Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Ms. Warren: Mascots have serious consequences

Did you see the video that started circulating yesterday? The one that shows Scott Brown's staff making war whoops and doing the tomahawk chop at an Elizabeth Warren event? The media is portraying it as a mockery of Warren's Native heritage.

"Outrageous!" the pundits exclaim.

On one hand, I'm glad they're seeing it as outrageous. On the other hand, I'm going to pull on Floyd Red Crow Westerman's song, "Where Were You When":

Did you listen to it?

I wonder where Warren and all the pundits have been all this time? All these years when Native people have been fighting mascots.


Has Warren issued statements 
condemning mascots?

At the University of Illinois, countless people came forward to say they were part Native, and that they like these mascots because they honor American Indians. With their "part Native" proclamation, they felt quite emboldened to attack Native people whose identity is part of our daily lives. By that, I mean Native people who are tribally enrolled or tribally connected to a Native Nation. In his excellent report on Brown and Warren in Indian Country Today, Mark Trahant includes a video clip in which Cherokee Nation Chief Baker said that he wishes "every Congressman and Senator in the U.S. had a... felt a kinship to the Cherokee Nation." Presumably, Baker thinks they would be allies of Native Nations and our needs. My experience at Illinois tells me that kinship of that kind works against us more than it does in support of us.

Warren is saying that if her staff had done what Scott Brown's staff did, there would be "serious consequences." She's telling him to DO something.

I'm asking HER to do something. This is a chance for her to regain support from people who have lost faith in her due to the way she is handling the identity issue.

Ms. Warren: Mascots and stereotyping have serious consequences for Native children and their nations. You're seeking a senate seat in a city that has a stereotypical mascot. Issue a statement condemning it.

Here's another suggestion: To help us displace the stereotypes planted in the minds of children, take a minute each day to highlight a book by a Native author who tell stories of our lives as-we-are, rather than the classics that stereotype us. I can help you select books to highlight.

This is an opportunity for you!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Dear Elizabeth Warren: I know kids who would ask their parents for proof of their identity

Yesterday (September 24, 2012), Elizabeth Warren responded to Scott Brown's attack on her heritage by putting out an ad in which she rhetorically asks "What kid would?" ask her parents for documentation of her Native heritage.

Ms. Warren? Here's my answer. A Native kid who is part of her Nation would, that's who!

From her childhood, my kid knew what it meant to be Native, not in a "family lore" way like Elizabeth Warren, but in a day-in-and-day-out way where being a member or citizen of Nambe carries a responsibility to the Native community.

Several hundred years ago, our ancestors fought for our rights as nations. They prevailed in the face of enormous onslaughts of military might, but, they prevailed.

Our responsibility is to continue that fight.

Will you join us in that fight? Right now, your statements undermine our sovereignty.

And, by the way, since you have no idea what it means to be a citizen of a Native Nation, your outrage at Scott Brown's staff for their war whoops and tomahawk chops is superficial.

I'm a Democrat who makes phone calls and knocks on doors. I supported you until I learned of your claims. No more, Ms. Warren. My strongest allegiance is to my ancestors and the status of Native Nations. There are things you could do to regain my support and maybe the support of other Native people who have questioned what you are doing. And you know what sucks (pardon my use of that word)? Democrats need you to win your race so that things we care about are more attainable.

Scott Brown? You're as ignorant and racist as they come. You don't know what Native Americans look like.


Update, 6:41 PM, September 25, 2012:

A few people asked what Warren could do. I made some suggestions when this story first broke in May. For your convenience, I'm pasting them and my thoughts on why this matters here:

Instead of asking voters to move on, she could say that: 
  1. She was raised to believe that that she is part Native American, and based on that belief, she claimed Cherokee identity at various times in order to meet people like her. She knows, now, that...
  2. There is a Cherokee Nation that has policies in place that determine who its citizens are, and, she is not a citizen of the Cherokee Nation.
  3. There are a lot of people like her who believe they have Cherokee ancestors and they, like her, proudly assert that ancestry. 
  4. The hard reality is that she doesn't know what it means to be a Cherokee, and that her heartfelt pride is based on romantic ideas and stereotypes. That she embraced that identity uncritically because schools in the U.S. don't teach children that, in addition to the federal and state government, there are tribal governments with inherent powers to determine who its citizens are. She could point out that, instead of an education about tribal governments, students learn about Indians at the First Thanksgiving, and how they did cool things like using every part of the buffalo, and that it is sad that Indians are all gone, now.
  5. In other words, she'd be saying she is ignorant, and that America's collective ignorance can't go on unchecked because it gets in the way of being able to see American Indians in today's society for who we are. Instead of knowing American Indians as we should, Americans choose to know and love them in an abstract stereotypical way that does more harm than good.

