Tag Archives: native americans

Guest Post: Creative History: On Building Deviltry

Today’s post is a guest blog post by my friend, Steph Lehenbauer. She’s recently published a really awesome novella about a kick ass Native American woman who is a ship captain/space cowgirl who kicks a lot of ass. Deviltry is the first novella in a series that is part Western, part Firefly, and a whole lot of excellence. I’ve read it, I loved it, and I suggest you read on to learn more about it, then go check it out for yourself.

Hello, Jason’s blog readers. It is I, the Batman!

WAIT NO. Not again. Damn it, I’ve got to stop that. My name is Stephanie, AKA S.E. Lehenbauer. I am the author of Deviltry, the first novella of in my space western series. The stories follow the adventures of the spacecraft Wanderlust and her crew.

Jason’s been kind enough to let me take over his blog today, to talk about world building. Specifically, world building around real history. Deviltry takes place in the 1860s, but it’s definitely not the same world as we know it. Earth is now Terra Fragmentum, a collection of small planets held together in Earth’s old place by the gravitational pull of the moon. (Ah, the creative liberties we can take with science.) These frags are the remnants of Earth, after being attacked by aliens roughly 40 years before our story begins.

So, it’s still Earth, kind of. They are still the same countries (for the most part), and the cultures are still quite similar to what they were in the 1860s. However, contact with aliens introduced humanity to space travel, to an alien internet system that people use but don’t understand yet, to advances in machinery and medicine. It’s Wild Wild West meets Farscape, in a way.

The tricky part of this kind of world building is cherry-picking from real history. Using historical figures, places, events, and so on, is a great way to ground your fantasy world. Steampunk books almost always mention Queen Victoria for this very reason—just that simple mention of a real figure we all have some awareness of instantly sets the groundwork in a reader’s mind. But due to the geography or cultural upset in your story, you may not be able to keep everything.

For example: I knew that I would be focusing quite a bit on Native American culture and history, so I chose to keep as many events related to the tension between American settlers and Native Americans as I could. Sally’s parents, Kit Carson and the Cheyenne woman Making-Our-Road were real people who were really married for a time (although as far as my research could tell they never had a child). I turned up some interesting facts about Carson’s involvement with the Mexican-American war, and because it gave significance to an event in Sally’s fictional life, I also kept as much of that war as I could.

However, the American Civil War has been completely erased from our history. (In fact, the stories take place during what would have been the Civil War years.) The reason for that is two-fold: first, America is divided into two separate frags. For a world that has only just discovered and begun to use spacecraft, a war between frags doesn’t seem plausible. The other reason is more complicated. When I divided up the world into frags, I just sort of took a marker to a printed map and damned the consequences. Whatever got a line drawn through it was what got blown up. The southern United States and Mexico didn’t end up with very much water (like, hardly any at all…it’s been a huge annoyance to write around), so the economic make-up of America is very different. One of the biggest factors in the Civil War was the fact that the South was the main source of agriculture, while the North was industrializing. Without water, the South can hardly be the agricultural center it was in real history; so with that factor gone, the War became even more difficult to account for.

In addition to deciding which parts of history go or stay, you must also consider how real-life events would have been shaped by the factors in your new world. In real-life London, there was indeed a Reform Act of 1832. It was an Act of Parliament that made changes to England’s electoral system. In my story, I needed a political movement that would set up the nation of Seachrist: the single moon-based territory of Terra Fragmentum. The concept of Seachrist came from the minds of a few upper-class English families, and the timing of the act was perfect, so I borrowed it. Now the Reform Act of 1832 was a declaration by Parliament to colonize the moon. That little bit of truth within the lie gives my fictional world enough familiarity to create that groundwork I mentioned earlier.

Being a student of history is incredibly helpful to an author. It can, at times, also become a great source of procrastination as you spend weeks picking what stays and what goes. Not that I did that. Definitely not. The single piece of advice I might have would be to narrow your focus as much as possible. I knew that I’d be visiting certain countries and nations within the Wanderlust’s adventures, so I kept my focus to just those places’ histories. When I could, I narrowed it down farther to specific states or cities. (When a shiny thing about the development of Alaska popped up in my research, I had to firmly sit it down and say, “No. I’m not going to Alaska. There’s just no time. I’m sorry Alaska, you will just have to go without.” I filed the shiny fact away for something else and went on.)

Thanks for letting me crash your joint! You’re all invited to the Batcave any time. Earlier this month, I was at the Ravenhart Press blog discussing the ideas of diversity within Deviltry; if that’s something you are interested in, please check it out!

Deviltry is out now from LARRIKINbooks at most major booksellers. (Buying the paperback copy at Amazon nets you the Kindle version for free!) You can find more information and links at my website, www.selehenbauer.com/books/.


Magic Dance

Writing about magic kisses the other day made me think of another common trope: the Magic Dance.

Of course, the magic dance isn’t just a song from Labyrinth. Dancing (and we’ll throw singing in there, just for fun) is often used in various magic rituals or spells in movies, books, and other mediums. Though, depending on the genre, there can be some gray areas between dances that are actually magical, those that are purely ritualistic, and those that are somewhere in between.

Let’s look at a few examples of magic dances in different mediums.

This dance is knowing as a “sending,” and it’s an important plot point in Final Fantasy X. It’s a ritual that’s used to release the souls of the dead and send them on their way to the “Farplane” (the afterlife). According to the game lore, without the sending ritual, the souls of the dead might remain behind, angry and confused after their deaths. This, of course, results in the person becoming undead. Though the game takes a unique angle on it, since the “unsent” aren’t zombies, vampires, or any other traditional type of undead. Instead of staking them through the heart or shooting them in the head, the only way to defeat them is to perform this magic dance.

The Final Fantasy series has several other types of magic dances. These include the Songstress in Final Fantasy X-2, who can use songs and dances to blind enemies, mute them, or put them to sleep; Mog in Final Fantasy VI, who can use dances to summon the elements and attack enemies with magic fire, sandstorms, blizzards, and so on; and the Dancer class in Final Fantasy Tactics, who can disable, slow, and damage enemies with their magic dances.

Next, let’s look at a commonly-known type of magic dance from real life: Rain Dances.

Many people are probably only familiar with rain dances from movies and television. Many of the portrayals are likely to be inaccurate, especially those seen in cartoons. Though there are still places where the ritual is performed to this day, and you can read up on the specifics of the ritual on websites like Indians.org.

The basics of a rain dance involve a group of people, garbed in ritualistic clothing, performing an intricate dance that was said to bring forth rain for the entire season. According to the article linked above, it was more commonly performed in dry and arid regions, which certainly makes sense, since those areas would have a greater need.

Despite this, most people would probably argue that the rain dance ritual is nothing more than a superstition, and that it doesn’t actually bring the rain. However, even if you don’t believe in the literal magic of the ritual, it still has important cultural significance. It’s a ritual that has been passed down from generation to generation for centuries and is still performed today by the descendants of those who performed it ages ago. It’s that’s not magic, I don’t know what is.

These first two examples cover fictional dances that can be used to summon magical effects as well as real life rituals that some believe to have a supernatural effect. But I’d like to discuss one more type of magic dance: A magical spell that makes people dance.

This is essentially the opposite of the first two examples. In the earlier examples, the dances themselves were used to create some sort of magical effect. But in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode, “Once More With Feeling,” it’s a magic spell that creates the dance. It’s basically a form of mind control, which forces people to break out into song and dance at the bidding of a demon in a leisure suit (and as he explains, they burst into fire if the magical energies from the song and dance go on for too long).

Of course, Buffy isn’t the only time there’s ever been a magic effect that makes people dance. There’s a spell in Dungeons and Dragons called “Otto’s Irresistible Dance,” which, as the name says, makes a character dance irresistibly (which makes it hard for them to continue fighting a battle). There have also been some TV shows and movies where a villain takes control of someone’s body with mind control or “puppeteering” powers and forces them to dance (possibly fulfilling a romantic fantasy for the puppeteer). Or you could have something like what happens in the movie Beetlejuice, where ghosts possess people as part of a haunting and force them to sing and dance in an attempt to scare them (it doesn’t work out the way they planned).

There’s sure to be plenty of other examples of magical dancing in various forms of media, but these have always been some of the most memorable to me. So if you’re ever in the need of a little magic, remember these examples, and dance . . . like there’s no one watching.

mani_promoManifestation is available on:

Createspace in paperback

and Amazon in ebook and paperback.

