Good Morning. My name is Jonathan Hook. I am President of the American
Indian Resource Center in San Antonio, a non-profit social service and
social justice organization. I have an M.A. in Communications with a
cross-cultural focus, and a Ph.D. in History with an emphasis on
contemporary American Indian identity issues. I have taught at the
secondary, undergraduate and graduate levels. My family is
Ani-Gi-Lo-Hi, or Long Hair Clan, of the Cherokee Nation, of which I am a
I have been asked to provide a brief overview of two topics: the historic representation of American Indians and Indian education in Texas. Let me begin with a disclaimer. I learned long ago that every Indian can speak eloquently for himself or herself, and all are very independent. Although I am an officer of an Indian organization, I speak only from my own perspective, one derived through personal experience and research. Fifteen minutes is inadequate to introduce this topic, and I hope you will allocate additional time today, or at some future date, for a thorough investigation.
For the purposes of this statement, I define "historic representation" to be the manner in which American Indians were depicted in popular culture, both here and in Europe. From the beginning of European and American Indian contact, the indigenous peoples of these continents were classified as either savages or romantic innocents. These were extremely useful depictions; it is much easier to rationalize killing an uncivilized brute than someone who is defending home and family from intruders. This tactic worked well in the propaganda of the day and remains evident in contemporary literature. On the other hand, writers and poets loved the image of an American Garden of Eden, whose inhabitants had yet to discover the "tree of knowledge of good and evil." One 18th century European traveler, James Adair, wrote about the popular European belief that the southeastern Indians were the lost tribe of Israel. Both of these stereotypes have persisted for five centuries. The reality is that there were over five hundred distinct political-economic-cultural entities in what came to be called North America, exhibiting different languages, religions and physiological characteristics. Despite this fact, most Europeans accorded all indigenous Americans a single identity, a practice as ludicrous as including cultures as diverse as Egypt, Norway and Siberia together under the same descriptive umbrella. Also problematic was, and is, the failure to recognize the incredible contributions of Native Americans to areas as diverse as the origins of the Articles of Confederation to the development of 80% of the foods consumed around the world.
There were numerous pre-Colombian cultures in what became Texas, including the Caddo, Tonkawa, Coahuiltecan, and Karankawa, among many others. These were followed by Comanche, Apache, and later, other immigrant nations like the Alabama, Koasati, Cherokee, and Kickapoo. All of these peoples were present by the early 19th century. The Spanish continued their attempts to coerce survivors of plagues and wars to work and live at the missions, and sometimes brought them back by force if they tried to leave. Once again, the designation was frequently one of "uncivilized savage tribes" versus more "civilized," and somewhat innocent, mission Indians.
During the first few decades of the 19th century, Texas was experiencing both Indian and Anglo immigration. Attempting to preserve cultural integrity and escape the harsh depredations of the expanding United States, Indians from the southeast, the east and the Great Lakes areas moved to Texas, where they found a more benevolent environment under the Spanish. Anglo immigrants generally believed the Indians to be dangerous hindrances to their occupation of the land, with some notable exceptions like Sam Houston, who was adopted Cherokee and who had a Cherokee wife. Houston's 1836 attempts to secure land for Indians were negated by his successor, Mirabeau B. Lamar. For Lamar, the old adage "the only good Indian is a dead Indian" was a sacred tenet of faith. His memoirs indicate that the permanent solution to the Indian presence was to drive them north out of Texas or kill them. He did make an exception for the Alabama and Koasati (or Coushatta), who had assisted Anglo settlers in the "Runaway Scrape" and who he described as weak and defenseless. In 1840, the Republic of Texas legislature authorized two tracts of land for the Alabama and Coushatta, but it was already occupied by "whites". In 1854 the two tribes moved onto land received in a grant from the Texas legislature. This established a unique relationship between the state and the Alabama and Coushatta. During this period two federally supervised reservations were established along the upper Brazos River, but these were soon closed and the inhabitants relocated north because the government could not protect them from attacks by local non-Indians.
