Twenty years ago, I was the first Native American hired at ESPN The Magazine.
Twenty years ago, ESPN The Magazine was the first national publication to run a story on the Indian mascot issue in sports—ironically it was the Super Bowl special issue.
Twenty years ago, I didn’t think this would still be an issue.
A few days ago, I watched the movie, “Jojo Rabbit.” The premise of the film — a boy who believes in Nazi ideology during the last year of World War II. He is told that Jews had horns, tails like devils and ate small Nazi children.
Along the way he begins to learn that Jews are human — and the fact that we the viewers start to feel for this shamelessly Nazi boy feels absurd. Yet it’s absolutely necessary. Jojo is told that Jews are human, but because we must be reminded of how easy it is for children to be indoctrinated into hate.
I left the theater feeling this is what’s happening to Native Americans too. We were and are still being dehumanized—thought to be savages—not human.
This weekend is the NFL Super Bowl. The Kansas City football team will bring thousands of their fans to Florida. And those thousands will most definitely bring their hateful, dehumanizing “Indian,” chant and tomahawk chop. And not only that, but some fans will come with face paint, red-painted faces, and wearing headdresses—believing this is honoring Native Americans.
I wonder what their children think? Daddy looks silly...Daddy is cool—I want to be like Daddy.
It’s been twenty years since I first pitched my story to ESPN—who would’ve thought this issue is still alive.
While writing this and thinking about this weekend makes my stomach sick and my heart hurt for all the children who will witness this mockery of my people. Why? Because they won’t know what’s right from wrong.
Twenty years from now, I hope our grandchildren will finally know what’s right.
Eugene Tapahe is originally from Window Rock, Arizona and is Diné (Navajo). He currently resides in Provo, Utah, with his wife, Sharon and two daughters, Erin and Dion. Tapahe was the Managing Editor of the Navajo Times newspaper and Creative Director at ESPN The Magazine. Currently he’s the Creative Director/Photographer at Tapahe Inventive Design and Tapahe Photography.