As I get old, it seems, I am learning that old age doesn’t give people wisdom as much as it gives them courage to say things that need to be said, no matter if those things are unpopular. That courage comes from not having all that much to lose anymore. I’m learning that few things really hurt me anymore, and those things can come only from very special people I love.
Finally, I realized that fear has little purpose when you can’t be hurt. Certainly someone can kill you, but that someone cannot take away what you have already lived. I don’t have a whole bunch more to live in terms of years or even months, perhaps. And I have nearly 75 years behind me, which have been good years, for the most part.
So, starting now, I am going to say what I want to say. I will try not to hurt anyone personally. On the other hand, I hope that what I have to say will help dispose of things that stand in the way of our people’s rights, culture, and possibilities for the future – especially the young people.
So here goes.
First of all, I’m an in-your-face Lakota and proud of it. I resent people being told that they can’t assume my tribal name in carrying out a worthy mission, especially if it is toward higher educational pursuit, no matter how thinly associated.
I don’t object to the word Sioux as a team name for any college. We know why a school would choose it, because it honors and flatters their image, and it inspires their performance. It is a metaphor for courage in warfare, pride and nobility, which is what I feel in the pride I take in being Sioux. If the school that adopts the name allows any display that belittles and offends the culture of tribal people whose name they have appropriated, then they should be called upon to correct the situation. If they allow it to go on, or encourage such behavior, then they should be pressured or otherwise forced to discontinue its use. It is a privilege, and should be deserved.
There are many things that could be demanded and worked out in exchange for the privilege of using the Sioux name and the metaphor it represents.
On the other hand, the institution should agree to dedicate resources to promote the history, culture and image of the people their team name represents. And they should work to provide opportunities to the children whose veins carry the blood of those tribes, and help them to advance in their own world and in the larger world outside their homelands.
And those legions of perpetually-offended purveyors of over-sensitivity and grumpy victimhood should just let it go. Go home and allow the students to get back to doing the work for which they and their families have chosen the institution, even despite its nickname (if that had even entered their minds).
And I don’t object to the adjective “Fighting” as part of the name. A descriptive that would mightily offend me would be, let’s say, the “Whining Sioux,” as the actions of some of our super-sensitive relatives might suggest. But Fighting Sioux is very apropos and quite noble.
We are allowing a sulking, sour minority to stop a nation, the Standing Rock, from exercising its sovereignty by conducting a referendum on the subject. And we are allowing them to demean the results of the referendum conducted by the people at Spirit Lake. All because it would embarrass them if the people, the oyate, voted their right to allow the use of the name. Expressed or not, you got their answer: “Who are the oyate, and what do they know?”
If they get their way and the name is jettisoned, it will not be the end of anybody’s world. However, neither will it make a whit of difference in the physical, mental or emotional welfare of our people. Those children of our tribesmen who walk the UND campus will not breathe any freer than before; they will not have been emancipated.
Instead, they will have hammered into place the first shackle to chains that can hold them back, the chains of victimhood. And victimhood is what this is all about. It is not pride, and it is certainly not a show of confidence in the strength of our cultures.
I feel that the tribes – not just the Sioux, but the Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara, and Turtle Mountain people as well – should instead hammer out an agreement with the college for programs that would advance knowledge and understanding of the histories and cultures of the tribes in North Dakota. They should hammer out an agreement as to what constitutes disrespect for those cultures and their symbols, with actions to discourage and prevent disrespectful displays.
They should work with the school to put into place programs that would help Native American youth adapt and adjust to college life, and to help boost retention. There are many things that could be demanded and worked out in exchange for the privilege of using the Sioux name and the metaphor that it represents to the college and its students and athletes.
If this could be done, it would shed positive light on students and advocates who, in all seriousness and in the best of spirits, had worked for change. It need not be seen as a “defeat” for them.
First of all, I think the tribal people of Standing Rock, the oyate, should be given a chance to express their views via referendum, and they should be heard and taken seriously.
Charles E. Trimble, Oglala Lakota, was principal founder of the American Indian Press Association in 1970, and was executive director of the National Congress of American Indians from 1972 – 78. He is retired and resides in Omaha, Neb., with his wife. He can be reached at email@example.com.