Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Teaching The Young To Disrespect Indigenous Culture

As I watched this video on CNN I could not help but to be filled with disgust.  Here we have the Indigenous community clearly stating that this tradition is offensive, and white people standing on their heads to say no it's not harmful, or racist. One woman even has the nerve to pull the I have native friends card to justify her bigotry.

To be clear, what happened to the Native American community was genocide.  There are tribes that are no longer in existence.  There are unique cultures and languages that have been lost forever; and this woman somehow cannot see a comparison between that and what happened to the Jews in the holocaust.

It is further disgusting that children are being taught this falsehood as a method of maintaining white hegemony through the physical performance of revisionist history.  The indoctrination of children with revisionist history is part of the way that racism passes from one generation to another.

Of course to a child this seems like a harmless tradition, they have no knowledge of history.  They count on us as adults to be their guides and tell them the truth. This is an abdication of our responsibility to educate them.

Native culture has repeatedly been appropriated.  We see it show up in the form of mascots for sporting teams as a normalized display.  People seem to feel that it is their right to cheapen and demean the culture of another, while telling the oppressed community that they are being to sensitive. 

The oppressor does not have the right to tell the oppressed what is and isn't offensive.  No one exists with the inherent right to "other" another. Ignoring the complaints of  the Indigenous community as hyper sensitive keeps whiteness at the centre of the discussion.   

To these people what matters is their ability to express power over another.  The ability to create history in a certain light belongs to the conquerors and not the vanquished; and as such they feel it is their right to use the Indigenous community as a mascot in their celebration of white hegemony across the Americas. 

The story of the setters is not one of over coming strife, but that of rape, pillage, theft and murder.  No amount of cleansing can erase the blood that the earth has absorbed.  The truth is ugly, but it is one we must all face if there is to be any hope of achieving equality for all members of society.

Expecting the Indigenous community to play noble savage and ignore the ways in which their ancestors were mistreated is once again an expression of white hegemony.  Expecting the Indigenous community to be silent about the ways in which they continue to be marginalized, so that people can celebrate their deaths is beyond macabre, it is a denial of basic human rights.

There is no thought to the Indigenous children who are being forced to celebrate a day of pain in their culture.  They like their parents do not count, because socially we have decided that the only people of value in this society are white. While whiteness as good and normal may have become a normalized social thought, it does not mean that it should not be challenged.  Arguing that a tradition is 40 years old does not serve as grounds for its continuation.

As families gather to give thanks, they should have a real moment of reflection for what they are gathered together to celebrate: the rape, and near destruction of a people.  It should not be a moment of levity, but one of mourning for the way of life that was lost, and the ways in which we have not progressed since then.


33 comments:

victoria said...

I think the white woman they interviewed needs to read a certain blog post about pearl clutching.

nia said...

What was also interesting was that when the reporter told her, "Some Native Americans do find this offensive", she replied, "I can understand that, but..."
It's not that people don't understand that these things are wrong, it's that they are too concerned about maintaining their own traditions and having fun to care about how it affects others.

randombabble.com said...

The fact that these kids are (seemingly) oblivious to what is going on should be more of a point. It shows how we will go to great lengths to hide inconvenient truths from them. We should teach them the truth and how to grow and be better people from the truth.

These adults are going to great lengths to make a confusing situation. Kids understand more than we think they do. They are letting their own selfishness interfere what they should be doing as parents. Teaching their children respect.

Ojibway Migisi Bineshii said...

I remember doing this when I was a kid and was offended. As a Native women, did I speak up? No because it would of been a challenge to do so at the time. I did not have the empowerment as a Native women yet at age 5. This video does fill me with disgust also. It is important to hear both sides of the story. Yes, this is fun for the children, but what children. The children in this video who paste colored plastics feathers to colored papered with Elmer's glue? Or the Native children who sit freezing in their homes in the Plains or Northern Michigan because they do not have heat in their homes? Is it fun for the Native children who are hungry? Is it fun for the Native children who have to grow up with people calling them, "drunk Indian or Injun." If we could actually talk to a lady like this in this video then maybe she would answer differently. If we could take her to reservations to see the horrific conditions that plague the Native people of this land then and there she would probably answer differently.

