Educate, Not Dominate

(Warning:  usage of full racial epithets in this opinion piece, because I don’t believe one is more important or blatant than the rest in this point of view).

Our truths are largely based on what side of a fence we grew up on. One side, one truth is largely equal to merely indoctrination as education, and this is not restricted to religion.  It’s about everything we grew up to believe about the world.

Education is not about only learning more about our side of the fence, it’s supposed to be learning about all the other fences too, or as many as we’re able.  This should be a lifelong effort, and if not, why not?

Education has always been key in resolving conflict and ignorance of intents.  The process gets all muddled up with the yeah buts, if you knew what he/she did, we need this or we need that.

So what’s really needed?  What is really needed to live ably and in relative comfort?  The big questions are, what is worth killing children for?  What is worth demeaning their value as people?

What’s worth a walk up to a child and looking her in the eyes to  call her dirty, a camel jacker, a nigger, a redskin, a chink, a honky, or any other of the demeaning terms we need to make up to dehumanize another person?   Nothing?  Thank the Universe you have not descended into madness.  Yet.

Childrens eyes 2I say ‘yet’ because I wonder how many people wouldn’t be able to do that, but do remark loudly and viciously about the lowness of those children’s parents when in disagreement. These are most noticeable in the comment sections of news stories like those about children dying in the Middle East, resources on someones land, or for the change of an American football team name.

Would these same people kneel down to this child and look her in the eyes and tell her that the purpose of their gain is worth her loss of worth or life?  We know there are some who will, and have.  They have become madness embodied.

This is what’s meant to be feared.  They say they do this on behalf of all the people, their people, and unbelievably, they are believed.   What fear is the madness based in?  Loss?   What fear of loss is so great that it’s worth dehumanizing or killing a child over?

That madness spreads like dust, but dust can be cleaned away.  How do we stop the advent of madmen?  We educate all of our children now.  We all have to stop, whenever it’s made possible, to ask if we’ve truly made an effort to look over the top of our fences.  Have we really searched for the reasons behind our fears and anger about something, or most importantly, someone?

If not, why not? It’s never been easier.




Cherokee Nation Triples in One Week, & Don’t Call Me a Redskin

We should be impressed with how many people are well versed in Native American culture and history.  It’s been amazing and enlightening to see all kinds of average citizens report and comment so expertly on First Nations and Aboriginal issues lately.  Of course, this post isn’t really about how much is known about Native Americans as much as how deplorably inadequate our education about the culture(s) still is.

The story that has caused all the questionable commentary was the news the U.S. Patent Office revoked the name trademark for football team, the Washington Redskins.  The public response has revealed that a number of people feel immersed enough in Native American culture that they can speak for how Native Americans should or do feel about all kinds of issues.  This includes how to react to the use of a term historically known as racist for the sake of sports team logos and names.

I keep reading things like, as a Native, I’m one of the people who doesn’t really care about this, and so why should anyone else.  I most definitely have feelings about this – I feel hurt, angry, and sometimes surges of the humiliation burn I endured at times throughout my life because I am a Native person. The sting of being called a dirty redskin when I was a child is as piercing now as it was then.

peace is our promiseI’ve read over and over that even if I do care, what I feel is beside the point because there are far more people out there who really matter.  I happen to think it’s the ones who stand against racism and discrimination of any form that matter.  I believe in the ones who say let’s make the world a better place without the cost of that being another human.  I seek those who speak beyond the words that filled so many, too many, of the commentaries like this:

BUT – 90% of the Universe Likes the Name!

“90% of Indians don’t mind the name Redskins.” or sometimes it’s stated as, “90% of Americans like the name”.  These statements refer to the often cited, but academically questioned, National Annenberg Election Survey from 2004. They proudly quote that 90% figure, but that’s 90% of the 768 respondents – 691 people who claimed Native American ancestry, not 90% of all Native Americans. That’s part of why people take exception to this poll.  It also took almost a year to find those 768 respondents, which begs the question, which neighbourhoods were they looking in?

