Young people speak out at the State Legislature against stereotyping

      I have now been involved in several issues of great public importance at the State Legislature.   They reveal ordinary citizens, despite some lobbying by others (sometimes groups can hire lobbyists, but going in and talking to legislators is best), can sometimes – as historical situations change – affect central issues.  That is a reason why the Koch brothers under Citizens United are trying to buy state and local elections, and something of great danger to America.
         For instance,  in 2014, when the lowest voter turnout occurred, the Kochs took over the Jefferson County School Board.  The three in the majority strove to purge advanced placement American History courses of conflict, perhaps even the Declaration of Independence (Jefferson is dangerous!) to teach a fantasy.  Fortunately,  students protested. But of course, even the AP curriculum leaves a lot to be desired. See ”If they don’t teach us civil disobedience, we will teach ourselves'” here and here.
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      There are, thus, surprisingly large consequences to local elections, surprising possibilities of ordinary people actually speaking up on important issues in a genuinely democratic way.   For several of these measures, for instance, releasing the records of birth mothers and adopted children or speaking out against the bigotry long suffered by Native Americans, there is something liberating in standing up (this goes especially for movements of protest, but it is fascinating to see it, at work, in state government).

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       Lacy Jay, 7, Lakota, tells the Colorado State Ed committee that she is not a #mascot. We fight for youth like Lacy! – Simon Moya-Smith

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      There is, of course, lots of money and lobbying at the state level; fracking, for instance, has a big influence.  Nonetheless, something like genuine democratic politics from below can often occur without the kinds of huge movements, such as the nationwide anti-war movements, needed to fight and finally, change Washington.
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      For example, Paula Bard, my wife, worked on a measure which passed that birth mothers and adopted children be clearly recognized in birth records and these records be available.  This was the first bill in this country – the “Philomena bill” – to recognize this simple human need (it is important for the children and grandchildren for medical purposes, and more deeply, to know who they are).
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       Second, I testified for State Representative Rhonda Fields’ bill creating a memorandum of understanding between school administrations and the police to make police officers in the School not usurp the authority of administrators and send students into the criminal justice system.  This measure is a blow against the school to prison pipeline.
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        The third, two days ago, was a measure barring Native American mascots/caricatures.
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         Joseph Salazar, Thornton, and Jovan Melton, Aurora, introduced the measure on eliminating/recreating the Native American “mascots” of sports teams at the Colorado House of Representatives on March 23.  It called for the setting up of a committee of indigenous people to work with schools about their names.  It thus represented, as Steve Haas from Arapaho High, testified a “middle way,” not simply deleting the offensive names but calling on schools to work with this committee to transform them.  For Arapaho High has  a relationship with the Wind River reservation in Wyoming; four elders came from there after the shooting at Arapaho High in 2013 – the murder of Claire Davis – and played an important role in the grieving/healing.  See here.
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      But if the school will not alter the mascot and atmosphere through consultation, then a $25,000 fine per month would be levied until it does
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        Salazar’s speech pointed to the Declaration of Independence.  “All men have natural rights to life liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” he underlined, except indian “savages” (this is a very important citation, one that criticizes George III for stirring up “domestick insurrections” i.e. slave revolts against colonists who treated blacks as property, as well as indian “savages” whose “known rule of warfare is to kill all women and children.”  Jefferson was both a villainous slave-owner and dishonest here,  since he knew that this was “the white man’s” way of treating indigenous people – consider who did the 1638 Pequot Massacre  or later, Sand Creek or the Bear River Massacre; in addition, different indigenous tribes fought for both sides in the Revolution, notably the Narragansetts in the First Rhode Island Regiment.
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     Salazar pointed to an early federal offer of $200 for bringing in dead native americans.
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     He and Jovan Melton also flashed on screen standard racist epithets used toward other groups and underlined that this was the only one remaining by which we are not immediately repelled (he did not mention racism toward Arab-Americans and Palestinians, which is still another bridge to cross). 
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      For the historical depth of the insight and the power of their conviction, Representative Salazar. Melton and Rhonda Fields (another co-sponsor) deserve a lot of credit.
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    It is particularly important that decent people of all races now recognize the harm done to indigenous people in the original genocide from coast to coast – see here for a timeline – in the imposed brutality and poverty and lack of individual rights – no freedom to travel or seek work or rights in court – on inarable reservations, in the continuing oppression.
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       Thus, indigenous children were still stolen from their families in South Dakota and “adopted out” to whites in 2011 following the US and Canada policy “kill the indian, save the man” – see “Lost Children, Shattered Families,” National Public Radio here and my Bonnycastle Lecture on Founding Amnesias here.