Renee - I linked this post and a few others to my blog for this weeks "Stories and News From Women Bloggers." Great post, as always!

Anonymous said...

And notice, too, how the reporter characterized the peaceful protesters as a "mob." Sheesh!

As an educator, instead of allowing my students to partake in this totally awesome "tradition" (and how many crimes have we justified in the name of "tradition"), I would invite one of the protesters or an elder or young person from the indigenous community to talk to them, instead. How fucking hard is it to do this? These teachers are derelict and unethical and a disgrace to their profession, in addition to being privileged. And please, I find plenty of activities to do with young people that are fun without coming at the expense of others.

This made my blood boil.

Dori said...

hey renee, do you have the code to embed this video? I am putting together a series of posts for tomorrow about the myth of thanksgiving, and I would like to do a post about this as well.

Hybrid Hopes said...

It's ridiculous that the reporter signed off with saying that the kids were oblivious. Maybe he and some of the parents are oblivious to what the kids pick up. :/

Renee said...

@Dori

Double click on the video and it will take you to the youtube page. You will find the embed code on the right hand side.

Dori said...

Thanks Renee!

Lyndsay said...

Wow. School board can try to do the right thing but it still doesn't work out. When protesters are making it clear as day that they find that offensive, how hard is it to change the tradition? And yeah, I totally would've asked one of them to come speak to my class if I were a teacher.

The Old Man said...

As if giving them "Casinos", tax-free tobacco & alcohol was some sort of "reparations" huh?

Chaos said...

"Here we have the Indigenous community clearly stating that this tradition is offensive, and white people standing on their heads to say no it's not harmful, or racist."

Is it? Seems to me that it is the "indigenous community," or, more likely, a certain political segment of that community, that feels defensive about its historical culture.

"One woman even has the nerve to pull the I have native friends card to justify her bigotry."

That's dishonest. What she said was that her friends who are Native Americans don't find anything offensive about it, not that she has Native American friends so she can't possibly be bigoted.

Is she lying? Maybe, who knows? If she isn't, are her friends self-hating Native Americans?

"To be clear, what happened to the Native American community was genocide. There are tribes that are no longer in existence. There are unique cultures and languages that have been lost forever; and this woman somehow cannot see a comparison between that and what happened to the Jews in the holocaust."

There are tribes of Britons who are no longer in existence either. And Angles, and Jutes, and Saxons. And Celts. That's what happens with mass population migration. Comparing the white expansion West across North America with the Holocaust is dishonest, offensive, and ridiculous. The whites were not Nazis and the Native Americans were not innocent Jews. What about the Native American tribes that routinely would betray other Native American tribes to the whites in order to gain for themselves a political advantage? For example, are members of the Five Tribes of the Iroquois tainted with the guilt of their ancestors too? There is that whole matter of their alliance with the British in the French and Indian War after all.

Why am I getting the suspicion that your attitude is based on skin color and not on any rational thinking about what actually happened 300 years ago? You sure say a lot about whites in your little rant, but not much about the Native Americans that gleefully collaborated with the whites against other tribes.

"It is further disgusting that children are being taught this falsehood as a method of maintaining white hegemony through the physical performance of revisionist history. The indoctrination of children with revisionist history is part of the way that racism passes from one generation to another."

Yes, teaching children that Native Americans saved the Pilgrims at Plymouth and reinforcing the stereotype that Native Americans were cool because they wore cool headdresses and feathers and rode horses all day is part of the sinister plot to maintain white hegemony. When I was a kid I thought Native Americans were about the coolest thing ever, after the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I guess the "revisionist history" plan didn't work too well when it came to me. Can't remember it working too well with any of my classmates either.

