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Friday, May 6, 2011

Power encased in ‘Colored bubbles’

Leave the cave, arrest the recklessness; stop the massacre; embrace, get used to a world civilized by diverse peoples
Editing, re-reporting, comment by Carolyn Bennett
More than 500 Indian Nations live in the United States. All have their own rich history, language and culture.  To turn us into stereotypes is to stop seeing us as individuals, to trap us in someone else’s mistaken idea of who we are. These images are so powerful that many non-Indian people do not see us as modern people with valued history, living culture and language, or a future.

When school teams use us as mascots it goes against education’s highest goals. These schools’ graduate people who go on to become, teachers, judges, governors, and presidents who affect native communities — no matter where we live. When the United States military uses these terms and symbols it goes against its greater honor. [The] military discharges people who go on to become, teachers, judges, governors, and presidents who affect native communities — no matter where we live. 
Many American Indians have done their part to win hearts and minds of their neighbors. It is time for our national government to do its part. …

Professor Charlene Teters was testifying before the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs’ hearing on “Stolen Identities: The Impact of Racist Stereotypes on Indigenous People. The hearing had been on the Senate calendar before what calls itself leadership in Washington turned Osama into Geronimo, Geronimo Osama.

How do we ask American Indians who have sacrificed life in defense of this young nation to reconcile the irreconcilable, to defend the indefensible, and to do so with dignity, honor and commitment? Professor Teters asked. “Is it possible … that the deepest insult was not delivered upon al Qaeda abroad, but to a small population here at home?” Who will apologize?

“Before this land was the United States,” she recalls, “it was the homeland of many Indian nations. Yet many Americans know very little about us. We survived ‘manifest destiny’ not just physically [but] culturally. As parents and as teachers, we work hard to instill in our children a sense of pride in our culture, our stories, our names for ourselves, and our historical heroes like Pontiac, Chief Joseph, and Geronimo.

“Yet we have to compete with mass media’s image or the military’s use of our historical heroes as code for the country’s enemies.

“History is extremely powerful, depending on who is telling the story. History plays an important role in defining acts and practices as racist, regardless of the intent of the larger community group. When the history is one of domination and subordination, as is the history of the Indigenous people in the United States, what counts is how the minority group understands its portrayal. History can demobilize or inspire a people.

“When the administration [in federal Washington] uses our historical hero’s name ‘Geronimo’ in connection with military action, it robs us of our heroes.”

Who will say sorry? Is sorry ever enough or is it added insult, fire to an open wound, deepening by excusing the inexcusable, an inbred tradition of cleansing, genocide, massacre, this indelible character of “righteous” violence in an entrenched power?

No, Professor, it is not the indigenous peoples who have failed to arrive at this century. Quite the contrary, it is they, who have dug the roads of a progressive era. But entrenched power encased in colored bubbles or a cultural cave digs in, holding a status quo, as of their gods and guns, creating and recreating for the benefit and posterity of that power.  

Sources and notes

From Testimony of Charlene Teters, Studio Arts Faculty, Institute Of American Indian Arts, Santa Fe, New Mexico,  Oversight Hearing “Stolen Identities: The Impact of Racist Stereotypes on Indigenous People, ” May 5, 2011. United States Senate Committee on Indian Affairs

Charlene Teters
 “Even after a momentous civil rights movement we are invisible under the weight of ‘mythology,’  still seen as objects or as a people trapped in the past tense [but] we are twenty-first century people who must be seen as such in order to deal with serious issues facing us today.”  — Charlene Teters

She is an active artist “creating multimedia installations that examine the social presumptions and portrayals of Indian people in pop culture and media,” exhibiting internationally. Charlene Teters writes in online autobiographical notes, “My artwork expresses my personal and political views about America’s dehumanization of Indian Peoples. … My art, lecturing and teaching center on achieving a national shift in the perception of native people.”

Credentialed in Fine Art, Charlene Teters is a professor of Art (and has served as Dean of the College of Arts and Cultural Studies) at the Institute of American Indian Art.  “Teaching,” she says, “is a cherished cultural skill amongst Native people and … I take to heart my responsibility as a teacher.”