Why this should matter to you 

I think Warren ought to use her status as a candidate for a national office to educate the public. Her claim is especially problematic because of her prior work on protecting the consumer. Does she know, for example, that there is a federal law that was written to protect the consumer interested in buying American Indian art? Here's some info about that law:
The Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990 (P.L. 101-644) is a truth-in-advertising law that prohibits misrepresentation in marketing of Indian arts and crafts products within the United States. It is illegal to offer or display for sale, or sell any art or craft product in a manner that falsely suggests it is Indian produced, an Indian product, or the product of a particular Indian or Indian Tribe or Indian arts and crafts organization, resident within the United States. For a first time violation of the Act, an individual can face civil or criminal penalties up to a $250,000 fine or a 5-year prison term, or both. If a business violates the Act, it can face civil penalties or can be prosecuted and fined up to $1,000,000.

Under the Act, an Indian is defined as a member of any federally or State recognized Indian Tribe, or an individual certified as an Indian artisan by an Indian Tribe.

The law covers all Indian and Indian-style traditional and contemporary arts and crafts produced after 1935. The Act broadly applies to the marketing of arts and crafts by any person in the United States. Some traditional items frequently copied by non-Indians include Indian-style jewelry, pottery, baskets, carved stone fetishes, woven rugs, kachina dolls, and clothing.

All products must be marketed truthfully regarding the Indian heritage and tribal affiliation of the producers, so as not to mislead the consumer. It is illegal to market an art or craft item using the name of a tribe if a member, or certified Indian artisan, of that tribe did not actually create the art or craft item.
Of course, she is not a product, but I hope you see why this claim by her is especially egregious. I hasten to add that the law excludes Native artists who cannot be enrolled with a tribe because they don't meet the tribe's criteria for enrollment. For example, someone could have four full blood grandparents from four different tribes, making them 1/4 of each one, but if each one requires more than 1/4 blood quantum to be enrolled, that person could not be enrolled in any of them. There's a lot more to say about enrollment and blood quantum, but lets stick with the current discussion of Elizabeth Warren.

A more informed public 

America could emerge from this moment as more-educated about American Indians. And, maybe we'd even have the courage to reject all those disgusting headlines wherein people skewer Warren by playing with racist language and ideas like the Fox News personality who said the first thing she'd say to Warren (if she agreed to an interview) would be "How!"

Warren could do a lot of educating if she had the courage to do so. It would help us (teachers and librarians) do a better job of selecting literature, and it would give us the information we need when a person or group is being brought in to our schools to do Native American workshops or performances. 

Monday, September 24, 2012



Did you watch it? If not, do it now.

I'm not easily given to profuse out-loud exclamations like OMG or WOW, but this trailer prompted me to do just that. THIS IS AMAZING!

The film is based on Richard Van Camp's outstanding YA novel, The Lesser Blessed. For some years now, I knew it was going to be made into a movie, and.... well, I'm at a loss for words. I wish I could see it TODAY. It was screened at the Toronto International Film Festival earlier this month.

Film critic and columnist Kim Voynar said The Lesser Blessed is a "must see coming-of-age story about an aboriginal teen struggling to stand up against a golden-boy bully." Movie critic Peter Howell of The Toronto Star said it is one of the films in this year's festival in which a "rebel spirit" is seen in which Canadian filmmakers seem to be intent on "breaking as many rules as possible."

Want to know more about the film? Go to its website: The Lesser Blessed.


Haven't read The Lesser Blessed
Do it today. 

And you best read the book (if you haven't yet)! I've written about it several times, including listing it in a Focus On column I wrote for School Library Journal in 2008.

If you're teaching his novel, see how a university professor works with it in Teaching Van Camp's The Lesser Blessed

Waiting... for my chance to see The Lesser Blessed...  Will be hard.