"Of course to a child this seems like a harmless tradition, they have no knowledge of history. They count on us as adults to be their guides and tell them the truth. This is an abdication of our responsibility to educate them."

If they're looking for someone to tell them the truth I wouldn't recommend you to any of them.

Now, if they're looking for someone to indoctrinate them in bigotry against whites, I think you'd get a lot of referrals.

"Native culture has repeatedly been appropriated. We see it show up in the form of mascots for sporting teams as a normalized display. People seem to feel that it is their right to cheapen and demean the culture of another, while telling the oppressed community that they are being to sensitive."

What "oppressed community"? Is there some monolithic Native American bloc? I seem to recall the Seminole tribe, for example, not having a problem with Florida State using their tribal name for their mascot.

There is nothing cheapening or demeaning about little kids dressing up like Pilgrims and Indians or sports teams using Native Americans as mascots unless you choose to feel it is cheapening and demeaning. Refusing you a seat at the lunch counter in Walgreen's this is not, sorry.

"The oppressor does not have the right to tell the oppressed what is and isn't offensive. No one exists with the inherent right to "other" another. Ignoring the complaints of the Indigenous community as hyper sensitive keeps whiteness at the centre of the discussion."

What is this babble? First, you do not have the right to declare that your point of view is either the majority one among the "indigenous community" or that it is the right view, without some major evidence and reason behind it. As I've already noted you seem to have some major gaps in your historical knowledge, and your reasoning is, to say, the least, missing in action. It's all "this is offensive, it's all part of whitey's plot to keep the jackboot on everyone else's necks, because I say so."

You - or someone you claim to be speaking for - feels 'othered' by little kids dressing up as Indians for Thanksgiving? And the reason they're dressing up like that is because the kids think Indians are cool? Yeah, sorry to burst your bubble there, but if the oversensitive shoe fits, wear it.

And what the hell does "keeps whiteness at the centre of the discussion" even mean? Aren't you, with your repeated mention of white hegemony, whites behind genocide, white this white that, keeping "whiteness" at the center of the discussion? You don't seem to have much trouble keeping "whiteness" front and center as long as that means you caustically attacking white people.

"To these people what matters is their ability to express power over another. The ability to create history in a certain light belongs to the conquerors and not the vanquished; and as such they feel it is their right to use the Indigenous community as a mascot in their celebration of white hegemony across the Americas. "

Oh, bullshit. This is ludicrous. That the Florida State Seminoles are the Florida State Seminoles instead of the Florida State Something Else is a celebration of white hegemony? Or the Cleveland Indians? I'm sure that would be news to literally every single player, coach, team employee, and fan of every sports team in this country with a Native American-themed mascot. Hey guys, remember how you thought your mascot was supposed to be a symbol for the good qualities of your team? Nah, man, what it really is is a celebration of white hegemony!

"The story of the setters is not one of over coming strife, but that of rape, pillage, theft and murder. No amount of cleansing can erase the blood that the earth has absorbed. The truth is ugly, but it is one we must all face if there is to be any hope of achieving equality for all members of society."

Again, bullshit. The story of the settlers is one of overcoming strife, including strife with the Indians, which included rape, pillage, theft, and murder, by both sides. That's what happens when two peoples struggle over the same slice of land. The Native Americans weren't exactly saints when it came to relations with each other or with the whites. You forgot to mention that, eh? Maybe, as part of your adult responsibility, you should go teach about the genocide the Aztecs inflicted on the local tribes they oppressed for so long that when Cortez arrived those tribes wholeheartedly went over to his side.

But that might threaten your black-and-white view of the last five hundred years of the history of the American continents, so maybe you better not.

"Expecting the Indigenous community to play noble savage and ignore the ways in which their ancestors were mistreated is once again an expression of white hegemony. Expecting the Indigenous community to be silent about the ways in which they continue to be marginalized, so that people can celebrate their deaths is beyond macabre, it is a denial of basic human rights."