Suzan Shown Harjo (Cheyenne/Muscogee), president of The Morning Star Institute —

“… Geronimo, the man and the leader and the person who has become a fine role model for our children all over Indian Country, for him to be compared to a terrorist or an enemy is shocking — really shocking.”

Dr. Stephanie Fryberg, University of Arizona —

“The use of American Indian mascots not only promotes the development, endorsement and activation of negative attitudes and behaviors towards contemporary American Indians, but they reinforce inequality; and in doing so, they undermine race relations in this country.”

Senate Hearing

The Senate Committee on Indian Affairs is holding oversight hearings on depictions of Native peoples in American society and their effects. The Committee is exploring how Indian mascots, common caricatures and prevalent [false] portrayals have far-reaching influence on the identity and sense of self-worth of Native peoples and negatively affect how all Americans perceive and relate to each other.  Committee Chair Senator Daniel K. Akaka said, “Our hearing is about the real harm that is done to all people, Native and non-Native, when mascots, movies and images reinforce the stereotypes and the lines that divide rather than unite us.”

WITNESS LIST PANEL I: Tex Hall, Chairman, Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation, and Great Plains Tribal Chairman’s Association, New Town, North Dakota;  Suzan Shown Harjo, President, The Morning Star Institute, Washington, D.C.; Charlene Teters, Professor, Studio Arts, Institute of American Indian Arts, Santa Fe, New Mexico

WITNESS LIST PANEL II: Stephanie Fryberg, Associate Professor of Psychology, University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona; Chaske Spencer, Actor/ Producer and Partner, Urban Dream Productions, New York, New York; Jim Warne, President, Warrior Society Development, San Diego, California, May 4, 2011, Washington, D.C.,  http://indian.senate.gov/hearings/hearing.cfm?hearingID=5172

The Obama administration has sparked outrage in the Native American community following the revelation that the administration used the name of the legendary Apache leader Geronimo as a secret code word during the raid that killed Osama bin Laden” [May 6, 2011, Democracy Now lead].

“Onondaga Nation Leaders Blast 'Geronimo' Codename for Bin Laden (Charles McChesney), May 4, 2011, www.CommonDreams.org; http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2011/05/04-4

“Growing criticism that Bin Laden operation was named after Apache hero ‘Geronimo,’” Free Speech Radio New, May 5, 2011, http://fsrn.org/audio/growing-criticism-bin-laden-operation-was-named-after-apache-hero-%E2%80%9Cgeronimo%E2%80%9D/8471

 “Geronimo Was No Osama” (Commentary, Levi Rickert, editor-in-chief in Native Condition), Native News Network, May 5, 2011, http://www.nativenewsnetwork.com/geronimo-was-no-osama.html; Censored News, http://www.censorednews.org/onondaga-nation-leaders-blast-geronimo-codename-for-bin-laden.html;  http://www.nativenewsnetwork.com/stolen-identities-senate-hearing-targets-the-inappropriate-usage-geronimos-name.html

“Native American Activist Winona LaDuke on Use of ‘Geronimo’ as Code for Osama bin Laden: ‘The Continuation of the Wars against Indigenous People,’” May 6, 2011, http://www.democracynow.org/


Geronimo (b. June 1829, No-Doyohn Canyon, Mexico; d. February 17, 1909, Fort Sill, Oklahoma) — Bedonkohe Apache leader of the Chiricahua Apache, who led his people’s defense of their homeland against the military might of the United States.

For generations the Apaches had resisted white (Spaniard and North American) colonization of their homeland in the Southwest.

From the day he was admitted to the warriors’ council in 1846, Geronimo continued the tradition of his ancestors, participating in raids into Sonora and Chihuahua in Mexico. His mother, wife, and children died at the hands of Mexicans in 1858.

In 1874, U.S. authorities forcibly moved an estimated 4,000 Apaches to a reservation at San Carlos, a barren wasteland in east-central Arizona. Deprived of traditional tribal rights, short on rations, and homesick, they turned to Geronimo and others who led them in the depredations that plunged the region into turmoil and bloodshed [Britannica note].

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