Searching the Present for Signs of the Past

As mentioned in my last post, I’ve been engaging in research lately with a focus on learning about the connections between the past and the present. I’ve learned that there are a lot of things I just haven’t been exposed to, such as some of the less savory aspects of this country’s history, as well as many present-day issues that are ignored by the media and the general public. Oftentimes these ignored parts of history are directly connected to the ignored political issues of today. For example, our schools here in New Jersey fail to teach students that the lands we’re living in today originally belonged to the Nanticoke tribe. My research has shown that while they lived here for thousands of years before us, they began losing their lands not long after European settlers arrived, and they still struggle with this issue today. As early as the 1700s, the Nanticoke were restricted to reservations in Delaware and New Jersey, and in more recent times, the tribe is still struggling with issues like state protection of their lands, property tax issues, and pollution.

onlooking_horowitzIn addition to learning about specific political and civil rights issues, I also wanted to learn about how to see more signs of the past right here in the places I live and work every day. It occurred to me that there could be issues right in front of my eyes that could connect to things from the past. So I took a step back from examining specific issues in order to learn how to look at what is around me. The inspiration for this exploration is Alexandra Horowitz’s book, “On Looking: Eleven Walks with Expert Eyes.” In her book, Horowitz takes walks around her familiar city blocks with various experts, including her dog (who “saw” through scent and thus introduced her to a new way of seeing the world), a geologist, a bug expert, an expert on typography (who could tell her a lot of things about a building’s history just by the type of font used on the building signs), a doctor, and even a blind woman. After traveling with each expert, Horowitz found her mind opened to new ways of seeing the world around her.

Along those same lines, my hope was that being guided by an anthropologist might give me some insights into understanding how the world can be seen when you understand the connections between the past and the present. I contacted the Rowan University Anthropology Department, and I was put in touch with several professors who work in the Museum of Anthropology at Rowan University. The museum is brand new, having only just opened in 2012. I was taken on a tour of the museum’s collection by Maria Rosado, Rowan professor and one of the museum’s curators. I asked her to explain the museum’s artifacts to me so I could understand how they can serve as evidence of the past.

Most of the collection included bones and skulls from humans and various other species. Some were real bones, while others were plastic and plaster replicas made from the originals that are kept in other museums. Professor Rosado explained that original artifacts are always kept in museums near the place where they were discovered. I found this to be an interesting fact in relation to my Native American studies; just as many people wish to remain in the lands where their ancestors lived, it seems that anthropologists believe in keeping fossils and artifacts near their place of origin. The artifacts on display at the museum included replicas from Clovis, New Mexico, from the La Brea Tarpits, and from various other places around the world.

When I first asked what could be learned by studying these bones, Professor Rosado told me one of the main uses is forensic anthropology, which she called “The study of corpses as evidence.” Markings on the bones, for example, can indicate the cause of death, such as from a bullet wound or a stabbing. She also explained that the bones alone can tell a researcher a great deal about who the person was when they were alive. The shape of the skull can indicate sex, the size of the teeth can indicate whether it was an adult or child, cranial sutures can tell age, and the shape can even identify race. Individual physical characteristics can also be determined, such as by measuring the bones to determine the person’s height.

We then began looking at some of the animal fossils on display. I asked Professor Rosado what we could learn about human history by studying animal bones. It turns out that there is a lot we can learn. First, she showed me a fossil of an ancient horse skull, and she explained that horses were extinct in America for about 10,000 years. In fact, it turns out that American horses lived here for millions of years, and some that traveled across the land bridge to Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. Present-day zebras are descended from those horses that originated in America. The horses that remained in America, however, died out as part of the mass extinctions that came as the planet grew colder and many species were unable to adapt. Horses were then reintroduced thousands of years later, when Europeans brought them here during the colonial period. Other examples included the American Mastodon, the Giant Beaver, the Giant Armadillo, and the American Lion. While most of these species are extinct today, they were alive when the ancestors of Native Americans first came to these lands, and they would have been hunted by those original inhabitants of the country.

This led to us discussing the evolution and migration of human life. Professor Rosado explained that current evidence suggests all human life began in Africa. She also sat that National Geographic has been tracing genetic mutations to compare populations to determine where people came from geographically. The oldest known human skeletons were found in Ethiopia, and date back 120,000 years. Genetic tests on ancient fossils, however, can do more than just tell us where people came from. They can also show a connection between present day humans and their ancestors, by tracing DNA. Professor Rosado explained that DNA comparisons between fossils in Africa from 50,000 years ago have been matched with the DNA of people living in the same region today, showing that those people are descendents of the land’s original inhabitants. Along those same lines, it is possible to test DNA to show the connection between Native Americans living here today and their ancestors who inhabited these lands for 10,000 years.

After speaking with Professor Rosado, I had a second guided tour by Rowan Professor Jared Schultz. This tour went beyond the Museum of Anthropology and took us out onto the campus itself. The goal was to see what we could find around campus that could be connected to the past. Specifically, we were looking for anything that could be connected to Native American history and culture.

We walked around the campus on  a warm spring day, which was conducive to an open and exploratory stroll. The first thing that Professor Schultz pointed out was the trees. He pointed them out as an artifact of cultural ecology, and as a renewable resource. He also explained how Native American tribes of the northeast cultivated the land through the use of what he called “slash and burn agriculture”. He explained how they would burn down trees, shrubs, and undergrowth in order to simultaneously clear and fertilize the land. This not only kept areas cleared of undergrowth to make plantation easier, but at the same time the burned plant life created nutrients for the soil.

Professor Schultz then pointed out the overgrown plant life that covered the campus just off the cement walkways we were walking along. Several of the trees were overgrown with vines that were choking them and stunting their growth. Professor Schultz explained that when the lands were cultivated with slash and burn agriculture, that kind of overgrowth wouldn’t have occurred. The overgrowth was made worse by the introduction of invasive species, which are often brought in for aesthetic purposes without proper consideration for the effect they will have on native plants. In fact, Gloucester County, NJ, where Rowan University is located, is home to 163 different invasive species of plants. Some of the invasive species commonly found in New Jersey include English Ivy, which was first introduced to the United States by European immigrants, and which can often be found growing over walls and choking tree trunks.

While we were examining the trees, Professor Schultz also pointed out the tree trunks and drew my attention to their bark. “We’re looking at the presence of Native American culture that’s not being used anymore,” he explained. The bark, it turns out, was once used in the building of wigwams, longhouses, and wattle and daub houses. Different types of bark would have been used for different purposes: birch was used in the construction of wigwams by the Algonquin, elm was used in the construction of longhouses by the Iroquois, and wattle and daub houses were made with rivercane and wood by the Cherokee. Other types of trees would be used in making other tools or canoes, depending on the type of wood.

After examining the plant life, we also toured some of the campus buildings. While we didn’t find many examples of Native American art, culture, or architectural influences, one modern thing that Professor Schultz did point out was the Rowan Lacrosse team. Lacrosse, he explained, was originally invented by Native American tribes. It was played as far back as 1100 AD, and it was introduced to European settlers in the 1600s.

At the end of the tours, I was left with more questions than answers. These connections, from DNA to plant life to sports, are just some small examples of the connections between the past and the present. What was most interesting, however, was how those connections can be found in such simple things that are right in front of our eyes. Hopefully, in the future I’ll be able to learn to look at such things with new insight. It takes a lot of deeper digging to learn all of the facts and details behind such things, but knowing where to look in order to ask the right questions is the first step.

Past and Present Oppression

As you may know, I’ve been doing a lot of research lately into Native American culture. I’m about to start working on an article based on what I’ve learned so far, which with any luck will end up being published somewhere in the near future. In the meantime, I’ve still been exploring different avenues of research and trying to make connections between them. A few weeks ago, I attended the Native American Voices exhibit at the Penn Museum, and then I had the privilege of speaking with an official representative of the Nanticoke tribe in Delaware. These experiences, combined with the reading I’ve been doing, have led me to want to learn more about how issues of the past are connected to the present.

Initially, I made some connections between past and present issues of oppression. Native Americans have been oppressed in the past and are still oppressed today, and a lot of the reason has to do with the way history has depicted them. For example, in elementary school, my class learned about Native Americans in the 1600-1700s, in relation to colonial history in the United States. What we learned back then has three major issues. One, students are only taught about Native Americans from a colonial perspective, so almost nothing is taught about Native American history and culture before the Europeans arrived. However, there are thousands of years of history that go back long before Europeans ever came to these lands, and that history is far more vivid and deep than most people are taught. I’ve begun learning a bit about it by reading the Book of the Hopi, which combines Native American history and mythology with present-day archaeological research to tell a detailed account of the lives of Native Americans before the arrival of Europeans. This book is just one small example, but it represents an entire ignored area in our education system. If the depth of Native American history before the colonial period were taught in schools, then their culture might not be ignored as much as it is today.

