I want to start my first column of 2008 the way I ended in 2007; I want to start the year by talking about mascots and how offensive they can be to 90 percent of the indigenous population of America.
I have been writing a weekly column since 1978. Every week for 30 years I have sat down at a typewriter, and now a computer, to put my opinions, opinions garnered from the many conversations I have had with Native Americans over all of these years, on pages that I hope reflect those views, views that are often alien to those of the majority of Americans.
Thirty years ago, when I wrote about the abuse of Indian children in the mission boarding schools, the majority of white Americans did not want to hear about it. That was long before the abuse of white children by Catholic priests started to make the headlines. And even after those horrific happenings were made public, white America still didn’t want to hear about the very same crimes of sexual, psychological and cultural abuse of Indian children. No one, except the Indian people themselves, gave a damn. Instead I was castigated by the Catholic Church, lied about by the priests at the very Indian mission school I attended for nearly 11 years, and my weekly column was dropped from a local daily newspaper by the editor who accused me of “Catholic bashing.”
It is no comfort to me, now that everything I wrote about turned out to be the truth I knew it to be, to say I told you so because the wounds of those many years of abuse have not healed and the Indian children, now adults, that suffered this abuse have not been compensated for the horrors they suffered at the hands of the Catholic priests, brothers and sisters.
Ironically, when I was a student at the Holy Rosary Indian Mission many years ago, we held a contest to pick a mascot for our sports teams. I won the contest by picking the name “Crusaders.” I say it is ironic in that I would end up many years not only writing about mascots, but the word “Crusaders” itself would turn out to have a far different meaning to the people of Islam. My reward for winning that contest was five silver dollars. Now I feel like a Judas for having accepted it.
People of many Indian nations in America place a strong belief in ‘medicine.” Not as much as in the medicinal sense, but in the spiritual sense. There is good medicine and bad medicine. There are those who say that bad medicine was placed upon them by an enemy and they must have a ceremony to remove it. Now don’t laugh because these are powerful beliefs and are often based on reality. If a Mike Huckabee does not believe in evolution and he happens to be a Baptist minister, what does that say about reality?
On Saturday, in a professional football game in Seattle, there was powerful medicine on the field. The Washington “R-words,” believed that their recently murdered teammate, Sean Taylor, a defensive back, was on the field with them. Washington running back Clinton Portis said he knew Taylor was with them in spirit on the field.
There was another spirit on that field. In 2005, just before his death, that gentle giant Seminole Indian, Michael Haney, held a ceremony to place bad medicine on the Washington football team, and on any other sporting team that used Native Americans as mascots. That included the Cleveland Indians, Kansas City Chiefs, Florida State Seminoles (Michael hated that fact that he was Seminole and the Florida Seminole tribe allowed Florida State to desecrate his people) and the Atlanta Braves and their hideous tomahawk chop.
As I watched the game on NBC, I was grateful that the cameras did not pan the painted and feathered white and black folks seated in the crowd. But just as sure as there is a Space Needle in Seattle, I knew that the spirit of my friend Michael Haney would prevail.
There are thousands of Native Americans that believe strongly in good and bad medicine and to them it is no joke. When my good friend and the best man at my wedding, Elijah Whirlwind Horse, a great Lakota leader, lie dying, on his deathbed he swore that it was bad medicine that was claiming his life and he said it came to him in the form of the bite of Itktomi, the spider. He believed this to the moment of his death.
Michael Haney is gone now, but his spirit is still with the many friends he accumulated in his years on this Maka Ina, Mother Earth. It has always been his prayer that someday the United States of America will grow up and recognize the fact known to 90 percent of all Native Americans that misusing us as mascots for your fun and games is racist.
The medicine of Michael Haney won out in the end in Seattle.
Tim Giago, an Oglala Lakota, was born, raised and educated on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. He was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard in the Class of 1991. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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