“Ake” is a word we use in Lakota to express our frustration. It’s translated as “again.” Growing up on the Rosebud reservation, I would hear my parents say, “Ake!” when someone unnecessarily repeated themselves, made another promise that may have been suspect or when another frustration took hold in the family or in the community.
Again, we find ourselves discussing the issue of Native American mascots in the American mainstream. Again, we find ourselves having to explain to non-Native people why this is not just a demoralizing but dehumanizing issue for our people. And again, we find ourselves listening to the same ignorance involved with the caricaturization of a minority group of people.
The Washington D.C. team will play the Minnesota Vikings on Nov. 7 and the Native community in Minneapolis, led by the perennially-outspoken American Indian Movement, will protest the Washington team. In fact, the team was met by a similar protest in Denver on Oct. 27.
Again, the fans of the Washington team were effectively amoral when they saw the protests against the name, regurgitating the ignorance with phrases like, “Get over it,” or “We’re honoring you.” And again, they are dead wrong.
No one likes being told they are wrong. It’s the one thing that tends to unite us as Americans, particularly given the latest government impasse in Washington. We pick a position on an issue we feel is right and we cannot be told, even when we are wrong. We equivocate, we prevaricate and we obfuscate to justify how we feel, without ever being able to weigh an issue objectively.
The refrain of, “we’re honoring you,” or “get over it,” is simply a lazy and inexcusable set of phrases that doesn’t allow for much discussion and seeing things from the other point of view and does more harm in ways that can’t be seen.
One of my fellow Sicangu, Alexis Oskolkoff, made headlines in South Dakota recently after an incident at the University of South Dakota’s homecoming parade on Oct. 5. Students affiliated with the campus organization Strollers at my alma mater, upon seeing Oskolkoff and her 10 year-old son, Joseph, in wacipi regalia relied on stereotypical impressions of our people and made war whoops toward my countrymen.
As an alum of USD, whose mascot is the coyote, I was taken aback and dismayed at the level of ignorance displayed; particularly because during my time there as an undergrad, the administration and campus organizations took great pains to include Native American students in as many aspects of student life as possible without tokenizing our presence.
When her son, one of the younger generations that will take their place in our society, encountered this blatant racism, Oskolkoff said to the media, “He was really upset. You could tell it hurt his feelings. I shouted at them so they stopped. I mean, I’m used to having racial things said to me. But when it comes to my son, I put my foot down. I’m not going to let them do that to my son.”
Thankfully, Lakota women come with a much-deserved reputation of being stronger than most and for anyone who’s crossed one can tell you it is a mistake they will not repeat.
Although the two issues may not seem related, they are bonded by the unconscionable reality that as Native Americans – despite the generations of survival and thriving against almost insurmountable odds – we continue to be dehumanized.
The reduction of a people, culture and heritage to a caricature, utilizing fabricated modes of identity is always immoral. When we allow that to happen, we play a part in demeaning a race, ethnicity and cultural identity, which leads to dehumanization and robbing the inherent dignity of a group of people.
The National Congress of American Indians, the largest, collective body of tribal governments in the United States, has repeatedly called for an end to mascots that depict Native Americans as one-dimensional characters.
That is the line, if it’s crossed, there is something decidedly wrong with the moral compass of anyone who justifies racism based a superficial and damaging interest in Native identity.
Again, we must continue to keep our convictions on this issue, calmly but firmly.
Again, we must continue to not simply be angry, but to work in our daily lives to illustrate that being Native in America is tinged with more complexities than a hollow caricature.
Again, we must have the patience to endure the ignorance and anger because as history shows us, justice will come slowly, but it will come.
- Video of the Change the Name protest (Jamie Keith, 2013)
- University of Minnesota panel refocuses Washington football mascot controversy on protecting youth (Ben Markhart, 2013)
- NEWS DAY | Protesting the R word (Mary Turck, 2013)