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       It is part of the democracy not to be a persecutor, that is, to head off brutality and fecklessness among white students – this, an indigenous high school student stressed strongly. 
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      In addition, as Pastor Martin Niemoller said of the Nazis – Niemollder did not defend anyone’s else rights when the Nazis came for them and then, when they came for him, there was no one left to protest – it is necessary for each of us to be an active defender of the rights of each person.
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       A rule for a satyagrahi, a committed follower of nonviolence, Gandhi says, is,  for a Hindu, to protect a Moslem from a Hindu mob with his life. This is what Gandhi did in 1948, why he was murdered by the Hindu nationalist Nathuram Godse  – see the last chapter of Joseph Lelyveld, Great Soul

       This is what Marx meant by internationalism: to defend the interests of the most oppressed, regardless of all nationality (see, for example, the Communist Manifesto). 

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      This principle is the life-blood of democracy as opposed to, as Niemoller says, Nazism, the fascism of Netanyahu’s coalition for oppression of Palestinians in Israel, or the National Front in France.
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       The testimony was often heart-wrenching.  An indigenous social worker testified, as did several others, to the effects of stereotypes – the name Indians – in making indigenous students doing less well on tests. See the 2005 resolution of the American Psychological Association here and here.
     This impact is parallel to the effects on black people – see PBS’s “American Denial” here – registered in  the brilliant and frightening doll studies by Kenneth and Mamie Clark, the first two black Ph.Ds. in psychology.  See hereand here.
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      She talked, as an effect of stereotyping and degrading, of the very high rate of suicide among indigenous people.
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      She also talked about the racism her daughters run up against in the schools (and the additional hardships created by stereotyping).
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     A school board member from a rural school calling itself “Indians” testified about how the effect of this naming was harmless and they would consult with local native americans about it and changing it would cost too much money. 
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      As if to prove his obtuseness to this profound issue, he then left before the next 3 hours of testimony as was pointed out, movingly by Simon Moya-Smith, the last witness.  
       Absent state action or large-scale protest, many testified that local school administrators and boards do not listen…
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        One high school student described how awful it made him feel to go into that school – shuddering, glad it was only for an afternoon – for a game…
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     A member of the indigenous comedy group 1491 pointed out that branding high schools with names like “Indians” and stereotypical images means that others routinely refer, as is a regular barbarism in sports, to wiping  them out – i.e. “Kill the Indians.”
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     The link to past genocide, today’s trauma, and degradation are all too clear.
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        There was a very large attendance at the hearing, perhaps 200.  Twenty of those who testified were students, mostly from high schools, but 6 from elementary school (Lacy Jay, above).

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     One told a story about her name being singled out, circled by another student and mocked on facebook, when she made a sports team.  In that case, she talked to authorities and the student herself, who saw that she had done harm, apologized, and took down the facebook post (that seems a very healthy way of handing this).

