We cannot control or shape the place of our birth. It gives us our bounds for understanding ourselves on this earth. It is difficult to grow beyond our background to include others who are different within the scope of our compassion. Most often we are inclined to feel loyalty only to people who are similar to us in critical regards.
After over one hundred years of being known as “Mount McKinley,” North America’s tallest mountain will henceforth be officially recognized as “Denali.” President Obama announced the change on Aug. 30 in anticipation of his trip to Alaska, on which he will call for aggressive action against climate change.
Alaskan Native tribes have long objected to the cultural imperialism embedded in the name “Mount McKinley,” which commemorates a man who never even stepped foot in Alaska.
The United Church of Christ for the mid-Atlantic region passed a resolution Saturday asking its 40,000 members not to buy game tickets or wear any souvenir gear of the Washington NFL club until it changes its embattled team name.
“I hope this debate will continue to draw attention to an unhealed wound in our cultural fabric,” the Rev. John Deckenback, conference minister, said in a statement. “Changing the name of the Washington NFL team will not solve the problems of our country’s many trails of broken promises and discriminatory isolation of our Native American communities. However, a change in the nation’s capital can send a strong message.”
“Redskins.” The name of Washington, D.C.’s football team is a racial slur, a racist epithet. The U.S. trademark office agrees; so does the dictionary. But more importantly, Native American people feel it. How important is that to the rest of us? That is the moral question for all of us: are we going to show respect for our nation’s original citizens?
In an insightful column for the Chicago Tribune, Clarence Page compared NBA Commissioner Adam Silver’s decision to ban Clippers owner Donald Sterling “for life” for his private racist comments, with the decision yet to be made by the NFL and Washington’s owner to change a name deeply perceived as a public racist comment. “That’s the question at the heart in the name dispute. Who gets respect,” says Page.
Think about the name. Say it in your head or out loud in a private space. What comes to mind? Try to imagine why Native Americans feel the way they do.
The Native American narrative remains largely unknown in U.S. majority culture. It is glaringly absent in most school curriculums, and remains unheard in modern dominant politics. One crucial stream of Native culture I’ve recently come to learn about is the destructive legacy of Christian-run Indian boarding schools.
What began with genuinely good intentions (in those days, “European” norms were viewed as superior, “sameness” seemed like a good idea, and the threat of legitimate genocide lingered over tribes) rapidly deteriorated, with Christian boarding schools becoming institutions of forced assimilation and abuse.
Beginning in the 1800s and lasting into the 20th century, Native children were forcibly removed from their families and sent to live in boarding schools. Finding the task of “civilizing” Native adults beyond its ability, the federal government delegated the task of “normalization” to churches, which could educate, or, inculcate, children from a young age.
The Baby Veronica case, named for the girl at the center of a contentious child custody dispute, has stirred powerful emotional responses from many groups, including some Christian evangelicals.
Motivated by their faith in God and a distrust of federal Indian policies, a few evangelical organizations are campaigning to abolish the federal Indian Child Welfare Act at the heart of the dispute.
Congress enacted the law in 1978 to address the abuses that separated Indian children from their families through adoption or foster care. The law gives related tribes a preference in custody proceedings involving Indian children.