Doug George-Kanentiio: We need African American allies to replace offensive mascots and statues

Our Native people have marched with millions of others to protest the killing by police of African Americans. The tragic fact is that of all ethnic groups this country's indigenous people have the highest rate of death by cop. We endure, despite the small pockets of casino wealth, critically high rates of poverty, violence and discrimination. We are dehumanized by American sports team mascots, trivialized in the media and burdened by the vicious myths in school textbooks. It is small wonder that the local, state and federal law enforcement agents see us as little more than savages and respond accordingly.

We are pleased that some black athletes have come to understand they can make a difference by insisting on the removal of Native stereotypes as mascots while other citizens are supporting the taking down of statues marking those military commanders who violated their oaths, took up arms against the United States and thereby sought to preserve slavery.

We ask that the original European enslaver of human beings in this hemisphere also be removed from whatever pedestal he stands upon. That man was Cristobal Colon later Anglicized as Christopher Columbus. Despite what New York Governor Andrew Cuomo may believe Colon was not Italian as that country did not exist prior to 1861.

He was of controversial heritage but he himself cited Barcelona in Catalonia as his home. He thought, wrote and spoke Catalonian and not the Genovesian dialect of Italian. He was an inept administrator, a mediocre navigator and one historically bad geographer. He began the trans-Atlantic slave trade by capturing, imprisoning and transporting Native people to Spain.

He was notorious in his cruelty towards Natives in the Caribbean, compelling them to work mining for gold under the most harsh of conditions and is directly responsible for creating a bondage system which led to the death by disease, starvation and murder of millions of human beings. He does not merit a statue and his image should join those of Nathan Bedford Forrest, Robert E. Lee, Braxton Bragg and Jefferson Davis as representing the most terrible instances of American history. Governor Cuomo's support of Colon is wrong and perpetuates myths which have caused great harm to Native and African peoples, the lies of which is symbolic knee upon our necks.

Given the American obsession with erecting statues marking historical figures and the current wave of tearing down those of demonstrable criminality and immorality it may be an opportunity to replace those disgraced icons with Native people who have made significant contributions to their people and the world. Other have written about erecting statues to replace the removed ones, I suggest the two of following as worthy of consideration for a place on the US Mall in Washington:

Tecumseh, Shawnee, the greatest Native military commander and political leader who sought to unite the indigenous nations in the midwest into a grand confederacy to stop the incursions of the settlers. His military genius during the War of 1812 saved what was to become Canada from becoming a part of the US. He was the most feared, admired and respected Native leader of his time.

Laura Cornelius Kellogg, Oneida. Co-creator of the American Indian Society, the most effective political entity organized by Native people after WW1. Kellogg advocated a revival of traditional Native government, fill compliance with treaty law, complete emancipation for women. She help win key U.S. Supreme Court decisions including our border crossing rights. She was the first person to go to Europe on an Iroquois passport to lobby the League of Nations to compel formal recognition of our sovereignty. Her world would lead to the passing of the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2007.

Doug George-Kanentiio, Akwesasne Mohawk, is the vice-president of the Hiawatha Institute for Indigenous Knowledge. He has served as a Trustee for the National Museum of the American Indian, is a former land claims negotiator for the Mohawk Nation and is the author of numerous books and articles about the Mohawk people. He may be reached via e-mail at: or by calling 315-415-7288.

Note: All content copyright © Doug George-Kanentiio

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