Tag Archives: indigenous

Road Warrior [Essay]

by Guest Contributor Scott Bear Don’t Walk, originally published at The Rhodes Project

“Weren’t you the Indian Rhodes Scholar?” she said, as I shivered in her doorway holding my pizza delivery bag, wearing my “Red Pies Over Montana” polyester shirt and ball cap. She handed me 20 dollars for driving a Sausage Lover’s Special through the snow-drifted streets of the reservation border town of Missoula—for a one-dollar tip.

A month before, I had been sitting next to a well-known British novelist at a Rhodes House dinner in Oxford, which involved multiple courses and sparkling conversation over after-dinner sherry. I had been wearing a jacket and tie, not a tux, but near. The writer asked, “Aren’t you the red-Indian Rhodes Scholar?”

They say the Rhodes is one of the few things a person can do at 20 years of age that will be mentioned at 40, that and joining the Marines—but I didn’t go to Parris Island. I went to Oxford, England.

During my fifth year at the University of Montana, a familiar-looking woman, whose face I couldn’t quite place, passed as I walked across campus. Coming closer, I recognized her as a former classmate who had trounced me in every subject in grade school, the smartest person in class, my main competition. Becky—Rebecca (some names have been changed for this story), I called out, asking her what she was doing in Missoula. She said that she had come back from Harvard for the local Rhodes Scholarship interview. I had no idea what the words “Rhodes Scholar” meant. A year later, I would be chosen.

I am from an American Indian tribe—the Crow—located in Montana. I say it this way, “located in Montana” because we predate the founding of the state. We predate the founding of the United States, though this is where we find ourselves. My parents went to college at the local university. They came of age in the 1960s during the Civil Rights movement and the Great Society. Coming from two separate Indian reservations, my parents were the first in their families to go to college, and, until I went 25 years later, the last. They went from poor to professional. They went from reservation schools and Catholic boarding schools, which sought to kill the Indian to save the student, to become active in the American Indian Civil Rights movement. My parents’ generation (though not my parents) founded the “Red Power” movement, occupied Alcatraz Island and Wounded Knee. My father was one of the earliest lawyers in the Crow Tribe, and he still works for his people. My mother was active in American Indian women’s rights, and still works in Indian health care. They made the big leap for me. I went to college only because they did.

Is there such a thing as a traditional Rhodes Scholar? Until the 1970s, a Rhodes Scholar was male. Was he also white? In December of 1992, when I called my mother from a high-rise in Seattle to tell her that I had had been chosen by the Rhodes committee, her first words were, “How many women were picked?” She identifies as a second-wave feminist. I grew up in a house where Ms. magazine and Our Bodies Ourselves sat on the coffee table—we learned that “a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.” We learned that a woman could do anything—Mother told my sister that she could be a senator—but I wondered what an Indian could boy be? In my Rhodes Scholar class of 1993 there were few minorities, but about an even split gender-wise. I told my mother about half were women. “Good,” she said. My peers seemed to come from two or three certain universities on the East Coast, men and women. Though not Harvard or Yale, my state university had secretly been sending Rhodes, too. The University of Montana was then rated 4th in the country for public schools for sending Rhodes Scholars, a surprise to me, being so close to the poverty and limited opportunity of Indian Country.
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Racist names, Racist Places

by Special Correspondent Jessica Yee

Savage. Squaw. Indian. Would we all agree that these are immensely derogatory names that should not be, in this day and age, still used to geographically locate places? Or even people, for that matter?

From the varying answers I’ve received when posing this question, it all really depends on who you ask and what it’s for. Percie Sacobie from the Maliseet Nation in New Brunswick, is currently lobbying the city council of St. Mary’s to change the name of “Savage Island”, located seven kilometres west of Fredericton, to something less demeaning to the Wolastoqiyik people.

He went to city council with historical documentation of its origin, and the full support of the Maliseet chiefs from Oromocto, Kingsclear, Tobique, Woodstock, Madawaska and St. Mary’s First Nations, only to be told that he has to submit some sort of formal application process, and maybe, just maybe, they might consider changing it.

