name a few.  Yes, those are big problems.  Since we have a smaller population we are disproportionately affected by all ills of society, thus our numbers are more precarious than other groups. We are engaged at all times in fighting for our survival and it has been this way for so long it is built into our DNA. One thing that Indian mascots do is freeze us in the past.  It makes us an object, a fixture in history and a stereotypical one at that.  When you see a group of people as nothing more that a cheesy and false misrepresentation it makes it easy to treat them as such.  On a micro and macro level Natives have been mistreated in this country.  Whether it is through public policy decisions that inhibit our rights to our inherent sovereignty or a bunch of kids throwing shit at a Native kid and calling them "chief" or "squaw"...mascots don't help our causes.

Indian mascots feed into the idea that these acts are ok because we are not a seen as the modern, dynamic, multifaceted, strong people that we are.  We contribute to society, we work jobs alongside everyone else, our kids like chicken nuggets, we have thoughts and views that deserve to be heard and validated.  Indian mascots make it acceptable to mistreat us because they take away our humanity.  They take our most sacred religious symbols and customs and parade them around as trinkets to win a game with.  It is stealing and misusing our sacred practices that have survived the unthinkable. Its not just a name, it is our name.  It is theft of our identity.

Looking for their self respect.  I think you left it at home next to the empty bottle of self tanner. 

I worked with native youth for many years and one of the main things we work on is their sense of self.  So many of them are confused and misguided which leads to them looking for a place to fit in and feel wanted and like they belong.  For some this is assimilating into white culture, for other this is finding a place on the street using and selling drugs.  It is all problematic and leads to depression, suicide, crime.....all those "bigger" things.  Maybe they are turning to these things because they are seeing Megan, Ashley, and Tiffany from Skowhegan dancing around and mocking the things they were raised to view as sacred and respected?  Just a thought.

2.) I know an Indian and they think it's fine/I'm part Indian and I'm fine with it.

Ah yes, people who use this one really think they have it all figured out.  They throw that line at you and expect you to bow down to them in all their argumentative genius.  I mean, what are they doing here bickering about mascots when they could be litigating in front of the Supreme Court with all their masterful skills and airtight reasoning??



Call Reverend Sharpton. 

Whew, glad to get that off my chest.  There is an alarming practice of forcing a single Native person to represent all Natives at all times, know everything about every tribe throughout history, and share the same views as every other Native.  In high school my very experienced and educated teachers would ask me random questions about events in Native history in front of the class and if I didn't know the answers I felt like the clouds were going to part and Chief Sitting Bull himself was going to come down and remove my tribal ID.  Could you imagine if all the kids with Irish blood had to recount every detail in Irish and Irish American history on the drop of a dime?  IT WOULD NEVER HAPPEN.

Much like we all don't know everything about the population as a whole, it stands to reason that we all won't think the same.  The Natives that I know that don't have an issue with mascots are either apathetic, are misplacing some need to belong by identifying with the symbolism, or are very assimilated into the dominant culture and taking on the views.

I will tell you this: I've traveled a little and know a ton of Native Americans.  I feel pretty safe saying the majority of us want these mascots gone forever.  And even if that wasn't the case just the fact that they are inherently wrong and offensive means they should be a part of our colorful and more shameful pages of history books.

3.) It's been that way forever and it is a part of our culture so why should go through the trouble of changing it?

This is also a go to argument that resonates from the small towns in rural Maine to the football team of our Nation's capital, the Washington R*dskins. Human beings form attachments to celebrities, authors, tv characters, and sports teams among other public figures because they give us something to rally around, something to believe in, something to look forward to.  We cherish one sided bonds like these because they make us feel good, special, a part of something bigger than ourselves, they allow us to escape from or cope with the stresses and hardships we face.

They make us feel human.

The sentiment here is great.  The logic is faulty.  "It's always been that way" is public enemy number one.  If we upheld this attitude nothing would ever change and we would never grow as individuals or as a society,  Just think if only white males were allowed to vote.  Or smoking cigarettes was allowed in public places.  Or if keeping slaves was legal.  Or if we were gassing races of people for no reason. Or any other silly predicament the human race got itself into and out of by embracing the right thing to do instead of clinging to "it's always been that way."

While traditions can be good things it is our right and responsibility to question even the most beloved practices when they no longer (or never did) serve a good purpose.  Americans get divorced regularly, have different political parties in power on any given year, and change our views on many things as often as we change underwear.  Our fickle nature is also part of our resilience. Let's use it to our advantage.

