I recently received a forwarded email. You know the kind. Some are cute, some are silly and some are downright mind-boggling.

This one wondered about the federal government’s propensity for naming the dogs of war (so to speak) using Native American terms. The Apache helicopter, for example. The Tomahawk missile. And how about Operation Geronimo, which took out Osama bin Laden?

Given this, the email went on, why in the world does President Obama oppose the team name of the Washington Redskins?

Yes, this one fits into the mind-boggling category.

Um … because “Apache” is a tribe, “Tomahawk” is a weapon, and “Geronimo” is a Native American hero?

The term “redskin” is a pejorative. We wouldn’t think of calling a team by any other racial or ethnic slang term.

I grew up in an era when people routinely described each other with these words, when comedians used them freely, when the weekly episodes of “All in the Family” were peppered with them. I know them all. But I can’t even write one down to use as an example. It’s just wrong.

I’d like to joke that the solution to the problem of using the R-word as a team name is to call the franchise the Red Skin Potatoes. But I don’t really think it’s a laughing matter.

Efforts to eradicate the inappropriate use of Native American terms have been successful in Maine, except in the case of Skowhegan Area High School and its “Indians.” Maine’s tribes banded together to try to get the sports mascot’s name changed this spring, without success.

In an April 17 article in this newspaper, Doug Harlow wrote, “Representatives of the Penobscot, Passamaquoddy, Maliseet and Micmac tribes told subcommittee members Monday night that the use of the word Indians is an insult to Native Americans, who long have suffered racial prejudice.”

Harlow quoted Barry Dana, a former Penobscot chief, as saying Indians are people, not mascots.

I’m not going to play the race card here, but I am proud of the trickle of Native American blood in my veins.

My ancestors on my French-Canadian side include Marie Olivier Sylvestre Manitouabéouich, a Huron, who was the first Canadian Indian to be married to a Frenchman.

I am also related to Jean Baptiste Charbonneau, the son of Sacagawea. My grandmother told me we were descended from an “Indian princess.” I was doubtful at the time, but now I see that my mémère, in using that fanciful description of Marie, was honored by the relationship.

Still, I do understand that many Skowhegan residents are attached to their symbol. I was never too big on the mascot at my public high school in Massachusetts. In fact, it took me years to realize the “Blue Raider” was a knight. Hmm. Weren’t knights supposed to protect the castle from raiders?

I guess I never gave it much thought, and I’m sure generations of Skowhegan residents hadn’t either. The word “Indian” in itself is not a slur.

But now that it has been brought to their attention — now that it has been pointed out that Maine’s Indians find it offensive as a mascot name — well, isn’t it time to do something about it?

Cultural appropriation happens when one subgroup in our society uses the story of another group to create something new — a book, a movie, a product. This can result in stereotyping and worse.

To see cultural appropriation in action, tune into “Daniel Boone” on MeTV some Saturday. There you’ll find one reason the R-word is so offensive. The makeup on the “Indians” is comparable to Bobby Deen donning “brownface” in an imitation of Ricky Ricardo of “I Love Lucy” fame.

My Catholic college’s team mascot, the Friar, would be considered culturally appropriated if it had been borrowed by Methodists or Baptists. No, I can’t see why they would do that either, but I’m just saying.

In fact, in researching this column, I learned that some Native Americans were offended by the use of “Geronimo,” because it apparently was used as a code name for bin Laden himself. I agree; that is unacceptable.

We Americans have struggled through some difficult racial questions over the past few years. It took the deaths of nine innocent people in Charleston, S.C., to bring to the forefront a point that should have been settled more than a century ago: The Confederate flag should not be flown on public property.

It is a symbol of hatred and racism — just like the R-word.

Liz Soares welcomes email at [email protected]

filed under:

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.


  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.