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Native Americans

Students at the West Virginia-based Marshall University protested Christopher Columbus on Monday - Columbus Day – describing him as a mass murderer who launched the ultimate destruction of Native Americans and calling for the quasi-holiday to be abolished.

“Even in 2013, with so many facts out about the man, children are still being taught in school he was a good hearted man, even though he massacred a lot of the native peoples he came in contact with,” sophomore Autumn Lee told The Parthenon student newspaper at the public university.

“For the next 500 years, there was an emphasis on destroying Native American culture through conversion and education,” Lee, who organized the protest, told The Parthenon. “Even in the 1970s in Canada, there were still boarding schools where children were beaten if they spoke their language.”

Lee is a member of the Cayuga tribe of New York and Canada, according to the newspaper.

It’s unclear by the article if the protest was large; a picture of it shows one blonde female student holding a sign and not much else. The write up does not state how many students were involved in the effort.

But it’s not the first time Columbus has been disparaged by students or professors.

In 2007, Glenn Morris, associate professor of political science at the University of Colorado at Denver, called for the observance to be abolished. In an op-ed in The Denver Post, he stated:

Columbus Day … celebrates racist concepts of discovery, conquest and occupation. In fact, Columbus began the transatlantic slave trade with captured Indians from the Caribbean. Soon, Africans were forced into slave ships to replace the millions of indigenous Americans who were slaughtered in Columbus’ regime of invasion known as the Encomienda. For this crime against humanity alone, Columbus should be stripped of any accolades, honors or holidays.

Columbus Day is not merely a celebration of Columbus the man; it is the celebration of a racist legal and political legacy – embedded in official legal and political pronouncements of the U.S. – such as the Doctrine of Discovery and Manifest Destiny.

Stephen Martin, a graduate assistant at Oklahoma University, told the student newspaper in 2012:

“It could and should be a day for contemplation and reflection. Of course, we cannot turn back the clock, and we cannot reverse centuries of colonialism. But we don’t have to celebrate it, as if it were some kind of great triumph, either.”

Writing for Daily Kos in 2011, SUNY women’s studies professor Denise Oliver-Velez stated in a post titled “The Three R’s of Columbus Day: Robbery, Removal and Rape” that “as an anthropologist, I can attest that more attention is placed in the classroom to ‘Indian pot-shards and burial mounds’ than to the harsh political reality of life on the rez or in the urban off-rez ghettos of places like Minneapolis-St. Paul.”

She went on:

As a black American, I have a voice, a movement, congressional representation and even now a president who is cast in my skin color. Granted, that voice is often repressed, and I live daily with the affect of systemic racism on my community. We are 12.6 percent of the population as opposed to 0.9 percent for those counted as Native Americans and Native Alaskans reported in the 2010 census. And yes-there are those of us who are “black” who can speak of “red” roots as well. That same census shows 16.3 percent of the population as Latino or Hispanic, and we know that the history of rapine practiced by the Spaniards and Portuguese explorers did not extinguish indigenous DNA.

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The Washington Redskins are less than two months away from kicking off the NFL season as a possible Super Bowl contender for the first time in more than a decade.

But in recent months, their on-field potential has been overshadowed by a longstanding nickname controversy. Many fans, the media and members of Congress continue to mount pressure on the storied franchise to change its name, calling “redskin” an offensive term.

The team’s owner, though, has vowed to never change the name and has maintained that it is a positive symbol of their culture.

In March, American Samoa representative Eni F. H. Faleomavaega introduced a bill that would abolish any trademarks that feature the term “redskin.” In May, Faleomavaega and nine other Congress members appealed in a letter to Redskins owner, Dan Snyder, to change the name on the grounds that it was derogatory, offensive and damaging to Native American youths.

“Native Americans throughout the country consider the ‘R-word’ a racial, derogatory slur akin to the ‘N-word’ among African Americans or the ‘W-word’ among Latinos,” the letter stated. “Such offensive epithets would no doubt draw widespread disapproval among the NFL’s fan base. Yet the national coverage of Washington’s NFL football team profits from a term that is equally disparaging to Native Americans.”

