In Washington D.C., the celebration of another Washington team touchdown reverberated through the streets. The long-embattled football franchise was tied up with the Falcons, and hopeful fans were going nuts.
Across Indian Country, a celebration of a different kind happened. Native Americans throughout the U.S. hailed the signing of Assembly Bill 30 into law in California. The law mandates the four remaining schools that share the Washington team moniker to change their name. It was another victory in a string of name changes at public schools.
After testimony from Native American youth, tribal leaders, and psychologists, California became the first state to enact a statewide policy banning the use of a dictionary-defined slur. Study after study has concluded that Native American mascots have a negative effect on Native children’s self-esteem and further ingrain racial stereotypes.
Just a few weeks ago, a fellow Native American attorney addressed the Native American Bar Association of D.C. about an incident at his child’s Maryland school. Despite the findings of multiple legal bodies that the term disparages Native Americans and a self-imposed ban on Native mascots in Montgomery County, the principal wore a Washington team jersey to school.
Calls to the institution went unanswered, concerns about a learning environment free of racial caricatures were dismissed.
But society is making some progress. Though disparate police brutality against people of color and institutional racism persist, the United States has started opening its eyes. Over the summer we saw several states lower Confederate flags and acknowledge the dehumanizing effects of imagery tied to racism.
Over the calls of “proud tradition” and “we don’t mean it that way”, the symbol of the slave-owning South came down. Those arguments sound familiar, don’t they?
Imagine how a business would fare in Washington, D.C., the so-called “Chocolate City,” if it flew a Confederate flag. The genocidal policies of the past resulted in Native Americans being the smallest racial minority. Yet, we still persist. We are here. Our representation matters.
Today, I will walk past businesses proudly displaying a Washington team flag, past monuments celebrating Christopher Columbus. I will be reminded of the place of indigenous peoples in America’s narrative, that the well-being of our children somehow matters less than others. That destruction of tribal nations results in commemoration with a federal holiday or being placed on the twenty-dollar bill.
As America honors a man who enacted genocide and Washington, D.C. mourns another football loss, this Native American will continue waiting for the day that we are shown the same respect as everyone else.
Happy Indigenous Peoples Day.
Tara Houska. Photo courtesy Josh Daniels.
Tara Houska (Couchiching First Nation) is a tribal rights attorney in Washington, D.C., a founding member of NotYourMascots.org, and an all-around rabble rouser. Follow her: @zhaabowekwe.