I opened the truck door and scooted across the bench seat of my dad's pick-up. Tears were rolling down my face. It wasn't the first time he had picked me up from school crying, but this wasn't first grade. It was high school, and I was a freshman. The school day had been over for about 45 minutes. I had held off the tears all day. I kept reminding myself to be strong, like my ancestors, the Cherokees. Now that the other students were gone, I couldn't stop crying. I felt so weak and alone until I spotted his truck turning off Route 66.
"Hey sweets, what's wrong?" he asked me.
I didn't want to tell him what had really happened. So I just mumbled something about bullies and leaned on his shoulder. He patted my knee and we rode home. My Cherokee father told me not to worry about the mean kids. He told me about how he was teased as a kid. I had heard his stories before, and they seemed so much worse than what had happened to me.
Earlier that day, I had gone to the morning pep rally. The opposing team had a Native mascot. The cheerleaders had made a banner that read "Stew Those Indians!" The basketball team burst through the banner just as another classmate stumbled through the opposite door wearing brightly colored feathers and no shirt. He was covered in finger paint. The basketball team commenced "defeating" the "Indian."
"Hey Jennie," someone whispered unseen, "Aren't you a Cherokee Indian squaw?"
I somehow managed to survive the pep rally. After that, hours of classroom banter about how the basketball team was going to "defeat the Indians" seemed endless. I skipped all the other Native mascot pep rallies after that. Nothing about the stumbling "Indian" classmate was anything near authentic, but everyone else seemed to equate my Cherokee culture with his portrayal. It wasn't my first experience with Native mascots. It wasn't the first time I had been called a squ*w. It was the first time the two had happened together.
I felt so exposed. I felt as if everyone could see how much I admired my Cherokee-Creek mother. I felt as if everyone knew how important my name in Cherokee was to me. I felt as if everyone knew how musical my Cherokee-Creek grandmother's voice sounded to me when she spoke one of her two American languages. I felt as if they knew all the stories from the Trail of Tears were sacred to me. It was as if they knew all these things about my family, and hated us. I could never tell my parents.
When I became a parent, I kept my children as underexposed as possible from faux-Native American images and portrayals. I didn't want them knowing what any of that felt like. Frankly, it's impossible. The imagery is everywhere, and so are the Native mascots. I tried to combat them on my own, with no success. Regular Americans didn't see the harm, not even after the research backed by the 2008 American Psychological Association study stating that American Indian mascots were harmful to American Indian students' self-esteem. Dismantling other people's "innocent fun" was too much trouble, no matter how worthwhile it would be to help out the group of Americans with the highest suicide rate.
I wrote emails to the local school boards. I started petitions. I made YouTube videos. When Twitter made the social media scene, I started interacting with people. Jacqueline Keeler, a Navajo and Yankton Dakota mother, helped me get connected with other people who felt like I did in a closed Facebook group called EONM (Eradicating Offensive Native Mascotry)—now a website.
We started live chatting every day about what we could do to end the most offensive national mascots. We were from all Tribal Nationalities and spread through out the United States; someone was always online. We did some things together that finally got some traction, raising awareness not only about how harmful Native mascots are, but also on how important seeing and hearing real Native faces and voices can be to boost the connection for American Indian children with their identity. Helping our children navigate their identity is what we all do as moms and as women; it felt so natural to me.
Dan Snyder, the owner of the Washington Redsk*ns, created an odious foundation to help Native Americans last week. Yet again, I felt like that teenage girl sitting up in the bleachers. I didn't cry this time, and I wasn't alone. I was live chatting with other EONM strategists. Reading what they had to say about what we all felt was an obvious ploy to buy us—to silence us with money.
We wanted to do something. I told the group that I was going to tape money over my mouth, take a picture, and add the hashtag #Not4Sale beneath it, to illustrate our responses to the "Washington Redsk*ns Original Americans Foundation" in a single picture. It is what I did, and what we did. Then it became what other Native Americans did. However, these actions only lead to a happier childhood for American Indian children if change is what follows.Here's how you can speak out against the Redsk*ns name
Email Wylliet@redskins.com to ask them to change the mascot
Or send a letter to:
c/o Redskin Park
21300 Redskin Park Dr.
Ashburn, VA 20147
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