The Wolastoqiyik people are recorded to have used Indian (as it’s locally referred to) or Savage Island as far back as 1762, when Surveyor General Charles Morris described it as “a place where the Maliseets held their annual council.” It was a place where disputes were settled and hunting grounds allotted to each family before they began their summer hunts.

Percie Sacobie is suggesting the island’s name be changed to “Eqpahak Island”, which means “at head of tide on river or inlet.”

This is quite a similar story to a recent number of name change requests, or challenges to the history of the seemingly racist names places have been given. In December 2000, the province of British Columbia passed legislation that removed the word “Squaw” from all public establishments where the word is used. Although the act of carrying out this legislation has been less than desirable, British Columbia followed suit from Saskatchewan, Alberta, Prince Edward Island and the Yukon, as well as a number of U.S. states who also passed similar legislation.

Yet there are some people who contest that “squaw” isn’t even an offensive word. They claim that this was an honorable word for women, before it was twisted around to mean something racist and degrading by the colonizers. Even if the word were ever to be reclaimed, it has certainly been tainted for good by its misuse. Continue reading

Confrontations, Indian Villages, and the start of Black History Month

By Special Correspondent Jessica Yee

Okay, so I’ll be honest, my night didn’t really start off too well. Waiting for the streetcar to come so I can go check out the much anticipated photo exhibit for “Prom Night in Mississippi” I see this gem of a display in a popular Queen West shoe store right across the street:

Between debating on going inside to voice my annoyance and offense, or hopping the fast approaching streetcar on this bitterly cold night and making my opinions heard later, I chose to go inside, and become angrier by the second as I make my way over there. Who the hell do they think they are? I’m probably like the tenth person who complained, I mean this is Toronto, for heaven’s sake!

“Excuse me, I am extremely offended by the “Indian” village display at the front of the store, can I speak to the manager?” I ask.

“Thank goodness you said something! No, he’s not here, but yeah, I said something and since I’m just an employee, it didn’t change.” she replies.

Turns out the company making the moccasins, mukluks, and boots on display is called Laurentian Chiefs, and she proceeds to tell me how they are actually from a reserve in Quebec (although I still have yet to confirm all the details of who this company really is).

“So does Laurentian Chiefs mandate the store to put on a display like that?”  I continue.

“No, my boss just went out and bought the stuff.” she says.

Well that’s just great, especially considering all the amazingly gifted (and popular!) Native fashion designers, photographers, artists, and countless others in Toronto who could have easily given them some better guidance on how to put together a more realistic and ethical display.  There are more than 60 000 Aboriginal people who live in this city. And apparently, I’m the first person who has said anything about it.

After collecting said manager’s info and being assured my comments would be passed along, I go back outside to wait for another streetcar, when a group of young Native women come along and also take notice of the display.

“That’s just racist, man.” one of them says. Continue reading

Native Land, Youth, and The Future

by Special Correspondent Jessica Yee

Much of what people know about historic Native issues has to do with land on some level. Indeed, much of what we are about today has to do with our land also. Our Mother Earth is the ultimate living entity, something that sustains life and guides us as a people. They say that without our land, we are nothing.

Nowadays, the news that is frequently dispelled from our communities if you are involved in any left-learning circles are about things like land claims, environmental degradation and destruction, and the suffering and plight of our people as a result of our Mother Earth being taken away from us. While this is all true and essential to acknowledge that we need land for the people, we also need people for the land. I know for myself that whenever I enter an activist space of some sort, I’m constantly being asked about whatever land struggle that is currently going on in some Native community, to which I’ll often reply “I work in sexual and reproductive health. Do you know the latest statistic on AIDS in Aboriginal communities?”

People ask me this I think for maybe a few stereotypical reasons (like they think that we all know everything about each other and send smoke signals the other way to find out), but mostly because it would appear that these are very key issues for us to be involved in, and in reality, we do need this place for the prophecies of our next 7 generations to come true. While I am still a learner when it comes to subjects like environmental justice and food sustainability, I know I cannot separate myself from my community whatsoever, and these are the simultaneous realities we must deal with when even discussing things like sexuality and violence prevention in our communities. I have to be informed.

