As of Publication - We Have Not Been Contacted Back by the Newspaper -- Will UPDATE as Necessary
Dear Editor - Detroit Free Press,
Last week, you ran a bold story entitled “Paw Paw Keeps Racist Mascot, State Ups Ante” where the author offered up a veneer of a “pop-culture” narrative that might have been acceptable to the heads of Michigan’s Native Gaming Industry and Adidas Inc. – two moneyed antagonists who are ardently behind the name ‘change’ campaign where at least one is ironically named after an ardent Nazi – yet plan on keeping their name.
But this story flagrantly disrespectful to the very soul the vast majority – more than ninety percent to be exact - of Native Americans, like me, who know that Redskins isn’t offensive nor should it be falsely portrayed as such when facts are fairly easy to find. In that it didn’t even attempt to offer a balanced approach, I am writing to request a retraction or correction. Let me see if I can help you understand my position.
First, let’s go to the source. Your journalist, Nancy Kaffer, learned her trade having graduated from a Jesuit school just outside of Mobile in a state named after the Alibamu Tribe and on lands once occupied by the Coushatta Nation before being pressured out of the region by “White” missionaries - among others – according to academic sources.
So, instead of being represented by a simple “Hill”, her school symbol should have more reasonably been named the Redskins in memory and honor of the original inhabitants who participated in a cultural phenomenon where Red painted (warriors) and White painted (civil authority) native leaders who shared power in governing – a clear separation of powers governing philosophy which eventually found its way from native practice into the U.S. Constitution.
This Redskin truth eluded her despite her being from the “red” region and despite to coverage of the tradition by notable professors Nancy Shoemaker, Cherokee Jonahthan Hook or as featured in detail within a Federal Court “Redskin” Amicus Brief authored by native leaders – like the leader of the famous Navajo Code Talkers – or Sioux author and historian Eunice Davidson.
And, it was the very same Eunice Davidson - the one featured in the Amicus Brief - who was also a guest lecturer in Paw Paw leading up to the school board’s vote. As the local media covered her extensively, I’m wondering why your journalist had a problem finding her quotes or reaching out to her for a deeper education on the Redskin’s true meaning before your one-sided story was published?
Further, your author used the term “mascot” to describe Paw Paw’s warrior ten times but yet the Paw Paw Redskins vociferously do not have a mascot, they officially and purposely have a logo – but that fact was also missed by Kaffer. Moreover, her redundant and reckless use of the loaded term “mascot” to wrongly describe Paw Paw’s philosophy played right into the philosophical hands of the controversial native gaming millionaire Ray Halbritter who fronts and funds the ‘Change the Mascot’ campaign and uses the term to evoke clumsy, insensitive and uncultured characterizations of natives to apparently evoke sympathy – but clearly it’s not the case here.
However, one of the most detestable angles attempted by Kaffer’s attempts to impugn the school leadership and the “small Van Buren County community” by running the Webster’s 1898 Redskins “definition” alongside the school’s 1870 establishment date – suggesting a level of guilt for apparently not knowing any better or knowing and not caring The problem here is that she did not provide the 1898 Webster’s definition – she instead skipped the objective and neutral “A North American Indian” and instead built her slander on the inserted subtext – “often contemptuous” – which is clearly not the provided definition.
Kaffer’s journalistic ‘slight of hand’ is then exposed by simply checking the Webster’s 1916 Edition where the subtext “often contemptuous” disappears and was never returned. And, by doing just a bit of investigational work, we can see why that subtext was placed there in first place. To this end, my associates reached out to Websters who explained that they use what’s called a Corpus of Contemporary American English to help create definitions. Essentially, they use period newspaper coverage to assist with the definitions. So, isn’t it important to investigate whatever was happening in the period leading up to the 1898 subtext that could have been “often contemptuous”?
Well, period news coverage was buzzing with news where rouge native warriors – such as Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse or Geronimo – were famously fighting the government to stay off of their their assigned “lawful” treaty reservations to live the way they desired, the way they once had. And yes, each of these warriors was described very specifically as a “Redskin” in period newspapers.
So then, we see that leading up the to the 1898 Webster’s definition, these famous Redskin Warriors – loath to follow orders from an invading army - were described in the subtext as “often contemptuous” where contemptuous is defined by Webster’ as: “Disobedience of the rules, orders, or process or a court of justice, or the rules of orders of a legislative body.” This narrative may seen in this 1889 Boston Daily Globe story describing how U.S. soldiers were attempting to track down ‘reservation runners’ Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse, “How a Brigade in Rags and in Rain… Started Out on Trail of Redskins.”
But how did Americans feel about these spirited natives? Well, an 1881 Chicago Tribune story describing Sitting Bull suggests it was positive in this headline: “Arrival of the Redoubtable Redskin Warrior at Bismarck.” It’s worth noting that “Redoubtable” is defined as:
“Commanding or Evoking Respect, Reverence or the Like”.
Clearly these are positive terms by which any community school – especially those valuing independence, freedom and desire to fight an infringing government authority – might be attracted to. Do these terms not also describe Paw Paw’s spirit and desires not to conform to the state’s punitive naming policy? Seems to me there’s a very strong spiritual connection here, one that should be valued, not tarnished.
Finally, by considering the constraints which caused the aforementioned Redskins to flee and fight, such as those provided in the 1869 Fort Laramie Treaty, we know that they not only reduced the geographic range of these august warriors and their people, but they also included provisions where natives would receive schools and, “a teacher competent to teach the elementary branches of an English education.”
So, for generations we natives have been provided an “English Education” by the U.S. Government but rarely do we natives hold sway over these government sponsored schools much beyond the naming – where my local Navajo Reservation also features the names Braves, Warriors and yes … even the Redskins -- just like Paw Paw.
And, it’s schools like Paw Paw where we, natives, can influence English speaking - non-native students - by requiring them to teach our customs, our language and our history so that we’re never forgotten. This is exactly the right path forward for school like Paw Paw and it’s what the school board there have volunteered to do – to start a native education program where our warriors can be rightfully called Redskins and where it’s understood how and why they earned that name.
The “Redskin” Crazy Horse gets at this notion when he suggested that all should learn the native ways – to include small towns in Michigan – when he said, “The Red Nation shall rise again and it shall be a blessing for a sick world. A world filled with broken promises, selfishness and separations. A world longing for light again. I see a time of Seven Generations when all the colors of mankind will gather under the Sacred Tree of Life and the whole Earth will become one circle again.”
Bringing our ways to the non-Native world – through native themed schools – is how we will carry out Crazy Horse’s vision.
The Native American Guardians Association is always available to answer questions.
Mark Yellowhorse Beasely
President, Native American Guardians Association
Mark Yellowhorse Beasley has been involved with public education on Native American issues for most of his adult life. As a broadcast journalist, business entrepreneur and volunteer with NAGA, Mark - seen here working with the Kansas City Chiefs - hopes that positive outreach will produce results as has been documented by the rapid decline in NFL fans using war paint and headdresses at games – behaviors many natives see as disrespectful. The NAGA philosophy is “Educate Not Eradicate”.