Kevin Gover: Mascot fight exposes myths about Native people

Kevin Gover. Photo from NMAI

Kevin Gover, the director of the National Museum of the American Indian, connects racist mascots with the limited knowledge most people have of Native people:
Beneath the debate over the name of the Washington NFL football team is an underlying truth: the vast majority of Americans have a limited—and often mistaken—understanding of Native American history. Indeed, as people learn of the origins and history of the mascot, approval of the team’s name quickly fades. The lack of understanding is readily explained. There are 566 federally recognized American Indian tribal governments in the United States. Yet, most Americans—even those occupying our economic and political centers—do not encounter Native Americans in their day-to-day lives. Perceptions are reduced to myths and caricatures and to the limited education retained from the American classroom.

At best, Americans learn a few stories: Squanto and the pilgrims, Pocahontas, the Cherokee Trail of Tears, and the Battle of the Little Bighorn are standard fare. Little is learned of King Philip’s War, the Pueblo Revolt, the ethnic cleansing of the South and Midwest, or the genocide of California Indians, all more historically significant than the tales Americans are taught.

In the nation’s capital, the consequences of that lack of understanding are most damaging. Consider the laws on the books based on false notions of Native American history. In 1955, for example, Justice Stanley Reed, speaking for the Supreme Court, observed that “Every American schoolboy knows that the savage tribes of this continent were deprived of their ancestral ranges by force and that… it was not a sale, but the conqueror’s will that deprived them of their land.” Thus the Court ruled that land belonging to Indians in Alaska from time immemorial could be taken from them by the United States without compensation.

Get the Story:
Kevin Gover: Unraveling the 'Redskins' Lie: Americans Don't Know Native History (Indian Country Today 10/29)

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