There is of course the financial implications of changing mascots.  The merchandise, uniforms, signage, etc. Tough tacos, raise some money and make it happen. The morality and ethics of your organization should outweigh the need to keep offensive materials and save a couple bucks.  Plus, sometimes a fresh start is a marketing dream.

4.) But it's an HONOR to you and your people.

I can see why people say this.  Native Americans are proud, strong, have a rich and lasting heritage, are connected to the earth/sky/water and all the creatures in them in a way no other people are, beautiful, somewhat mysterious, hilarious, intelligent, great cooks....the list goes on and on.  I couldn't imagine being anything else and I don't blame anyone for wanting to be like us.

But here's the thing.....this is our identity, not yours.  You can't put it on and take it off when you feel like it.  I live with my skin color and socioeconomic status at all times and sometimes there's nothing Disney Pocahontas-y about it.

I am more likely than a white person to develop diabetes, heart disease, alcoholism, depression, etc. That is nothing I can control, I come by it genetically.  So when little Mary Sue from Skowhegan high school puts on a costume of me to prance around and cheer for the team she gets to take that costume off and get back to her white privilege and much more favorable statistics.  That doesn't honor me.  That takes advantage of my lower social class and makes gains from my race without dealing with any of the many ugly realities.  That is cultural appropriation and that is wrong.

Many Native don't look like the stereotypical images that these mascots promote and perpetuate.  We don't all have big strong noses, dark hair and skin, or long braids full of wisdom and mystique.  And I don't know one fucking Native that looks anything like that horrendous Cleveland thing.

Well maybe I have that one cousin that might...

By using one picture/theme of what are supposed to resemble it does a huge disservice to the diverse people we are.  I know damn near full blooded Natives who by society's standards look more "white" or "black" than the Chief that we are all supposed to look like.  Framing us into a one dimensional picture that we don't even resemble then mistreating us when we don't fit into the stereotype is certainly not an honor.

The concept of "honor" is tricky.  It should be on the honoree to determine if they feel honored or not. I don't know too many instances of the honorers forcing the feeling of honor onto a reluctant honoree.

I am going to tell you that you love pizza.  You tell me that you don't like pizza.  I say, of course you do pizza is delicious and everyone else likes it so get over it and feel good that I even want to share something as lovely as pizza with you.  No matter what I say it doesn't change the fact that you don't pizza. I may pressure you into conforming but I don't change your tastebuds just like no one will every change my conviction on this topic.  I will never have  magic epiphany that these mascots honor me so stop trying. (but I do love pizza).

You can force many things on people.  You can't make them feel how you want them to feel to diminish your guilt and shame.  Just change the fucking mascots.  That would honor us all.

R*dskin: This Has Got to Go 

I have felt strongly about this since I stood in my father's living room and ranted while he drank coffee and probably wondered how he raised such a big mouthed pain in the ass daughter.  I'm glad he did because when I look into the eyes of my own daughters I know that I am working to make this world a better place for them.  Where they can honor their culture that their ancestors fought so hard to maintain for them.  Where eagle feathers and war paint are given the same respect and reverence as crucifixes and holy water.

Do you think you wold ever see a student dressed as a priest simulating a sex act with an alter boy? Do you think a student dressed as a slave owner should come out pretending to whip a black slave or hang them from a tree?  Would it be ok for a student dressed like Hitler to come out wearing Nazi symbols and chasing "jews" around the basketball gymnasium?

If THIS isn't ok.

Then THIS isn't. 

I would hope that any of these things would cause an outcry for change and justice.

Yet "Redskin" is ok?  The term "Redskin" comes from the practice of skinning Native Americans alive.  How do you think that feels to Natives to hear that word tossed around as nonchalantly as "macaroni" or "Wednesday".  In this very area there was a famous bounty hunt that we have a historical document that references it called the "Spender Phips Scalp Proclamation".  This was an effort to eradicate my tribe, the Penobscot people, by placing a different cash bounty for every man, woman, and child that they could kill and rip the scalp from their heads.  So no, I am not honored in one bit by the term "Redskin". It is as offensive and derogatory as "Nigger", which would never even be considered for a team name.

If THIS isn't ok.

Then THIS isn't.