I don't see anyone asking Native Americans to play the noble savage. Oh, you mean that anything that doesn't castigate whites as genocidal racist jackbooted Nazis = an expression of genocidal racist jackbooted Nazi white hegemony. Silly me!

Oh yes, teaching our children about Native Americans in such a way that these children want to dress up like Native Americans for a holiday is celebrating the "genocide" of the Native Americans. Come on, where do you get your reasoning from?

"There is no thought to the Indigenous children who are being forced to celebrate a day of pain in their culture."

It is only a day of pain if you choose it to be.

"They like their parents do not count, because socially we have decided that the only people of value in this society are white."

Is this fucking serious? Who was just elected president three weeks ago? Who was head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the Persian Gulf War and one of the most popular people in America? Who has a national holiday named after him? Why did 320,000 white men from the North die from 1861-1865? I could go on and on and on, from music to movies to literature and back to politics again, but what's the point?

"While whiteness as good and normal may have become a normalized social thought, it does not mean that it should not be challenged. Arguing that a tradition is 40 years old does not serve as grounds for its continuation."

Lying out of your ass in every way possible - whether it be by omission, by telling outright falsehoods, whatever - is not a good way to argue, but you don't seem to have much problem with it.

"As families gather to give thanks, they should have a real moment of reflection for what they are gathered together to celebrate: the rape, and near destruction of a people. It should not be a moment of levity, but one of mourning for the way of life that was lost, and the ways in which we have not progressed since then."

A celebration of the rape and near destruction of a people according to someone who obviously has a very tenuous relationship with either facts or logic.

But even from the mouths of bigoted liars like this Renee we get something interesting, namely the line about how we have not progressed. Coupled with Ojibway Migisi Bineshii's comment. The current state of most Native Americans in the United States is a shame, an embarrassment, an indictment of this country. Anyone living on a reservation who wants to leave should have the opportunity to do so, to move wherever they want in the US, to go for whatever kind of education they want, and to get some very generous (but reasonable) living assistance for a reasonable period of time from the government. And if they don't want to leave, the government should make it so that they can have, on their reservations, the American standard of living that is almost uniquely denied to them. It's a disgrace.

But hey Renee I'm surprised you didn't mention the Trail of Tears, which I consider to be about the worst thing the United States has ever done. Instead of blathering nonsense about children dressing up like Indians and white hegemony, maybe you should try to draw attention to something a little more serious and valid, like how the Trail of Tears pretty much was genocide by indifference and how it has never been made up for.

But that's probably not important enough, after all, hating whitey is a full-time intellectual job.

Vera H. said...

My high school team was named the Braves. We had pep rallies in which my Iranian classmate dressed up as a Native American in "war paint", buckskin, and feathers and performed some sort of war dance while we did what we thought were war whoops and said things like "Skin 'Em Back Braves!"

Looking back, it probably wasn't very pc or cool, and I cannot tell any group what they should or should not be offended by. The only thing that I can say is that we considered a Brave to be a noble and proud warrior, not an object of derision and ridicule, and we were no more making fun of native peoples than we would be making fun of Scandinavians if our team were called the Vikings.

While watching that video, I really felt sorry for the kids involved. They are just a group of children going to celebrate togetherness between two peoples.

The history of Native peoples in the Americas is ugly and shameful--full of genocide, rape, sickness, disease, slavery and force resettlement among many sins. Today, many Native Americans live lives of squalor and sadness in reservations, generally forgotten by the rest of society, and this is unconscionable.

That being said, and call me a clueless "pearl clutcher" if you wish, but I cannot understand how this particular celebration as shown in the video is showing Native peoples in a stereotypical light and is teaching young people to disrespect.

I know what the Native American people said in the video and if one is offended then one is offended. Everyone has the right to be heard, and the protesters have the right to protest (I totally disagree with them being called a mob).