If you want to get technical, according to U.S. Census records for 2004, there were approximately 3,000,000 Native Americans in the U.S. then.  The number needed to statistically represent 90% of Natives (with a 3% +/- error margin) would’ve had to have been at least 1,100 people  – preferably Native Americans who live within the culture, or are well-versed in it.

There is a constantly ignored October 2013 SurveyUSA poll that showed 59% of 500 non-Native American Washington DC residents thought the name was offensive.  79% of them didn’t think changing the name would make them think less of the team.

There was something else I noticed in the comments and that was how many Native American relatives we all have. If the number of self-identified part-Native Americans claiming not to have a problem with the name is true, then Native Americans must really represent close to a third of the overall U.S. population. For sure the Cherokee nation’s population has got to have tripled in the last week.

There is tremendous debate as to the truth of the word’s offensiveness.  This is where the vast in-depth knowledge of Native American history appears most in the comments.  The origin of the word is debated to the nth degree with disagreement about the word being born of racism.  Therefore, no racist beginning, no problem.

Origin is not the point

 noun: etymology

  1. the study of the origin of words and the way in which their meanings have changed throughout history.   The origin of a word and the historical development of its meaning.

plural noun: etymologies

A paper by Ives Goddard is often cited as incontrovertible proof that the word did not begin as a slur because he cites English and French notes from 17th-19th century journals where they note a chief and some tribal members called themselves red people. First Nations are hundreds of cultures. Some people take exception to those notes because Native historians  – as in the Native peoples themselves – did not record their history in the same way, and most do not historically refer to themselves as red people, let alone redskins.  In any case, the paper does acknowledge the term evolved into a slur, or “obloquy”.

Next, victoriously trotted out are exceptions to the view that most Native Americans are offended and why they shouldn’t be:

  • The first Redskins coach was Native – Disputed as someone who took on a Sioux identity to escape the draft. He also did not name the team.
  • The team was honoring that coach and four Indian players – disputed by redskins owner in a 1933 interview with the Hartford Courant.
  • The Natives have always been proud of these honors – it was Natives who started the trademark revocation in 1992, but overall objections to the name began in the 1950s.
  • Many school teams, even Native ones, call themselves redskins and are damned proud of it.  Most are forgetting when those schools were originally named and by whom, but even so, self identification to claim the name is not the same thing.
  • Oklahoma is Native named and is Choctow for ‘Red People’.  Actually, ˆ“Ogla-ut-homma”, has a different etymology. In the Choctaw language “Homma,” can mean rust, brown, tan, or red. Oklahoma could easily be translated as ‘tan people.’

This may be interesting debate so far, but what isn’t disputed is that the name evolved into a term that evokes centuries of derision, hatefulness, discrimination, and attempted genocide. The term is recorded in historical accounts repeatedly calling for the scalps and genitalia of our ancestors. It’s this part of history that most resonates with the people who are offended by the images and names that dehumanize them to a cartooned existence, i.e. redskins.

Despite that, the reasons given to keep the name run the gamut from derision to the absurd; Natives and white liberals are just whiners and choosing to be victimized. There is simple ignorance of the issue to blaming Obama, who apparently is in need of another distraction.  Some people are very concerned about the expenses this could cost teams if they have to re-tool names or images.  Some people want to cling to tradition, eagerly willing to overlook the horrific and bloody history associated with the term.

Coming to terms with the idea of change can be hard, and for some people, very hard.  Changing something that is eight decades along is even seen as dishonoring “tradition”.  However, if a tradition is based in the highly questionable honor of documentable racism, the time for change is long overdue.

Banning racist slurs may not change everything, but words do have power and standing against words that caused so much damage is the beginning of the end of discriminations, and it says, yes, we do matter.

Besides, there are already cases to show that it can be done without irreparable loss.

