“Proud to Be”: NCAI’s answer to the R-word mascot debate

February 1, 2014 — 12 Comments

Screen shot 2014-02-01 at 11.35.46 AM

I’ve been sent this video a bazillion times in the last few days, and I think it’s a powerful and important PSA to add to the mascot “debate”*. I’ve watched it a few times through, and the message by the end is incredibly clear, and I love the final shot of the helmet, without having to say the R-word, asking the viewer to say the word in their head and contrast it to the beautiful images shown throughout the clip. So before I go on, I want you to watch the video for yourself:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mR-tbOxlhvE]

It’s beautiful. Full stop. I think it’s well done and powerful.

….But. I know you all turn to me to have a super critical lens on everything, right? I know you wouldn’t expect anything less in this case. I’ve got a few questions/criticisms/things to think about. My thoughts aren’t meant to take away from the visual power and importance, I just want to bring up some things to think about. So don’t skewer me, mmmkay?

1) Tribal names. In this video, the filmmakers are attempting to create a counter-narrative to the common stereotypes of Native peoples represented by Indian mascots. So why are we using the western/anglicized versions of tribal names? Navajo rather than Diné, Sioux rather than Lakota, Dakota, and Nakota, Chippewa rather than Anishinaabe, Creek rather than Mvskoke, ect. I know our peoples have different preferences of what we call ourselves, but I feel like it would have been an even more powerful message if there would have been a statement of our tribal names in our Native languages. (#decolonize!)

2) The pageantry/poverty/historic narrative. The whole first minute or so of the clip focuses mostly on powwow images of Native folks in regalia, contrasted with images of reservation poverty, with images of historic figures thrown in as well. Yes, the vast majority of Americans don’t have access to any images of contemporary Native peoples, so the powwow and poverty images are important. But, I really feel like it’s time for us to complicate that narrative. With the historic images, yes, it’s definitely important to recognize the contributions of our leaders in the past–but why do we always have to return to the Edward Curtis photographs and Sitting Bull to make a point about modern Native peoples? And don’t get me started on the inclusion of the shot of the Crazy Horse “monument”–a monument of a warrior who never wanted his image captured, being blasted into the sacred black hills by a white dude.

ETA 1/1/14: Hat tip to Sasha on FB who also pointed out all the historic leaders who were highlighted are male, which I totally missed the first time around. Definitely problematic.

I don’t know. I get it, on a certain level, and understand the narrative that they were going for. But I continue to wonder why we tend to fall back on stereotypes even when we’re representing ourselves.

BUT. I will say, when the clip hits about 1:27, I start to like it a lot more. The images start to show more just casual shots of Native folks hanging out, laughing, whatever. I think if the clip was cut from 1:27-1:47, the message remains the same, but you get away from the problematic pieces. That’s why I chose the screenshot at the top to represent this post. I like those contrasts of modern, smiling, Native folks who are just living their lives with what most people think of when they think “Indian.”

What do you think? Am I being too critical here? Do you have other thoughts?

Again, one last disclaimer: I think this is important, and if NCAI had millions of dollars to show this during the Superbowl, I would support it. But I also think we need to continually question and push the narratives of our peoples, and think deeply about the ways we represent ourselves as well as how outsiders represent us.

*(from now on I’m putting “debate” in scare quotes because I’m getting really tired of pretending that there are two “sides” to this. Indian mascots are demeaning, offensive and need to change. There’s no “debate” here for me).

Adrienne K.

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  • ojib62

    You are spot on, I had the same reactions, I’m a Ojibway documentary filmmaker, truth and perspective and authenticity are vitally important to me and hearing “Chippewa” really struck a nerve. I would add one additional “gripe”. I wasn’t crazy about the narrator, I thought it smacked of the stoic Indian voice stereotype.

  • Kevin Opple

    I thought it was a very powerful video and very well made. I also had questions initially about the use of anglicized tribal names and some stereotypical imagery. I thought about it a bit, though and I feel that the intent of it was to engage non-Native Americans on their own terms. Even well-educated and sensitive non-Natives (as well as many Natives I would guess) are more acquainted with Navajo than Dine or Chippewa than Anishnaabe. I don’t have any answer for using the Crazy Horse monument, though, it is a controversial project, and doesn’t help the message along. I also think that there was a good mix of historical figures (which every culture uses to bring strength and pride to the present) as well as modern people doing socially important work. In the end I think the video makes a slam dunk in showing how disgusting and unacceptable the DC mascot is, and in the end that was the intent.

  • Dzil Łigai Si’án Ndee

    You are absolutely rights. The video is also missing some of our Women leaders such as Wilma Mankiller, Lozen, etc.