The second issue in this education is that it only depicts Native Americans in ways that are easily stereotyped and which tell us nothing about their real culture. For example, children are taught about the First Thanksgiving, but the typical depictions have led to us having a certain inaccurate image that persists in our cultural awareness.

Image Credit: Wikipedia
Image Credit: Wikipedia

This image, however, has been described as not only inaccurate, but as being based on a story that is completely made up. Furthermore, it presents an image of Native Americans that isn’t accurate to who they are today. We don’t think of modern day Americans as still being the same people as the pilgrims that first came here in the 1600s, but many people still view Native Americans based only on these images from the past. This leads to issues like the #NotYourTigerLily debate over the  selection of white actress Rooney Mara to play the role of Tiger Lily in the upcoming live-action Peter Pan remake. In addition to protests over casting a white actress in a Native American role, there are protests against the very use of the Tiger Lily character, based on the argument that she portrays a stereotypical view of Native American women that is harmful and offensive. This view ignores the reality of modern Native American women by depicting them as a caricature rather than as people (imagine, by comparison, if modern day white women were still viewed in the images of their Puritan Protestant pilgrim ancestors). By contrast, many online activists have been posting pictures showing what real, present-day Native American women are really like, such as in this photo posted by online activist Jacqueline Keeler.

The third issue, which stems in many ways from the first two, is the complete lack of education about the present-day struggles of Native Americans. In addition to the mascot debate I’ve been researching, and the #NotYourTigerLily debate I just mentioned, Native Americans still struggle with many issues that are ignored. For example, 28.2% of Native Americans are living below the poverty line (and on reservations, that can increase to between 38% to 63%). By comparison, the National Poverty Center reports only 15.1% of Americans nationwide living below the poverty line (it is also worth nothing that the NPC  page linked here includes subsets for the poverty statistics of whites, blacks, Hispanics, and Asians, but doesn’t mention Native Americans). Another issue related to the media portrayal of Native Americans is that Native American women are twice as likely to be raped as women of any other race in America. One explanation for this is that Native Americans are viewed as a “conquered people,” and media portrayals of Native American women (such as in movies like Peter Pan) depict them as weak, vulnerable savages that are submissive to white men. This portrayal leads to them being more likely targets for aggressive and violent criminals. There is also the issue that many of the assailants are never prosecuted, and tribal courts often lack the legal authority of their own when state and federal courts fail to act.

These and many other present-day issues are often ignored by the general public, and awareness of these subjects seems to be low. At least part of the blame for this lack of awareness surely stems from the lack of education in mainstream schools. The schools I’ve attended, from elementary school through high school and college, educate students about plenty of other “current events” issues, including the gay marriage debate, copyright laws in the digital age, healthcare reform, and the wage gap between genders. My classes have been invariable silent, however, on any issues related to Native Americans.

While exploring all of these issues, I became very aware of my own blindness and lack of understanding. I therefore sought out the assistance of experts who could better understand the relationship between the past and the present. This is the core concept of Anthropology, which is defined as “the study of humankind, past and present.” To learn more about this, I contacted a group of Anthropology professors from Rowan University, two of whom were kind enough to take the time to assist me in my research. My next post will explore what I learned from them as I attempted to open my eyes to seeing beyond the world right in front of me and into the connections with the past.

Reflections on my Interview with Alexander Pierce

As I mentioned earlier, tonight I had an online interview via Twitter with a friend of mine, Alexander Pierce. He was gracious enough to spend some time talking to me about his views on sports and sports culture.

Since the interview was logged on Twitter, you can read the conversation starting here and under the hashtag #HRSI.

Alexander and I chatted online in a casual back-and-forth of tweets, which was part of the purpose of the online format. My goal was to keep things casual and try to keep us on equal grounds as much as possible. Along those lines, I avoided having any direct list of pre-planned questions, and mostly tried to ask him for more information about the specific subjects he brought up. It was interesting to see that he made some comments that were similar to my earlier twitter poll on sports culture, and to the in-person interview I conducted last week. For example, the subjects of sports as religion, as local and national identity, and as a highly emotional activity all came up during this interview.

The interview started off, not surprisingly, with some ice-breaking by talking about sports. When I first asked Alexander how he was doing, it ended up being the first thing that came up in natural conversation.

Alexander_Interview_1The conversation quickly moved into a discussion about the specifics of hockey as a staple of Canadian culture. Alexander explained a few things about how and why hockey is such a popular sport for Canadians.

Alexander_Interview_2Alexander_Interview_3Alexander_Interview_4Alexander_Interview_5We also discussed a bit about how sports can be a way for families to bond. This is a subject that has come up frequently in my research, how families use sports as a way to relate to each other and as a way to have something to talk about. It was similar to what one of my in-person interviewees, Brian, said about sports bars. He explained that sports is something you can talk to anyone about without causing anger or offense (as opposed to taboo topics like politics and religion). It seems that a similar principle is in place when people talk to their family about sports.

Alexander_Interview_6Alexander_Interview_7Alexander_Interview_8One thing that came up during this interview that hadn’t been touched on much in the others is the dark side that can come from sports fanaticism, including parental pressure and sports-related violence.

Alexander_Interview_9Looking over everything we discussed, I see some interesting connections between these various points. The conversation moved from discussions of national identity, to family bonding, to aggression and competition. Which makes me question just how strong those connections are. Are aggression and competition such an integral part of our family and national identity? When considering everything from sibling rivalry to economic competition to long years of war against other countries, it certainly seems that the answer is “Yes.”

This also makes an interesting parallel to what I’ve learned about the relationship between sports culture and Native American culture. If sports culture is so deeply tied together with aggression, violence, and competition, it doesn’t seem surprising that it would lead to conflict with other cultures. A conflict that seems similar to the long history of conflict and aggression that has been directed at Native Americans for centuries.

These comparisons between different types of violence certainly opened my eyes to some ideas about the causes of these conflicts. A culture that is used to such violence (and even cheers it on) seems unlikely to be willing to engage in peaceful negotiations with someone they perceive as threatening their identity. And since sports fans associate their team name with their identity, they may therefore show aggressive behavior towards someone who threatens that identity by demanding the name be changed. Furthermore, the same competitive ideals may lead sports fans to a “win or lose” mindset that detracts from the possibility of compromise or collaboration on a mutually beneficial solution.

As for the interview itself, I definitely found Twitter to be an effective medium. It allowed for a casual conversation that was easy to transcribe. It left me with some questions about how this aggression may be affecting the people it’s directed against, beyond the emotional damage it can cause, as discussed in my interview with Reverend John Norwood.

Hopefully from here I’ll be able to tie some of these concepts in with the academic research I’m doing on the subject. For example, I’ve read several journal articles discussing the specific causes of sports fan aggression and the volatile behavior it can cause. I should be able to make some good connections between that research and the concepts that came up in this interview.


Interview with Reverend John Norwood

As part of my ongoing research into Native American culture and the debate over the Washington Redskins name change, I felt it was important to reach out to members of the Native American community in order to hear their perspectives. As I’ve mentioned previously on the blog, I’m extremely aware that from my standpoint as a white American, I’m incapable to fully grasping the struggles and perspectives of another race. Speaking to members of that community to hear their voices is the best way to learn about their perspectives.

To this end, I reached out to the Nanticoke Indian Tribe in the hopes of finding someone I could speak to about these issues. My request for contact was forwarded to the Chief and Council of the tribe, and I was then contacted by Reverend John Norwood, who said he was asked to respond to my request and serve as the spokesperson on behalf of the tribe. He was gracious enough to speak with me in a telephone interview on Tuesday, March 26th.

After greeting Reverend Norwood and telling him about my research into the name change, I asked him for his thoughts on the debate.

“The position I take on the mascot,” he said, “is that people don’t understand how devastating it can be, even when you are trying to honor the tribe.”

He explained that matters like the use of Native American images in mascots have to be handled sensitively, and that they should be handled on the local level. When Native American images are used at the national level, such as with major sports teams, he said that can make it difficult to teach people about the needed sensitivity. In some cases, the use of Native American imagery is handled properly and respectfully.

