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Harjo: One small and unworthy man

You probably never heard of David A. Yeagley. He's the darling of the right wingnuts, especially David Horowitz, who pays Yeagley for columns that attack Indians (mostly women) and advocate ultra-conservative positions.

While parroting the Horowitz line against affirmative action, Yeagley is a virtual poster child for getting a leg up because he is, as he writes incessantly, "an enrolled Comanche."

Nearly a lifer of a student, he claims credentials from Arizona, Emory, Hartford, Harvard, Oberlin and Yale, and describes himself as a pianist, composer, lyricist, portrait artist, social worker, gourd dancer, flute player and professor of humanities and psychology.

Yeagley's Web site claims that he teaches at the University of Oklahoma's College of Liberal Arts. OU doesn't have one of those, but it does have a College of Liberal Studies, which is quick to point out that Yeagley taught only "one course, one time" in the fall of 2001. The Horowitz Web site also falsely states that Yeagley teaches at OU.

His brush with greatness occurred when he was fired from Oklahoma State University for, as he claims, "being conservative" and promoting "patriotism" in the classroom. He later lobbied for a state bill to require public education courses on patriotism. When it fell short of passage, he blamed the failure on a "lone leftist" legislator.

In response to 9-11, he wrote a stereotype-laden column, "Comanche War Cry," and Horowitz put him on the road as part of his take-back-our-campuses campaign to "expose the leftist plot to control America's young minds."

Yeagley doesn't write columns or give speeches about any big ideas or anything that could help Native nations or people. His writes ad nauseam about how Indian symbols in sports are good for Indians. He attempts to discredit anyone who disagrees, using the same tired arguments made by non-Indians with fanatical attachments to Indian mascots.

Yeagley hangs on for dear life to those "Indian" symbols, as if they define him. He views them, of course, as an honor.

His "Indian" twist on the issue is that it's "ethnic cleansing to remove all Indian mascots and monikers from American schools." As if that weren't shrill enough, he calls it "virtual genocide" and likens it to the forced marches of Indian people from their homes in the 1800s.

While he does seem to have read a book or two about Indian history, there's nothing in his writing to suggest any knowledge of tribal ways and protocols or involvement with actual Indian people.

The only Indian he seems to like is Betty Gross, a Sioux woman who also earns her living from conservative white men. Gross and Yeagley scouted for the "Sports Illustrated" article that denounced the many Indians who want to get rid of Indian references in sports and propped up the few who want to keep them.

Yeagley has a penchant for dropping names of prominent Indians. Those who have been the target of his snarkiness in print don't know him and most never heard of him.

The more he publishes, the more he reveals his ignorance about Indian country. He recently referred to the National Indian Education Association as a state organization and called it and three California health and education groups "communist-style organizations" that "want to rule people, not represent people."

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What was their offense? Like the vast majority of Native people, they called for an end to Native references in sports.

Yeagley makes some of his money from people who exploit and stereotype Indians in their sports programs, and he's trying to make a lot more. He never misses a chance to call Indian people names when they try to stop these practices. As with his employers, it doesn't register with him that name-calling is what the whole thing is about anyway.

Juanita Pahdopony, a renowned Comanche educator, poet and artist, says, "Mascots perpetuate bigotry" and "hurt the esteem of Indian children."

Recently, when a high school in Nyack, N.Y., hired Yeagley to fight Indian people seeking to remove its Indian sports symbols, Pahdopony asked: "Why didn't (Nyack) fly me in? I'm Comanche; taught at Comanche Nation College; culturally 'connected' to the tribe; live in the community; advocate for Native people."

She would like to know when Yeagley has voted in Comanche General Council or visited or given back to the Comanche community.

Pahdopony takes Yeagley to task for calling the Mashantucket Pequots "black people" and questioning their tribal status.

"Today, I challenge his connection to the Comanche culture and Comanche people," says Pahdopony.

Yeagley writes that there are 12 groups in Connecticut seeking federal recognition and "all of their members would be seen as white or black, if judged by appearance alone."

Yeagley, who resembles the white men who used to wear feathers and tan pancake make-up for old cowboy-and-Indian movies, writes hysterically about the "dilution of Indian bloodlines" as a "national crisis." He says that, "unless common sense prevails, the final extermination of the American Indian does not seem far away."

He shrieks about being a warrior and a patriot, but has never faced combat or donned a uniform. The closest he's been to war was a visit in 2001 to the Museum of the U.S. Army 45th Infantry Division in Oklahoma City. He wrote about the "Indian signs and emblems" there, but missed the myriad images of real Indian people.

My father's picture is displayed in that Museum as one of the WWII Indian Thunderbirds from Company C (for Chilocco Indian School). Most of them were wounded or killed in North Africa and Southern Europe, and were highly decorated for valor and heroism. Dad also is a member of the Red Sticks Society of Muscogee (Creek) Nation combat veterans.

In addition to being a warrior and patriot, my father wants sports teams to retire their Indian-related names and images. This puts him in the category of Indians Yeagley belittles and calls names. But, Yeagley's gum flapping about war and patriotism and what is offensive to Indians are puny indeed beside the real thing.

Yeagley wrote that he came away from the Thunderbird Museum "feeling like one small and unworthy man." On this one point, Yeagley is right on the money.

Suzan Shown Harjo, Cheyenne and Hodulgee Muscogee, is president of the Morning Star Institute in Washington, D.C., and a columnist for Indian Country Today.