Opinion | Sports

Clara Caufield: Racist mascots, or standing up for what's right

The following opinion was written by Clara Caufield. All content © Native Sun News.

Clara Caufield

Standing up for what’s right
By Clara Caufield
A Cheyenne Voice

The hot topic in Indian Country is the Washington Redskins mascot issue. I carefully studied press articles about this matter, especially since I was referenced in a primary story as a “Northern Cheyenne correspondent” (Native Sun News).

Most Reservation folk, including me, pursue hard scrabble living worrying about gas, food, the phone bill (if we have one) and the light bill. Dimly aware of the mascot controversy, it has not been a burning issue for many of us. Some Cheyenne are even devoted Redskins fans, proudly wearing the caps, t-shirts and other gear.

Since we have smaller fish to fry, the controversy has been remote, championed by more intellectual leaders, such as Tim Giago, grandfather of Native journalism, who now kindly includes my scribblings in his newspaper, the Native Sun News.

I became associated with this matter when a new philanthropic group “The Original Americans Foundation” recently came to Northern Cheyenne to donate new brand-name coats to more than 500 children at the Lame Deer Public Schools. One of the more civic minded tribal council members requested that story in my local newspaper.

All Native newspapers struggle. I recently endured a dry spell after getting on the wrong side of the former tribal president when I questioned open access, use of tribal funds etc. Then tribal advertising dried up and I nearly went under. On the reservation, tribal government controls much of the revenue and the president’s influence is far-reaching. I outlasted being a tribal outcast, only recently getting back in the saddle, in part to the support of Council member, Merlin Sioux, key figure in this story, extremely dedicated to community projects.

He notes: "Our community deals with horrific poverty and children at the Lame Deer School really needed the jackets, the shoes to come and other promises offered by the Washington Redskins. They want to help other worthwhile community projects such as elders. The Tribe cannot finance or address these needs."

Steve Small, Economic Development Authority Coordinator who helped coordinate the coat project, added: “We had to weigh need against principal. Many children come to school each day dressed only in hoodies and tennis shoes, even in -40 degree winter weather, very dangerous. Thus, Merlin, I and the tribal president came down on the side of the children when this benefactor showed up.”

That is also why I did a nice “warm and fuzzy” front page story about the Redskin donations. And I still commend that council member and our tribe for “putting the needs of our community and people first."

I also alerted another of my editors, Tim Giago, Native Sun News about this development, particularly as representatives of the Original Americans Foundation would not discuss the mascot issue, advising that the Foundation would not go public until after my article was published.

The mascot issue has long been one of Giago’s causes advanced on a national basis and by many others in Indian Country. Tim hoped I had backbone to write an article questioning the motivation of those donations. I didn’t then, but do now.

I say the Redskins foundation was created to divert attention from the mascot issue and to rebut controversy. I mentioned this to the Redskins representatives (who declined to talk about it) and to tribal council members, including my brother Oly McMakin. “Do you think this will make us, the 'Fighting Cheyenne' look like sell-out wimps?” he asked.

“Possibly, but, the council must decide since you are on the twin horns of a dilemma. You are charged to meet the needs of our people, including children and elders who need coats, shoes, food, etc. But, you must also consider principle. Not all Cheyenne, like you, count on a regular paycheck," I responded.

As the publisher of a very small reservation newspaper, I thought I should not offend the tribe -- a major economic player in this desolate economy. But, after reading other opinions, news articles and consulting with Dr. Richard Littlebear, my key advisor who usually sees things more clearly, I must state my views.

The Original Americans Foundation is a slick PR move to gain support from poor Native Americans to keep the Redskins mascot, cheaper than changing the “brand name” and commerce associated with the current mascot and logo. Most likely, the Redskins owner calls upon many corporate sponsors (the representatives mentioned Walmart and Sears) to get free tax write-offs.

Do we think the money comes from the hip pocket of the Redskins owner or is jerked from the tights of Redskins players? If so, we are foolish.

Now, I might alienate tribal support, free speech being funny and unpredictable. Yet, right is right. Principle is principle.

Dr. Littlebear reminds me: “The mascot makes us into objects, like the “N” word.”

In Montana, a common racist term for Indians is "prairie nigger." Skins jokingly call each other that, but when used by white folks, it direct and deliberative insult. I’ve fought over that. As have my fellow Cheyenne. We are not “prairie nigger” squaws.

Our Little Wolf Band of the Northern Cheyenne did not hang around the fort, seeking hand-outs. They were “in your face” holdouts. Since we are now poor, things might be different. Are hand-outs now necessary?

I hope this does not offend the Northern Cheyenne Tribe. If so, Tim Giago, veteran Native journalist would say “What else is new?”

(Clara Caufield can be reached at acheyennevoice@gmail.com)

Copyright permission Native Sun News

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