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Wings Speaks Out: Against Selling Our Ancestors and Selling Out Our Children

Wings EONM Resized

From Wings:

I had planned to release a public statement today to coincide with its marking as Indigenous People’s Day, a call for unity and action among our peoples and our allies on behalf of all our people of color.

In the midst of our own battles against racist appropriation, theft, forced assimilation, and cultural genocide, I have become increasingly attuned to the existential threats faced by other people of color in this country, and have sought ways to help effect positive change for all of us. Our young Black men, lynched under color of law; undocumented Latino children, fleeing violence in their home countries only to be warehoused like cattle in interment camps at the border; Muslims and people of Asian, Middle Eastern, and African ancestry or national origin, subjected to violence and discrimination for their faith; all of the thousand and one acts of bigotry, from the daily microaggressions of unequal treatment or whispered asides to the spectre of overt physical violence: Each of these affects each of us, and I have watched recent incidents with a growing sadness. I had hoped, on this day, to make a call to stand together, united in hope and determination to make this earth a better place, both for our peoples today and for the generations to come.

And then yesterday, I was made aware of events in Phoenix.

I have been outspoken for years against the appropriation — the theft — of our images, our identities, our histories, and our names in the form of mascotry, minstrelsy, and redface. It’s why I oppose the practice of sports teams, whether in the major leagues, at the college and university level, in K-12 schools, or in peewee and little leagues, assuming any name related to our peoples for team names, mascots, or logos. My opposition is not restricted to the most violent racist slurs, such as that used unapologetically by Washington’s NFL team despite the disgust of our peoples. “Chiefs,” “Braves,” “Blackhawks,” names that represent tribal affiliations: Unless used by an all-Indian institution, such as those found on some reservations, their existence is, categorically, racist. There is no room for debate on this, and there is no question about what it is: It is a stark example of the dominant culture’s ongoing theft of identity from a group that it has historically not merely marginalized but sought to exterminate. It is a living artifact of cultural genocide, and it is something our peoples must unite to oppose.

Instead, I see that racist institutions and their leaders are working actively to drive a wedge between our peoples on an issue where we must stand together.

Yesterday, a group of courageous Indian activists, many of them younger people, traveled to Phoenix to take a public stand against the continuing racism of the Washington NFL team. We supported them from here, proud to see our fellow Indians leading on this issue. And I was by turns shocked, dismayed, and very, very angry to see that the team’s leadership paid to bring six busloads of Indians to the game to serve as cover, as though throwing a tailgate party for a few dozen, or even a few hundred, Native people in any way washes away the stain of the organization’s continued use and financial exploitation of one of the ugliest racist slurs that can be leveled against any people, anywhere.

I was further dismayed and angered to learn that many, perhaps most, of them were from Zuni Pueblo and the Navajo Nation, brought in with the connivance of the Pueblo’s own leadership — and worse, that the current governor of Zuni Pueblo was invited to, and Navajo Nation president Ben Shelly actually attended, the game as Dan Snyder’s “special guest” in his private box, giving the imprimatur of tribal governments and their apparent seal of approval to a continuing act of cultural genocide.

As I have said here before, I fully recognize that Zuni Pueblo and the Navajo Nation are sovereign entities and can do as they please in this regard. At the same time, our peoples have a moral, cultural, historical, and spiritual responsibility to each other. As a full-blooded member of another Pueblo nation, it becomes my own duty to speak out against behaviors that will harm all of our peoples — and never more so than when those behaviors threaten our children’s welfare and very existence. It’s no coincidence that our Native youth suffer rates of suicide (and family and sexual violence) that are many times that of other ethnic groups. As someone who worked with our at-risk youth for many years, this is an issue close to my heart.

There is nothing I can do individually to change the hearts and minds of the Zuni and Navajo leadership; that will have to come from within their own spirits, or at least from pressure by their own people. What I can do is to make a statement via my art and my gallery. To that end, we have removed all pieces made by Zuni and Navajo artisans, in whole or in part, from inventory. The pieces remain on the Web site, but with an advisory attached noting that they are no longer for sale, and explaining why. The artists who created them have long since been paid; they will not be cheated out of just compensation because their leadership is engaging in unethical conduct. I am the sole person who will take the loss on these items, which I do gladly; it is the one way I have to make clear my opposition to such bad conduct. Unfortunately, I also will purchase no more art from Zuni and Navajo artisans until those nations’ leadership reverse course and do right by their people, their children, and all of our relatives and ancestors throughout Indian Country.

To buttress communication and education about this important issue, I also call on our brothers and sisters across our tribal nations and our non-Indian allies alike to support the work of #EONM, Eradicating Offensive Native Mascotry. Led by two warrior women, buttressed by the activism of hundreds, perhaps thousands, this organization and its allies work tirelessly every day to force this issue onto the radar of the country’s “opinion leaders” and public officials, and to educate the public about its importance. It is their shirt I wear proudly in the photo above, and they have my voice and my activism in support of their essential work.

There is one final thing that I can do: Today, I call on all of our peoples to join me in becoming activists in the fight against racism, against cultural genocide, and for our children.  Reject racism; reject appropriation of our identities, our histories, our images, our names. Reject bribery and blood money, the colonialist lure of thirty pieces of silver in exchange for the selling — and selling out — of the blood and bone, the scalps and skins of our ancestors and the futures of our children. They all deserve better than the token compensations of colonialism.

~ Wings

From Aji:

I join in Wings’s statement wholeheartedly. I agree with each and every one of the points he makes here, and I unequivocally support the actions he has chosen to take.

On this Indigenous People’s Day, I take this opportunity to renew my own longstanding commitment to fight against mascotry and minstrelsy, racism and redface. I will continue to lend my voice and support to these issues and causes and to those who fight for them, for the memory of our ancestors and the futures of our children.  I likewise wear the #EONM shirt proudly and publicly, and I endorse and support the organization’s work.

~ Aji

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