“Lael Echo-Hawk” is not a real name…or so says the new social networking site operated by Google, known as Google+ (or G+).
The most our modern education system teaches United States students about the history of the First People on this continent is Christopher Columbus, Squanto, Pocahontas, Thanksgiving (gobble gobble), Sacagawea, and Geronimo – then skip 150 years and we have casinos. TA-DAA! Apparently two centuries of government mandated genocide and forcible assimilation does not rate a mention in a school book. This remarkable lack of information is, in my opinion, a major reason why many non-Natives are befuddled by our opposition to the name of our capital’s NFL team, the Washington Redskins.
President Obama recently weighed in on the “Redskin” controversy stating that if he owned the team, he would “think about changing the name.” To which the team’s lawyers came back with an “official” poll that proves empirically that 9 out of 10 Native Americans are not bothered by the name. My good buddy Gyasi Ross and I have had this debate over the years and while I agree with him that we have much bigger fish to fry, I also believe this debate is a platform for the world to see Native Americans through a different lens. We are not all “red.” We do not all live in teepees, nor did we all live in teepees before this continent was invaded. We do have to pay taxes. We do not get health care for free. We do not get our college education for free (and if we do, can someone please write a letter to that effect to Salle Mae, Wells Fargo and the U.S. Education Loan Program so they can clear my slate?). Indian Country Today just did an article with the 7 ridiculous questions posed to Google, including my favorite, “do Native Americans have body hair?”.
Facts are facts – the term “redskin” is a racial slur. It is. It is even more insulting when the advocates of keeping the name have the nerve to claim that the term is meant to “honor Native Americans.” While several lawsuits have been filed and failed in attempt to make the Washington team change their name and high profile journalists like NBC host, Bob Costas, have come out in support of changing the name, we must keep fighting. Our kids see these images and internalize these stereotypes. I want my nephews and nieces to know that they are beautiful and powerful people and even if they look, think, and act different than the people around them or their name does not meet G+ standards, that just makes them different, not less. We are not mascots. We are not Halloween costumes. We are the descendants of our ancestors who walked this road before us and we are the ancestors of Native people who will walk after us. We are over 500 tribes and almost 2 million people with strong tribal leaders, elders, youngsters, doctors, chiropractors, teachers, child care providers, chefs, waiters, researchers, lawyers, plumbers, construction workers, economists, cartoonists, artists, dancers, and every other possible occupation. And we should not allow anyone to denigrate who we are.
So while there is no resolution to this debate instantly in sight…my G+ account remains suspended and I’m seriously considering switching to Bing.
Please share your comments on G+ and the Washington Redskins in the comments below.