Symbols matter. We need to show off our icons and heroes.
I know some people dislike Mount Rushmore mightily. I get it—slaveowners, racists, guys with funny hair, etc. I honestly think those guys were progressive for their time—a big caveat—and that it’s unfair to judge them according to today’s standards. All of us will probably look like cavepeople in about 200 years—“Daddy, you mean to tell me that there were people who actually cared that someone was gay?” Different time, different norms.
But that’s just my thinking.
Still, I’m not even mad at Mount Rushmore. The white men that are on there, well, they’re white men. And in this Nation’s history, white men have always been the hot women of this Nation—everyone is kinda programmed to like them—and so it makes a perverse sense that people would make monuments to themselves. And by the way, that isn’t a “racial” thing—uh uh, there wasn’t a chance that you’d ever see a poor white man or a white woman on Mount Rushmore. Nope, the white men who are on Mount Rushmore, they’re no Joe Dirts! Oh no, these are the privileged-est of the privileged white men of the United States!
And being so super-entitled, it makes sense that they should have a spot in some rocks. I’m just surprised that more of these super-entitled cats didn’t try to be on a Mountain someplace (Donald Trump, anyone?).
Which brings me to the point of this awkward post—icons. Heroes. Symbols. Native-style.
In 2015, I’d love to see us take more control of our symbols. Instead of simply protesting when we don’t like a depiction of us, we create our own depictions. Storytelling. Redefining. All of a sudden those four rednecks (or three, depending on your opinion) on Mount Rushmore or the Redskins symbol or "Boob Lady" (officially, Medicine Woman) in The Simpsons Movie doesn’t have as much significance.
Protesting is cool. But we can also take control of a narrative instead of always responding. Create our own images while protesting.
That’s why what some Native folks are doing is so important. They’re telling our own stories.
We at the Thing About Skins want to commend and honor a couple of those folks who did their thing powerfully and told our stories in 2014 and put them up on our own Mountain…but we’ll call this Mount Lovemore.
Uncle Billy Frank (RIP). Every single person should know who Uncle Billy Frank is and every single Native publication should have an end of the year tribute to him. He is the single bravest person that I’ve ever known and is responsible, along with Hank Adams and several others, with kickstarting a movement that was felt from the Pacific Northwest Coast to Wounded Knee South Dakota, Alcatraz and Washington DC. Uncle Billy ignited the modern Indigenous resistance in which treaties became the tool that were used to vindicate our rights—before then, they were seen as archaic, silly documents that had no contemporary meaning. The result of it was a MARKED improvement in the way that federal government treated Native people and some legal leverage even in the courts of the oppressors. Rest well, dear uncle—thank you for redefining the story of Native people.
Matt Remle. Matt took the initiative and learned the legislative process in the City of Seattle. He offered up a resolution to the City Council (this is the really simplified version—it took years), advocated to those politicians on the City Council, found allies and ultimately counted coup on behalf of a WHOLE bunch of Natives when the City of Seattle recognized Indigenous People’s Day. Matt, you belong on that Mount Lovemore which recognizes our people redefining our stories—you took control and showed that, like Uncle Billy, we can use modern devices to benefit our people (and indeed, all people)
Shoni and Jude Schimmel. I know, it seems odd to put an athlete on this beloved Mountain with civil rights leaders and humanitarians…but if you see the way that our kids respond to and love Shoni and Jude? It makes sense. Our people have been deprived—for many reasons, some of them our own—from being in prevalent in pop culture seemingly since the beginning of time. But these two nimble and beautiful Umatilla sisters who tell our stories with style, grace and passion on the court—telling, without words, a generation of Native youth, “You can do absolutely anything you want. You can compete at the highest level and win if you put in the time and believe.” These young ladies moved mountains (see what I did there?) in helping young Natives recover some of the self-esteem that has been stolen for generations.
Let’s continue telling our own stories in 2015.
Thank you all. Happy New Year.
Chief Seattle Club, photo credit Deyo Esquivel