  • The University of Utah Redskins became Utah Utes in 1972.
  • The Miami University (of Ohio) Redskins became the RedHawks in 1997.
  • The Southern Nazarene University Redskins became the Crimson Storm in 1998.
  • To date, there were more than 3,000 American Indian mascots and names used in school K-12 athletic programs; more than two-thirds of those have been changed.

Still don’t think any racism underlies the word?  Then why do you suppose that in every single one of those comments – all those stridently opposed to change and steadfastly insistent that the term redskins is really an honor – why did none of them refer to Native Americans as redskins? Not a single one.


Some may have noticed I didn’t capitalize the term in some areas. I did that in order to reflect how that term changes tone even with a simple adjustment of a letter.  I doubt the irony of that was missed by even the most ardent slur defender.

Updated July 7, 2014 Washington Redskins PR Hire is a good idea for Native Americans:   2006 Ben Tribbett Proves Washington Team Name Is Slur, 2014 Ben Tribbett Paid To Defend It

Updated June 29, 2014 to include the Oklahoma reference increasingly cited as self-description for entire Native American nations. With thanks for the information provided by Paula Starr,  Executive Director at Southern California Indian Center.

Our Home and Native Braves

Andrea Hotomanie, Principal, Glenda Speight, Constable Erin McAvoy

Andrea Hotomanie, Principal, Glenda Speight, Constable Erin McAvoy

As Remembrance Day approaches, I am reminded of how profoundly I was moved by the Remembrance Day assembly at my son’s school last year. I found it particularly poignant for two reasons.

What I found initially striking was that the ceremony was presided over by all women, something I’d never seen before.  They were school Principal, Glenda Speight, RCMP Constable Erin McAvoy, impressive in her Red Serge, and Andrea Hotomanie, the district Aboriginal Support Worker.

Andrea Hotomanie was the second reason of note.  She stood up in recognition of the First Nations who serve and have served in the Canadian Military. She wore a magnificent button blanket around her shoulders.  It was the first time I had seen this kind of inclusion at any school remembrance assembly.  It brought me to tears.

It moved me so deeply because it was the first time I felt my grandfather and uncles included in these remembrances in a way that they hadn’t before.  It brought them, Cree warriors from Northern Alberta, faded from history for so many decades, up to the front too.  I felt they were being honored for the first time as servicemen and not as guests in the back of my mind, while all the other heroes were noted up on the screens and in the speeches. Between Andrea’s presence and my son nearby, this acknowledgement brought it all fully home to my heart.

All those many years ago, there was never any doubt that at least three of my uncles would join the military from the time that, as young boys, they stared admiringly at the one photo of my grandfather in his uniform until they were all signed up and fitted into their own.

photo compilation by Robyn LawsonAlong with pride of nation and reverence for the uniform, there was another underlying and stirring reason to join up. Uncle Philip finally expressed it after I asked him why he always declared that his favorite job was being in the Canadian forces.  He said, “Respect”.  While he wore that uniform, it was the first time in his life that he was treated with honest to God respect, and it didn’t matter where he was in the world.  It was his greatest time of honor and pride.  I can’t say so for my grandfather or the other uncles, but I suspect they felt much the same.

Their presence at the Remembrance Day assembly that day was palpable to me, and I have no doubt that they were all there in full uniform.

There is a lot of history about Indigenous participation in the military and the details are available more than ever.  I would encourage anyone to look up that history sometime for some very interesting and enlightening reading.

For now, I would just like to say thank you to my family for their courage.  We will always be proud.  We will always remember.

In remembrance of:

Private John Joseph Baptiste Gray – WW1

Private John Joseph Baptiste Gray – WW1

Private Frank Joseph Gray – WW2

Private Frank Joseph Gray – WW2

Philip Gray Military Photo

Private Philip Sanford Gray – Korea

Private Larry Alexander Gray – Canadian post, Quebec

Private Larry Alexander Gray – Canadian post, Quebec

To an old friend serving in Afghanistan, Deputy Chief of Staff, John Valtonen, as always, thank you, and stay safe.


readers digest logoOur Home and Native Braves was published October 30, 2013 on the Reader’s Digest community website:

Recommended link for Native military history:
A Commemorative History of Aboriginal People in the Canadian Military:

This SHOULD be Ancient History by Now! To the Thoughts Mostly Unspoken About First Nations

I hadn’t intended to immediately write anything about the Indigenous after my previous post.  I was leaning towards something funny.  I was in the mood for a ha ha, but life interfered again. I’d since learned even more about what goes on within the politics of “Native” life.  I know that I am far from the only one who was or is unaware of a lot of this information that is readily available, but rarely shared.

