Compassion in a fight over symbols

Do not ask us why depicting a warrior in full headdress is offensive.

Native people often grow weary of being asked to speak for “the Native people” – actually hundreds of unique nations. While I share in this weariness, I do think I speak for many when I say I am fed up with being told by non-Natives how I should feel about Native caricatures around this country.

So what if we have the Minnesota Vikings? Native people did not invade Scandinavia and then “honor” the colonized with exploitative imagery and parody. This land was invaded by the descendants of Scandinavians, and they are free to name their teams.

So what if Notre Dame has the Fighting Irish? Once Irish Americans faced heavy discrimination in this land vis-à-vis “NINA” and many found the Fighting Irish offensive. Today, however, Irish American communities around Notre Dame support that mascot. The Seminoles of Florida have supported FSU’s mascot, which is why FSU has been granted an exception, regardless of how I as a non-Seminole feel about that.

But I will rise to support Dakota, Nakota and Lakota people who have taken an adversarial stand. The Oct. 7 editorial to which Mark Peterson responded (“UND still waving the flag of bigotry”) mentioned the opposition of North Dakota tribes, yet Peterson insinuates that it is non-Natives making all the noise. Peterson is not listening to Native voices. That Peterson could deny the outrage of Native North Dakotans should perhaps come as no surprise at a time of year when many of us take pause to honor a murderer, rapist, thief and slave trader.

Do not ask us why depicting a warrior in full headdress is “even remotely offensive.” Since the United States has yet to be humbled by another nation, many of the empowered can barely conceive of what is so offensive. If a European football club used a Magen David and tallitot, if Americans instituted a team called the “Mujahideen” in colonized Iraq or Afghanistan, if a Japanese baseball team parodied Manchurian culture – if they did that in Manchuria – would that be acceptable? If your people have been subjugated and nearly annihilated in their own homeland, then try to conjure a parallel. If you can’t, then please keep your mouth shut.

Bryan Gordon is a University student. Please send comments to [email protected]