Monthly Archives: September 2014

What is History, and How Should It Be Taught?

New Echota Landmark

About a week ago, Indian Country Today Media Network, ran an article “Rewriting History…For better This Time.” The story relates how the new high school Advanced Placement exam for U. S. History students has raised the ire of many school board members across the south. As I read, I vaguely recalled a similar column written by Dr. Thomas Sowell and carried by the Atlanta Journal Constitution. Dr. Sowell’s article is titled “The Role of ‘Educators,’ and appeared in January, 2013. He recalls that “schools were once thought of as places where a society’s knowledge and experience were passed on to the younger generation.” He continues by saying “…we are seeing schools across America indoctrinating students to believe in all sorts of politically correct notions. The history that is taught in too many of our schools is a history that emphasizes everything that has gone bad, or can be made to look bad in America—and that gives little, if any, attention to the great achievements of this country.”

In the ICTMN story, Mr. Ken Mercer, a member of the Texas School Board of Education, states flatly that “the purpose of history in schools is to ‘teach students to be proud American Citizens,’ and that means a strict emphasis on the Founding Father’s, the military exploits of national icons, and the depiction of the colonization, settlement, and Christianization of North America as a great achievement.” To both gentlemen, I say REALLY?

According to Merriam Webster’s dictionary, history is defined as “The study of past events. A chronological record of significant events including an explanation of there causes.” That definition has remained constant since the first publication in 1831, a time when both gentlemen would probably agree to be the “good old days.”

To study history is to not only ask Who, When, where, but to also ask WHY. When we study the fall of the great Roman Empire, do we not have to describe the events that lead to her downfall? Of course we do. But that’s okay for Mercer and Sowell, because it doesn’t reflect on person’s civic pride to point other country’s faults. Is it right to whitewash history just to prevent embarrassing our “Founding Father’s?” What these men are advocating is a belief that “might makes right,” and “the end justifies the means.”

You see, we can’t sing “America the Beautiful, from sea to shining sea,” without at least a foot note that says we got there by seizing 1.5 billion acres of land from 1776 to 1887 that belonged to America’s indigenous people. That doesn’t count the land seized prior to our Independence.

The entire argument regarding truth in education reminds me of the scene from A Few Good Men, when Tom Cruise tells Jack Nicholson that all he wants is the truth, and Nicholson shouts “You can’t handle the truth!”. In America, where we have a first amendment as well as a second, who, under the Sowell/Mercer system, gets to know the truth and who gets to decide?

These men, and the many others like them, are concerned that our children are being “brainwashed” by teachers who tell the history of our country the way it happened. My question is, what is it called when you teach only the good and the glorious? Propaganda!

Of Mascots and Honor

Before getting into today’s topic, I would like to add one more note from the last blog. Additional information and teaching aids are available from the Georgia Trail of Tears Association. They can be reached through the link page on this blog.

Mascots or Men

Last Tuesday, Dan Snyder, owner of the Washington NFL franchise, was interviewed by ESPN regarding the team name. Again, he insisted that the name referred only to football players and was in no way a racist slur on anyone. In fact, he said, the name is intended to honor Native Americans for their strength and bravery, and if protesters understood the history of the name, “as most people do,” they would have no problems.

Mr. Snyder’s reference to history was the team’s history, not American history. The “as most people do,” remark was in regard to a recent poll showing that 71% of Americans see nothing wrong with the name. Both remarks require closer scrutiny.

According to franchise lore, the name stems from original ownership naming the team in honor of its first coach, William “Lone Star” Dietz. Mr. Dietz claimed to be Oglala Sioux and the nephew of James One Star, a performer in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. In 2002, historian Linda Waggoner investigated the claim and discovered that William Henry Dietz was born to German-American parents in Rice Lake, Wisconsin. It seems Mr. Dietz adopted his Native American persona to avoid serving in World War I. In 1919, in Seattle, he was convicted of falsifying his heritage and served jail time. The franchises’ “Indian” was no Indian at all.

Snyder was correct when he said most people have no issue with the name. Results of a recent poll, shows that 71% of Americans see nothing wrong with the name. What the poll also showed was that the acceptance rate dropped from 89% and that now, 29% of Americans do see the name as a slur, which is a huge increase from just two years earlier. The other fact about the poll is that it reflects the opinion of Americans, not Native-Americans. Yet the team insists that it has the support of many American Indians who see the name as a reflection of strength and bravery of indigenous people.

What do American Indians really think? In point of fact, a wide variety of Native American groups and tribes have come out against the name, including the National Congress of American Indians, the United South and Eastern Tribes, the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians, the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, the Comanche Nation of Oklahoma, the Fort Peck Tribal Executive Board, the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, the Great Lakes Inter-Tribal Council, and many more.

A group of Native-Americans led by Suzan Harjo, Cheyenne and Muskogee, and Amanda Blackhorse, Navajo, won a federal court case against the team that resulted in the U.S. Patent Office rescinding the teams trademark protection. Even though the team is appealing the decision, it has served as a wake-up call to other franchises, like the Cleveland Indians, to take a close look at what they proclaim to be an honorarium to Native people. In my three decades of American Indian study, I have never found one situation where the Washington team’s nick-name was used to respect Indian people or their culture. Quite the opposite is true. It is a vitriolic, racist term filled with hate and anger meant to demean and dehumanize. Shouldn’t it stop?