Monday marks the observance of Columbus Day in the United States. This holiday celebrates the birth of Christopher Columbus who, as we all know, "discovered" America in 1492. It is ironic the United States now celebrates this "discovery" in light of the fact that Columbus did not know where he was going nor where he landed. The fact that this day is even celebrated shows how some groups are valued in America while others are derided. Columbus' "discovery" set the tone for an era of genocide, disease and the destruction of indigenous cultures. These events are typically viewed from a Eurocentric perspective, promoting the view of Native Americans as inconsequential savages -- much as Columbus originally viewed them. And while this blatant disrespect has many tragic, unrecognized consequences, one very visible example is that of Native American team mascots. Indeed, it is amazing that millions of fans can support teams like the Washington Redskins and the Cleveland Indians without even thinking about how disrespectful those team names and team logos are. The term redskin is an outright racial epithet, and the Chief Wahoo logo used by Cleveland is similar to blackface images of African Americans that still often recur. The Atlanta Braves, with their "tomahawk chop," also egregiously misappropriate Native American culture. At the collegiate level, the Florida State Seminoles and the Illinois Fighting Illini perpetuate the view of Native Americans as warlike savages, although they claim to promote cultural awareness. And numerous amateur teams use similar mascots. How is it that we continue to accept the mass marketing and institutionalization of these terms and symbols? Protests over these mascots continue around the country, often met by ignorance and resistance. In 1997, one student justified his school's mascot by saying, "We simply chose an Indian as an emblem. We could have just as easily chosen any uncivilized animal." This general ignorance and negative stereotyping of Native Americans pervades American society. In reality, the indigenous peoples of the Western hemisphere represent an enormous amount of diversity of language, culture and customs. The rain dancing, tomahawk-chopping savage used by sports teams trivializes this diversity and dehumanizes Native Americans. It is only through this dehumanization that the United States can justify its history of genocidal colonization. Although many organizations, such as the American Indian Movement, have addressed this issue, Native Americans generally lack the political clout to do much about it. Some have been so detached from their own cultural roots that they even support this misrepresentation of their heritage. And indigenous communities are often plagued with such serious problems of alcoholism, poverty and crime that people may forget about their rich cultural strengths. Indeed, the major reason that Europeans were able to colonize the Western hemisphere was not because of any cultural or technological superiority. Rather, Old World diseases, such as smallpox and dysentery, decimated Native American populations that had not been previously exposed to them. Sometimes these disease were spread deliberately by trading contagious items such as the blankets of smallpox victims. Also, the U.S. government routinely broke treaties and legal rulings when dealing with indigenous peoples. For example, in the 1830s, President Andrew Jackson defied a Supreme Court ruling, forcing Cherokees to leave the Southeast for Oklahoma -- the infamous "Trail of Tears." The depiction of Native Americans as savages is not just a matter of political correctness. It was used to justify the destruction of inhabitant cultures on two entire continents. In the same way we would not make light of the Holocaust, it is inappropriate to use this demeaning imagery. While we can do little to make amends for the suffering of Native Americans, the U.S. government should provide more aid and honor its treaty obligations. And as residents of the U.S., we should voluntarily relinquish usage of ignorant and disrespectful imagery. Students at Dartmouth and Stanford did this many years ago, successfully protesting to have their teams, originally called the Indians, renamed. Today, San Diego State University is considering renaming its team, the Aztecs, and changing its logo of Aztec leader Montezuma. And if you are a fan of any team that has a Native American mascot, don't abandon your team. Instead, make your voice heard to have your mascot changed. You are actually in the best position to do so.Comments powered by Disqus
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