  • Real Name

    LOL, gonna get all hypercritical, but before you jump me, hear me out! Also, what I found problematic was- Apache, Seneca, Miwok…. The clip of “Apache”; I’m not saying that guy isn’t Apache, but for those who aren’t familiar with individual Apache bands and aesthetics/cultures: That the only Apaches whose men tended to wear breastplates are those of Plains bands- Jicarilla, Kiowa, and Lipan. Now Mescalero’s tend to be in the middle between both Plains and us, Desert Apache bands, and have a lot influence with Jicarilla’s & other Plains Tribes– but I don’t think breastplates were really a part of Mescalero culture, or as popular, unless gifted to a man from one of his Jicarilla friends. Idk, except that the Apache guy in the clip is(HOPEFULLY) either Mescalero or from both a Plains & Desert Apache Tribe; which would explain him wearing that breastplate with otherwise “generic” Desert Apache male clothes.
    They could have showed a clip from the doc’, Apache 8, or some modern Apache women wearing camp dresses and laughing while making tortillas; or San Carlos artist/genius, Douglas Miles painting, even a clip of Joey Tahonnie singing!
    Now with “Seneca”; that guy looks familiar and by the looks of his clothes and beadwork is Apsaalooke/Crow… He just looks so familiar to me for some reason! Maybe I saw him dancing at one of the powwows here in OK, idk… Except that definitely isn’t Seneca clothing; the dancer might be part Seneca though, and if he is they shouldn’t have showcased him in his Apsaalooke clothes, or just simple profile of him before he put his rig’ on. Even another Seneca, like Jesse Cornplanter or George Abrams, or any modern-day Seneca.
    Now for “Miwok”– I’m sure ppl, whether Native or non-Native, who’ve watched Dances With Wolves remembers SmilesALot; well thats him all grown up and his real name is, Nathan ChasingHisHorse! That is nowhere near Miwok clothing, and neither is he Miwok, but Sicangu Lakota(if his reg’ doesn’t give it away). Now they really should’ve showcased an actual Miwok, like those who’ve protested those $25 billion Delta Tunnels, and put Nathan ChasingHorse under “Sioux”, along with that random dude on horseback.
    Why am I being hypercritical of this awesome video by NCAI for those 3 examples? Simply for the fact that this video is to EDUCATE the masses- whom are MAINLY NON-NATIVE: Its details like that, that are the very reasons these racial slurs and mascots/caricatures came to be and snowballed to such a common and popular status in mainstream society.

    • Dee Hill

      Real Name your deconstruction is so so spot on. People like myself, African American of mixed race, raised in the urban east can not discern these differences. But it is just that fact that makes the real representation that much more important. It is the same as if you had a PSA like this about African Americans and represented Haitian, Jamaican, Brazilian and Guyanese as all the same. How will those of us outside the community, who stand in solidarity, learn if the information, coming from a source that claims to represent, is inaccurate. Also the use of ancestral heros feeds the notion that the community has no contemporary leadership. That coupled with the lack of female representation is disappointing. I am grateful for this resource as way to educate myself. Thanks again

    • Katelyn Avery

      I’m white and I did notice that was Nathan Chasing Horse (Chasing His Horse). That part of the commercial did confuse me.

  • Sela Freuler

    I kind of wished they’d mentioned Tsalagi. Y’know, ’cause we’re around.
    I definitely noticed the lack of accurate tribal names, and the lack of female historical figures. Wilma Mankiller, yo. Sacagawea, etc. And I agree that focusing on the pageantry/history/poverty thing is problematic.

    All that said, I thought it was beautiful. I think it puts forth, in a very simplified way, what’s wrong with the team name/mascot. And I like that it was a Native voice, not just some sad white/black/Asian/whatever guy that feels sorry for us.
    Anyway, thanks for this takedown. It’s important.

  • JB789

    I agree with your arguments about the poverty shots, historical role models instead of modern leaders, and lack of female representation. I also thought it was odd that, in an ad purporting to describe what Natives call themselves (and the one thing they don’t), the Americanized tribal names were used instead of the Native terms. I may be off the mark, but isn’t calling someone Chippewa instead of Anishinaabe, or Sioux instead of Lakota, along the same lines (although maybe not quite as offensive) as calling someone Redskin? As a non-Native, I have little in-depth knowledge of Native cultures and I don’t know personally any one from a Native group, but having grown up in Minnesota and lived in Michigan for a few years, I am aware of the different Native groups in these states and understand that they use different terms than those used in old history textbooks to describe their bands. I don’t think it would have been confusing for us non-Natives, and maybe would have even been even more powerful, to hear the actual Native terms that these groups call themselves. It is a beautiful ad, but as a message produced by a representative body of Native people, I think it could have more effectively “complicated the story” as you put it, by showing real life, 3D, flesh-and-blood modern people Instead of the same old tired, ineffective Americanized cliches and caricatures.

  • siouxstar

    I was JUST having this conversation!!

    I also really cannot stand even one more “native” voiceover in a monotone. I mean, I know we all totally put on our chiefiest voices when we’re talking about heap big important issues, but seriously, NCAI? A lot of this just seemed like one big showcase of the same issues it purports to address.

    hashtag frustrated.

  • http://www.hontasfarmer.com/ Hontas Farmer

    I could be critical of the fact that every native pictured looked very full blooded and very western. Meanwhile the Indians anywhere near Washington DC, or anywhere on the east coast, or who look mixed, apparently don’t deserve to be included. Where were the Pamunkey, Mattaponi, Rappahannock, Patawomek, Nottoway or other recognized Indians of Virginia? I could be irritated by that…but……
    We need to give a simplified message to the general public. If we bombard them with all the complexity of American Indian cultures we loose the message. (Pay attention to the reactions you see from some very young White faces to black history month. Many of them seem to resent even discussing a minority groups history.)

  • Alexis Munoa Dyer

    Thanks for posting about this Adrienne. I think you’re spot on. I believe the shot of the “Chippewa” at :48 is actually an Oglala Lakota man from Aaron Huey’s work.

    Also where were the Californians at?! Maybe I need to watch it again but did any of the West coast get mentioned? I could be mistaken, but I think he says “Mohawk” not “Miwok”. And yes, there are tribes who did not pow wow. My tribe (Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians, Payomkawichum) did not Pow Wow traditionally. We don’t even use drums.

    To Hontas: While we need to be united to send a message-we are many differing languages, cultures, people and nations. I believe that the more truth and diversity we show- the weaker these stereotypes become. Our diversity makes our point stronger. :)

    Thanks for the wonderful discussion everyone! Its amazing that we have a place to speak this openly.

    • Real Name

      “I believe that the more truth and diversity we show- the weaker these
      stereotypes become. Our diversity makes our point stronger.” EXACTLY, so true!