In closing. I am not a caricature.  I am not a stereotype. I am not a Redskin.  I am


Thursday, December 4, 2014

Race in America: A Voice From the Bottom of the Totem Pole

In a society fueled by the latest hashtag, food trend, naked celebrity, grossly overpriced kids' toy, viral disease about to take out mankind, and cable tv series shocker it is no surprise that the swirling larger issues and more complex inner workings of our country are often ignored or painted over by a foie gras hotdog or a greasy overgrown ass. We are distracted, depressed, and disconnected.

Until something big happens.  Something that we have to pay attention to. We can't sweep it under a One Direction beach towel or a vibrantly printed hipster legging.  Even if we live under a rock to avoid the always inspiring network news and haven't yet drank the koolaid of social media personal expression and fake interaction.  Even if we devote our lives to a higher purpose than the pitiful trappings of the socioeconomic hunger games in this land of the free and home of the brave.  Even if we have washed our hands of all this shit a long time ago.  Everyone notices when it really hits the fan.  From the gun slinging redneck to the pot smoking yoga teacher. From the hip and relevant Buzzfeed blogger to the crotchety old retiree on the golf course. From the under represented black teenager to the over protected policeman.  Sometimes we are given these unifying moments when current events force us to look inside for our own personal truths and consequences.  The results can be sad, hilarious, destructive, entertaining, tragic, but altogether are the essence of America. Whether we like it or not.

This big something of late are the two instances of white policemen causing the deaths of two black men. Each case is very different from the other and has it's own intricacies, evidence, witnesses, circumstances, and they are certainly only connected by the race of each party. One in the south, one in the north.  One young man, one older man.  One child, one father. One "resisting", one standing still on a sidewalk.  One shot, one strangled.

Both gone.

We all know the aftermath.  Following the grand juries in both cases decisions to not bring charges against the officers in question there has been a movement in America to question authority and take the power back.  Some faces of this movement are intellectual and peaceful.  Seeking change through channels of policy and procedure.  Some faces are riotous and rogue, showing force and fury by setting fires and tipping police cars.  There are warriors writing and fighting with thought and pen. There are silent showings of support, holding "hand up, don't shoot" figures in the public eye. The checks and balances to shield citizens against excessive use of force is a joke and we have two blaring examples of a system gone awry and the less protected class/race taking the brunt of it.

On the other side of the coin there are those who are defending the legal system and the policemen. Taking up the cause of those who dedicate their lives and careers to protecting and serving the people of the country.  Ensuring law and order over chaos and violence. They take an oath, badge, and gun into the darkest and meanest places so that we don't have to.  They are there when we call them immediately.  They sacrifice a lot in their lives so that we can live in a safer world and have a sense of peace when we wave our children good bye in the morning.  They are heroes.  They are under appreciated and over worked.  So why condemn a whole group of good guys when there are one or two bad apples?

If you take to facebook, instagram, twitter, etc you will see that everyone has their opinion and there is little room for intelligent discussion.  Friendships are strained, true colors fly freely, and everyone is more concerned with being right than doing right. Herein lies the crux of the struggle of my generation: we are lost in narcissism and it is making us stupid.  We want our pictures, statuses, (*blogs* ooops), tweets, posts to be liked and shared and praised and promoted.  We need so much personal validation that it is taking valuable energy away from the bigger picture.  America needs us right now to stop taking fucking selfies and get with the program.

I called this post "From the bottom of the totem pole" because in the grand scheme of things Indigenous American women such as myself may be the most underrepresented and persecuted group in this country just by the sheer weight of attempted genocide, oppression, sexism, racism...blah, blah, blah.  Even Bill O'Reilly can probably admit that we have had it rougher than other segments of the population and the violence and mistreatment continues today.  When I see these stories I shudder to think of how many Indigenous women have been killed, raped, abused, and hurt at the hands of authority figures that have gotten away with it.  How many of my sister have woken up in agony and pain. Or not woken up at all.

In my reservation community we are taught from a young age to not trust the police. I think this is unfortunate but it is true for many minority communities.  As a child I did not see these men as helpful heroes who would keep me safe.  I was afraid of them and suspicious of their whole outfit. We had a DARE officer who was also native come into the school to teach us about drug abuse prevention and he was the first one who made me think of police as human.  Other than that I always drove two miles per hour under the speed limit if they were anywhere near me, never made eye contact in public, and always had an escape plan should I find myself in a place where illegal things may or may not have been occurring (they were).  There is nothing worse than a snitch or a narc and from the time I was 8 years old and didn't tell them about an incident on the school bus that I witnessed I knew it was better to take the punishment than rat on anyone.  There is absolutely a divide and an "us against them" mentality that both minorities and police have contributed to.