In the mid-19th century there were remnants of original indigenous inhabitants living in the areas of the Spanish missions, especially in the south. By now, these had all been assigned Spanish surnames by the priests. There were families of immigrant Indian nations living in areas where they had been a substantial presence prior to the wars of extermination, especially in the northeast section of the state. Groups in the west, especially the Kiowa-Comanches, continued their struggle to retain independence and autonomy, and there were many American Indians dispersed in communities throughout the state. After the two federal reservations closed, however, only the Alabama and Coushatta retained a semblance of a government-to-government relationship.
As the wars against the Comanche continued, so did the stereotype of violent, bloodthirsty savages. Stories of rampant cannibalism were invented and embellished, again aiding in the portrait of Indians as creatures slightly less than human. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the profusion of western dime novels and the popularity of "wild west" shows perpetuated the old stereotypes, often illustrating Indians in popular literature in northern Plains attire and attributing them with rustic nobility. Indians could be admired in a limited way, although "whites" were depicted as smarter and as better shots. Hollywood began producing westerns, which became virtually the sole source of popular information about Indians. The stereotypical idealized Plains style Indian was everywhere, in advertising, in movie theaters, in textbooks, in cartoons, and as school mascots. What better good luck token than the noble warrior, combining the images of savage barbarian and romantic innocent, fighting to the end? As late as the 1960s, books written especially for young people hammered home the impression of Indians as bloodthirsty savages, as in this quotation from a 1965 Random House "Book Club Edition" of Meet the North American Indians: "The Creek (Indians) were not peaceful. They loved to fight..The Creek would fight anyone for no reason at all." What did this teach Indian youth about themselves? What did it teach non-Indians about indigenous peoples?
With the advent of television, the stereotypes became even more powerful and pervasive. This, along with other historical trends, combined to strip Indian youth of their self-esteem, their culture, and their own identity. One story told on the Alabama-Coushatta reservation is of a group of Indian children who were watching a western on television. One of them voiced the hope that someday he could meet a "real" Indian! Today, those stereotypical images remain endemic. Drive around loop 410 in San Antonio to see a statue of a "noble Indian" standing next to a billboard with a caricature of a big-nosed red-faced Indian, both of them associated with a car dealership. Or, go to the tobacco shop near the Riverwalk and visit several "cigar store Indians." Watch the white man save the Indians again, Plains Indians of course, in Dances With Wolves, or listen to Disney's ahistorical depiction of Pocahantas with impossible Barbie doll features, embodying the epitome of a romantic savage, sing to the spirits. This collapsing of Indian identity into prevailing stereotypes has been devastating on our youth. The culture, which served our ancestors well for many centuries, has been violently ripped away, leaving us with little of value to replace it. Because of this, our children experience some of the highest dropout, suicide, incarceration, and alcoholism rates of any ethnic group.
Indian Education: The first act of educators in the 19th century, who frequently were missionaries, was the intentional suppression and elimination of anything culturally indigenous. A frequently heard motto was "kill the Indian, save the child." The Alabama-Coushatta experience provides a good example. A church was built on top of the ceremonial ground in order to eliminate traditional activities. Cultural expressions of any kind were prohibited, and many of the songs, dances, and other ethnic-specific artifacts were lost. The clearly expressed value was that virtually anything "white" was good and anything Indian was bad, and our children learned to hate themselves.
After the suppression of American Indian culture and identity was effectively completed, a systemic blindness to the indigenous presence spread throughout the state. Most Native students were no longer identified, or identified themselves, as Lipan or Chiricahua or any other Indian, but rather as "Hispanic". This built conveniently on the centuries-old bias in Mexico of anything or any one "Indio" as stupid and/or ugly. Students of indigenous descent became increasingly alienated from their heritage as educational settings made it impossible to be Indian. One example is Mike Wing. His mother is from the Wampanoag community in Massachusetts and his father is from San Antonio. Mike spent his first thirteen years with the Wampanoag and then moved to San Antonio where his father was a City Councilman. Mike repeatedly tried to assert himself as Indian, but was always relegated to the category of Hispanic. He finally stopped trying. The great irony is that the mascot of the high school he attended is the "Indians".