We cannot pit one issue on top of the other as being more pressing; it’s all affecting us somehow. Continue reading

Anachronism and American Indians

by Guest Contributor Lisa, originally published at Sociological Images

In many places in the midwest the American Indian is very present, but in other places in the U.S., like in California, Disney’s Pocahontas is as close as we get to “Indians.” The idea that American Indians are gone comes, in part, from the ubiquitous representation of them with feathers, buckskins, and moccasins. These anachronisms are everywhere (see, for example, here, here, here, here, and here).

American Indians are as modern as the rest of us, why are representations of American Indians, as they live today, so unusual? And what effect might that have on the psyche of American Indian people?

Via PostSecret.

I’m not celebrating genocide

by Guest Contributor Jessica Yee, originally published at the Shameless Blog

Christopher Columbus is no hero.

Some say he is actually responsible for causing 95 million deaths of Indigenous peoples worldwide.

He was not a great discoverer either. He had no idea where he was going, and never even came to the land we know today as North America. In fact, he was way far off in Haiti and, thinking he had landed in India, called the traditional Arahawk people of that territory “Indians”.

That name has since stuck on us like glue and has caused generations of systemic genocide and mass attempts to annihilate our culture.

But each year, on October 12th, “Columbus Day” is celebrated, paraded, and honoured in the United States, and in many Latin American countries including Costa Rica and Spain, for what this mass murderer did to my people.

Actually, in Venezuela, they have renamed it “Indigenous Resistance Day”.

Watch this clip from the Canary Effect by the Bastard Fairies, an amazing independent music duo from the Yankton Sioux reservation.

I’m disgusted, appalled, and saddened that this day continues to be celebrated. I know I will NEVER celebrate genocide. And I know that as a feminist, I have a DUTY to cry out against Columbus, and everything he stood for.

Watch this message from NICAN TLACA community who call on us all to do something about it and stop the genocide now.

“Why are you trying to be black when you’re red?”

by Guest Contributor Jessica Yee

The whole “acting black” label isn’t an unheard one in really any community these days, but I’ve always thought it was an interesting one to hear in my own community, from my own people.

Let me give it to you straight and say I already know how much we have in common; Native/Indigenous peoples and Black/people of African descent. While we might have been born here (although the jury is still out on where we all actually came from) y’all were dragged here, and not by your own choice. And you came from a place with a strong Indigenous identity and spiritual centre.

Not to mention of course the number of “Black Indians” there are, who some say represent almost 50% of African Americans today (with Oprah, Rosa Parks, and actress Rosario Dawson on that list). As White historian William Katz who has studied this stuff to death says:

“This story began at the time of Columbus, ranging from North American forests to South American jungles, and the jewel-like islands of the Caribbean. The first freedom paths taken by runaway slaves led to Native American villages. There black men and women found a red hand of friendship and an accepting adoption system and culture. The sturdy offspring of Black-Indian marriages shaped the early days of the fur trade, added a new dimension to frontier diplomacy, and made a daring contribution to the fight for American liberty”.

The story also included some Native Americans owning slaves, namely in the Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek and Seminole nations. There were also many nations who as Katz says, adopted people in, helped slaves escape, or assisted organizing various revolts. It’s a long, complicated history to go through, but I do know today that the Descendants of Freedmen are still trying to acquire legal recognition in the Cherokee Nation.

In a perfect world, we would understand this and all work as allies for our common struggles of self-determination and autonomy to live as our authentic selves in this still oppressively bigoted society. We would celebrate our rich heritages in peaceful solidarity, while together honouring the ancestors who lived so courageously to give us those few bits of raw culture we cling on to today.

Alas, that world isn’t part of the real world and what’s happening is rather shameful. In light of hip-hop culture or acting what some might perceive as just plain “cool”, the label you are automatically given if you partake in any of this is of course “black” with all of its stereotypical negative connotation. And every time I hear someone from my community say that, whether it’s because they are criticizing Native rappers or don’t understand why so many Native youth identify with Black culture, it makes me wonder how much they don’t know or just don’t remember where we’ve all come from, or even how we got here.

I thought the colonizers were the ones who told us what we could or could not be.