“Our southernmost community has a relationship with their school district,” he said, explaining how that tribe has granted permission for their local school district to make use of their tribal images. “That is between that tribe and that school district. But the school does not own the images, and the school is teaching about sensitivity.” The fact that the individual school is addressing the issue with respect and sensitivity, he explained, is an important variable.

“Most of the time it’s not the case,” he added, explaining that many other uses of Native American images aren’t handled properly. “What you have are mascots that do harm to the history and psychological well-being of tribes.”

When I asked him more about how some institutions improperly use the images, he said, “Native Americans don’t have the opportunity to control how the mascot is displayed. That is actually the stealing of heritage. The way it was taken is the same way our lands were taken. Most of the institutions don’t have any link to tribal heritage, and the images used are stereotypical about 90% of the time.”

He then explained some of the issues about the specific ways in which the mascots are displayed. He referenced some of the violent conflicts from the past where many Native Americans were killed. “Indians were being decapitated,” he said. “Whole villages would be decapitated. When people see a floating Indian head, that’s what they remember. If it brings up painful memories and painful history, then that’s offensive.”

This point is one that I haven’t seen raised in the other articles I’ve read regarding the mascot debate. Most of the articles I’ve read tend to speak about how the name “Redskins” is racist and offensive, but the image of the mascot itself is often ignored. Yet it turns out that the image itself can be associated with a violent and traumatizing past.

Reverend Norwood also spoke of the ways in which Native images are often portrayed as caricatures and stereotypes. He told me about how his son played in an intramural basketball league, and when his team played against a school with an Indian mascot, the images painted on the walls were of “a racist looking caricature of an Indian.”

“If an African American had walked in and seen a caricature of an African,” he said, “or if it were a Jewish or Asian image, something would be done about it. When it’s Indian people and we say we’re offended, they say, ‘We’re just honoring you.’ We are dismissed.”

His words reminded me of a number of articles I’ve read in the last few weeks that referenced that same point. People who defend the use of Native American mascots often argue that they do so to “honor” the Native American people. But Reverend Norwood explained that the use of these images in improper, misrepresentative ways does not honor them.

“Only certain people were allowed to do certain things and earned that honor,” he said. “When we say we are offended and these people who say they are honoring us, they dismiss us.

“It is possible to gain the support of a local tribe to bless the use of an image. To truly honor by engaging and understanding that is a privilege. Not a right. Typically, there is an arrogance. The misappropriation of badges of honor.”

What Reverend Norwood was referring to is called “cultural appropriation.” It is defined as “the adoption of some specific elements of one culture by a different cultural group,” but it can also be referred to as “the act of stealing and corrupting.” Along with the debates and protests over the use of Native American images in sports mascots, there are protests over individuals using traditional Native American clothing and adornments as fashion statements. One example that has gained recent notoriety is the band Pink Pony, which sparked protests when they posted photos of one of their band members wearing a Native headdress “that is traditionally reserved for Native Tribal Chiefs and not for members of unsigned Electronica bands.” This is another example of what Reverend Norwood referred to when he said, “Only certain people were allowed to do certain things and earned that honor.”

“It wouldn’t be tolerated with any other race,” he said. “The history of American Indians is unique in this country because we’re the only indigenous people.”

He then explained how his people are often excluded even in the language used by many others in the country. As an example, he spoke about how many politicians will use the phrase, “We are a country of immigrants,” a phrase that was even used by President Obama on Citizenship Day 2013. Yet as Reverend Norwood explained, such phrasing excludes Native Americans who have lived here since long before our current country was founded.

“My people were here,” he said. But he explained that his people have a sense of exclusion, and that they are viewed as a conquered or vanquished people who are often ignored by politicians and the government. “They don’t want to deal with the plight of the tribes today. It’s a huge insult.”

I then asked him about the Washington Redskins as a specific case. “The term is a term we don’t call ourselves,” he said, echoing the words of the “Proud to Be” video released by the National Congress of American Indians. “It’s an insult. The arrogance of the owners is a travesty. If it was any other race, they would understand. We are dictated to, more so than any other individual group. The mascot issue is symbolic of the continuing struggle of American Indians.”

He then continued, “An institution will get an individual group to say it’s okay. That doesn’t matter.” Instead, he explained, a team would need the support of the tribal nations. An example of what Reverend Norwood was referring to can be seen in the recent news about Redskins owner Dan Snyder and his efforts to reach out to Native American communities. As reported by The Nation, Dan Snyder recently released a letter in which he described how he spoke “face-to-face with Native American leaders and community members,” but as The Nation’s article points out, he didn’t speak with the oldest Native American civil rights organization, the National Congress of American Indians. In essence, what this means is that while Mr. Snyder may have gained the support of some individual communities, that support cannot be said to represent the beliefs and views of the tribal nations as a whole.

When I asked Reverend Norwood to explain when a mascot would or wouldn’t be okay or under what circumstances permission would be granted, he said, “When it crosses the line into disrespect, then it’s a problem. It’s a direct insult to your very identity. And when you say that, you’re cast as being unreasonable.

“Opinions vary. Some extreme people will say, ‘It’s all wrong.’ Some say ‘Oh, it’s not a problem.’ Something in the middle is where the real problem is.”

We then discussed the way certain individual schools and institutions could gain permission. “Let’s say you have an area with a tribe that is still active in the area,” he said. “The tribe continues to educate and advise so that the school doesn’t think that they own it.” In this way, he said, the use of a Native American mascot can be monitored by the tribe to make sure they don’t devolve into an insulting image. Without this continued relationship with a tribe, he said, “Mascots will deteriorate into a caricature and an insult.”

As an example, he told me that his local township uses an Indian symbol. “But the township has a formal relationship with the tribe,” he said. “Their engagement and understanding is valuable. That was blessed. That’s okay. This is how we can respect and honor the culture. But I have never personally spoken to a tribal Indian who thought it was okay to have an offensive mascot.” It is important, he explained, for there to be continued engagement between the institution and the tribe, and that the tribe should retain the rights to withdraw their permission in the future, should they feel the need to do so.

“There must be a continuing relationship of respect,” he said. “And if you’re not going to do that, stay away from it.”

But this type of continuing relationship, he explained, can only occur on a case-by-case basis with individual tribes and their local schools and institutions. On the national level, he said, “There’s no tribe to get consent from. They need to change. If you’re using those images, you need to engage them. If you do anything less, you’re doing violence to them.

“I’ve had to wipe the tears off the cheeks of my own children and the tribal children dealing with that. When racism happens, we are all victimized by that racism. All are affected. Our mindset is affected. It has a negative influence on our society and our cultures. We are all victims. We are all victimized by it, in some way, shape, or form.

“Even the head of the Redskins is bound by that,” he said in conclusion. “It kills a bit of his soul. It affects all of us.”

Reverend Norwood also forwarded me a publication by the National Congress of American Indians, titled, “Ending the Legacy Of Racism in Sports & the Era of Harmful “Indian” Sports Mascots.” It is a compelling document that I strongly recommend reading.

Sports Culture Interview, Results, and Reflection

As I recently mentioned, on Monday, March 24th I conducted an interview on the topic of sports culture. I wanted to get the perspective of an avid sports fan in order to learn what his views are on the significance of sports in modern life, and on the debate over the name of the Washington Redskins. This is just one of multiple interviews I’m conducting on this subject, and during the course of the next couple of weeks I’ll be trying to learn from the perspectives of multiple individuals from different backgrounds.

The individual I interviewed was a man named George, who works as a bartender at a local Chili’s. I was introduced to him through a friend, who told me that George was extremely knowledgeable on the topic of sports. I soon found out that this was an understatement, and George ended up sharing a lot of fascinating information with me.

I arrived at the Chili’s early, and I was shown to the bar. While I was waiting for George to arrive, I took some time to look around at the environment. The bar area was quiet, since it was a Monday afternoon and many people were likely still at their day jobs. Two TVs hung over the bar at either end of the room, both playing sports channels. One was playing “Intentional Talk,” a sports talk show on the MLB Network. The sound was muted so the on-screen discussion couldn’t be heard, but the show moved back and forth between the discussion and clips of recent baseball games, along with statistics displayed on screen updating the audience about various games. At the bottom of the screen, a scorebar showed live updates of the scores of various spring training games taking place that day.

The second television was playing ESPN’s “NFL Insiders.” On that muted screen, three men and a woman discussed football stats, while the screen alternated between the discussion and lists of various player statistics.

George soon arrived, full of pep and energy. Since I was interviewing him during his work shift, he spent the first few minutes checking the stock levels of the bar’s supplies and getting his cash register setup. Yet even before I started asking him questions, he already started talking about sports with the other bartender.