However, you can the protest wrong thing (a group of five year olds having a togetherness celebration) for the right reasons (oppression of indigenous people), and that's what I believe the protesters did.

Vera H. said...

To clarify, I meant you can protest the wrong thing for the right reasons.

Dale said...

Chaos, you're a guest here. Perhaps you should show a little more respect for our host, hmmm? Disagreeing is one thing, but being insulting about it is quite another.

Vera, I agree that the news reporter was over the line when he called the protesters "a mob." But I am not sure that they were protesting the wrong thing. The school district, after listening to complaints, decided to cancel the event. But some parents insisted on doing it anyways. In this case, how else are the protesters going to get their message to the parents so that they will stop?

Sam said...

In an attempt to add some still-topical levity to what has become a somewhat heated conversation (especially after Chaos' 14-hour rant), I would like to point out that, as he does every Thanksgiving, Jeffery rowland has managed to succinctly skewer the topic in only eight panels:
http://overcompensating.com/comics/20081127.png

Vera H. said...

Dale, I feel that it's the wrong protest because while I feel native peoples have plenty to protest, I fail to see why what the schools had been doing was stereotypical and disrespectful to indigenous peoples, and I'm guessing the parents are too, and that's why some are digging in their heels, but now they are violating the school district. What will happen next year?

I wish also wish the report would have went into more why the Native Americans were so offended. Yes, I know, I know, I know, but why is asking for some clarification so wrong?

It's a misunderstanding and a sad situation--especially for the kids. As in many failures in human relations, too many people want to hold on to their stories, stay in their "tribes" and not talk to each other, just at each other...

and nothing gets resolved.

Renee said...

@Vera H

They said very clearly that they felt that this was a mockery of their culture. The headress clearly has some significance for them and therefore getting children to just create one is offensive.
Let us also not forget that this was done to celebrate thanksgiving a day that many Native people feel is a day of mourning, not happiness and celebration. We need to put aside how we feel and consider that the oppressed at the ones that have the right to say what is and isn't offensive it is up to us to honor that, whether or not we completely understand.

rachelcervantes said...

Renee, I am Native American. Right on! And screw those who are too self-righteous and self-involved to listen!

Chaos: Take your racism put it where the sun don't shine. YOU offend me.

rachelcervantes said...

Oh, and further: go fuck yourself.

nia said...

"What about the Native American tribes that routinely would betray other Native American tribes to the whites in order to gain for themselves a political advantage?"

1. Were they betraying each other BEFORE the whites migrated into their territory?

rachelcervantes said...

Nia, even if they were, it justifies nothing. It's a spurious, racist argument.

Renee said...

NIA and Vera H might I suggest you both have a look at this site. I think it will shed some light on the the points you raised.

nia said...

The reason why I asked that question was to show, as Rachel said, that OF COURSE it doesn't justify anything in any way. I left the question open because I wanted to see if Chaos would be able to answer it. I find people choose to only use the parts of history that justify their arguments and not look at the big picture, or what was happening BEFORE certain things took place. I also didn't want to post another long comment, but let me explain why I asked what I did:
The argument that Chaos used is precisely the same one that is used when people try to claim that blacks get "too angry" about slavery, basically: "Oh Africans betrayed other Africans to the slave traders, therefore you blacks can't get angry about white involvement in slavery."
Of course it doesn't excuse anything. ALL mankind practiced slavery, just as all groups have had internal conflicts amongst themselves. That is nothing surprising or new and that isn't the point, so I don't know why people always choose to bring that into the debate. It doesn't excuse jack.
What IS the point is that in the case of the Native Americans you had this systematic destruction of a people's language, cultural practices, land and basic identity. Which today continues to have far reaching repercussions that continue to go unacknowledged and for which they have never been properly compensated for. Even if there were internal conflicts this destruction would not have happened if their land had not been stolen from them. And you would also find that even if there WAS any internal conflict it would naturally have intensified when their land was encroached upon. Just as there was very little "tribal" conflicts and distrust between Africans before slavery and colonialism.
I hope that better explains where I was coming from when I asked that question and Renee, I will check out that site right now.

