This past weekend, a whole history of Indigenous oppression was in my face when I visited Rush Springs for their annual Watermelon Festival. Their high school’s mascot is the Redskins, a term that many Indigenous groups have launched a campaign against, one of determined education and hopeful change and, thankfully, many schools are listening.
But, in Oklahoma, a state where you’d think that people would know better, you have the high school sports fan that proudly loves their “Redskin country!” athletics and, proving that even Custer had his scouts, the supposed Natives that sent plenty of “I’m a Indian and I’m a proud Redskin!” messages over the past week. This type of hateful rhetoric seems to be the most vocal, affecting Indigenous peoples—especially the children—who have to see and hear this slur everyday of their lives.
As I have learned about the town, the original mascot of Rush Springs was the inventive Melon Heavers (there’s still a cafe in town that uses the name), but, ironically, that was changed sometime back because melon farmers thought, for some reason, that it was too insulting; and, yet, Indigenous people who complain about the use of Redskins are the ones they refer to as “butt-hurt” and “snowflakes.” How much sheer indifference, or worse, absolute hate, do you have towards Indigenous people to think that Redskins is less offensive?
While I have yet to see any other racial group disparaged in this way by Oklahoma schools on a crowd-cheering basis—then, of course, having the audacity to call it a “tribute”—many high schools and colleges across America are wholeheartedly changing their mascots to something less poisonous; aside from Rush Springs, however, there are many high schools that have dug in their heels on the mascot issue and proudly refer to themselves as Redskins. Some examples are Kingston, McLoud and Tulsa Union.
The term Redskin, while originally a white descriptor for Natives used by the likes of James Madison and other colonizers in American history, gained its notorious nature when state governments offered $200 for every dead Native—or Redskin—circa 1863. Since then, America has had a nasty habit of continually dehumanizing and demonizing Indigenous people with this ethnic slur, which, sadly, continues to this day.
Probably more hateful than Redskin, however, is the disgusting epithet “savage,” a horrific word that is even used to describe Native peoples, believe it or not, in the colonizer document the Declaration of Independence. Of course, many schools in Oklahoma use the Savages as a stereotyped mascot, including Broken Bow, LaFlore, Quinton, Tecumseh, and Wynnewood.
I’m sure in those schools there are many Native parents, teachers, or coaches that might “love” the name—as I’ve been told by their white handlers, natch—but I’m also willing to bet that, for many of their children, it’s a life of quiet suffering, never speaking out because of the fear of facing the wrath of angry locals that, as Oklahoma history has long taught us, will turn to violence and worse if their basest wants are challenged.
And, while we’re on it, let’s not forget those other assorted names as well, schools with mascots such as the Braves, the Chiefs, the Chieftains, the Warriors and, yes, the Indians. These are just as problematic.
Oklahoma City is not innocent in this degradation either: it’s been only in past five years that Capitol Hill High School changed their mascot from the Redskins to the Red Wolves, as well as Indigenous parents and organizations calling for a conclusion to Land Run Day celebrations. But, as slow as it might seem, at least the OKCPS is trying to make our city’s public schools a bit more of an inclusive atmosphere for Native students.
As I read a message I received yesterday morning from a Redskins fan that threatens me with bodily dismemberment if I ever step in Rush Springs again, I look over to a recent school picture of my elementary-age nephew and hope that this younger generation will have the education, intelligence and, above all, courage to end anti-Indigenous racism in Oklahoma once and for all.
But then I noticed his school’s official shirt and my heart sank: the Warriors, with a big red war-bonnet, right on the front.