“I can’t even hate the cowboys anymore,” he said when the other bartender brought up football. “They’re just not good.”

“Hate on principle,” the other bartender said. The directness of her comment made me smirk; even though I’m not a sports fan, I’ve been conditioned to hate the Dallas Cowboys from a young age, as are most others who live in the Philadelphia area. Rivalries, it seemed, could become a part of the entire region.

“I’m getting too old to hate,” George said.

Once we settled into a serious discussion of sports culture, one of the first things George brought up was this idea of fan identity. He explained to me that Philadelphia fans are well-known, even notorious, for their passion about their teams. “Philly fans are the best fans,” he said. “A sports franchise is supposed to take on the identity of the city.”

That identity is strongest in Philly, he explained, partially because Philadelphia is one of only three cities where all their teams for the major sports (football, baseball, hockey, and basketball) are within the city limits. This immediately reminded me of my recent trip to a Flyers hockey game, where I noticed that the stadiums for all of Philly’s teams are built within sight of each other in a closely-packed sports district. It turns out that only Philadelphia, Chicago, and Denver had such a self-contained set of sports franchises all within their city limits, and only a total of twelve cities even have stadiums for all four major sports within their greater metropolitan area.

George then started explaining the importance of this identity connection between the fans and the city. “The number one thing is not about winning,” he said. “It’s about how you reflect the fan base. Even if you have bad moves for winning, you bring fans into the ballpark.” He then proceeded to explain how some fans might complain about their team making a certain trade or a certain draft pick that they disapproved of, because the decisions don’t always seem like the types that will lead to more wins and more championships. But, he said, the teams made moves that “developed their identity with their fan base.”

I asked him to describe the “Philadelphia identity,” and he began making comparisons to other widely-known Philadelphia cultural icons. “We have Rocky,” he said, referring to the Sylvester Stallone film, which was set in Philadelphia. “People think Rocky. They think the Liberty Bell. They think the art museum. They think the Flyers.” As George explained this, I thought back to my experiences at the Flyers game. I told him about how they had played images of the Liberty Bell on the JumboTron before the game started, along with other images of American icons. Playing those images in association with the sporting even is part of how this “Philadelphia identity” is forged and reinforced.

When I asked him for more details about the identity of the Flyers in particular, he pointed out that their nickname, the “Broad Street Bullies,” says it all. “Flyers are not finesse,” he said. “Flyers have lots of hits, lots of checking.” Other teams, he explained, might have players who make careful, finesseful shots. The Flyers, on the other hand, are more likely to rush the goalie and score in a more forceful manner.

I then asked George how this “Philadelphia identity” and the “Flyers identity” connected with the fans themselves. “Philadelphia fans have sports, but that’s it,” he explained. “That’s our focal point in Philadelphia. It’s sports.” We discussed how, in Philadelphia, there isn’t much else in the local area, like New York’s nightlife or Florida’s beaches and resorts. As an example, he spoke about the Florida Marlins, known now as the Miami Marlins. He said that they are a good team (and have won two World Series championships), but they don’t draw in the fans. In fact, I found that Miami’s attendance was ranked 28 out of 30 in 2013 (with Philadelphia coming in at #8), 18 out of 30 in 2012 (with Philadelphia at #1), 29 out of 30 in 2011 (with Philadelphia at #1), and 28 out of 20 in 2010 (with Philadelphia at #2). The attendance boost in 2012 is mostly attributed to the fact that the team built a brand new stadium that opened that year.

The low attendance doesn’t seem to be entirely due to poor performance, since while the Marlins ranked #29 in performance in 2013, they were #25 in 2012, and #22 in 2011, and #17 in 2010. So why would the team’s attendance be so consistently low (ranking 28th, 28th, and 29th  for the three years excluding when the new stadium was built), when their performance only matched that low ranking in one of those years? George told me that it was because Florida has a culture that is more focused on resorts, families on vacations, and senior citizens who have retired in the area. They simply don’t have the same focus on sports that the Philadelphia area has.

After having learned about Philadelphia’s sports culture and the way culture can vary from one city to another, I asked George what he thought about the Washington Redskins name change debate. He explained, “Fans don’t see the Redskins name as a problem. A very small group of people are offended by the name. It doesn’t make sense. I don’t know if it was meant to be an insult when they came up with the names. Look at what was acceptable language in different eras.”

When we started discussing language and the evolution it’s taken over the years, George pointed out the differences between sports team names during the late 1800s and early 1900s compared to those today. He pointed out that newly formed sports teams, like those found in major league soccer, tend to use more “modern” names, like the Houston Dynamo, the Philadelphia Union, and the LA Galaxy. Since major league soccer wasn’t founded until 1993 (compared to major league baseball which was founded in 1869 and the NFL which was founded in 1920), the naming traditions some from a very different cultural viewpoint. Many forms of language that were accepted in the years when other sports leagues were founded are no longer accepted today. Teams like the Washington Redskins and the Cleveland Indians, therefore, gained their names during an era of language that is no longer appropriate today.

After giving this topic some thought, George said, “Does it make it right, necessarily? No, I don’t think it makes it right. Is it a form of genocide? We as humans take things from the past, and there’s this sense that we’re making fun of something that’s extinct.”

“It’s tough, though,” he added, “because there’s so many arguments. It’s not right, though. Everybody has a tolerance for pain. If you find words painful, you can’t help that sometimes. Is that a form of cultural extinction? Is that what we’re doing to people?”

Since we had begun discussing baseball more than any other sport, I decided to ask George how he felt about the efforts to change the offensive names and mascots like the Cleveland Indians’ Chief Wahoo. A recent Twitter movement has sprung up under the hashtag “#DeChief,” encouraging people to remove the Indians’ logo from their hats, jerseys, and other sports gear. Some fans are now starting to attend games wearing their “dechiefed” gear, while others protest that anyone who doesn’t like the mascot should root for another team.

“They’re trying to go with the ‘C’ more than the chief logo,” George said. “There’s this identity with that. It’s tough. It’s definitely a tough gray area. You feel differently about it every day. There’s tradition, and there’s offending people.”

One of the TVs above the bar had started playing a baseball game, the Cleveland Indians vs the Cincinnati Reds. We discussed the game for a time. Then, just before I left, George said, “Here’s my best advice: Don’t get involved in sports. Too many wasted emotions. It’s fun, though. You have to compete with somebody. Some people take solace in being able to compete with themselves. ‘Can I do this, can I do that.’ But baseball is head to head. There’s somebody else that is going to lose.”

After the interview was over, I had some time to reflect on it and to consider what I learned. I definitely felt that George and I had a good discussion, and he revealed a lot about the nature of sports and identity. I was also pleasantly surprised about how smooth the discussion went, even when we touched on sensitive topics. This was good, since as I discussed in my pre-interview post, I was hoping for an open flow of communication that would help both George and myself to discuss and learn as we went along. George’s introspective questions about the morality of the situation and about cultural extinction led me to believe he was considering ideas he hadn’t considered before, and I certainly know that I was.

Of course, one limitation of this interview was that George is a Philadelphia fan, rather than a fan of the Washington Redskins or the Cleveland Indians. If possible, I may try to seek out a fan of one of those teams in order to learn what they have to say about these debates. Though George did tell me that if the name and mascot of one of his Philly teams were to be changed, he would probably find that upsetting. When I consider everything George said about a sports team being a part of a city’s identity, and how the team works to connect with the culture of the people who live in their area, it makes sense that people would take it personally. The challenge, then, is to address the need for change while still keeping in mind the emotional impact it will have on fans who see their sports team as a part of their identity. From what I’ve seen in many of the online debates I’ve witnessed, many sports fans react harshly, which makes it difficult to have a discussion about the need for change. In fact, a study that I read (Fandom and Psychological Enhancement: Effects of Sport Team Identification and Imagined Interaction on Self-Esteem and Management of Social Behaviors, Keaton, et al, 2014) stated that “When identity or ego becomes threatened (such as after a loss) much research finds that aggressive behaviors occur because highly favorable views of the self are disputed by others” (p. 4). If fans strongly identify with their sports team, and that sports team’s identity is disputed by others, it makes sense that fans would end up taking it personally.

I plan to keep these ideas in mind in my future interviews. I have several others planned this week, and I’m hoping that they will also go smoothly. My conversation with George went well largely due to the rapport we built up early on and how comfortable we became with the discussion. I think it also helped that I was able to share my own experiences with him, such as when I discussed my recent trip to the Flyers game. It helped us to establish a connection and it helped fuel the conversation that followed. With any luck I’ll be able to establish similar connections with the others I interview.

