A word against Misappropriation…. Biloxigirl style

So I’ve been pretty absent from the wordpress world for a while now.  I’ve been focusing on school and my kids, dealing with custody for my step-daughter, among other things that life threw my way.  Wordpress just wasn’t far up on that priority for me.

That’s not to say that I don’t love writing for y’all (my whole 2 followers, I think).  I love writing but my thoughts have been so jumbled as of late.

However, my final English assignment asked me to write about something Argumentative/Persuasive.  My initial thought was Abortion.  But how played out is that?  I’m sure hundreds, if not thousands, of students nation wide choose abortion to be their topic of choice.  But then, then I thought I would do the importance of the Supreme Court’s decision on Gay Marriage- and argue a case FOR it, as I am adamantly 100% about HUMAN rights, and the right to marry is one of the oldest “rights” afforded to humans.

So I turned to Facebook in search of suggestions and opinions on which should be written.  I got numerous replies and suggestions.  But, one stuck out more than the rest.  Ms Kayla Faith herself, suggested that I write about the Misappropriation of  the Native American Culture- knowing that it is a huge controversial topic, but one that’s swept under the rug most of the time by ignorance and laziness.  With her help, and some first hand experience about the issue (Thanks to my naivety  on the topic when BHS was in the spot-light for their mascot= and if you’re just tuning in, BHS is my alma mater and I still love that school), I wrote an Essay that I’m quite proud of.  Kayla read it over, sent me some suggestions and revisions (which I pretty much used all of!) and with a deep breath I blindly (because I had my eyes closed…don’t judge me… I wasn’t sure I was able to capture the importance this topic deserves) clicked “Submit assignment” on my CANVAS page for school and shut my laptop.

This topic does hit home for me, and not in the way it does most.  Fortunately for me, I am on the right side of this controversy.  Again, I owe a lot of that to Deloria Many Grey Horses, Kayla Faith, Jean-Luc Pierite, and anyone else who has taken the time to listen to me, and talk with me in a way that was not condescending or pretentious, so I could understand just how NOT trivial this is to the Native Americans.  I am not ashamed or embarrassed to say that I credit most of my successful essay to these fine men and women who fight a never ending, up hill battle for respect for their Nation and the Indigenous Peoples who feel like they don’t have a voice.  I have lost a lot of “friends” and have caught a lot of flack over supporting the removal of Native American mascots; but I stand up for what I believe in.

Here is the paper I wrote and submitted.


Misappropriation of the Native American Culture

Cultural misappropriation of any culture is not a thing of the past.  As the world around us becomes more and more globalized, elements from various cultures become shared; however, some elements, which may be sacred, can be disrespected as they are used out of context.  This abusive disrespect has caused many around the world to call for an end of the misappropriation of their cultures by those who are not of that culture. The Indigenous peoples are no exception to this mistreatment.  Since the 1960s, when Native American civil rights movements erupted alongside the blacks, many Native and Native-led groups have been fighting stereotypes and racism, often rooted in Western Film and genocidal national policy.  These battles include removing race-based mascots from schools and sports teams, and battling cultural appropriation of sacred items found increasingly at an international level.

While most arguments in opposition seem focused on the economic downside of changing a name or logo, others focus on the alleged legacy and memories created under that mascot design or name. Even so, the majority focuses on the supposed lack of racist or derogatory intent related to these names and mascots.  Many who attempt to dismiss this issue insist that a team’s use of this derogatory name or mascot is a victimless crime.  A lot of fans and alumni are of the mindset that because they don’t believe they actively discriminate against Native Americans, then it is completely acceptable to use a misrepresented depiction of a “Native America”.  Some of these misrepresentations include carrying a tomahawk and screaming a fake battle cry, as if these behaviors correctly depict all indigenous people.  Some, still, use the “I’m part (insert Native American tribe here) and I don’t find it offense.  So it isn’t.” excuse as to why they are going to continue to misappropriate a culture and “heritage” they know nothing of.

            For people who have grown up in that culture their entire lives, or those who have gone back after finding out their true lineage, this isn’t a game, nor a joke. This is real.  A lot of people assume because some tribes haven’t spoken out directly about a mascot, headdress, or racial and derogatory indigenous names being used and abused, that it isn’t bothersome and it isn’t an issue.  What outsiders often fail to realize is each tribe operates as a sovereign nation; a tribe deciding to speak on behalf of its membership must carefully consider the political and economic implications of its vocalization.  Simply because they choose not to acknowledge it, or speak out about it, does not mean they do not find it hurtful or demeaning, and it certainly does not mean that it is not something that should be reevaluated and changed.

Schools and sports teams across the nation still adopt a hurtful name or mascot despite many protest against them.  Some schools and sports teams, however, have adopted new names and mascots that are not offensive, as a response to the Indigenous people’s pleas for respect and understanding.   The continual use of racist and derogatory has been proven to establish an unwelcome and hostile learning environment for Indigenous people, who to this day remain the only race stereotyped in mascots.  Native American communities see the lowest percentage of high school graduates and one of the highest percentage of drop-outs.  Test conducted by medical PhD’s have concluded that being in the presence of Native American mascots, or schools with Native American logos, is directly related to low self-esteem and lower moods among Native American youth, stemming into early adulthood.  Studies also showed that discrimination in the form of racial slurs, racial harassment, and child-hood bullying is associated with poor mental health and depression.

