An Open Letter to the Mercer Chamber of Commerce: Erasure is not the answer

In open letter by Adrienne K.5 Comments

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By Guest Contributor Migizi Pensoneau

ICYMI, Harrodsburg, Kentucky decided it would be an awesome idea to host the 2nd Annual James Ray “Indian Attack” 5k. After folks were outraged, they posted the notice above, as well as a longer message on their Facebook page. This is Migizi’s response.

To Whom It May Concern (really it concerns all of you),

I’m very happy that the more demeaning aspects of Native American representation were pulled from the 5K. However, I do have a couple of very quick points of contention.

First, in your message via your website, it is mentioned that, “The Mercer Chamber of Commerce and the Pioneer Days Festival Committee, after being made aware of an inappropriate reference to Native Americans in a story and advertisement published in the Advocate Messenger, has pulled all references to Native Americans in its print and internet media.”

Why, exactly, would you do that? I guarantee that Native Americans were a very big part of your demographics during the celebrated and aforementioned time period. It’s time to embrace ugly history, America. Harrodsburg and Mercer County could lead the charge! Imagine if, during the Pioneer Days, there weren’t just reenactments, but you brought in actual Shawnee, Chickasaw, and Cherokee to talk about their version of history. That’s not a revisionist history I’m talking about here, Mercer County. Revisionist is the awful mess of a 5K Run you had going. Through education and discussion, maybe the celebration in Mercer can be one of truth and the re-humanization of the Native Americans of whom you’re still obviously terrified.

Second, a Facebook posting on your page goes on, saying, “The mission of Pioneer Days is to provide a free community event that is family friendly. The event is held at Old Fort Harrod State Park, which is an appropriate part of our community’s heritage as the first settlement west of the Allegheny Mountains.”

The issue here is that the current majority of descendants of the immigrant pioneers of Mercer County were NOT the first settlement west of the Allegheny Mountains. Maybe “the first WHITE settlement west of the Allegheny Mountains” is what you mean? I point this out to show that you still don’t get it. The majority of Americans still see Natives as Natives, and not as people that were here long before that majority’s relatively few generations. It’s amazing how much has been forgotten in so short a time. “Mercer County” has not always been here. The people that you are mocking and/or leaving out of your narrative, on the other hand, have. This brings me to my point.

Native Americans (and allies, I guess) are not disgusted because you chose to reference Native Americans in your celebrations. Taking any mention of Native Americans out of your events is just erasure, and not education. That kind of action doesn’t address the problem. That action pretends the problem doesn’t exist. So what is the problem? In the simplest terms, Native Americans are not the bad guys. They are the original people on this continent. And while you celebrate a few hundred years of claiming to not be immigrants anymore, Native Americans are relegated to boogeymen and icons to be conquered. The problem is that there is no recognition of the many millennia of oral tradition, culture, and humanity, which the First People of the continent deserve.

Mercer County, do not pretend to care now by erasing Native Americans from your narrative. Show that you care by battling your own ignorance with education, and open minds.

Or, in the words of Kentucky, learn yeh somethin.

Sincerely,

Migizi Pensoneau

Migizi Pensoneau is a writer, filmmaker, and a member of the sketch comedy group the 1491s. You can harass him on Twitter as well, @migizipensoneau.

  • Melissa Lanning

    Thank you. Even if they chose to focus on Union vs Confederates, with the Union playing the villains it would still be offensive to reduce a conflict that took millions of lives to something ‘fun’ to add interest to a sporting event. It is immensely immature. This far along in the United States history it is time to own up to and recognize the weight of history, there is a lot to be sorry about in our past, but ignoring it doesn’t make that weight go away. History isn’t a game, often it is distressing, scary, and sad.

    I’d rather celebrate the people, all the people, cultures, traditions, philosophies, religions, the infinite varieties humans create than not.

    As a white American, I acknowledge the mistakes, bigotry, genocide of my ancestors. I have no understanding of how people can be so willfully ignorant in this modern era.

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  • FX

    Right on.

    As an Afro-American person I could’t help but think, ‘How would they like it if we had a race where they were chasing us?’ and after thinking about it for a few seconds I couldn’t help but think that they actually might like it a bit too much since it mirrors real life.

    There is no analogy I could come up with to even try to explain how disgusting this event is, and now in typical fashion the ‘solution’ is to just erase any representation instead of as you suggest, include a narrative that has previously gone unheard.

    Thank you for writing this letter. I hope your words are heard.

    Peace.

  • Shlomo Goldstien

    You totally win this one. There is literally nothing that they can do now that cannot be turned into more outrage.

  • Pam

    FX’s post hits the mark, “There is no analogy I could come up with to even try to explain how disgusting this event is”… And Melissa is so right:it is “offensive to reduce a conflict that took millions of lives to something ‘fun’ to add interest to a sporting event.” For a Chamber of Commerce of business people to sponsor this is simply ABSURD! “Business Community leadership” in the United States of America took on a whole new meaning with this example.