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Catherine R. Davids,
Interim Program Coordinator,
Office of Educational Opportunity Initiatives,
University of Michigan-Flint, Flint, Michigan 48502-2186, (810) 762-3328
Last night (Thursday) in Milford, Michigan, eighteen year old Ojibway, Jill Cadreau, saw the true process of the United States Constitutional democratic process in full action - at its ugliest.
Since August (1997) Jill has been working with Dr. Beverly Smith (University of Michigan-Flint) and others to educate the Huron Valley Board of Education and the Milford High School faculty, staff, and student body as to why the use of Native American Indian names and images is a racist tradition. The issue gathered momentum once the 1997-1998 school year began, and soon Jill and her supporters found themselves dealing with people who refused to be educated and enlightened.
In 1947 Milford High School changed its mascot designation from the Trojans to the Redskins. In 1947 a parent group at Milford High School became concerned that their children were being designated by a birth control contraceptive. They chose the word Redskins because they wanted something that portrayed a noble, brave, warrior-like people. In her presentation to the Huron Valley Board of Education, Dr. Beverly Smith pointed out to the board and the audience that if the school could change the mascot and name based on a moral matter fifty years ago that they certainly could do so again. This precise logic and intellect went right over their heads.
As in all these cases, it was, and has been, a group of Anglo-European people who have chosen to misrepresent themselves as Native American Indians and to bastardize the traditions of the American Indian peoples. In the case of the Redskins - these people are proudly identifying themselves with a gross and shameful part of their own history.
Jill and other Native American Indian students at Milford High School have had to endure ethnic intimidation, verbal, and physical abuse because of their ethnic background. This is not surprising considering that Milford is located in a geographic area of Michigan which has long been identified as a stronghold of the Klu Klux Klan.
The evening began at Dr. Smith's home in Milford, Michigan. Jill and her supporters gathered for a buffet-style dinner. New friendships were born. It was a good way to start the evening. The group of approximately forty people caravaned to Milford High School where they met up with other supporters.
Milford High School is an architectural delight. Windows everywhere create the feeling of an uninterrupted meeting of the outdoors and indoors. The hallways are wide - sometimes almost seeming like rooms themselves. The school store "The Wampum Exchange" sells a variety of "Redskins" items. The student newspaper, "The Smoke Signal" is also sold in the store. The trophy case displays years of athletic accomplishments. Milford is a wealthy community seeped in the tradition of being privileged because of their skin color. The message is all too clear: "white is right," and the unsung message is "if you ain't white - you ain't right."
Jill has stood up many times at school functions. She has met with her principal, Bruce Gilbert, and others on a one-to-one basis. Her whole process has been devoted to educating and never has she or anyone else been confrontational. The dignity of this young woman is not unusual among Native American Indian youth, but the adults from the school and school board constantly remarked on this aspect of Jill's personality. Probably because they seldom experience this respect and courage among their own youth.
When the Native American Indian people arrived at the school they were greeted by a practice-session from the cheerleaders (wearing casual clothing - not their uniforms) doing a clever little cheer and as we walked by them, their voices rose with the chant "go skins." They were so cute it was hard to resist the urge to go and pinch their little perky peppy rosy cheeks.
The meeting began at 7:30 p.m. I will go straight to the details of this issue and will not bore you with the details of the rest of the meeting except to say that this school district has lots of money because three budget items were discussed and we were impressed with the financial well-being of this district. Jill stood at the microphone and gave an eloquent speech which included quotes from several of your e-mail messages. She never faltered. Her voice was calm and steady. Her presentation was filled with historical fact and logic.
Then the principal and the retired director of the Native American Indian Education program spoke. I taped these speeches and am going to transcribe them over the weekend and upcoming holiday. Suffice to say that the retired director (an Anglo-European) gave a very paternalistic overview and suggested changing the name to Warrior. The principal talked about how this process has educated the students and renewed their pride in their school. He recommended keeping the name so as not to upset the traditions.
The public forum began. Thirty people had signed the proper "white form" to speak. Someone on the Board actually said, "if you want to speak you have to fill out this "white form," and someone in the back said "isn't that always the way though." This made us laugh as did many things.
It was a "them against us" process. The moderator would call our names and we would go to the microphone and speak. Each person was allowed three minutes. The Native American Indian people spoke about the history of the name Redskin, the horrible consequences of the European invasion, the continuation of racist policy today, and the comparison of the gross cartoonish caricatures of Jews (by the Nazi's) and of blacks (minstrely performances). A few Native American Indian graduates of Milford spoke about the humiliation of having to attend a school seeped in racist tradition and several white people spoke about their embarrassment at having to send their children to such a racist school. Jill has been successful in educating people because several people throughout the past three months have changed their minds about this matter and they had the courage to stand up last night and speak from their hearts. Although the Native American Indians had the support of white people it is interesting to note that the pro-Redskin people had no Native American Indian support. There were no black people, latino people or asian people at this meeting.
