Native Icons Demand Understanding of E Pluribus Unum and Decolonization - We Can’t Have Both

By Andre Billeaudeaux / Oct 16     

Three of the most pressing and continuously raised questions in the Native American icons in sports argument are; “Why is this assault happen now after so many years?”; “Who thinks a warrior image is suddenly racist?”;  “What is the true motivation behind the movement’s backers?”

The routine answers to these questions range from someone simply being nebulously “offended”, to a more hyperbolic “Redskins means bloody scalps” to the most sophisticated where “negative stereotypes” have an impact on native youth.  The latter claim recently drove the very left-leaning Madison School District in Wisconsin to ban Native themed tee shirts. This hasty ban prompted a rare response by the American Civil Liberties Union where local spokesman Larry Dupuis remarked; “This kind of Band-Aid doesn't fix these sorts of underlying problems,” he said. “What a horrible thing to tell kids that we can't discuss these ideas, that we should avert our eyes to this.”

Yet, despite the volumes of logic applied to each argument the name-change talking points keep rising up like rhetorical corpses to haunt those who find native images not only positive but necessary in helping them maintain a public profile. Their logic is that these names and images provide an important bridge to educate others about the unique and diverse heritage of our continent’s first inhabitants who otherwise may never encounter nor engage at all on the often sensitive topic of Native American history. To this group there is a general belief in the positive influence as defined by the national slogan E Pluribus Unum or ‘from many we become one’ a concept derived from the beauty of a diverse bouquet of flowers or as by many ingredients into a melting pot. 

However, over just the past few years, there has emerged an antithesis movement whose principles provide the fertile ground from which the aforementioned zombie-like name change arguments have lurched forward. These are concepts, goals and principles of Decolonization which have spurred an ambitious plan wherein all native names, ideas and indeed the entirety of Western Hemispheric lands are seen as stolen by “settler” classes who have no rights to them.  The Decolonization website dubbed Unsettling America list’s the movement’s core concepts:

“All people not indigenous to North America who are living on this continent are settlers on stolen land.”

“… That settlers are not entitled to live on this land.”

“… It is our responsibility to proactively challenge and dismantle colonialist thought and behavior in the communities we identify ourselves to be part of.”

“… That decolonization means the revitalization of indigenous sovereignty and an end to settler domination of life, lands, and peoples in all territories of the so-called Americas.”

“… Decisions regarding human interaction with this land base, including who lives on it, are rightfully those of the indigenous nations.

By this plan’s sovereignty logic and ambitious goals the professional Redskins, Blackhawks, Indians, Braves and Chiefs will all necessarily be eradicated from the public’s use and no amount of logic, pride or history matters to its advocates. When one looks at the recent wave of attacks on Native American sports teams through a Decolonization lens everything from timing, logic and methods starts to make sense.  Prove them wrong, such as providing the easily accessible evidence that America’s top linguists claim there’s no evidence supporting their popular “bloody scalp” canard, and they’ll simply shake it off and shift to the next argument while never giving intellectual ground as it’s the end state of Decolonization that matters; not the means to get there. 

To gain national traction, Decolonization followers have organized attacks on dozens of high schools in an disciplined, routine and discernable pattern which began leading into the 2012 elections and has been gaining steam ever since. These small “victories” - such as the California Redskin’s schools ordered to change their name by Governor Jerry Brown’s legislation signature just this week - have handed the movement important momentum in gaining regional attention.  

With these victories, Decolonization is beginning to come out of the shadows. In July in the pages of Indian Country Today (a publication owned by the Oneida tribe’s gambling mogul Ray Halbritter),  the Redskins’ “chief” antagonist Amanda Blackhorse wrote a monster 1,100-word editorial accolade which not only included nine references to white racism but an emphatic declaration that decolonization “must occur”. 

Likewise a 2015 National Congress of American Indians 2015 Resolution claims that tribal nations and decolonization are inextricably linked and that one cannot be truly achieved without the other”.  Notably, there were no such Decolonization references in any of the NCAI’s 2014 Resolutions. Even President Obama, only hours of Governor Brown’s evisceration of his state’s long standing Redskins tradition on Sunday, provided a Decolonization-themed speech on Columbus Day suggesting that we, “…recommit to strengthening tribal sovereignty…”.  Notably the only pending Federal legislation where the President could live up to “recommit to strengthening tribal sovereignty” is the Tribal Labor Sovereignty Act of 2015 .  If passed as seemingly recommended in the speech, the bill would remove the National Labor Relation Board’s pay and workplace employee protections from the $20-Billion-a-year NativeCasino business.  If passed this bill would also, coincidently, place more unrestricted power in the hands of Gov. Brown’s California Anti Mascot Bill’s biggest and most ardent supporter – casino mogul Ray Halbritter.

Coincidence aside, the concepts and dangers of Decolonization are becoming more understood amongst those such as the Native American Guardians Association (NAGA) who claim on their Facebook Page that they are working to save positive Native American sports imagery through education and not eradication.  Further, their page notes that the United States has moved away from their promotion of positive native portrayals when they removed warrior images from the U.S. Penny, Nickel, ½ Dollar, $5 Dollar Note and several gold pieces. 

Instead they lament that these images are no longer in circulation with everyday Americans and instead we are forced to see President Andrew Jackson who had a leading role in the Trail of Tears.  Despite these notable public Native American imagery losses which would seem to play into the hands of those who follow Decolonization, at least that same U.S. currency still maintains our nation’s slogan E Pluribus Unum… but for how much longer?  



Andre is a retired veteran residing in Virginia.  During his 29 year career, he was at times a military journalist, television show host and magazine editor.  His published topics of interest include political communications, history, national identity and racism amongst others.  His current focus is on the history and traditions of Native Americans as well as the politics behind the name-change campaign.  He is the Senior Writer for Save the Name. Some of his published print and broadcast work can be seen here

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