From the Editor's Desk: Listening to remember and speaking to change
Saturday, November 01 2014
Written by Alfred Walking Bull, The Circle Managing Editor,
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whats_new_-_walfred_walking_bull.jpgOn 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 education.

To hear any non-Native person frame it, we are wasting our time with this silliness. Clearly, we have bigger problems.


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 problems holistically.

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 community.

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.

Beyond the 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.

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