Similar letters were also sent to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and the president and CEO of Fed Ex, the team’s sponsor. Goodell responded with a letter of his own.

“The Washington Redskins name has thus from its origin represented a positive meaning distinct from any disparagement that could be viewed in some other context,”Goodell wrote. “For the team’s millions of fans and customers, who represent one of America’s most ethnically and geographically diverse fan bases, the name is a unifying force that stands for strength, courage, pride and respect.”

Whereas Goodell, thoughtfully and respectfully replied to the claims, Snyder was more defiant and blunt. He declined to directly respond to Congress, but instead addressed their claims to USA Today by explaining that fans understand “the great tradition and what it’s all about and what it means.”

“We’ll never change the name,” Snyder said. “It’s that simple. NEVER — you can use caps,” Snyder said.

However, closely examining the “tradition” of the Redskins name doesn’t particularly bode well for either Synder’s or Goodell’s claims.

Washington’s football team has been known as the Redskins since 1993. It’s possible that the team’s original owner, George Preston Marshall, named the team as some form of homage to head coach Lone Star Dietz, who was supposedly part-Sioux. (Dietz’s true heritage has long been questioned by historians and has never been proven.)

Dietz was known for wearing war paint and feathers at games. What was not as well known was that Dietz did so at Marshall’s request. In addition, Marshall himself was known for being an ardent racist. The Washington Redskins were the last team to integrate and only did so because they were forced by the government in 1962 — sixteen years after other NFL teams began signing African-Americans.

In short, it seems unlikely that Marshall was truly honoring the team’s coach.

Last week, Rep. Faleomavaega addressed the controversy on the floor of the House of Representatives. The speech echoed the sentiments of the letter and made it clear that his side was not giving in anytime soon.

“Mr. Speaker, it’s time the National Football League and the NFL commissioner, Roger Goodell, face the reality that the continued use of the word ‘redskin’ is unacceptable. It is a racist, derogatory term, and patently offensive to Native Americans,” Faleomavega said. “The Native American community has spent millions of dollars over the past two decades trying earnestly to fight the racism that is perpetuated by this slur.”

In some ways, the situation is reminiscent of the fight that took place in North Dakota over the University of North Dakota’s former nickname, the Fighting Sioux. In that case, after years of threats of sanctions by the NCAA, lawsuits, state laws and petitions, residents of North Dakota voted to retire the nickname.

In both instances, nicknames were under fire for being offensive to certain groups of people. However, Washington’s nickname is more apt to offend a broader group of people, whereas the “Fighting Sioux” pertained to a smaller portion of the population.

Both teams were also under tremendous pressure from a variety of sources, but the Redskins haven’t been pressured by their league and governing body, the NFL. In contrast, the NCAA deemed “the Fighting Sioux” to be “hostile and abusive” shortly after the controversy over tribal nicknames began.

The Fighting Sioux nickname was ultimately retired because North Dakotans grew tired of their tax dollars being spent on the dispute. The Redskins debate could also be decided for financial reasons, but in a much different way.

According to Forbes, the Washington Redskins are the NFL’s third most valuable franchise, worth $1.6 billion. Furthermore, $131 million of that figure can be attributed to the franchise’s brand strength. Stripping Washington of its nickname would not only put a significant dent in the team’s overall value, but it would also hurt the NFL.

Although Snyder has strongly and publicly shot down the possibility of changing the name, it appears that others in the organization are open to at least gauging the public’s opinion on the matter.

Last week, the team released a lengthy survey to their fans that included a section of questions relating to whether or not the team should change its name.

There are a lot of factors and variables in this multifaceted dispute. Political, economic, historical and social issues all play significant roles. Regardless of the outcome, it would be nice to see each factor weighed equally in determining the conclusion. Perhaps then, this time, the dispute will be settled by something other than money.

Fix contributor Blake Baxter is a student at Eureka College.

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For nearly 100 years, members of the men’s social group The Tejas Club at the University of Texas have called each other “braves” as a show of kinship and to pay homage to East Texas Indians, but one professor recently told club members they’re racist because of the practice.