I’m Going To A Hockey Game

My first ever ticket to a hockey game.
My first ever ticket to a hockey game.

As you may know, I’ve been doing research lately into sports culture and Native American culture and history. The core of this research relates to the ongoing debate over the Washington Redskins name change, and I’ve found news articles arguing both for and against changing the team’s name.

In addition to reading about the news and debates on this subject, I’m conducting field research. I’ve come to view the debate as a clash between two cultures. On the one side are the Native American cultures that have thousands of years of history in these lands, including a long history of racism, genocide, and oppression. On the other side is the modern American sports culture, comprised of fans from various social and cultural backgrounds who are unified by their common interest and participation in a community-building activity. In order to fully understand the conflict taking place, I am trying to study both of these cultures in depth.

In order to study sports culture, I decided I need to go to a sporting event and take part in the activities there. I’ve never been a sports fan; my dad took me to two baseball games when I was a child, and one of my uncles once took me to a football game, and each of these experiences bored me. I never understood the passion, camaraderie, excitement, and bonding that people experience around sports. That means that to me, this culture is a foreign entity, and I’m an outsider.

I’m therefore going to attend a game with an open mind and a notebook in hand, hoping to gain some better understanding of what it means to be a sports fan. The book “Writing Ethnographic Fieldnotes” says that understanding and getting close to a culture requires “physical and social proximity to the daily rounds of people’s lives and activities” (p. 2). A researcher needs to immerse themselves within a culture and experience it firsthand in order to report on it. While attending a single game will only be a minor amount of “immersion” into this culture, it should nonetheless be an enlightening experience.

While at the game, I will be making a specific conscious effort to study the fans there, and hopefully I will have the chance to interact with some of them and learn about what drives them. I plan to take a lot of notes, since “Fieldnotes” says that fieldnotes are “the primary means for deeper appreciation of how field researchers come to grasp and interpret the actions and concerns of others” (p. 17). Understanding and interpreting the actions (such as cheering on your team) and concerns (such as fearing your team’s defeat) will be a difficult task for me. I’ve seen people watching sports on TV, and I’ve always been confused when the spectators (both those at home and those visible in the stadium on TV) get up and start cheering and shouting over a certain part of the game. I really do not understand what prompts this reaction, and I’ve never experienced this excitement firsthand.

While at the game, there is also a secondary subject that I will be observing. During my research, I read an article by Amanda Blackhorse, “Why the R*dsk*ns Need to Change Their Name.” Blackhorse’s stance is that the name is racist and oppressive, and she argues that it should be changed. In addition, during her article she detailed her experiences attending a football game between the Washington Redskins and the Kansas City Chiefs, both of whom have mascots based on Native American cultures. Blackhorse described her experience and specifically pointed out her reactions to the team decorations, posters, and other paraphernalia:

“Meanwhile, we were surrounded by imagery that mocked Native Americans and our cultures, in the form of posters, paraphernalia and even a portable toilet in the shape of a teepee. I did not feel safe. It was an ugly display of hostility and disdain toward my people.”

This is another dimension to the conflict I am studying. In addition to the name “Redskins,” there is an issue regarding the mascot images and how they portray Native Americans in a stereotypical fashion that Blackhorse described as “mock[ing] Native Americans and our cultures.”

I’m not currently able to attend a football game like the one Blackhorse attended (since football season ended several weeks ago). However, by chance it turned out that the hockey game being played in Philadelphia this week is between the Philadelphia Flyers and the Chicago Blackhawks.

Now, during my research, I found references to a number of other football and baseball teams with Native American-themed mascots. Some of the other teams were also the subject of controversy, but according to an article I read on CNN.com, “The Florida State Seminoles, Central Michigan Chippewas, Utah Utes and Mississippi College Choctaws have all been granted waivers to keep their nicknames after the respective tribes gave their support to the schools.” I therefore realized that some teams might be more accepted than others. Hockey teams didn’t come up in my original research run, so when I saw that the game being played tomorrow included the Blackhawks, I decided to look into it and find out whether they are also the subject of controversy.

The first article I found zeroed in on the exact question I was asking. The article, “Redskins Rep Asks Why Blackhawks’ Name Isn’t Being Challenged,” was tied in to the Redskins name change, and explained some direct comparisons between the Redskins and the Blackhawks. Both teams have been around for a long time (the Blackhawks since 1926 and the Redskins since 1937). However, the article states that the Blackhawks team is “named after the “Blackhawk Division” of the 333rd Machine Gun Battalion of the 86th Infantry Division during World War I.” That infantry division, in turn, was named after Suak Chief Black Hawk. The name was chosen by Frederic McLaughlin, who was a commander with the Blackhawk infantry division. McLaughlin became owner of the Blackhawks hockey team several years after the end of World War I. It therefore seems plausible to consider that since McLaughlin named his team after his own WWI infantry division, there may be more of an argument in favor of the legitimacy of the name. By comparison, several articles I read referred to the Redskins team name as a racial slur, which is definitely different than naming a team after a Suak Chief.

In addition, an article on ABC.com quoted Joe Podlasek of the American Indian Center:

“Podlasek runs that center in Chicago and was instrumental in the fight to get the University of Illinois to bench its mascot, Chief Illiniwek. He says what makes the Blackhawks a bit better is they don’t use a mascot to dance around and, in his opinion, mock his heritage.

In the locker room, players are told not to step on the chief logo, and fans in the stands don’t do a tomahawk chop, like at Braves games in Atlanta.”

Comparing this quote to Amanda Blackhorse’s description of her experiences at a Redskins vs Chiefs game, I see a more complex reason for the lack of controversy over the Blackhawks’ name. Blackhorse described how the mascots of the Redskins and the Chiefs “mocked” her culture. According to the ABC.com article, the Blackhawks don’t do that. Likewise, another article in the Chicago Tribune said that the lack of controversy could be related to “Chicago’s small American Indian community [and] the team’s support of a local American Indian organization.”

After reading all of this, I will be curious to see what it is like to watch the Blackhawks play firsthand. While I might get more of a feel for the culture of the Blackhawks as a team if I attended a game in their home city of Chicago, I still expect there will be Blackhawks fans at the Philadelphia game. So while observing fans in general in order to understand sports culture, I will also be looking out for anything I can learn about the Blackhawks fans, their team, and the way they behave with regards to their mascot.

Though I should note that since I grew up in the Philly area, I am going to be rooting for the Flyers. It’s the principle of the thing.

My Trip to the Native American Voices Exhibit at Penn Museum

On Wednesday, March 12th, 2014, I visited the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology in order to explore their Native American Voices exhibit. My goal was to learn whatever I could about Native American history and culture, in order to supplement my ongoing research.

While at the museum, I took extensive notes as I studied the exhibits and observed the museum patrons. In an attempt to recreate the scene and express what I learned, this post will include images of my fieldnotes, transcriptions from those notes, a detailed scene showing my experience, and a reflection on what I’ve learned.


