From the Editor's Desk: Again We Speak Against Injustice

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from_the_editors_desk_alfred_walking_bull.jpg“Ake” is a word we use in Lakota to

express our frustration. It’s translated as “again.” Growing up

on the Rosebud reservation, I would hear my parents say, “Ake!”

when someone unnecessarily repeated themselves, made another promise

that may have been suspect or when another frustration took hold in

the family or in the community.

Again, we find ourselves discussing the

issue of Native American mascots in the American mainstream. Again,

we find ourselves having to explain to non-Native people why this is

not just a demoralizing but dehumanizing issue for our people. And

again, we find ourselves listening to the same ignorance involved

with the caricaturization of a minority group of people.

The Washington D.C. team will play the

Minnesota Vikings on Nov. 7 and the Native community in Minneapolis,

led by the perennially-outspoken American Indian Movement, will

protest the Washington team. In fact, the team was met by a similar

protest in Denver on Oct. 27.

Again, the fans of the Washington team

were effectively amoral when they saw the protests against the name,

regurgitating the ignorance with phrases like, “Get over it,” or

“We’re honoring you.” And again, they are dead wrong.

No one likes being told they are wrong.

It’s the one thing that tends to unite us as Americans, particularly

given the latest government impasse in Washington. We pick a position

on an issue we feel is right and we cannot be told, even when we are

wrong. We equivocate, we prevaricate and we obfuscate to justify how

we feel, without ever being able to weigh an issue objectively.

The refrain of, “we’re honoring you,”

or “get over it,” is simply a lazy and inexcusable set of phrases

that doesn’t allow for much discussion and seeing things from the

other point of view and does more harm in ways that can’t be seen.

One of my fellow Sicangu, Alexis

Oskolkoff, made headlines in South Dakota recently after an incident

at the University of South Dakota’s homecoming parade on Oct. 5.

Students affiliated with the campus organization Strollers at my alma

mater, upon seeing Oskolkoff and her 10 year-old son, Joseph, in

wacipi regalia relied on stereotypical impressions of our people and

made war whoops toward my countrymen.

As an alum of USD, whose mascot is the

coyote, I was taken aback and dismayed at the level of ignorance

displayed; particularly because during my time there as an undergrad,

the administration and campus organizations took great pains to

include Native American students in as many aspects of student life

as possible without tokenizing our presence.

When her son, one of the younger

generations that will take their place in our society, encountered

this blatant racism, Oskolkoff said to the media, “He was really

upset. You could tell it hurt his feelings. I shouted at them so they

stopped. I mean, I’m used to having racial things said to me. But

when it comes to my son, I put my foot down. I’m not going to let

them do that to my son.”

Thankfully, Lakota women come with a

much-deserved reputation of being stronger than most and for anyone

who’s crossed one can tell you it is a mistake they will not repeat.

Although the two issues may not seem

related, they are bonded by the unconscionable reality that as Native

Americans – despite the generations of survival and thriving

against almost insurmountable odds – we continue to be dehumanized.

The reduction of a people, culture and

heritage to a caricature, utilizing fabricated modes of identity is

always immoral. When we allow that to happen, we play a part in

demeaning a race, ethnicity and cultural identity, which leads to

dehumanization and robbing the inherent dignity of a group of

people.

The National Congress of American Indians, the largest,

collective body of tribal governments in the United States, has

repeatedly called for an end to mascots that depict Native Americans

as one-dimensional characters.

That is the line, if it’s crossed,

there is something decidedly wrong with the moral compass of anyone

who justifies racism based a superficial and damaging interest in

Native identity.

Again, we must continue to keep our convictions

on this issue, calmly but firmly.

Again, we must continue to not simply

be angry, but to work in our daily lives to illustrate that being

Native in America is tinged with more complexities than a hollow

caricature.

Again, we must have the patience to

endure the ignorance and anger because as history shows us, justice

will come slowly, but it will come.