When you’re Native American, the wins are often too few and far between. Just when you think you’ve finally made progress, that society might be finally grasping an indigenous issue, along comes a well-funded attempt to knock you back into place.
This morning, I awoke to a Washington Post poll proclaiming that 9 of 10 Native Americans don’t find a dictionary-defined racial slur offensive. “An even higher number – 8 in 10 – said they would not be offended if a non-Native called them that name.”
Really? I have a pretty good idea of what would happen if a non-Native approached a group of Natives on a reservation and greeted them with “Hello, redsk*ns!” It wouldn’t end with a friendly rendition of ‘Hail to Redsk*ns,’ that’s for sure.
Name change advocates will now endure a new round of “but this poll says” arguments when we say we are offended. Decades of grassroots opposition, nearly 25-years of legal challenges, hundreds of tribes and Native organizations representing thousands of tribal members will be disregarded by those waving a questionable poll like a smoking gun.
A group of 504 people, 56-percent of whom are self-identifying and not enrolled in a tribe will allegedly speak for more than 5.2 million Native Americans.
It’s exhausting to think about.
What’s more hurtful and at the same time more motivating is this – no matter where you stand on the name change and mascot issue, Native mascots have repeatedly been empirically shown to harm the self-esteem of Native American youth. Period.
It does not matter if I’m offended or if your ‘Native American friend’ is not. Racial stereotypes are harmful to our children. Another study demonstrated that Native mascots increase the likelihood of non-Native children to indoctrinate stereotypes of other races. Racism begets racism.
Can you imagine a stadium full of fans dressed in a mock caricature of any other people of color? Native Americans have survived nearly every indignity imaginable, we endured genocide of cultures and peoples, yet somehow love of sports mascots is prioritized over our children’s well-being.
“The act of polling a human rights issue is absurd. It trivializes the reports and experiences of those Native people who’ve been hurt and damaged by Native stereotypes and by the Washington team name. Stereotypes are wrong and demeaning,” said Amanda Blackhorse, lead plaintiff of the lawsuit challenging the Washington team’s trademarks.
Indeed. What other racial slur does America poll? What other racial stereotype requires a poll to determine if it’s dehumanizing? What other group is told they have more important things to worry about, as if Native Americans are somehow incapable of combating racism and poverty at the same time?
When you don’t treat a group of people like living human beings, it affects that group at every level. Racism is a fundamental, invasive issue.
Thousands of Native Americans have marched against the Washington football team, generations of advocates have fought for change. Our children matter. Our dignity matters. While the Washington team celebrates a flimsy poll, this Native American and many others simply view it as another reminder that our fight is not over.
Tara Houska (Couchiching First Nation) is the National Campaigns Director of Honor the Earth, a founding member of NotYourMascots.org, a Native American policy advisor to the Bernie Sanders campaign, and an all-around rabble rouser of an attorney. Follow her: @zhaabowekwe.
Tara Houska. Courtesy Jason Daniels.