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  • I arrived at the museum at about 1:00 PM.
  • I parked in Section 2S (I made sure to take note of this so I wouldn’t get lost trying to find my car later on).
  • Upon entering the Native American Voices exhibit, the first thing I became aware of was the voices speaking from above. They were Native American voices (no pun intended), speaking quotes about their history and culture.
  • Glass cases lined the walls. Each contained a variety of Native American clothes, artifacts, tools, weapons, clay pots, and so on. I was particularly struck by some modern things, like a picture of a video game cover for “Grand Theft Auto St. Clara Pueblo.”
  • Touch screens stood before each case offering more information. Each one had pictures of each item in the case. Touching the appropriate image brought up information about the selected item. You could also sort the items by the four primary exhibit categories: “Continuing Celebrations,” “Local Nations,” “New Initiatives,” and “Sacred Places.”
  • At the center of the room sat a virtual fire pit: a camera mounted above projected an image of a crackling fire onto the floor below. The fire was surrounded by four red benches. Most of the other museum patrons sat here at some point, and whenever they moved past, a sensor read their arrival and started playing a video (in place of the fire) depicting various aspects of Native American History.
  • One of the patrons stopped and looked at the fire, then said, “I was hearing those noises [from the virtual fire pit], I thought there must be some heat somewhere in here.” Yet the sound was disjointed; it came from above, while the image of the fire was down below.
  • The museum patrons passing by stop to listen to the voices coming from above: “We are still here,” “Today, we are getting stronger,” “Know that we are still here,” then, echoed over and over by many voices, “We are still here.”
  • Several patrons stop to read the writings above some of the display cases. I note the writings, “Native American communities mark the seasons with important public celebrations that help renew and strengthen their identities.” I’m immediately struck by the use of present-tense; these are, as noted, “Continuing Celebrations,” not just historical ones.
  • When I notice this, I begin looking more closely at some of the clothing on display. A woman passing by points at a t-shirt in one of the glass cases and comments on how different it looks to her. I read the plaque, and see it’s from 2010, and is hanging right next to a serape from 1860. In other cases are a blanket from 1994, a dress from 1880, a blouse and skirt from 2013, a “jingle powwow” dress from 2013, moosehide boots from 1900, and a painted buffalo robe from 1882.
  • Most of the museum patrons I observe pass through the Native American exhibit on their way elsewhere, only taking a few moments to glance at the displays. This exhibit is limited to a single room, about 30′ x 60′. The rest of the museum is dedicated to other parts of the world: South America, Africa, Japan, China, Egypt.
  • I trail after some of the other patrons and wander through the rest of the museum. The biggest thing I notice is that the Native American exhibit is by far the most modern, from the touch-screen displays to the inclusion of clothing and artifacts from the 2000s. It’s a blend of historical and modern artifacts (video game art, t-shirts. Even one of the modern dresses is a mix of modern and traditional design.
  • The other exhibits in the museum are almost exclusively ancient. Most say nothing about the modern day.
  • Native American exhibit is also the most political: it speaks of modern day politics and activism, such as the American Indian Religious Freedom Act, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, the works of modern authors and professors of law, the Iroquois Nationals Lacrosse team, and so on.


I woke late and scrambled to get out of bed. The “Native American Voices” exhibit would only be at the Penn Museum for a short time, and I didn’t want to risk missing it before it was removed and replaced with something new. It was early afternoon on a brisk spring day when I arrived at the museum, located in the middle of Philadelphia. Banners hung from street lamps in front of the old stone building, advertising the various exhibits on display. I was only there for one exhibit, though the museum had a variety of others that were part of its permanent collection.

I parked my car in the multi-level parking garage, and made sure to write down which section I was parked in so I wouldn’t get lost trying to find my car later on. I then promptly got lost trying to find my way out of the parking garage, and spent several minutes heading up one ramp and down another before I found the exit. Eventually I made my way outside, then circled around to the front of the museum and headed for the main entrance.

My first thought upon entering the museum was that it didn’t seem very Native American. The museum had cold stone floors and dark walls, and looked, well, very museumy. I wandered up to the front desk, looking around. Nothing jumped out at me at first indicating the exhibit I was here to see.

I waited behind a middle-aged couple while they paid for admission and collected their museum map from the plastic holder on the desk. After spotting the map, I grabbed one, along with a few other information pamphlets. One of them had information on the Native American Voices exhibit.

20140313_232730The couple in front of me left and headed to the side, then the man behind the desk told me, “It’ll be $15.00.”

I pulled out my wallet, and spotted a sign behind the man indicating a discount for students with ID. I offered the man my Rowan University ID and he said, “Okay, $10.00.” After I paid, he asked me if I was here to see anything in particular.

“The Native American exhibit,” I said. He told me it was immediately to my left. I turned, surprised that I had missed it, then headed through the broad doorway and into the exhibit.

The first thing that struck me were the voices. They came from speakers set above my head, and spoke with Native American accents. “We are still here,” one voice said.

Several other museum patrons passed by: an old man in a white raincoat with his umbrella tucked into his belt; a young Asian couple, the man wearing an expensive-looking camera on a strap around his neck; a college-aged girl with purple highlights in her hair. They wandered through the exhibit, peering into the glass cases that lined the walls. Each case held a display of Native American artifacts, along with small plaques identifying each item.

“Today, we are getting stronger,” said a voice from above.

I walked past the first glass case, which held a large feathered headdress alongside a pair of lacrosse sticks and a jersey from the Iroqouis Nationals Lacrosse team. Beyond that case was a set of four red benches, surrounding a virtual fire pit that was projected onto the floor by a camera above. The sound of the crackling fire filled the room. I sat on one of the benches to get a feel for the room. The illusion of the fire pit was slightly broken by the fact that the sound came from above while the image of the fire was below.

“Know that we are still here,” another voice said from above.

The Asian couple walked around the outer wall, the man snapping pictures of the artifacts on display. The man in the raincoat walked by me and commented, “I was hearing those noises,” he gestured to the fire, “I thought there must be some heat somewhere in here.”

Many voices from above echoed one after another, “We are still here.”

When the man walked past, his motion triggered a sensor from the camera above. The fire pit was replaced with a short video showing various images of Native American lands, villages, and figures. Several different voices narrated the video, describing their lives in these lands, and how they changed when the Europeans arrived. “We are the first people to inhabit this land,” they said. “We lived in thousands of communities.”

They spoke of oppression, “For centuries, efforts were made to wipe out our heritage, our religion. Our native languages were not to be spoken. Our traditional clothing was not to be worn. Our hair was deemed unsuitable, and cut. Our children were taken away from us. They were taught being Indian was bad. Everywhere, being Indian was not something to be celebrated. But our ancestors survived. And today we survive.”

Several museum patrons stood around and watched as the video began speaking of today’s efforts, and the ongoing fight of the Native American people. “We are reclaiming our sacred lands. Each year, we hold hundreds of gatherings and ceremonies, celebrating our heritage.”

The voices in the video continued to shift, from man to woman, from young to old, as many different people contributed their voice to the video.

“The objects that surround you hold our histories. They tell our stories.”

“See our faces as you explore our preserved histories.”

“Hear our voices in our cultures and arts that still thrive today.”

Then, all of the voices echoed together, “Know that we are still here,” before the video faded, and the virtual fire pit returned.

With the video complete, the museum patrons continued their wanderings. Some lingered at one display or another, tapping the computer touch-screens before each display to learn more about the individual objects in each case. Others continued on, through the next doorway, into an exhibit that showed another part of the world, and a different part of history.

The artifacts on display in the room ranged from the ancient to the modern. A t-shirt from 2010 hung alongside a serape from 1860. A dress from 1880 hung alongside a blouse and skirt from 2013. Pipes, clay pots, and tools from hundreds of years ago hung alongside a piece of art mimicking the style of the Grand Theft Auto video games, depicting Grand Theft Auto, St. Clara Pueblo.

Most of the museum patrons didn’t linger long in this one room. They continued on through the rest of the museum, into rooms displaying artifacts from South America, Africa, Egypt, China, and Japan. The other rooms all showed ancient stone carvings, recreations of old temples, mummies and burial chambers, and statues and art from long ago.

After wandering through the museum for a time, I eventually return to the Native American exhibit. I was struck by how much smaller it was than the other exhibits in the museum. Many of the others had huge stone sculptures and more permanent displays. The Native American exhibit held only small, personal artifacts, and they would only be here until May. Yet it was also the most modern of all the exhibits; not only was it one of the only exhibits to show artifacts from as recently as 2013, it was also one of the only to use computer interfaces for information and to have a video exhibit.

These thoughts lingered with me as I passed through the room on my way back out. A few groups of new patrons had arrived, and were seated around the virtual fire pit. When I walked past, my movements triggered the sensors and started playing the video once again. The newcomers sat quietly and watched, listening to the voices playing from above. I left, pondering the significance of an exhibit that connects the past and the future.

Perhaps, I wondered, it had a deeper meaning. The Native American people are still struggling today to hold on to their culture, their language, and their traditions. Their past isn’t just a part of history; it’s something that was taken from them, and that they’ve struggled for years to reclaim. While I’m not deeply familiar with the histories of many of the other countries whose artifacts were on display in the museum, I do know that those countries still thrive today. Modern day Egypt, China, or Japan might be vastly different from the countries they once were, but they are nations that still exist. For the most part, the same can’t be said for the Native Americans who struggle to this day to be recognized fully under law. Maybe that was why that one exhibit, out of all of them, showed the past and the present side by side.


There were ups and downs to this outing. The upside is that I was able to take my time and take detailed notes. One of the suggestions listed in Writing Ethnographic Fieldnotes is that a researcher needs to figure out when to withdraw from their observations in order to sit and jot some things down (p. 48). Since the museum patrons I was observing were wandering around, I found it pretty easy to slip back to the virtual fire pit, sit on a bench, and take notes on what I’d seen. Though in retrospect I realized that I should have taken more notes on the people around me; the descriptions of the museum patrons noted above were done mostly from memory, since I didn’t think to write down any details about the individual people. Though, Fieldnotes (p. 51) does say that a researcher will often work from such “headnotes” in order to construct a detailed account.

