Governor Scott Walker signed an Indian Mascot Bill that makes it next to impossible for the very people who are so affected by this issue to have any voice or power in saying what the limits of discriminatory behavior that racially stereotypes Native-Americans can be.
A few days ago the Governor said “if it were me, personally, I’d find a way to move away from nicknames or mascots that certain groups of our fellow citizens seriously found to be offensive.” The blunt answer is that he has direct legal and Constitutional responsibility here as the Governor of the State of Wisconsin. Tony Evers, the Superintendent of Public Instruction for Wisconsin has a Constitutional responsibility even beyond that of the Governor to maintain a healthful and safe environment for all of the children that attend Wisconsin schools. Evers has backed the repealed ACT 250 and was dutifully following and more than meeting his Constitutional responsibility here.
Even more revealing in that comment is to isolate the discriminated against group by saying “certain groups of our fellow citizens seriously found to be offensive.” It implies that most do not and need not be concerned with discriminatory racial stereotyping speech and behavior. This is tragically insensitive as Indian nicknames mascots and logos do not sit on the shelf. They are actively promoted as sports teams of these schools that have them go out and play against opponents with the community’s full backing and use of the stereotypes in a way that activates the harm done by these things. Those “other” people who lack the power to unseat him and who are of a different race and who face problems in having their rights fully respected as the white majority has do not have the Governor’s ear but are to him like dogs yelping at his legs.
The foundation for the Governor’s decision in signing the bill was to not limit the free speech of citizens by an overweening government that interferes with them too much.
To the contrary, Chris Ahmuty of the Wisconsin Branch of the American Civil Liberties Union or ACLU quickly went public and stated that “the free speech argument in this case is bogus.” All of us know the ACLU will jump just as our knee does when a doctor’s mallet is applied. They truly involuntarily and so naturally respond to ANY legal infringement on the right of free speech. Their failure to do so here and the statement of an organization specializing in the law of free speech more than any other in the nation should say that this is not a free speech case at all should give us cause to sit up and take notice.
An Oneida woman and head of the Wisconsin Indian Education Association’s “Indian” Mascot & Logo Taskforce, Barbara E. Munson, pointed out that School Districts with these not only offensive but psychologically harmful racial stereotypes of indigenous people are units of government and for them the responsibility for the education of our children and maintaining for these vulnerable young people a physically as well as psychologically safe environment remains paramount.
“The action by the Governor, should he sign this legislation shows no semblance of ‘empathy.’ Instead it shows no mercy. It is a poke in the eye with a sharp stick to all Wisconsin Tribes and it is an act of discrimination leveled directly at our children,” said Munson in a press release.
Struggles for Justice stands stoutly and without qualification for this cause and will continue to do so no matter how retrograde the treatment of indigenous people is in Wisconsin. While this issue has come to national attention with the furor over the NFL football franchise the “Washington Redskins” and increasing numbers of white people especially are beginning to finally grasp the offense taken with these things and even the huge body of scientific evidence in the field of Social Psychology, that it is not only “offensive” emotionally to these people but it is actually damaging to the self-esteem and world outlook of the children they dutifully send to Wisconsin’s Public Schools. It puts Wisconsin at odds with the direction of these and related issues.
No white parent would tolerate any sort of thing that was even psychologically negatively impacting upon their children. Why must Native- Americans do so? These stereotypical names and mascots and logos were and are at this very hour being imposed upon a racial minority that has been long discriminated against and continues to be. Further, since Columbus graced these sacred shores in 1492 there has been nothing less than genocide practiced against these Tribes, who are constitutionally recognized to be in an equal place to the United States of America and by a multitude of presently in force treaties.
It brings us to recall Frederick Douglass’ words at an 1852 July 4th Speech in Rochester, New York that what was practiced against blacks at that time “would disgrace a nation of savages.” Struggles for Justice sees this description as apt in this case as well. Just who are the “savages” here? Certainly not the Tribes of Wisconsin who belie that old racial stereotype so soundly. No, it is the dominant white majority who simply fail to grasp the whole of it. Not just logos and mascots and Indian nicknames. But the ill treatment of these people for centuries, so long in the fullness of time to feel as an eternity.
The Great Lakes Inter-tribal Council has spoken on this decision by Governor Scott Walker and the Republican dominated State Legislature. Michael Allen Sr., the Executive Director of the organization representing in totality some dozen Tribal Nations extending throughout Wisconsin and Upper Michigan is tasked with speaking for them as one. The Federal government of the United States of America has fully recognized these Tribal Nations right to speak as one.
Michael Allen Sr. has made a lengthy statement on all of this in behalf of a dozen Tribal Nations. It is not just one Native-American who gives this opinion. So the white population in these areas must hear what the twelve Tribes say with one voice about this racist decision. Among so many things, Struggles for Justice fully hears, and feels the slight taken by Native-Americans in these places. We found the most important and required reading and reflection on the issue in this long statement was this:
“No other ethnic group would or should tolerate such discriminatory ‘free Speech’ that is governmentally approved first at a school district level, and now at the state level. Free speech is an individual’s right, not a government right. The Governor has merely attempted to rationalize a politically expedient and bad decision.”
And also to lead off the Great-Lakes Inter-Tribal Council’s statement with:
“Wisconsin’s proud progressive history suffered a black eye today. What had been a leadership position among all the states in the eradication of institutionalized racial stereotyping has been relocated to a back bench”
Struggle’s for Justice speaks and says that the Wisconsin State Motto of “Forward” should now be changed to “Backward” to reflect the new environment Scott Walker brought in with his election in 2010.
Ralph Waldo Emerson argued in an essay on “Compensation” that in nature and with all things related to the human experience and with the Creator an opposite force and reality is created. Two opposing forces are always present. Without doubt he would have indicated that having Wisconsin go “Forward” would be the morally correct course rather than backward to hate and racism. It is long past time for respect, even honor, for these people so affected.