What’s in a name?

Like many Generation X’ers from Six Nations I grew up watching cartoons on Saturday mornings and learned the phrase “Yabba-dabba-doo!” from the Flintstones. It’s funny how these programs can really condition our minds because for the next thirty years, like Fred Flintstone, I used the term “maroon” interchangeably with “moron” and I thought it was a funny play on words. 

It wasn’t until a social activist friend of mine from Toronto heard me saying the word and he told me that maroon actually refers to an identifiable group of people. Maroon is a Latin-American transliteration for feral-animal, fugitive, and runaway which historically refers to the African refugees that escaped slavery and formed their own independent settlements. I absolutely did not know that but after I was enlightened, the choice to continue using the word in the context of ‘idiot’ was forever changed. It was no longer an issue of ignorance but of morality.

Likewise the general self-awareness of the Americas is being raised and the visitor-settler people are currently facing their coziness with institutionalized discrimination and prejudice towards the original peoples of this continent as more and more Onkwehon:we are finding the courage to stand up and denounce sports teams such as the Washington Redsk*ns and mascots such as Chief Wahoo of the Cleveland Indians. The discomfort and white-guilt of the Americas in the atmosphere is becoming palatable.

There have been many reactions to the native accusations of systematic racism including: a) denial (these labels are not offensive),b) minimization (you are over-sensitive), c) delusion (we are honouring your people), and d) ignorance. The worst reaction though is the self-righteousness of Atlanta Braves fans who claim that when they do the tomahawk chop and sing a stereotypical chant it is done in a non-racist way.

A question that many well concerned people may have is “If these terms such as Redskin and Indian are indeed offensive why has it taken so long for the public to be informed?” The Onkwehon:we voice has been repressed by the dominant society and because of our nearly extinct populations we have not been successful at mobilizing effective dissent. Dictionaries such as Oxford and Webster have not been much help either. Until recently our people have not had the political power or social force to oppose the deep seated racism that permeates the post-apocalyptic culture of the colonial Americas.

Another logical fallacy that has been liberally applied to the argument is the existence of other people groups in sports such as the Cowboys, Yankees, Canadiens, and Vikings. I’m sure the Viking population must be thoroughly offended! The main problem with this line of reasoning is that the Onkwehon:we original people of this land were persecuted, and nearly annihilated by the colonial culture appropriating native imagery. If the Queen had been responsible for the genocide of the Viking culture then naming a sports team, battleship or a helicopter after them would be most inappropriate!

“I don’t want a squaw’s scalp, nor a papoose’s, if I can get a warrior’s . . . . Here we have been on a range four days and have not had a shot at a red-skin—man, woman or child.” – From the Legends of a Log Cabin: The Hunter’s Perils published in the Vermont Phoenix, May 13, 1836.

So now you know. Redsk*n is repulsive. Indian is derogatory. How you conduct yourself now is an issue of morality. None of your english words will suffice because these are terms that we do not use for ourselves or each other. Learn to pronounce some of our words and the healing journey will begin.

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