So what do we do?  As I have matured, made friends that are in law enforcement, and seen some incredible acts of humanity and good will done by those in uniform I think back to my rebellious tendencies of my formative years with some amusement but a healthy dose of curiosity.  Who exactly is pitting these two groups against each other?  The government?  God? Society?  Why is it that white privilege extends all the more powerfully to people who are supposed to leave their color at the door when they put on those blues? Why can't we bring police to justice when they are the ones who have spent their lives as a tool of that very concept?  Is it just a concept?  Why is it people are so quick to judge the rioters and looters but are not really fucking angry that police can commit murder and get away with it?

The system is failing us.  What kind of future are we creating by forging along forcing broken ideals into evolving problems? It will get worse until someone has the courage to make it better.  We can absolutely question authority without being cast as extremists or trouble makers and it is imperative that we do. We live in a country that goes around the world touting freedoms and democracy but on our own soil there is such massive corruption and injustice it is an iceberg of hypocrisy.

I challenge you, smart phone generation, to take a stand in peace and unity for our country.  Our children, our way of life.  For Eric Garner who won't see any more memories with his six children and widow.  For Michael Brown who died at 18, an age most of us breezed through unaware of how lucky we were to be alive.  For the countless invisible faces and spirits of my people who have died in murderous acts by those in power that saw no national attention or riots.

It is ok to be angry.  It is our responsibility to be angry. We can't pretend that racism doesn't exist just because our favorite show is Modern Family or Barack Obama is president.  Let's be better.

Friday, November 7, 2014

My Scalp is Not for Sale: Not Your Mascot

**Fictional account of a hypothetical situation intended to give  different view of a topic that has been dissected, debated, intellectualized into the ground, discussed by pundits and posers, and you're sick of hearing about it.  Good. Turn that sickness into action. It can really be this simple. **

Dad was always a Patriots fan. Through thick and thin, victory and defeat, snowy games, rainy games, beautiful sun kissed games that made you as soft and gooey inside as the meatballs in the crockpot. He loved them. Not like a man loves his spouse. Not like a man loves his brand new car. Not like (in my Dad's case) a man loves his favorite frying pan and spatula. When a man loves a sports franchise it becomes a part of his makeup. It goes beyond the merchandise, lineup, injury report, season record, or how many rings they wear. It's about the rituals, the pride, the comfort of the routine, the excitement of the outcomes. It's looking ahead to the next season and knowing that your team will be there waiting for you. It's about tradition. It's about hope.

Dad isn't a "typical" dad.  No pot belly with a beer can resting on it as he calls plays from his trusty recliner while my mother serves up nachos and wings. He loves preparing delicious food for the family after his outside work is done.  He loves to run and had been sort of a football player himself in his day. He is a loving and active father to the three of us and a good partner to my mom who looks at him as he jumps, yells, and swears at the tv and says "He works hard, he deserves it"as if convincing herself as much as anyone. There is a special science to the sports loving human male, I don't pretend to understand it. I attribute some of his passion to the fact that we are Indigenous people of America. Native, if you will. I guess we have gotten through quite a bit by having faith and believing in the future.

Then there is me. Fifteen year old son of Mr. Patriot. I live on the reservation with my parents and am the last child home so they cling to me pretty tightly.  I can only imagine what this empty nest will look like during football season. I should probably visit a lot to keep my mother sane.  My two older sisters come around when they can but one is in college and one is a mom herself as well as a teacher. I have a chubby baby nephew with cheeks that could feed a nation of hungry aunties' hungry pinchy fingers.  Our house is on the smaller side so when the whole family is home everyone is usually pretty sweaty and at least two people are crying at once, not always the baby.  My mom works for a bank and my dad is an electrician. They work hard and love life, as annoying as they can be I must admit I have a pretty good thing going here.


There's Dad. I'm guessing Brady dropped it or someone didn't catch it.

If you couldn't tell I'm not all that into football.  I watch with him and eat the food while reading books on my tablet and doing homework.  I like school. I go to a school off the reservation and my bus ride is 40 minutes one way.  Sometimes by the time I get there I feel like I smell like diesel fuel from the old and tired bus fumes.  It's tough enough being one of the only brown faces in school but feeling like I smell like a gas station raises the anxiety a little too much some days.  I have a few friends but mind my business, the teachers seem to like me, I get good grades and play the trombone in band.  I play soccer, not "real" football because I like my brain the way it is, and in the winter it's indoor track.

