Native culture last in America's values
Arizona Daily Star
02.06.2006Tucson, Arizona | Published: http://www.azstarnet.com/allheadlines/114375
Score points: Rape an "Indian maiden." That's the directive of the "Custer's Revenge" video game, which asks players to imagine this:
"You are Gen. Custer. Your dander's up, your pistol's wavin'. You've hog-tied a ravishing Indian maiden and have a chance to rewrite history and even up an old score. Now the Indian maiden's hands may be tied, but she's not about to take it lying down, by George!"
Players pretending to be Gen. George Armstrong Custer rack up points each time they rape a Native woman.
Author Andrea Smith uses the video to show how Native women are targeted for violence in her book, "Conquest: Sexual Violence and American Indian Genocide."
Smith quotes Stuart Kasten's marketing of the 1982 game as "a fun sequence where the woman is enjoying a sexual act willingly."
Raping "Indian maidens" for fun?
What's more, I've never heard any Native women clamoring to be called a maiden, which means "spinster" or "winless horse."
But when non-Natives control naming systems, such as those used by college and high school sports teams, anything goes —even if you're a Native person adamantly opposed to being used as a mascot.
Yet the predominant culture tends to think it's more important to hold on to school "traditions," which usually means harboring such names as "Redskins," "Indians," "Chiefs" or "Maidens" — even though such groups as the American Indian Mental Health Association states using Natives as mascots damages the self-identity and self-esteem of Native people.
But what's a little fun at the expense of indigenous people?
No group of people shoulders the burden of identity and esteem issues more so than Native women.
While most racial groups tend to beat up on each other, whites commit 60 percent of violent crimes against Native women, according to the Justice Department.
It's no wonder Native people in western Montana object to a school on the Flathead Reservation's use of "Maiden" and "Chief" as mascots.
The Ronan Indian Education Committee, Native parents and the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes of the Flathead Reservation asked the Ronan School Board to stop using Native images and symbols on a recently built gym floor.
Francine Dupuis, a tribal citizen on the Flathead, spearheaded these efforts.
Any sense of honor intended for bestowal on Natives gets lost in translation when non-Native fans grab hold. Imagine non-Native fans war whooping, tomahawk-chopping and screaming the word "squaw" at female basketball players.
But Ronan's majority white school board members determined it knew better, voting 5-1 in 2003 to keep the "Chief" and "Maiden" names.
It didn't matter that half the district's student population is Native. Their best argument: Some people like it.
The board could settle this matter based on nothing more than concern for Native students.
Instead Native people have been forced to take their case through a cumbersome legal system. In January, the Montana Supreme Court rejected Dupuis' case and told her to take her complaints to the state Human Rights Commission.
But Dupuis argues this isn't a discrimination case. It's a violation of state constitutional rights — student guarantees to human dignity and the preservation of cultural integrity. Her lawyer, James Park Taylor, petitioned the state Supreme Court for a rehearing on Jan. 17. A ruling is expected soon.
A recent reporting assignment led me to the Flathead Reservation. As I drove by the Ronan Middle School, I decided to stop to look at the gym floor.
I asked the secretary at the front desk if I could see the maiden and chief images. The three women behind the desk tensed up, cleared throats and exchanged looks. One picked up the phone.
About five minutes later, I was escorted to the gym. A news photographer and I barely stepped onto the floor when a gym teacher stepped forward to say we weren't welcome.
A second later, the school's athletic director and former basketball coach, Aaron Griffin, appeared from nowhere, cutting me off from walking any farther. He told me to leave and come back when the superintendent returned.
If looking at the gym floor causes that much tension, I can only imagine what it must be like for Native people living in that community.
But it seems entertainment, a little fun with the Chiefs and Maidens, will continue at the expense of Native people.
Jodi Rave covers Native issues for Lee Enterprises. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org