Saturday, August 23, 2014

what my Native American students thought about "Redskins," "Indians," and Tomahawk chops

I have lived most of the last 20 or so years on an Indian reservation. I taught high school and middle school students for 17 years. If I ever blog at length about my experiences and insights gained from the experience, I might decide it matters to identify the tribe, the school district, etc., but for this blog I’ll leave it there.
It took time, but eventually for most school years I had a very good relationship with my students. Actually, when it came to discipline and class control issues I said more than once to a recalcitrant student something like this: ‘There seems to be a battle between you and me about who going to run this show. I know that right now we have the kind of office leadership that would let you win this battle, but I want you to know something. If you win I’ll probably be fired or I will quit and if you win, I don’t want to work here. So, I’m not sending you to the office, but I do want you and every student in this class to go home tonight and tell your parents or guardians all about what is going on. Tell them every single thing including what I just said about working here. Tell them they can call the office and set up a meeting with myself and the principal. I’ve been here so long that I’ve forgotten I’m a white man. I won’t put up with this any more than you’re grandparents would. So bring it on.” I won every time.

Most of the time, of course, my classes were fun. I was a funny teacher, too. I was liked. So, that’s my background in a nutshell to set up what I’m going to share with you about using words such as “Redskins,” “Indians,” and actions such as the “Tomahawk chop.” Simply put, at least at a national level (which was the context in which I held these discussions), my students didn’t give a rat’s ass about such things. In fact many of them went out of their way to wear a Cleveland Indians baseball cap or a Redskins symbol. Didn’t bother ‘em a bit.

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