I love to run. I'm on the taller side and thin but my legs are strong and fast. I run long distance, sprints, uphill, over hurdles, I just love to run. Sometimes in my mind when I'm running I feel like a true warrior. I think of my grandfathers before me that would run through the forests in search of game or on their way to war to protect the people.  I think about the spiritual guides from our nations that would run for long distances in hopes that their suffering and physical sacrifice will help all of us.  I think about the wild animals that run in herds.  I think about the beauty and freedom of movement.  I think about a lot when I run. It's home. It makes me feel alive.

And probably makes me look like this. 


My father again.  Apparently the person in question was "right there" and someone with much more influence than my dad in his slippers and sweatpants is debating that fact.

My mother, sisters, and I decided that for my father's 50th birthday this year we were going to blow his mind with a big party and extra special present.  We managed to get him the holy grail of birthday presents: Patriots tickets.  Yes, my father the superfan will be yelling at the refs in person, freezing his 50 year old buns off, and having the time of his life at a real life Patriots game.  Since we didn't want to have to sell my nephew to pay for tickets for all of us it was decided that I would accompany (*chaperon*) my dear old dad on this bucket list item expedition.

I sit with him as the Patriots win this one and he high fives me so hard I think I felt it in my shoulder joint.  It occurs to me I'm going to have to man up if I'm going to be an actual football fan for a day,

The fateful day arrives and my mother gets us ready to go on our way.  She is licking her fingers and shoving pieces of my hair down, a habit that I have repeatedly expressed my displeasure over yet she still finds it necessary especially in Target and in the parking lot at school. She looks at me with one of those complicated mother looks.

"What is it?" I asked.  Preparing myself for anything from lice she found in my saliva laced hair to an elderly relative passing away. Both are tragedies in her eyes.

Just another reason to say no to selfies. 

"Well, love, I just want you to know a couple things before you go to this game.  I was so excited when I found such good seats that I didn't realize who they were playing."

I didn't even think to ask.  I figured whoever isn't the Patriots are all equally enemy-like according to my dad so game on, whoever you are.

"They are playing the Washington Redskins. The name doesn't seem to bother your dad at all but I have mixed feelings about it, as do your sisters.  You may see things that make you uncomfortable and don't actually portray what our people are really like.  I just want you to be aware.  Remember who we are and let all that stuff slide off if it gets to you."  She gave one last wipe to my hair and now I looked like Charlie Chaplin and smelled like her morning coffee and lipstick. Lovely.

"It's ok, Mumma.  We're there to see the game, I'm not worried about it. I'm more worried about Daddy running onto the field, honestly."

We laughed and she kissed my cheek putting big maroon native Mumma lips on my face just to make extra sure no girls would look at me if they made it passed my hair and how I smell.

So begins the 5 hour drive with my father.  Lover of Patriots, creative sandwiches, and "dad rock" radio. We discuss several topics on this ride ranging from my sister's supposed gluten allergy (which we both agree is all in her weird hipster head), my mother's new perfume that we hope is just a phase, my running times and how they compare with his times at my age (I think memory shaves a few seconds off his), and in the background is a steady stream of Styx, Rolling Stones, The Doors, and James Taylor to keep things light.

"Dad, why did they call their team the Redskins? I don't get it."

"Well, I'm not all that sure actually,  Some say it comes from a bounty on Native peoples' heads way back in the day.  Others say it is a term to honor us as the fierce and brave Warriors we are. I'm no historian but those are my two best guesses." He gives the road a weird look like maybe I am barking up a tree he'd rather cut down now.

"Why do people get upset about it?"

"Because they have nothing better to do.  You know, we have real problems facing our people.  We have lazy drunks that keep making babies they can't take care of, we have meth heads shivering in the streets, our young people are leaving our culture, our languages are dying with our elders, and just last week a rez in the next state over had a 17 year girl hang herself.  Now those are things we should be upset about. Not whining over some team name. At least when people say 'Redskins' they are referring to us in a good way."

I leave it alone.

We drive on while Jim Morrison sings "Riders on the Storm."

After the GPS almost sends us into a swamp, we have a dinner of chex mix and gatorade, and my father took out three traffic cones in search of a parking spot....finally here we are.

Gillette stadium. Lights, camera, action. It looks chaotic to me but to my dad we just stumbled upon Oz. If I didn't know any better I swear I see a tiny tear escape one of his tough old eyes.

