On any South Dakota reservation, those
who listen will hear elders saying, “Anagoptan!” It’s a command
to listen and pay attention to what’s being said or discussed. It’s
something we both dread and enjoy in retrospect, being put in our
place. The elders do and say this not because they’re smarter than
younger generations but because they’ve seen patterns of mistakes
repeated throughout the years and by explaining it – sometimes ad
nauseam – they hope to keep us on a good path.
With the arrival of the Washington
team at TCF Stadium on Nov. 2, the Twin Cities Urban Indian community
is gearing up for what is expected to be 5,000 protestors outside,
making the case to change the name of the mascot. (It is The
Circle’s policy not to use the team’s mascot name because it is
offensive to our community and we have listened to the community on
this issue.) For my part as managing editor, this will be the second
year of covering this particular protest and this particular issue.
It’s my privilege to do so for the sake of recording our struggle.
However, no progress is made if we – as a community – continue to
protest the team to no avail.
It’s difficult as Native people. While
on a very basic, human level, we do want to lead lives of happiness
and prosperity. We want to do work that’s fulfilling, pay our bills
and provide for future generations. But without fail, whenever the
mascot issue comes up in mainstream media and conversation, every
Native person is seen as an ambassador, activist or representative
for their entire race. Dissenting opinions are often held up as a
sign that the mascot issue is a silly one, surely, in the face of
more pressing problems like poverty, addiction, health care or
To hear any non-Native person frame
it, we are wasting our time with this silliness. Clearly, we have
That patronizing attitude is
indicative of how pervasive the systematic racial discrimination is
in America. We are sovereign, we know our issues, we know how to go
about solving them, we have picked our course in a way that makes
sense to us, we do not require anyone’s assent or approval to tell us
what issues with which, we should and should not be concerned. We do
not think like you, we do not compartmentalize, we approach our
This is where our history of listening
and paying attention comes back into play. We keep up this fight
because we have heard our elders talk about how they were
dehumanized, patronized and discriminated against because they were
not seen as actual human beings with valid thoughts, experiences,
identities and opinions. That legacy continues to haunt our children
through how they are seen: not as human beings, but as caricatures.
Our experiences and reasoning are deemed incompatible with mainstream
society and therefore, we are less than. Our nuances in thought are
often overlooked or lumped together without regard to each tribal
We pay attention to how we are
treated, how we are thought of and who comes to our aid in times of
struggle like this. As a matter of survival, we have developed long
memories that go back, beyond our own lives, into the lives of our
ancestors. In those memories, we have stories that are invaluable to
us in our daily lives.
Sean Sherman, Lakota chef, is gaining
momentum in media with his new endeavor: pre-contact cuisine. It will
be the first of its kind, not just in the Twin Cities, but in Indian
country as a whole. He pledges to use only locally-grown, raised and
harvested ingredients but to spread that culinary knowledge among the
Native community as a way to address health problems and disparities.
As a Native, he does this because he looks at our diets from a
holistic point of view, “all our food is medicine.” Here again,
how we look at an issue, from the root to the fruit.
We draw strength through our identity
and our stories, even if they seem contradictory to outsiders. In our
cover story, the students at Warroad High School – a significant
number of whom, are Ojibwe from the Red Lake Nation – find honor in
their public school’s mascot: the warriors. This arrangement works
for this community because an Ojibwe leader
spoke and the non-Native community listened.
protests, with elections looming in Indian Country, it is important
for us to continue to speak, so others may listen. We speak with our
votes. Promises may be made and while it’s tempting to disengage in
the face of such ignorance around us. Remember that we listen to what
those seeking office tell us and remember that we use our voice when
we cast our ballots.