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Sunday, October 13, 2013

2013 Letters (Tomahawk Chop) by CFT

The issues that have arisen at our school, Pentucket High School, have been the Tomahawk Chop as a cheer at football games, the student dressed as the mascot at the games (an individual who is not part of Native American culture), the inaccuracies of the mascot, and the caricature used on school products.
As some background, we are a school located in West Newbury, MA and our school population is not very diverse.  The Sachem has been our school mascot since the 1960s and only now has controversy come up.  I'd love to hear your initial reaction and anything else and how you feel this plays into cultural appropriation.

It's more than cultural appropriation. Tomahawk Chops, racist names (you wouldn't use it for another group!  see: and caricatures of our people are so grotesquely not what we do in our culture that I would hesitate to even call it "appropriated."  In comparison, smudging with a feather has been appropriated and is done in the traditional way (not that it's okay, just giving an example of what I see as cultural appropriation).  Similarly, Native American prints, dress styles (fringe), etc. are appropriated by those in "power" who have the money to mass market, and not even acknowledge Native American origins and certainly they do not pay First Nations People any commissions!  Sometimes, appropriation without proper training or following of traditions, can be dangerous!  Would you want someone to prescribe you medicine or operate who is not a doctor or surgeon?  How about hold a Sweat Lodge?  Read:

The big issues with sports images and accompanying chants and movements are the perpetuation of stereotypes in the absence of a range of positive, contemporary First Nations images.  And then, how those stereotypes perpetuated by others.  Those who perpetuate inappropriate, inaccurate, and misinformation have the "power" to define us, instead of our own images and stories defining ourselves.  This affects other peoples understanding of us and our own identity development.  As women, we don't like to be called, "wench" anymore and we would hope other inappropriate phrases (or as some like to say, "phrases of that time period") would fall out of use, too. Images need to also change or disappear. The Black " Mammy" on maple syrup has evolved over the decades, though I am not really sure why that exists in the first place since maple syrup is Native in origin.  We are not where we were as a society AND, as Native People, we are finally at a point where we an protest and be heard - look at how long it took women to be heard and to get the right to vote!

In addition, statistics are often cited that mention Native American's "don't care" or "are fine" with the sports images, but that is not the whole story.  Here is an article that explains this:
“I don’t really worry about it,” said Elaine YellowHorse, a college student and EMT on the reservation, told me. “There are just so many other things that I need to worry about before that.”  But YellowHorse gives the lie to the idea that 58% of the survey respondents actively condone the name. While she said she wouldn’t bother to change it, YellowHorse also told me that she found “Redskins” offensive and was upset by the idea that there were non-Native fans running around in headdresses in the nation’s capital. It’s a difficult sentiment to understand — to find something offensive but not worth worrying about — but when the whole world around you is tinged with racism, you have a high bar for what you deem worthy of worrying about.

And here:
“Native Americans throughout the country consider the term ‘redskin’ a racial, derogatory slur akin to the ‘N-word' among African Americans or the ‘W-word' among Latinos,” Cole and nine other lawmakers wrote in a letter earlier this year to team owner Daniel Snyder. “Such offensive epithets would no doubt draw widespread disapproval among the NFL's fan base. Yet the national coverage of Washington's NFL football team profits from a term that is equally disparaging to Native Americans.”

Hope this helps