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    Steve Haas, a social worker and parent at Arapaho High which has a relationship with the Northern Arapahos on the Wind Creek reservation in Wyoming spoke, in tears, about how after the shooting at the school including the murder of Claire Davis in 2013, several people came from Wind River and helped in a four hour school meeting with students and faculty about healing.
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        In my own testimony, I commented on a powerful column in the Denver Post written by a young woman who attended and was very grateful for this healing and the relationship with the tribes.  Yet she did not mention the Sand Creek massacre – the driving even of determinedly peaceful Arapahos and Cheyennes from Colorado – and probably didn’t know about it.  Even in the midst of help and gratitude, there is a founding amnesia. See “Arapaho High, Wind River and Sand Creek: a letter from Clint Stanovsky” here.
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       The testimony focused on the derogatoriness of the stereotypes – though one high school student spoke eloquently about Sand Creek – rather than a point, also important, of learning and honoring the truth, no matter how painful.
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       Why are there no Arapahos at Arapaho High?
       Why are there no Arapahos in Arapaho County?
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       It is a common for there to be a division of 6 to 5 in the vote on the Education Committee, a party line vote. There is a kind of superficial game-playing to it which misses important, possible commonalities, for example, repudiating this kind of prejudice and bullying is a non-partisan issue. Thus, Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell, a Republican, proposed the Sand Creek Massacre Memorial site and every Senator of both parties voted to fund it. 
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       Some worried about an unelected committee of native americans, not seeing that Representative Salazar’s purpose was to enable schools like Arapaho High which has developed a moving relationship with Wind River to work for transformation.

       But each representative could have responded to the issue she was troubled by, made alternate suggestions to deal with the stereotypes.  They could have stood up against racism and for humanity.

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      Instead, they voted “no.”
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      What Representative Salazar, Melton and Fields have done, however, is something that the Cheyennes and Arapahos have spoken for.  They do not want erasure of all the names, a new form of amnesia (instead of ballyhoo for indian-killers and degrading stereotypes, silence and pretence…).

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      But remaking the relationship with consultation in a genuine way is the kind of thing the Cheyennes and Arapahos have worked for.  It would be a matter of grace for all of us to work in this direction.

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        Recognizing the truth about indigenous people, ruling out stereotypes, requires seeing – a painful matter – and repudiating the genocide in America’s past.

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       An anti-racist society, one which guarantees equal liberty of each person, a genuinely individual rights-upholding democracy is a new thing in the world, something with great promise for healing and for making a different kind of future.  It is this which the 200 people in the audience stood up for, the students heart-rendingly spoke out for.

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     The passage of the resolution is an important step in this direction.

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DENVER AND THE WEST
Colorado legislature debates bill concerning Indian school mascots
POSTED:   03/23/2015 01:21:09 PM MDT

Erlidawn Roy, representing the Meskwaki, Ojibwe, Laguna Pueblo and the Isleta Pueblo tribes, writes "I am not your mascot" on the face of LacyJay

Erlidawn Roy, representing the Meskwaki, Ojibwe, Laguna Pueblo and the Isleta Pueblo tribes,
writes “I am not your mascot” on the face of LacyJay Lefthandbull, 7, from the Apache,
Pueblo and Lakota tribes, showing their support Monday for a House Bill that would
require public schools to get approval from American Indian tribes to use Indian
mascots and names. (Kathryn Scott Osler, The Denver Post)

