As a 54-year-old Dakota, born and raised on the Spirit Lake Nation, reasons for my opposition to Indian logos and mascots started in my childhood. My mother did not learn to speak English until she was nine years old. Born in 1922, when racism against Indians was rampant, she did what she had to, to survive in a "white man's world." However, she never relinquished her "Indianness" as some did to make it easier to cope. She was happiest when visiting (laughing and joking) with her sisters or other tribal members in the Dakota language. In spite of the extreme poverty she lived in, she was proud of who she was.
"We're Sioux," she would proudly say. "Never be ashamed of who you are," in reference to those Indians who, for whatever reason, tried to forget they were Indian and acted, spoke, and lived like the "white man." She instilled in me the pride of being an Indian, and as a result, I was against the logo even before I was aware there was a logo. It is this pride in who I am that enabled me to obtain three degrees from UND, in spite of racism I encountered there. Contrary to what some may think, encountering racist behavior spawned by the logo made me even more determined to succeed. "I have just as much right as anyone to attend UND," and I was darned if I was going to let a few racist yahoos stop me from reaching my goals.
What has been most perplexing to me is why Native Americans who support the Fighting Sioux logo think racism does not exist in North Dakota, or they are frightened as to what will happen if the logo is retired. Then, I read Paulo Freire's book, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, and I began to get a glimmer of understanding why a few of them support the logo. When they try to emulate non-Indian logo supporters by wearing "Fighting Sioux" clothing, the following quote, taken from chapter one of Pedagogy of the Oppressed, comes to mind: "The oppressed want at any cost to resemble the oppressors."
Not long ago, a new acquaintance, a Chippewa Indian whose mother is from White Earth Indian Reservation, but who has lived the majority of his life in Grand Forks asked me, "Erich, what is it with you guys? I went to school at Central when it had the Redskins logo. I had a lot of pride when I played sports."
I explained to him how my mother had instilled her pride of being Sioux in me. When I finished, I asked him this question: "If I called members of your tribe welfare dependent, FAS babies, free cheese, ignorant, prairie niggas, etc., etc., people and then said, 'Oh, by the way, we want to use the Chippewa logo to honor you and need your support,' what would you say?" As he stood thinking about it, I said, "Where's your pride, man?"
Finally, he said, "I see your point." After thinking about it some more, he said, "See . . . I never had someone like your mother when I was growing up." A couple of weeks later, he told me I owed him $20. Puzzled, I looked at him and he said, "I paid $20 for a UND shirt that I'm never going to wear." We both had a good laugh.
My new friend is an example of the decent good-hearted logo supporters who honestly sincerely think they are honoring us, but who have arrived at the conclusion that all rational, decent people come to: The logo is highly offensive to thousands of Native Americans and should be retired. After hearing the facts, many logo supporters, Indian and non-Indian, have changed their minds. Our young children, once they mature and are educated on the subject, will also oppose the logo. Our numbers will continue to grow while the logo supporters will continue to diminish. What will be left is a minority whose support of the logo is code/cover for racist thinking and actions against Native Americans.