Hello, I'm here to talk to you about race-based mascots and why many of us ndn view them as very disrespectful. Although there are many studies that clearly identify the harm to both ndn and non-Indians caused by race-based mascots, I'm not here to talk about them.
Instead, I want to talk to you as if I met you on the street, in a bar, or at some social event. I want you to hear my personal reasons why I'm against raced-based mascots as I spent many years and a considerable amount of energy protesting against the UND Fighting Sioux nickname. And, I want to hear from you why you support race-based mascots, if indeed you do. We can best do that through a question and answer session.
I'm hoping my responses to your questions may answer some of the questions you have regarding ndn people; for example, why after 400 years we still have not totally accepted your culture, your way of thinking, and your way of life. . . . And, why we are so against raced based logos.
Let be start with who I am:
As you have already heard, my name is Dr. Erich Longie. I was born and raised on Spirit Lake Indian Reservation. I have often said I was against the Fighting Sioux nickname before I heard of it. Why? I believe it was a result of how my mom raised me, and my older sister reading to us younger ones when I was in the third or fourth grade.
My mom's first language was Dakota; she never learned how to speak English until she was 9 years old. Mom taught me to be a proud Dakota, to never be ashamed of whom I was.
As a result of my sister reading to me at a very early age, I was soon reading every book I could get my hands on. We lived in a log cabin with no electricity, so I read by the dim light of a kerosene lamp. By the time I was in 8th grade, I had ruined my eyes from reading long into the nights. Most of the books I read were about us Indians. My heart would fill with pride each time I read about a victory in battle won by my ancestors, conversely I would also become angry when I read about the broken treaties, the deceitfulness, the lies, used against us to steal our land.
What I learned from the books I read and my mom's teaching appears to have influenced me to be against raced-based mascots even before I knew about them. Of course there were other factors that influenced my reasoning, but mom's teachings and my extensive reading about us ndn people prior to my entering high school appear to be the biggest factors.
Now let me tell you this; everything you learned in school about us ndn is either false, slanted to make us look like savages, or outright lies.
Let me start with Columbus. Columbus may be a hero to you, but to us ndn, he was a criminal of the worst kind. To us he was a mass murderer, a rapist, and a sadist . . . I could go on and on, but you get the picture.
No one really knows what the population was before Columbus came to these shores. Some scholars have estimated that before Columbus, the indigenous population of the Americas (the continents of North and South American combined) was between 50 million and 100 million. Of these, some 5 to 15 million lived in the area that would become the United States. These numbers have been disputed; other scholars and historians believe these numbers are a conservative estimate.
By 1880, that number was reduced to less than 300,000 due to the diseases Europeans brought with them to America for which Native Americans had no immunity. Wars of extermination waged by the US government, the loss of hunting grounds, and the extermination of the animals Natives depended on for subsistence also contributed to this huge population decrease.
How we view nature is also very different. The early Europeans viewed the "New World" as a dark, forbidding, mainly empty land filled with wild and terrifying creatures and populated by a race of uncivilized, ignorant savages who were not utilizing the land's rich natural resources. Conversely, us Native Americans did not see the land as a wilderness that had to be conquered and tamed. We viewed the land as our "Mother" who nurtured and took care of us and with whom we lived in harmony. This difference in viewpoints was eloquently expressed by Luther Standing Bear an Oglala Lakota who said, "We did not think of the great open plains, the beautiful rolling hills, and the winding streams with tangled growth, as 'wild.' Only to the white man was nature a 'wilderness' and only to him was the land 'infested' with 'wild' animals and 'savage' people. To us it was tame. Earth was bountiful and we were surrounded with blessings of the Great Mystery."
With that limited background of who I am, let me give you one reason why I think race-based mascots are dehumanizing; and then, I will entertain questions:
Race-based mascots not only steal our humanity from us, but they also steal your humanity from you. Race-based mascots distort who we really are, instead of human beings we are looked at as caricatures of who we really are. We are not just war whooping, tomahawk waving, face painted ndn; we are much more than that. We are someone's relatives. For us Dakota, being a good relative is the most important aspect of our lives. Ella Deloria, a Dakota who has studied our ancestors in the 1930s and 1940s once said: "The ultimate aim of Dakota life, stripped of accessories, was quite simple: One must obey kinship rules; one must be a good relative. No Dakota who has participated in that life will dispute that . . . without that aim and the constant struggle to attain it, the people would no longer be Dakotas in truth. They would no longer even be human.
To be a good Dakota, then, was to be humanized, civilized. And to be civilized was to keep the rules imposed by kinship for achieving civility, good manners, and a sense of responsibility toward every individual dealt with." This is who we are, not some painted, bloodthirsty, savage as portrayed at sports events.
When we rebel against your dehumanization efforts by using us as mascots and nicknames, you retaliate with other forms of racism. If we change a name, than you say, "We are not going to your casino, or we are going to take away our funding from you," or you call us drunks and lazy. . . This dehumanizing behavior also dehumanizes you.
I can go on and on, but we only have an hour, and I want to hear your questions. And, I suspect my reasons for being against race-based mascots will be part of my responses to your questions. Who's first?