I made a conscious effort to avoid (as best as I could) depicting the specific emotions of any of the museum patrons, particularly in regard to the Native American voices in the video and what they said. I wanted to portray specific details, rather than generalizations (Fieldnotes, p. 58), and to avoid attaching my own meaning to anything (Fieldnotes, p. 131). The only exception to this was at the end, when I expressed my final thoughts upon leaving the scene. In those final moments, I wanted to express my “end-point” perspective (Fieldnotes, p. 105) and reflect on the thoughts I had after my experiences. My hope is that these final thoughts will help develop my future research. I feel like the “past and present combined” aspect of this topic is a very important one, not to be ignored.

Review of Recent News About the Redskins Name Change

As I’ve mentioned in some recent posts, I’m currently engaged in a research project where I’m studying Native American culture, racism, and sports, with particular focus on the debate over the Washington Redskins name change. I’ve written a few posts exploring this topic, most recently looking into the culture of sports.

Today I plan to review some of the most recent news articles I’ve found on the subject, in an attempt to summarize the various views. I’ve searched a variety of news sources and compiled a list of articles arguing various sides of the debate. I’ll be posting some general summaries here, taking a neutral stance since the purpose of this post is to review what people are saying, rather than to express my own opinion. This review will then help as background for my future posts, similar to an academic literature review.

In favor of changing the name:

Most of the articles I’ve found in favor of changing the name have been very direct in their views. These articles mostly show a firm stance with no room for compromise. In an article on Huffington Post, Dan Treadway cites a statistic that 79% of Americans are against changing the name and support the Redskins staying as they are. He refers to those 79% as “stubbornly ignorant.” He argues that the name Redskins is unarguably racist:

“I mean, literally — if you look up the word Redskin in the dictionary, it’s defined simply as, “Used as a disparaging term for a Native American.” This isn’t even really debatable, the name is offensive not because of any sort of allusion or interpretation — it’s defined as a racial slur.”

He continues by saying that any attempt to keep the name is “completely absurd.”

Treadway then cites cases of other sports teams that have changed their names, such as the Arkansas State team changing “from the Indians to the Red Wolves.”

Similar views are expressed by Amanda Blackhorse, Native American issues advocate, who wrote an article where she refers to the team as the R*dsk*ns in order to avoid citing the racial slur directly. She refers to the term as “disparaging, racist, and hateful.” Both Blackhorse and Treadway refer to the fact that the name was first adopted in the 1930s, a time when racism was even more prolific than it is today. Both writers also state that defenders of the team name argue that it is a longstanding tradition. Blackhorse counters that argument by saying, “Just because something has gone on for a long time does not mean that the activity is a legitimate tradition. Not all traditions have carried on and many are harmful and repressive.”

Blackhorse also discusses her views as a member of the Navajo Nation. She cites an example of a time she attended a game in Kansas City, where Washington played the Kansas City Chiefs, and she “saw fans ‘playing Indian,’ wearing outrageous and pathetic costumes that stereotyped traditional Native American regalia.” She explained how the various posters and decorations around the stadium showed stereotypes of Native American culture. She referred to these as an “ugly display of hostility and disdain toward [her] people” that made her feel unsafe.

However, Blackhorse also spoke about the various types of support for the name change, citing mayor of Washington, D.C., Vincent Gray, among the political figures who has spoken out about the name change. She also mentioned that “leading columnists for The Washington Post, including Courtland Milloy, Mike Wise, Sally Jenkins and Robert McCartney, have written powerful articles calling for the team to change its name.” In addition to such articles, multiple major news publications have implemented policies refusing to use the Redskins’ name in their articles (instead referring to the team only as “Washington”). I found multiple articles stating that the Washington team name is no longer being printed in the San Francisco Chronicle, Slate, and Merrill College’s Capital News, or used by individual columnists such as Tim Graham, sports writer for the Buffalo News, and Philadelphia Daily News sports columnist John Smallwood.

Further political support for the name change was cited by Bloomberg Businessweek. The article states that Democratic Senator Maria Cantwell of Washington and Republican Representative Tom Cole of Oklahoma together sent a letter to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. In the letter, Cantwell and Goodell stated that, “The National Football League can no longer ignore this and perpetuate the use of this name as anything but what it is: a racial slur.”

Several articles also refer to other sports teams who have faced similar issues and made changes to their teams. An article on CNN.com states that “Two MLB clubs, the Atlanta Braves and Cleveland Indians, changed their logos to become less offensive to Native Americans.” They also cited college sports teams who have faced controversies, saying that “15 teams have changed their mascot to be more sensitive to Native Americans.” In addition to the teams that have changed their names or mascots, the CNN article says that there are some teams who haven’t had to change. Specifically,  “The Florida State Seminoles, Central Michigan Chippewas, Utah Utes and Mississippi College Choctaws have all been granted waivers to keep their nicknames after the respective tribes gave their support to the schools.”

Against the name change:

In searching for articles speaking against the name change, the most prominent figure I found was Dan Snyder, the Washington team owner. As reported by CNN.com, Snyder wrote a letter defending the team name:

“Our franchise has a great history, tradition and legacy representing our proud alumni and literally tens of millions of loyal fans worldwide. We are proud of our team and the passion of our loyal fans. Our fans sing ‘Hail to the Redskins’ in celebration at every Redskins game. They speak proudly of ‘Redskins Nation’ in honor of a sports team they love.”

In addition to Snyder’s comments in support of his team name, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has spoken on the issue. As reported by Sports Illustrated, Goodell said that the team name “honors Native Americans” and that 9 out of 10 fans support the team keeping their name. He also said that “the name is a unifying force that stands for strength, courage, pride and respect.”

Some articles also take the stance that the name change is not a key topic. One article quoted a team statement saying, “With all the important issues Congress has to deal with such as a war in Afghanistan to deficits to health care, don’t they have more important issues to worry about than a football team’s name?” Another article by Jason S. Parini of the Bleacher Report said that the team name should not be changed. Parini cited the Oklahoma Redskin Theatre as as example of another long-standing business bearing the same name, and also said that the name “‘Oklahoma’ comes from the Choctaw for ‘red people.'” He also spoke of an investigation by Senator Cantwell into the Redskins’ tax-exempt status, and called the investigation “just another money-making scheme by the U.S. government.”

Parini also argued against the point that the Redskins name is a racial slur, stating that “the Redskins also have presented a 2004 survey that found that over 90 percent of Native Americans were not offended by the name.” He expressed an opinion that the majority should not be outweighed by the demands of a few, saying “the hurt feelings of a small amount of individuals should not take priority over a large majority who see it otherwise.”

Other articles on public opinion cited statistics by a Washington Post poll, which found that 61% of Washington D.C. residents support the Redskins’ name, and 66% further say that the team should keep its name.

In addition, an article by Rick Reilly on EPSN.com argued that it is “White America” that is offended by the name, and he cited a number of examples of Native Americans who are not offended. Reilly quoted Bob Burns, his father-in-law and a bundle holder in the Blackfeet tribe, who said, “The name just doesn’t bother me much. It’s an issue that shouldn’t be an issue, not with all the problems we’ve got in this country.”

He also quoted Brett Hayes, a Choctaw man who is an English Teacher at Kingston High School in Oklahoma. Kingston is a school that is 57.7 percent Native American, and their team is also called the Redskins. Hayes was quoted as saying, “It’s a name that honors the people. The word ‘Oklahoma’ itself is Choctaw for ‘red people.’ The students here don’t want it changed. To them, it seems like it’s just people who have no connection with the Native American culture, people out there trying to draw attention to themselves.” Reilly also cited several other predominantly Native American high schools that have teams named the Redskins, including Wellpinit High School in Washington (91.2 percent Native American) and Red Mesa High School in Arizona (99.3 percent Native American).


In reviewing all of these articles (including several others I didn’t cite here simply because they repeated the same points), it seems clear that there is a lot of divide on this issue. That divide doesn’t seem to be limited purely to people of one race or another. Even among Native Americans themselves, I found articles citing individuals both for and against the name change. The statistics vary a bit from one article to another (with one poll stating 61% of respondents supported the Redskins’ name, another saying 79% supported the name, and another saying 90% supported the name). People on both sides of the debate argue from the perspective of people defending their culture, honor, and traditions. They simply take drastically different views on how those traditions affect them.