Our children repeatedly face difficult situations in the classroom. Aside from factual errors, textbook language itself is problematic. European immigrants are frequently described simply as "settlers." Obviously, there were indigenous settlers present here centuries before European arrival, and the use of this language negates and demeans their very presence. Our land is frequently described as a wilderness that needed to be tamed. This is also ethnocentric because it was only a wilderness to the European immigrants. Especially devastating is that the concept of "manifest destiny" is still taught with positive connotations. This 19th century "zeitgeist" belief that European invaders had a divine right to genocidal westward expansion is most closely approximated in the 20th century to Hitler's doctrine of "lebensraum," or the right of Germany to appropriate whatever territory it desired. What little is taught about Indian history and culture is depicted in the past tense, with the implication that American Indians no longer exist in Texas! There may be some mention of the three federally recognized nations in Texas, the Alabama-Coushatta, the Tigua, and the Kickapoo Traditional Tribe of Texas, but little if any discussion of the many other extant Indian communities: the Lipan and Chiricahua Apaches, the Coahuiltecans, the Cherokees, the Mexica (Nahua) and others from the south.
Today, Indian students continue to face daunting obstacles at school. These include lack of understanding and respect for traditional practices and beliefs. In 1978 the American Indian Religious Freedom Act was passed, theoretically making it legal for Indians to practice our spiritual activities, and also, theoretically, making it incumbent on the educational system to implement appropriate adjustments. Yet, little progress has been made. A few years ago, I was involved with a federal lawsuit filed by the Alabama-Coushatta in order to ensure that their young men could wear their hair long. They had been placed in In-School Suspension because they asserted their right to practice this ancient cultural expression. Today, the Kickapoo Traditional Tribe of Texas is establishing its own school system because the public schools have been unable to accommodate their ceremonial schedule. Our religious practices and symbols are prohibited and/or trivialized, the old stereotypes are perpetuated and celebrated, our students lack access to authentic histories, and classroom language and textbooks remain blatantly ethnocentric. This contributes to a sense of being powerless, with few options and little hope in the dominant system. The best composite example of these obstacles is the continued use of Indian mascots by our schools. This singular practice embodies most of the difficulties faced by Indian students. It perpetuates misinformation, engenders racial division, and establishes a hostile learning environment. Throughout the United States, American Indian organizations, nations, communities and individuals are calling for the removal of Indian-related mascots. They have been joined by, among others, various states' education offices, the League of United Latin American Citizens, the NAACP, many religious bodies, and the United States Commission on Civil Rights.
This issue has at least seven components. First, there are those mascots that are blatantly racist, like "redskins" and "squaws." The term "redskin" may be even more perverse than a derogatory reference to a person's racial heritage; "redskin" is believed to have originated with the practice of placing a bounty on Indian body parts such as heads, scalps, and skins. So, bringing in a "redskin" literally meant the death of an Indian. The borrowed word "squaw" became the derogatory name used by white men for Indian women. Many believe that its closest literal translation is the most offensive and vulgar term commonly used for vagina.
The second component is much more insidious. Even though Indians had no prior concept of the total war that was forced upon them, and despite the fact that we had peace leaders who struggled diligently to avoid hostilities, it is Indians who remain stereotyped as "warriors," "braves" and "savages." This effective tool of genocide is no longer necessary, yet it remains in our school systems, advertising, entertainment, and the media. Our youth are forced to see themselves as warlike caricatures, devoid of value except as tokens. These stereotypes are inaccurate and destructive, and educational institutions have no justification for perpetuating them. They only serve to divide our communities and our state.
The third component relates to religion. Indian communities have numerous vibrant and meaningful spiritual practices. There are many diverse Indian religious beliefs and symbols, devolving from the various Indian nations. These religious symbols are universally defiled through the use of Indian mascots. Feathers are sacred to many American Indians; yet, show me one Indian mascot that does not include the depiction of feathers. Our drum is sacred; yet, show me the use of an Indian mascot that does not include a band drumming a Hollywood "Indian" beat. A similar scenario would be a mascot dressed as a priest waving a cross and tossing out communion wafers at a football game while cheerleaders dressed as parodies of nuns danced on the sidelines. Would that be acceptable? Activities currently happening at athletic contests are just as offensive to Native peoples.