Renee said...

WOW Nia that was a slam dunk answer. Talk about hitting the nail on the head and thanks for clarifying your commentary.

Jenn said...

Chaos -

Shut up. Really, just shut up. At least the Jews still exist as a people. And we did sell each other out in concentration camps. The Nazis would have us report on troublemakers for more food. Israeli Orthodox Jews today will stone you or slash your tires for driving on the Sabbath.

What happened to the Native Americans is exactly like a holocaust or genocide. Also calling my people "innocent", as if the Holocaust means we can do no wrong today is infantilizing and rude. Not to mention historically incorrect.

Anonymous said...

"...We're not offending anybody [important]..."

I can see why people would resist a jump from celebrating in ways that actively mock other cultures to not celebrating at all. It's selfish, but nobody wants to risk giving up a stat holiday if they don't have to (which is probably why Good Friday and Christmas are still holidays in Canada, even though we're supposed to be secular-ish). But what's wrong with making hand turkeys and helping make dinner (it is definitely fun if you get to lick the beaters afterward)? Why do they go out of their way to actively, intentionally, piss off other people and then pretend that they didn't think anyone would mind, even though the trigger to their little rebellion was the school specifically telling them not to do it, because it would *piss off other people* if they did?

Whiner said...

Thanksgiving is no longer particularly related to the Pilgrims And Indians myth. That myth is really only relevant in schools, who use it to put on stupid pageants that no one cares about, other than as an excuse to dress up or as an offensive reminder of a whitewashed history.

It's not possible to be completely sensitive to all concerns all the time. It just doesn't work that way. Throughout history, just about everybody's screwed everybody else over at some point. Banning Thanksgiving as some sort of "political correctness" would be silly.

But why don't schools focus on what the ACTUAL American tradition of Thanksgiving is all about, and get off this myth? Let's talk about families and togetherness and being thankful for what we have (and helping those who have less). Trying to stop kids from dressing up and having a parade will just make them sad - Let them dress up as something else instead!

It's a lot better to change a tradition than to try and kill it.

professorwhatif said...

Thanks for posting this video Renee -- I hadn't seen it. And from a town that considers itself so intellectual and progressive (I have heard Claremont boasts more people with graduate degrees than anywhere else in the country)! Thanks also for your many illuminating posts on Thanksgiving (Canadian and US).

maia said...

And you would also find that even if there WAS any internal conflict it would naturally have intensified when their land was encroached upon.

So true, Nia. And we see that exact thing going on in Iraq today, which is another great reason to acknowledge what really happened. If we don't learn from history, we are doomed to repeat it.

whatsername said...

Brilliant as usual. I can't believe people still do stuff like this.

Anonymous said...

"...switch off one school dressing up as Indians, the other as Pilgrims. The kindergartners and parents and teachers march to the other school for a day of feasting and fun." Did anyone notice that the kids, parents, and teachers marching to the other school in the video were the ones dressed as Indians. Point being they were heading to the "Pilgrims feast" and not the other way around.

Anonymous said...

ooh this is hard.

I went to a HS where the mascot was "Indian" never any tribe or anything. Just Indian.

we wanted to have a mascot dress up so badly but that was not PC. My school was a private catholic school so...eh. Maybe that was why.

Then again, where I live there is a sizable Native American Community and they actually had a museum depicting their culture. When I was little, my elementary school had the opportunity to go to this museum and watch movies about their past. It made most of the kids cry, even though it was rates safe for kids. I can also remember going on trips where we would watch dances, foods and jewelry. I was a crazy kid who actually destroyed my necklace and boy do I wish I had it now......