A national debate over the use of American Indian names for school mascots landed at the Colorado legislature Monday when a committee debated a measure that would allow a panel to decide whether a school district’s depiction of an Indian mascot is respectful.
A number of witnesses who testified on behalf of House Bill 1165mentioned the tribe they belonged to and how hurtful it was to be depicted as a caricature, particularly a big-nosed, loinclothed savage, and to watch students do war chants and tomahawk chops at sporting events.
“We are not a Halloween costume,” one crying student said.
“I am not a mascot,” another witness said.
But John Sampson, a school board member with Strasburg 31J, testified against the bill, saying the district has been called the Indians for decades and uses the name with honor.
And two board members of the Cheyenne Mountain School District in Colorado Springs asked why local control was being given over to a subcommittee. Their school mascot also is the Indians.
The House Education Committee voted 6-5 on a party-line vote to approve the measure by Reps. Joe Salazar, D-Thornton, and Jovan Melton, D-Aurora.
The bill would create the Subcommittee for the Consideration of the Use of American Indian Mascots by Public Schools that would meet and decide whether a school — from K-12 to higher education — with an Indian mascot could continue using it. Part of the determination is whether the district has developed a relationship with a tribe.
Salazar said he found it unlikely the panel would approve of the Lamar High School Savages.
Rep. Paul Lundeen, R-Monument, was among the “no” votes, saying the conversation was important but noting some schools and teams have changed repugnant mascots without legislative action.
Salazar and Melton opened with a slide show featuring offensive nicknames for other ethnic groups, including the N-word. They said those kind of team names would never be tolerated and neither should names like Redskins or Savages.
Rep. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora, demanded the slide show be turned off or she would leave. Fields, who is black, said she refused to sit in a committee with the N-word flashing on a screen.
Melton, who also is black, said it reinforced the point he and Salazar were trying to make, but the slide show was stopped.
Arapahoe High School students stand below a drawing of their mascot, the "Warrior," in one of the school’s gyms. Nearly two decades ago,

Arapahoe High School students stand below a drawing of their mascot, the “Warrior,” in one of the school’s gyms. Nearly two decades ago, Arapahoe developed a relationship with the Arapaho Nation on the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming, and its logo was drawn by an American Indian artist. (Denver Post file)
Salazar said his measure is modeled after schools “that have done it right,” including the Arapahoe High School Warriors in Centennial. Nearly two decades ago, the school developed a relationship with the Arapaho Nation on the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming, and its logo was drawn by an Indian artist.
The tribe immediately reached out to Arapahoe High after a fatal school shooting on Dec. 13, 2013, and performed a cleansing ceremony before it reopened, parent Steve Haas tearfully testified when he spoke in favor of the bill.
Darius Smith with the Colorado Indian Education Foundation also testified in favor of the measure, saying developing tribal relationships is a positive thing.
But some witnesses said an American Indian name or mascot should never be used.
Salazar said the bill is “not designed to get rid of anything.”
But districts that continue to use a mascot that the subcommittee has rejected eventually would face a monthly $25,000 fine, an idea that doesn’t sit well with Rep. Tim Dore, R-Elizabeth.
“It’s political correctness gone amuck,” he said. “We’re talking about schools struggling to make payroll and buy supplies, and this bill would fine schools, which ultimately penalizes the kids.”
Salazar said some bill opponents have talked about the expense school districts would incur to change uniforms, redo gym floors and such, which is why his bill includes a $200,000 appropriation.

A similar mascot measure was introduced in 2010 but was withdrawn by the sponsor, then-Sen. Suzanne Williams, D-Aurora. She said she no longer believed legislation was needed to highlight the issue.

At the time, schools defended their use of the names. For example, Yuma High School officialsexplained they used to be the Cornhuskers, but the name was changed early last century to honor American Indians. The principal at the time was steeped in American Indian history and traditions.
Some Colorado teams have already dropped their American Indian monikers.
Arvada High School switched from Redskins to the Reds in 1993, and the school stopped using its Indian mascot and adopted a bulldog.
The University of Southern Colorado — now Colorado State University-Pueblo — transformed from the Indians to the Thunderwolves in 1995, and Adams State College in Alamosa switched from the Indians to the Grizzlies in 1996.
Among the high school team names Salazar finds the most offensive: the Lamar Savages, the La Veta Redskins and the Eaton Reds, also known as the Fightin’ Reds, where the mascot is an Indian with a misshapen nose, eagle feather and loincloth.
Eaton made national news in 2002 when a multiracial intramural team at the University of Northern Colorado lampooned it. The UNC crew called its team the Fightin’ Whities, which featured a caricature of a middle-aged white guy with the phrase “Ever-hang’s gonna be all white!”

Lynn Bartels: 303-954-5327, lbartels@denverpost.com or twitter.com/lynn_bartels
Staff writer Yesenia Robles contributed to this report.

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