Monday, September 21, 2015

Can native American imagery ever be used tastefully by non-Indian masses?

I couldn’t help but wonder this past weekend about the use of Indian (I don't mean anyone from India) imagery by the masses.

How offensive are the Guides ...
The Chicago Tribune reported a story about a suburban LaGrange-based youth program that uses native imagery (including costumes, chants, drumming, etc.) in an attempt to teach the area’s young people proper moral values.

IT SOUNDS NICE, except that the Indian symbols are not real. They’re generic. And now, some people who really are of American Indian ethnic origins are taking offense, saying this group’s attempts at cultural education are meaningless and potentially harmful.

... and their Princess counterparts
This is bound to spur the debate from people who claim the Indians are overreacting to harmless fun because they don’t like having their own long-established beliefs challenged.

But does it have to be?

With all the athletic teams (including our city’s very own Chicago Blackhawks Stanley Cup championship team) that rely on Indian-implying names, could it be possible for such images to be used in a way that they really do pay tribute to the people whose ancestors really are native to this country?

Decades of absurdity in the name of baseball
PERSONALLY, I THINK the answer is “yes.” But I also think that respectful images would be so unrecognizable to the masses that they wouldn’t get it.
Because there wouldn’t be any of that “Tomahawk Chop” nonsense (think Atlanta Braves or Florida State Seminoles). Those headdresses and face paint worn by certain Blackhawks fans would wither away.

And as for Chief Wahoo (the Cleveland Indians this weekend wore the block-letter “C” on their caps when they fought the Chicago White Sox to see which team will finish this season in Third Place, rather than Fourth, although the logo could be seen all over Cleveland’s Progressive Field) and the Washington Redskins (a phrase always meant to be a slur implying that those Indian people weren’t really human), those would be so blatantly offensive that only the biggest nitwits would support them.

An attempt at respect in Washington state
It’s a shame they’re only at the minor league level, but I actually think the Spokane Indians (a long-time franchise in Washington state that currently plays in the Class A Northwest League) are on the right track.

THE CITY ITSELF is named for a tribe once native to the area, and when making sure their team logos weren’t offensive, they worked out a deal with the Spokane Nation.

That deal included an alternate team logo that includes writing in Salish – the tribe’s native language. It shows a certain respect for the tribe, which also is significant to the non-Indian population of Spokane (86 percent white, and only 2 percent American Indian) since it tells about their city’s origins.

Although without any feathers, tomahawks or other generic images, I’m sure some people are too clueless to realize what is happening.

An attitude that I’m sure is common to Chicago, where I wonder how many people realize the significance of Black Hawk.

What would Chief Black Hawk think?
HE WAS THE chief of Sac and Fox tribe (whose survivors are now heavily located in Oklahoma) who actually led a war against U.S. troops because he resented the idea that his people were being told they had to leave their native home along the Mississippi River in Illinois and Iowa.

His forces were defeated (largely because even his own tribal people weren’t unified about what should be done), and after a short prison term, but was eventually turned into a symbol of unity of Indians being subservient to their white neighbors.

By now, he’s nothing more than an Indian head that symbolizes generations of bad hockey playing – three Stanley Cup championships in six years doesn’t erase decades of failure. The actual image of an Indian head doesn’t come across as comical as some (he’s no Chief Wahoo).

But I’m sure the people who will defend the Blackhawks to the death are the same ones who want to believe the Indian Guides program (which even its one-time YMCA sponsor now backs away from) is worth an equal battle.


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