I received a great deal of positive comment and support on that ‘Half-Breed’ post, which I certainly appreciated.  I was expecting at least one comment of dissension, if not an onslaught.  Certain criticisms mean that there is still need for education, an opportunity to dispel a myth or two.

There was one critical thought, but it was given indirectly, written on the Facebook page of a mutual friend who had shared my story on his page.  The comment didn’t bother me to any great degree, and I doubt that its writer was the only person who felt like he did or something similar.  I’ve heard it said many times, that this topic just needs to go away. Actually, I can’t think of a group of people who would agree with that more than the people of Indigenous nations.

Response to post Half-Breed to Metis, My Return from a Savage Wilderness:

Anon.( for the sake of mutual friend):  The bogus multicultural self-identifying that happens in this country is ridiculous, especially when it comes to the inheritors of the first nations.           May 12 at 7:28am via mobile · Like

Then I recently read another blog that spoke to the Idle No More movement and Indigenous issues in general.  Her first reply was from someone who took issue with her post.

Response to post “Idle No More”, by Blogger Anne Thériault, The Belle Jar:

Carlos:  February 1, 2013 at 10:19 pm #

Let’s be real. There was no threat of Spence actually dying, what with all that fish broth she was consuming. No it’s not a full meal, but nutritious enough for her to survive. Also, just because the First Nations were here first does not preclude them from supporting themselves. How do you think that “the white people” survived when they got here? Exactly in the same way that the First Nations people did, hunting, fishing, gathering, and building their own shelters. The main difference is that the “white people” sought to advance and grow as a society, rather than try and piggy back on the work and efforts of others. There’s no reason why my tax dollars should go to fund the lives of those that do not have any motivation to work to support themselves, when the institutions that my tax dollars are SUPPOSED to go toward are so poorly underfunded. In all honesty, I have little sympathy for a group of people that have mismanaged the assistance has been given to them. Blogs like this that try to validate their claims of oppression absolutely drive me insane.  


Permit me to reply.

The lack of threat to Theresa Spence’s life notwithstanding, these are the kind of continual single-minded replies that completely ignore the actual facts and nuances of all the Indigenous issues as noted in Anne’s blog, and over all these many, many years.

Let’s break it down a bit. Let’s have a short look at some of the facts and nuances. To start, it’s fairly certain that most individuals and community bodies understand the enormous amount of work and time necessary to help people recover from abusive childhoods.  I think few today wouldn’t understand that many abused kids may require treatment even for the rest of their life to regain a life worth living.  Yet, despite the number of people who get that, there are too many with almost no understanding about how that same idea applies to the healing of the Indigenous . These are people dealing with the same kind of traumas -and so much more – applied to generation after generation of Indigenous families from birth to death.

A typical response to that is something like, “Hey, we’ve given you lots of money, you should all be better already”!  Why not try such an easy fix, in general, with all abuse victims?  I think most people agree that money alone does not solve everything.  There are all kinds of needs in response to life-altering events that need attending to:  physical and mental health, education, training, follow-up, and time.  I also have to wonder what exactly is the correct designated time period to get over it and assimilate?

Moving on from that issue, how many people regardless of ancestry would be able to “advance and grow as a society” like the “white people” if they don’t have the same advantages of the “white people” like deciding who can work on, or even sell, their own lands?