I bundle up. Hat, scarf, mittens, long john skivvies under my tough guy jeans, and a Patriots jacket that the old man got me for my 13th birthday.  I've grown a little since then so my arms neck stick out of the sleeves and top so I feel a bit like a baby man-boy but I guess that's just the plight of the 15 year old. Dad looks great. He's got all his gear as well but he chose a leather jacket that only he can pull off.  He's like a Patriot-Indian-Mafia guy and I am his awkward giraffe boy.  Let's do this.

We walk in stride and start to smell all the smells and see all the sights.  The tailgating folks have the sausages cooking and the beer flowing.  My father is not a fan of either so we press on, the lights of the stadium our north star in this foreign land of grease and white people customs.

Everyone is having so much fun and the energy is contagious.  There is music and laughter.  My father reaches out a gloved hand and takes my hand in his like when I was a little boy.  We stand shoulder to shoulder now but with my hand in his I feel the childlike wonder and pure excitement that he is feeling too.

Then something not quite as magical happens.  As we approach the further end of the parking lot I hear an odd chanting and a group of people wearing red clothing.  But not just red clothing, I also see bright colored feathers and wildly painted faces. The chants get louder and sound silly. They are beating the sides of a pickup truck to make a drum noise and some of them are jumping up and down. Feathers adorn a few of their heads in costume headdresses that are obnoxious looking and fluorescent.  A few have fake tomahawks that they playfully throw around.

Ahh. The Redskins fans. I felt like I fell down a staircase.

I grab my father's hand tighter.

They yell something about "scalping the Patriots" and my father stops dead in his tracks.  One in facepaint steps forward and yells,


He looks at them and doesn't seemed phased at all.  He's tough.  Not like me.  I want to cry and yell. I don't know if I'm embarrassed for me or for them. I'm confused and all of sudden feel like the only person in the universe.  I want my Mumma.

"Could you please not use that language around my boy? It's our first game, we don't want any trouble." My dad is cool but I can hear the tension in his voice.

"WHOA EASY, CHIEF. DIDN'T MEAN TO GET IN THE LINE OF YOUR FUCKING WARPATH. I HOPE YOUR PUSSY PATRIOTS GET SLAMMED BY OUR SKINS!" (followed by a screech that is so loud and long my ear drum whimpers).

My father didn't say a word.  He put his head down and shook it slowly as we walked on. They yelled and taunted and one even threw a beer can in our direction.

 When we were out of earshot he stopped and hugged me.

"Sometimes a warrior is the one who walks away. Those people think they can act that way because they are more privileged in this country than we are." He feels shaky.

I hugged him back.

"Daddy.  I think the name Redskins is a bigger deal than you think it is." I pull away and stare thoughtfully at the ground.

"You've always been smarter than me, son.  I love you very much."

We had a great time at the game.  Thankfully no one was scalped.  (If "scalping" is a new term for you, here is some recommended reading).  On the way home we had more to talk about.  I grew up a lot that day.  The headdresses that I had known in ceremony were not fluorescent and placed on any drunk guy's head. The chants and songs I had knew since my mother sang them to me in my bassinet were nothing like the things those people were yelling at us.  They have no right to degrade us that way.  Who says that our religion is something that can be cheaply mimicked and ridiculed? It takes away our humanity.  It locks us into stereotyped versions of our historical selves with no room to evolve and have a place in the modern world.  And most of all it says to us on a national level that our identity is worth nothing.  That our traditions, cultures, languages, customs, legends, art, communities, nations, history, are all just a joke.  Just a mascot.  Just something to paint on your face and scream at strangers about.  They absolutely protect and promote racist behavior which certainly doesn't help any of those "real" problems my father spoke of.  These mascots are wrong at every level and need to go.

It was a good day to be with my father.  It's always a good day to be Indigenous.

I made this story up to prove a point that all we need to look at on this issue is common sense and human decency.  I had a similar experience at age 15 while watching a basketball game on tv with my dad.  It was a local high school and the cheerleaders and bandleaders were wearing facepaint, feathers in their hair, and fake leather dresses.  I felt like someone punched me in the stomach.  It had never occurred to me that this was how we were viewed.  Some silly dressed up idiots jumping around and acting "savage".  I am from two strong Indigenous families and am raising my children to be proud of who they are.  These mascots have the potential to undermine the pride we feel in our heritage that has already been through so much.  Redskins is not an honorable term. It's not a nice word.  It is a racial slur and it is time to go to it's grave in the history books next to minstrel shows and black face.