The public forum lasted approximately two hours. The pro-Redskin people (all white) did not listen for one moment to the words of the Indian people. One student called us "redskins" three times in his little presentation. One student walked to the microphone putting on her varsity jacket (all are decorated with the word redskins) to make her point. One student said that if "you people are allowed to get away with this I will be a redskin without a name." Many students identified themselves as "proud redskins" honoring the spirit of the American Indians. Several of the adults who spoke talked having to "cave in to political correctness." Two students were concerned that if the name would be changed that it would be a few years and someone else would want it changed - "how often do we have to do this to satisfy some overly sensitive minority." Several objected to being called racists, bigots, and Nazis - which not one American Indian ever said. One parent came dressed in all of his Washington Redskin clothing and discussed the "dismantling of our traditions by a small minority." One parent got up and gave an emotionally wrenching talk about his "deep love and regard for Native American Indian people and the necessity of keeping their names and traditions alive in our eyes." Many addressed the importance of maintaining majority rule regardless of the minority wishes, needs, and concerns. Several even apologized for the shameful actions of their ancestors and one girl had tears in her voice as she apologized but she quickly recovered to say "I am sick and tired of having to pay for what my ancestors did." One student said that it would help if all of the students were required to read "Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee" because that is the best education about Indian issues. Another student suggested putting up a display about Indians and another suggested the creation of an multicultural curriculum. One parent spoke about the erasure of ethnic backgrounds - "we are all native americans" - you are americans, we are all americans - can't we just get along." This went along with a general feeling that we need to "be beyond identifying ourselves as anything but Americans." Some of the speakers said "I'll bet if I go back far enough I could find some Indian blood in my family." Some of the students were so ill-prepared to rationally and logically defend their use of the word "redskin" that it was painful to listen to them. One student wanted to know where we were fifty years ago when the name "redskin" was chosen. One wanted to know why we were making a "big deal out of something" that happened fifty years ago. One student even questioned where we were two weeks ago when the Board met.
There were moments when we felt terribly sorry for them - to live in their safe and white world where they wrap themselves in the privilege of whiteness for comfort against the realities that face Native American Indian people on a daily basis. Their ignorance was relentless. Their sad lack of historical knowledge was pathetic. Some of them were angry and hostile and quite a few were contentious. Some quoted dictionary definitions of "redskin" as being an identifying word for American Indians, but they failed to say that the dictionaries all state: derogatory word used to describe American Indians.
Around ten the Board called for a vote on the issue. This was surprising because we had been told that they would consider the matter in closed-door sessions and would make a determination in a week or so. This is when the democratic process became the typical joke that it is for Native American Indian peoples. One of the board members, a lawyer, read a thoroughly prepared statement to keep the name "redskin." His statement was full of the usual nonsense about "pride, honor, tradition, and respect." Nowhere in his statement did he discuss the concerns of the Native American Indian people or the abject racism that exists in the uses of these names and images. As soon as he read his statement the board voted unanimously to support it.
It was obvious that the Huron Valley Board of Education had been meeting about this matter and had the entire evening planned to create a semblance of the democratic process. We now know why so many of the Board members sat at the table with heartfelt disinterest and disregard for the people who spoke about this issue. They were bored at having to listen to us. They missed their Thursday evening presentation of Seinfeld.
The evening was a sham. We could have brought in two million American Indians to speak and the outcome would have been the same. We could have brought in the most renowned American Indian leaders (eg: Vernon Bellecourt, Wilma Mankiller) and the outcome would have been the same. We could have brought in Bernard Boucher, the Chief of the Sault Ste. Marie Chippewa Tribe and the outcome would have been the same. We could have brought in Amnesty International and the American Civil Liberties Union and the result would have been the same. We could have brought in the Michigan Civil Rights Commission and the results would have been the same. We could have brought in the Reverend Jesse Jackson, Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell and Billy Graham and the results would have been the same.
The Huron Valley Board of Education, the principal of Milford High School, and many of the students and parents who spoke were in collusion. The package of materials presented to each board member were nowhere to be seen. There was never any intent on their part to read the materials for consideration. There was never any intent to show a good heart or to allow themselves to change their minds or to become educated about this issue. Their ignorance and insensitivity is their proud tradition and has created a bastion of racism in Milford, Michigan. That is the tradition that was upheld last night in a small town in southeastern Michigan. Their ears and hearts are closed to others who are not like them. Jill, Dr. Smith, and their supporters took the outcome in stunned silence - for a few moments. Then we got up and began to greet each other with hugs and words of "Plan B." We left the building disappointed but in good cheer because we began to repeat some of the funnier statements and several of us tried to put "I'll be a redskin student without a name" to the 1960's hit "I've been to the desert on a horse with no name."
This is, however, not a funny or amusing matter. We are always being told that we should find a more serious matter to address. We believe that racism is a serious matter and as long as our educational institutions refuse to rid themselves of their idiotic, childish, and racist names and mascots - then we will continue this matter.
We are going to spend the next two weeks resting and relaxing. We are going to regroup and move to Plan B. We will be in touch.
Crimes Against Humanity...
In Whose Honor?
The continuing war...
Good ones should be dead...
No more babies...
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