The fourth component comprises the very nature of a mascot itself. A mascot is a good luck token, a "rabbit's foot" for athletic success. It establishes an unequal relationship-the players on the field and the good luck token on the sideline. The mascot is not a human being; it is a caricature. Native people are human beings, not mascots and not caricatures. We deserve to be accorded the same respect demanded by every other ethnic group.
The fifth component addresses the question of mascots that on the surface appear innocuous, such as "Indians", "Cherokees", "Apaches", etc. How could these names be offensive? In such cases, the problem is not the word itself, but the context in which the name is used. When the destructive and inaccurate stereotype of militant violence is perpetuated in association with these honorable names, it trivializes them. Sacred symbols are displayed in a sacrilegious manner connected with these names. When the proud name of Cherokee is used as a good luck token, it is offensive and absolutely inappropriate. There is nothing wrong with the word, only with the context in which it is used.
The sixth component is about relevance, as many people question the importance of this issue. Certainly, there are other areas of life that need to be addressed and which may appear to be more urgent. Crime, substance abuse, incarceration and many other ills are relevant problems that require solutions. However, there appears to be a direct connection between these issues and the lack of self-esteem our children frequently possess . Over the past five centuries our religions, our languages, our ceremonies, the totality of our cultures, have been violently suppressed. Today, youth learn about Indians through distorted depictions in advertising, by watching television and movies, and through the symbols associated with athletic mascots. This situation must change, because without a healthy self-image, our youth are condemned to lives of continuing social and emotional problems.
Finally, the most frequent response we hear to the request for removing Indian mascots is "We're honoring Indians!" and, therefore, "You should feel honored." How perversely ironic and arrogant is the claim that non-Indians know better how to honor Indians than Indians themselves! Why not allow the Indian community to decide what is complimentary? The original intention may honestly have been to honor Native Americans. However, after being informed about the concerns and objections of American Indian communities regarding the use of "Indian" mascots, the moral and ethical responsibility to change falls squarely on the shoulders of those engaging in the objectionable practice. Use of the mascot after Native people have explained why it is unacceptable makes the offense intentional. Retention of the mascot is a perpetuation of the same old paternalism: "we know better what you need, what you want, and how you are honored than you do." If real motivation to honor Indians exists, work to eradicate the social ills facing our communities. Lobby to end the celebration of "Columbus Day," name schools and scholarships after specific American Indians, work to eliminate racist depictions of Indians in advertising and educational institutions, hold schools accountable for teaching insufficient and incorrect American Indian history, become personally involved in activities at our numerous Native communities throughout the state, and reestablish a viable, effective Texas Indian Commission!
The 2000 census indicated a Texas Indian population of 188,000. This does not include thousands more who are indigenous by birth, but who have been discouraged through generations of fear and intimidation from revealing their true heritage. The vast majority of Indians living in Texas do not live on one of the three reservations. We comprise descendants of the original indigenous nations and of the subsequent Native immigrants, and we reside in rural and urban communities throughout the state. Many have Spanish and/or English names, but we are all American Indians. We are also people largely without voices. We have no liaison, no advocate with the state. We have no one who can lobby for accuracy in textbooks or pursue state support for cultural-specific education and practice. There is no one who can push for a statewide elimination of racist Indian mascots or who can provide support for urban Indian issues. How ironic it is that the original inhabitants of this state are denied any official presence in Austin. We need, and you can provide, an official liaison, an Indian who is well rooted in his or her traditions and ceremonies and who is formally educated and well spoken. He or she will be an effective mediator and advocate for all Texas Indians, working to protect our ancestors through enforcement of the Native American Grave Protection and Repatriation Act, and our children through the Indian Child Welfare Act. The reservations will also benefit by having an American Indian mediator with state agencies such as local school districts. It is time to take this step, to put the process in motion. It is time for an official American Indian liaison with the State of Texas. Please act expeditiously; our children's future is at stake.
Wa-dv, Thank you.
For more information visit the American Indian Resource Center online at http://www.airc.50megs.com/ or write to them at 4914 Nuthatch San Antonio, TX 78217. Phone: (210) 655-1300. Jonathan Hook can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org