In this guest column for the Madville Times, actual live Native American Tasiyagnunpa Livermont weighs in on Watertown's cultural misappropriation, football, war, and racism:
Nobody likes to be told they are wrong.
Let alone racist.
I get it.
You feel like you are a pretty good person, and then suddenly, into your world of your own worries and personal concerns, some ticked off minority tells you that your world is not their world.
Your coziness, your personal issues and your own worries, yes, even those charming little things that you personally find comfort in, like football, don’t matter to them.
How dare someone criticize a group of children dressed like Indians during homecoming?
Or the name of a football team?
What is more laid-back and innocent that a game?
I know, I know, Indians just need to get over it.
The Indians lost, America won, and just move on, people.
For God sakes, we bombed Japan and they’re doing just fine.
What the hell does football have to do with war, anyways?
Turns out, a whole lot.
American Football is the vehicle by which historically we have trained our military during war and kept youth fit for the military.
In fact, the military can be thanked for democratizing football, because in the 1800s only America’s elite Easterners in fancy colleges played or cared about football.
Back then, football was violent and bloody, and played by America’s most wealthy.
Last week, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart aired a segment that he had to give a lengthy forward to, because as one website put it, “Washington football fans freak out when confronted by actual live Native Americans.”
My fellow Americans, and South Dakotans, let me tell you something utterly shocking.
American Indians are not dead.
Oh, we were butchered, slaughtered, murdered and fought against, to be sure. We have suffered disease and war, both in our own lands and during major wars of American history on these shores and over seas.
We have been starved, marched, imprisoned and stolen from.
And yes, there are tribes that no longer exist in our country, utterly succumbing to Manifest Destiny.
Tribal differences aside, the homogenizing affect of hundreds of years of genocide and war has given us a solid voice.
And that voice says, stop glorifying our deaths.
Stop lying to yourselves that you are honoring a culture by calling it a slur associated with blood money.
In a country that prides itself on leading the overthrow of a government that murdered, imprisoned and yes, traded the body parts of a minority, America—you can be better than this.
The settler colonial worldview gave birth to a myriad of false stories, mythologies and justifications for how America treats those indigenous to this land.
Among these is a cultural agnosia that perpetuates us as things of legend and story.
In this agnosia, American Indians become nothing more than characterizations in stories like the Indian Maiden in Peter Pan.
Or Slurskins in the NFL.
And when presented with "actual live Native Americans," American football fans don’t know how to react.
The American Indians didn’t all die, as their history books taught them.
Even in South Dakota, in a state (and territory) named for an American Indian tribe, the Dakota, children of pioneers protected by forts against Indians, still think it is cute to re-enact their own false mythologies of Indians and dress up in faux-buckskin.
What would those children do if some South Dakota tribal students walked up to them and said, "Stop. We aren’t fantasy or figments of your historical imagination. You may not imagine us away into colonial imagery of pilgrims and Tonto and autumn displays of corn and leaves."
Would those children react the same way as fans of the Washington Slurskins did when "actual live Native Americans" went to FedEX stadium and were threatened to be "cut."
I don’t know.
I want to believe better than that of my fellow South Dakotans. I want to believe better of the children my son could play football against at State.
Cultural criticism can hit awful close to home. It can feel personal, because we are all products of our cultures, and it is against what we know about ourselves.
So is racism.
Yes, even the sort that puts on a jersey and takes to the battlefields of American football.
Tasiyagnunpa Livermont is an enrolled member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe. She consults with small businesses on marketing and blogs at Sustainable Dakota.