Stereotypical representations are far too often misunderstood as factual representations of actual tribes or groups of people, which can cause many real issues within the Native American communities.  Poverty within Native American communities is nearly double the national average, they suffer extreme health disparities, and suicide in the second-leading cause of death among 15-24 year olds, which is two and a half times higher than the national average for that age bracket.  Native American youth are also becoming increasingly violent.  Around 75% of the deaths among the youth are due to violent and intentional injuries, homicide, and suicide.  Native American women are also two and a half times more likely to be raped or sexually assaulted and in at least 86% of those cases, the offender was a non-native man.  These statistics can be connected to how others view Native Americans, as well as how they view themselves.

Recently, in Biloxi, there was a minor debate over the headdresses the Biloxi High School band wore at a performance in Washington DC.  This performance was taped and aired all over the nation.  Several Indigenous people were offended, began a petition to request the removal of the headdress, and contacted the school board in Biloxi about the misuse of the Native Headdress.  The Biloxi High Indians, my alma mater, has been called the “Indians” for many decades.  To a Biloxi High School graduate, “Indians” is a term of endearment, nothing racial or derogatory, just a long-standing and well-celebrated “tradition”.  To many BHS graduates, being an Indian was a source of great pride.  No one had ever heard, or even though, the term would be harmful or hurtful to anyone, least of all those who the “Indians” were modeled after:  The Tunica Biloxi Tribe- those who settled in Biloxi, and named this beautiful city.  Everyone’s answers were the same: “We respect the Tribe in question.  We do not believe it is offensive.  If it was, they would have said something years ago about it.” 

At the time of the controversy, nothing had been heard from the Tunica-Biloxi Tribe.  I came in contact with some incredible people who opened my eyes to just how detrimental this “tradition” really is.  Around that time, Jean-Luc Pierite, the son of a Tribe member in the Tunica-Biloxi Tribe, released a statement to the local newspaper about his, and the Tribe’s, feelings about the mascot issue surrounding Biloxi.  He called it a “mockery”, and his parents released their own statement later, referring to the decisions as “ill-informed” and “hurtful”.  Unfortunately, the school board decided to keep the mascot as well as the “Indian” name, despite the information given by the Tribe that they never wore those headdresses, and whomever they were “honoring”, was in fact, not the Tunica-Biloxi Tribe.

Not only are Indigenous peoples depicted unfairly through school mascots, they are also unfairly and inaccurately depicted in movies.  This has been true since John Wayne and the Wild West era, often describing a biased white settlement of America, predominately in the 1950s.  However, this issue continues to this day.  Recently, six Native Americans walked off the set of the new Adam Sandler movie “Ridiculous Six”.  Their reason for leaving was the horrific jokes, rude names, and the incredibly inaccurate depictions of Natives that were to be exhibited in the movie.   Adam Sandler hired a Native elder to assist with cultural sensitivity issues, but refused to listen to any of the elder’s complaints of the appropriation of his and other Native cultures. For instance, names like “Sits-on-face”, “Beaver Breath”, or “No Bra” might sound funny to some people, but to the Native American culture, where women are often celebrated with great dignity and spiritual power, it is anything but humorous.  Many people lashed out and referred to those who left as “crybabies”, or inferring they needed to get off of their mother’s breast and grow up.  The majority of these comments come from those who see little to no problem with cultural misappropriation of any culture:  black, white, Native American, and so on.

During the debate about my Alma Mater, as I previously stated, I met some incredible people who had such insight into this issue.  One, in particular, is a young lady named Kayla.  She spoke to the United Nations in Geneva about the cultural misappropriation of Native Americans.  Her dedication and hard work on this controversial topic is helping open the eyes of many people, like me, who were set in their ways and didn’t want to see the truth.  She, and another fantastic lady named Deloria, are the two biggest supporters of this movement, in my opinion.  They have both done so much to get the word out and support Indigenous peoples and show the world how to receive and understand true Native American cultures.  I am honored and also blessed to have been a part of this on-going movement.

In conclusion, misappropriation of an entire culture is both unacceptable and wrong, especially in this day and age.  It is harmful to Native American youth and adults, and it is harmful to non-native youth and adults because they perpetuate the stereotype and the discrimination against indigenous people.  The continued racism and discrimination against Native Americans sends people of all nations and genders the wrong message.  It does not teach acceptance; it only teaches hate, which contributes to the suicide rates of young indigenous peoples and the dehumanization, rape, and abuse of indigenous women.

Works Cited:

http://www.amnestyusa.org/our-work/issues/women-s-rights/violence-against-women/maze-of-injustice

https://cdn.americanprogress.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/StegmanAIANmascots-reportv2.pdf

http://espn.go.com/pdf/2013/1030/espn_otl_Oneida_study.pdf

http://www.aspeninstitute.org/sites/default/files/content/upload/Native%20American%20Youth%20101_higres.pdf

http://www.un.org/esa/socdev/unpfii/documents/DRIPS_en.pdf


Thank you to any and all who bothered to take the time to read this.  If you feel it’s worth a share, please don’t hesitate.  Maybe you can help someone learn something, or learn something yourself.

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