In the fall, Anthony Summerlin of Cookeville, Tennessee, attended "Indian Day" at Algood Elementary School, and was concerned by the goings-on at the event and lack of respect for Natives bolstered by the adjacent middle school's mascot. He was moved to write this letter to his local newspaper, the Cookeville Herald-Citizen. He also wanted to share his thoughts ICTMN readers, and we agree that they are worth reading. Here's the text:
Putnam County Schools and the Editor,
As a child, I went to Sequoyah Elementary where we would celebrate the Oklahoma Land Run. Everyone would run to “claim” their spot on the playground . Some wouldn't participate, because they were from the surrounding reservations. I'd invite them to come play with me, they'd give me a look that said, “don't you get it”? Ironically, I too am Native American. I knew little about my “heritage” except that my parents were gone (prison). Occasionally I'd visit my “Pappy”. He'd wait until it was gonna rain, and get us to do a “rain dance”, convincing us we had brought on the storm. At 8, I was put into foster care.
Later, I learned that my father was born on a reservation. As a boy he suffered severe abuse for being “Indian”. As a result, he developed mental illness and narcolepsy which altered our lives profoundly. He would stay up for days and whip into “biblical” furies, due to his medication. I have seen the consequences of the desecration of a people and their culture. I've seen it in my home and in my family. I was an adult before I could recognize it, and now I see it here, in Putnam County.
September 18th, Algood Elementary had “Indian Day”. The equivalent of “Black face” makeup with feathers and war paint, parading a culture and history that they do not understand and a pain to which they're not connected. This cut even deeper when I looked up to see the name “Redskins” plastered on the adjacent middle school sign. Historically, a redskin is the skin of a Native American that has been peeled from his corpse and sold to prove his execution. It's an offensive and denigrating term. As a community, Putnam County isn't plugged in to the pain it causes.
Would you have a “Holocaust Day”? What about “Slavery Day” where all the children costume as slaves? “Cracker Day”? Would you dare make the mascot the “Blackies” or the “Crackers”?
Algood Middle School should change its mascot. Also, in the future, if you're going to have a “Indian day” perhaps you should invite some actual Indians, from India; Otherwise, call the event “Native Day” and have someone who is competent in the history of Native peoples educate children on real Native culture.
This has gone on long enough.
We're still here.