How’s this for some facts, that are by far not the only like them on the books, that would raise havoc for the rest of Canada? (courtesy of  Anne Thériault, The Belle Jar from CDN Dept. of Indian Affairs) :

  • “First Nations peoples have very little control over reserve land, and the Minister of Indian Affairs must approve any land sales or transfers.
  • First Nations people need to seek government approval for selling or bartering any crops, livestock and other products grown, reared or cultivated on reserve lands.   (Add in minerals and oil too.  There is far too much money in royalties and business taxes for the government to look at relinquishing them easily.  I also wonder who benefits the most from those taxes and royalties?  I wonder what the percentage of those taxes and royalties are paid back to the Natives in all those annual “handouts”?)
  • …if you’re an Indigenous Person, you’d better hope that the government doesn’t declare you to be “mentally incompetent”, as that means that the Minister can force you to sell, lease or mortgage your land as he sees fit.
  • Even a dead Indigenous person isn’t safe from the Minister; no wills drawn up on reserve lands are considered legally valid until the Minister approves them’.”

This kind of changes the overly accepted idea that the Indigenous simply chose the plan for a ‘welfare state’, doesn’t it?  If you still think there is a privileged existence on those reservations, or as status Aboriginal peoples, why don’t you ask to live as one for a week and see if you still feel that way?

Why are the people who feel the contentions are only about ‘status,’ or some other unfair representation, unable to get the message that no, the playing field to a decent life is not even.  Not even close.  That is the crux of the issue.  This is exacerbated by the fact that even many of the actual agreements, the Treaties, that were put in place have never been truly or fully honoured by the Canadian government.  It is these sort of issues that are going to take a lot of work to work out, which is why it has still to be worked out even after all these hundred some years.

I’d also like the people who demand that no more of “their” tax dollars be spent on these issues to tell me exactly what they think they’ve actually lost personally.  What exactly was their portion of ‘the wasted loss’?    I’ll bet these guys also think that “Natives” don’t pay any taxes at all either.  Better look that one up – because yes, we do.

As for all the mismanagement of funds by Band leaders, yes, there is room for improvement – with some bands, probably lots.  However, name any sort of business, government department, or even charitable organization that hasn’t had some mismanagement issue, even without the ‘advantage of full government oversight as required by the Indian Act’.

Don’t even try to compare any of that band mismanagement, perceived or real, to the billions lost by the very governments that require oversight of the Native funds.  Can you say $3.1 billion this year by the Harper government in one department alone?  Or how about all those advanced and educated senators recently in the news who cheated on their expenses?  Yes, interestingly, even one of them happened to be “Native”.  We’ve come at least some way, baby.

It’s also convenient for some complainers to continually overlook all the Indigenous groups that are working damned hard to overcome overwhelming and seemingly insurmountable problems to uplift and change life for all.  The point made about white society advancing and growing on its own seems to have missed the point entirely:  that ‘the whites’ initially advanced and grew as a society on the backs, resources, and guidance of the Natives, and in many ways continue to so today.   No, we wouldn’t say it was the sole way that society advanced, but that doesn’t negate the long, and again,  continuing role of that fact.

So, I’m sure we can all agree that it really is too bad, even deplorable, that Indigenous issues are still an issue.  These discussions should all be ancient history by now, but they’re not, and not because of some simple inconvenience like the Indigenous simply wanting to “piggy back on the work and efforts of others”.  In order to speak to such a large overall issue, one needs to have a far larger view and a handle on all of the facts and history.

Personally, I am very happy to know that there are plenty of people willing, able, working to get able, and actually working on this.  If we want an issue to go away, the first step to being of any useful help is learning just what the problem is.   So, instead of opinions based on reactions to headlines or chats, why not try to really learn about the subject?  Who knows, maybe then, even we all could help.


Thanks to the Belle Jar blogsite for the Idle No More commentary, and the May 24, 2013 post in the Winnipeg Free Press on Native business partnerships with conventional industries.


May 24, 2013 post in the Winnipeg Free Press on Native business partnerships with conventional industries.

First Nations Business Partnerships Exploding