Professor Robert Jensen, who caused controversy last November when he called Thanksgiving a “white supremacist” observance and likened the Founding Fathers to Nazi Germany, told members of the men’s student club at one of their weekly coffee klatches that calling each other “braves” in effect celebrates what Jensen called the genocide of Native Americans.

“(It’s) inappropriate, and in fact is racist,” Jensen said Monday in an interview with The College Fix. “The United States as a nation exists as a result of one of the most, if not thee most, extensive genocidal campaigns in recorded human history. The European conquest of what is now the continental United States resulted in the extermination of virtually all indigenous people in the United States.”

Jensen said he believes the tradition should change, that the club’s members are acting racist, whether they think they are or not.

“A lot of us who are white are unconsciously racist throughout our lives in all sorts of ways,” he said. “We are not always aware of what we are doing.”

Jensen, 54, is a journalism professor who has taught at the university for 21 years.

Jensen’s comments to Tejas Club members were made on March 21 as an invited guest speaker for one of the group’s weekly coffee meetings, which aim to facilitate conversations and intelligent debate among students on a variety of topics. Often, high-profile guests are invited to speak.

Each year, The Tejas Club co-hosts a “Week of Women” coffee with the Orange Jackets, a women’s service organization at the University of Texas, and it was at that annual event that Jensen made his controversial remarks.

He was asked to speak primarily on pornography’s connection to sexism and racism, which he did. But toward the end of the talk a female student in the audience asked Jensen what he thought about The Tejas Club’s practice of calling each other “braves.”

The way a Tejas Club member describes it, it was then that Jensen went “on a ten-minute tirade regarding the persecution of Native Americans,” states an email to The College Fix from the club’s president, Chris Fellows.

“He concluded with ‘your organization is racist’ and promptly ended his talk, rejecting all questions and opportunities for dialogue,” Fellows stated. “Members of Tejas approached Mr. Jensen to discuss his accusation, but he found all points to be ‘bullshit.’ After it became clear that rising tempers made civil discourse impossible, Mr. Jensen was politely asked to leave three times. The Tejas Club’s reaction wasn’t a response to Mr. Jensen’s views on sexism or racism, but on his combative and aggressive approach.”

“We’re disappointed that the outcome of this event wasn’t a conversation about women’s issues, as it should have been. And we certainly don’t think solutions to racism or sexism have been achieved, but we will continue to host coffees regarding these topics until they are.”

Jensen said he was just doing what he thought was right.

“Whether it was a tirade or not is subjective, they are welcome to their interpretation,” he said. “I told them I thought it was important for white people to hold each other accountable for racist practices.”

The Tejas Club, however, works to promote a variety of causes that support diversity and equality. Founded in 1925, members today participate in pro-diversity events on campus, and host the weekly coffee meetings, open to the entire university community.

“In December, it hosts a holiday party for underprivileged children,” the group’s website states. “Throughout the year, the Braves participate in community service projects. … Recently, the club has partnered with the University’s Counseling and Mental Health Center to further suicide prevention and awareness with our fellow students.”

As for the history of the “braves” moniker, the club’s website states: “Friendship is the most important attribute of a Tejas Brave. In fact, Tejas is derived from the Native American word for ‘friend’ or ‘ally.’ … (Original members) began to call themselves the Tejas and referred to each other as braves, with the intention of emulating the friendliness of the East Texas Indians.”

While Fellows declined to comment to The College Fix specifically about Jensen’s racism accusations, Jensen said he recalls some of the young men on March 21 arguing that the “braves” nickname honors Native Americans. But Jensen said that explanation does not cut it.

“I do remember some of the men saying they feel they are honoring Indian people with this practice, and that is a standard response for people who use Indian nicknames and mascots,” he said. “I don’t think there is a strong argument there. … I think it’s important for the United States to come to terms with its history. … This is a culture that is in deep denial about its own barbarianism.”

Jennifer Kabbany is associate editor of The College Fix.

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Controversy created by actor Danny Glover after he said in a recent speech at Texas A&M University that the Second Amendment was created to protect slavery was addressed by the school’s chancellor Wednesday. He dismissed the comments as protected free speech.

“Second Amendment comes from the right to protect, settlers to protect themselves from slave revolts and from up risings by Native Americans,” Chancellor John Sharp said. “I haven’t met an Aggie the yet that agrees with Mr. Glover, but I’ve met every Aggie that agrees he should be able to have the right, uniquely American to say anything he wants to say about any subject and there are plenty of people on that campus who have died to make sure that stays the same, that’s our attitude about it.”

Meanwhile, reports Fox News, “a petition from members of the Texas Aggie conservatives is demanding that A&M stop inviting what they describe to be ‘radical leftist speakers.’ ”

Click here to read more about Glover’s original comments.

Click here to read the Fox News story on the response to those comments.

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Until the improbable rise of Elizabeth Warren, he was America’s most famous fake Native American—and, like Massachusetts’ newest senator, a “diversity hire” at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

There he taught “ethnic studies” for nearly two decades, from 1990 to 2007, turning his podium into a bully pulpit for an assortment of vogue leftwing causes.

But it was when he referred to the “technocratic corps at the very heart of America’s global financial empire”—that is, the several thousand workers in the World Trade Center—as “little Eichmanns” who deserved death on September 11 (for their participation in “power lunches and stock transactions, each of which translated … into the starved and rotting of flesh of infants” abroad) that he called down upon himself the opprobrium of an entire nation and demonstrated—if any doubt remained—that some of the stupidest people around have advanced degrees.

In a more just world, Ward Churchill would have been tossed from the academy for sheer silliness. In 21st-century America, it took a faculty committee, the university’s Board of Regents, and eventually the Colorado Supreme Court. In September 2012, the state’s highest court finally decided that the Regents were within their rights to fire the professor unanimously found guilty by a committee of colleagues of “multiple acts of plagiarism, fabrication, and falsification.” And to think: the faculty committee only wanted him suspended.

In December, Churchill appealed his case to the Supreme Court.

Call him Lie-a-watha. With more than a dozen books and several articles to his name, not to mention a cushy tenured job secured after just one year as an associate professor (he somehow skipped the usual six-year probationary period), Ward Churchill managed to spend years on the dole of a major public university, where, drawing on a background in radical politics and a knack for tall tales (mainly about himself), he became a leading “Native American” voice in academia.

When, the day after his termination, Churchill filed suit in state court against his former employer, he began what must be, to-date, the century’s most specious claim of academic “repression.” But with titles like Marxism and Native Americans to his name, he rallied a colorful—if predictable—group of supporters: Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn, two other professors whose fame outstrips their accomplishments, declared their support for Churchill, as did the ACLU, unrepentant Weather Underground terrorist-cum-academic Bill Ayers, and convicted cop-killer and former Black Panther Mumia Abu-Jamal (who issued not one but two statements of support). Their testimonials are available at the website of the “Ward Churchill Solidarity Network.”

But if Churchill managed to turn his case into a cri de coeur for professors’ First Amendment rights, hoisting “academic freedom” like an oriflamme, it was only a matter of time until he was forced into retreat. Even in Churchill’s pseudo-discipline, professors are expected to write their own politically correct hokum—but he could not manage even that standard.

Yet it should have come as little surprise. Besides the never-proved claims of Creek and Cherokee ancestry, in the résumé submitted to the University of Colorado in 1980 Churchill claimed that, while in Vietnam, he “wrote and edited the battalion newsletter and wrote news releases.” Seven years later, he told the Denver Post that he had attended paratrooper school, been part of an elite Long-Range Reconnaissance Patrol in Vietnam, and run “point” in a combat unit. U.S. Army records support none of these claims. Churchill was trained as a film projectionist and light truck driver.

But his radicalism is no yarn. In the same 1987 interview, Churchill claimed he hung around the offices of Chicago’s Students for a Democratic Society, befriended Black Panthers, and taught members of the Weather Underground how to make bombs. True or not, he was a star guest at the 2009 trial of Herman Bell and Anthony Bottom, two members of the Black Liberation Army accused of killing San Francisco Police Sergeant John Young in 1971 and suspected of involvement in several other terror attacks on police in the 1970s.

And yet, despite hugs from Lynne Stewart (convicted of aiding terrorism) and face-time in the documentary When They Came for Ward Churchill—as if CU Boulder’s then-president Hank Brown came in brown shirt and jackboots—Churchill’s legal road is likely at an end, and he is quickly fading from memory.

The essay in which his inflammatory 9/11 remarks appeared, “ ‘Some People Push Back’: On the Justice of Roosting Chickens,” is now available at sites like Kersplebedeb.com, which advertises itself as “a one-person project devoted to producing and distributing radical books and pamphlets and agit prop [sic] materials”; it hosts links to “anti-police” and “queer revolt” material. Churchill is rapidly becoming a footnote in monographs of September 11 analysis.

But, unfortunately, Churchill is only one example of the faux-intellectualism that has come to define the university dominated by niche “studies”: ethnic studies, black studies, LGBTQ studies. You name it, there’s an aggrieved Ph.D. teaching it—or at least pointing out the systematic persecution perpetrated by white/male/heterosexual/colonial/capitalistic norms.

Still, if it is no longer possible to boot a professor who spends class time justifying the Oklahoma City bombing and whose published work likens the American treatment of Native Americans to the crimes of the Khmer Rouge, Ward Churchill’s moment in the national limelight was a much-needed reminder that, in too many places, the professors are off the reservation.

Fix contributor Ian Tuttle is a student at St. John’s College.

IMAGE: Steve Rhodes

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The student government at Arizona State University has voted to change Columbus Day to Indigenous People Day. The Tempe Undergraduate Student Government Senate passed Bill 44 to rename the holiday after contentious debate on campus.

Christopher Columbus has long been known as an admirable adventurer in American lore whose adventurous spirit led him to “discover” America. But, in recent years his legacy has faced mounting criticism for the perceived negative effects his life had on Native Americans.

In the United States, Columbus Day is an official federal holiday. However, not all states recognize the day. South Dakota, instead, celebrates Native American Day. The name “Indigenous People Day” originated in Berkley, California, a city that began celebrating the holiday as an alternative to Columbus Day in 1992.

In Tempe, students were split on the issue. Those in support of the change believed that the bill was a positive way to commemorate the Native Americans whose lives they say were lost as a result of Columbus’s arrival to the New World. The opposition said the bill was an example of unnecessary political correctness. There was also another group that preferred that the campus do away with celebrating the day for either cause.

Many admirers of Columbus view him as a symbol of exploration, perseverance, innovation and the beginning of the American spirit. However, critics of the famous explorer paint a darker picture of the man, and more broadly, of European settlement of the New World that he represents. They often cite, for example, the diseases carried by European explorers like Columbus and his men, which caused the deaths of many Native Americans.

An editorial in The State Press, a campus student newspaper, praised the intent behind the name change. “When we recognize the holiday as Columbus’ Day, we already remember the person who launched the trajectory that left Native Americans in the state they are today — living on reservations where they suffer from the lowest rates of education and health care in the country.”

However, Roger Clegg of the Center for Equal Opportunity questions the rationale behind the name change. “There’s nothing wrong with celebrating Native America — as a heritage, not a race, since the principle of E pluribus unum means that we shouldn’t be singling out particular races for celebration,“ he said. “And there’s nothing wrong with celebrating the heroic explorers of America either.”

“We should be able to celebrate both without denigrating either. The juxtaposition in replacing Columbus Day with Indigenous People Day, on the other hand, is a silly anti-Western statement and a celebration of fashionable victimhood,” Clegg added.

Bill 44 has been passed in Tempe, but Columbus, his legacy and his holiday remain controversial subjects. It is clear that Columbus’s complicated legacy will continue to inspire controversy for a long time to come.

Fix Contributor Blake Baxter is a student at Eureka College.

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