Johnny P. Flynn
One of the more interesting aspects of American Indian culture is our ability to change our character, "shape shift," if you will.
As an example, until Christopher Columbus stumbled into our world, we were not Indians. There are many stories about how he came up with that name, but most Indians find the discussion irrelevant. I for one am content to be an American Indian to the outside world.
The politically correct "Native American" is misleading, and certainly does not carry the history of the brand-name, "Indian." And I admit there is some odd satisfaction using an appellation born out of Columbus' ignorance of the breadth of the world; welcome humor in an otherwise tragic lie.
We are the only so called "minority" with this problem.
Many white folks take on African-American popular music and styles, but they do not "become" Black. No one is clamoring to take on an Asian-American identity and declare their ancestors suffered through the internment camps used during World War II on Japanese Americans.
Yet, that is exactly what is happening all across America with non-Indians taking on American Indian identities. What is sad about all this is these "shake and bake" Indians often become the dominant societies' experts on Indian culture.
"A little neglect may breed great mischief,
For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
- Benjamin Franklin
Poor Richard's Almanac
There is no doubt that Indiana's schools need money. The state legislature is looking to cut funds for public education, and Governor Daniels has said repeatedly that capital improvements and administrator salaries should be a low priority.
So why would the Indiana Department of Education refuse to apply for federal funds that would help a significant number of students?
Why is it so hard for Native Americans to convince school superintendents that Indian students in their districts could have vital school supplies, educational programs and tutoring services, if they would just apply for the funds from the federal government?
Since the NCAA issued its decision to ban the use of Indian mascots in the post-season, newspapers and the Internet have been on fire. In a shootout worthy of a match between the Blue Devils and the Fighting Illini, opposing sides have used public forums to state their positions.
Sorting it all out seems complicated until you realize that it is mostly Whiteskins who are advocating the use of mascots, based on their perceptions of who we are as Indian people. There appears to be only the Seminoles in Florida and Oklahoma who advocate the use of Chief Osceola as a mascot, and the Florida State Seminoles as a team name. More on that in a moment.
Indian people have been publicly fighting against racist mascots for more than 35 years. It was only when the Whiteskins got involved that the issue of Indian stereotypes as mascots got a thorough national discussion. It was then that the Whiteskins who support the "tradition" of these mascots stood up on their hind legs and howled.
In a press conference this past Monday, President Bush indicated that he thought creationism should be taught in public schools alongside the scientific theory of evolution. Using the doublespeak so characteristic of this administration, the new buzzword for the program to ram Christianity down the throats of public school students is "intelligent design."
Over the years of teaching everything from Life of Christ to Baptist students in the Bible Belt, to teaching Native American religions to American Indian students, I have encountered enough misinformation and ignorance to sometimes make me want to just sit down and weep.
Spoon feeding "intelligent design" to public school students is not a solution but will just add to the problems of our deteriorating educational system.
In the past two weeks I have had two graduates of the Indiana University system insist that Indians "smoke peyote" in their religious ceremonies. It is possible they came upon this error of fact in their extra-curricular activities at college or beyond.
Given that there were, and are, few courses in American Indian studies in the IU system, these two misguided individuals would have had little chance of learning the truth of the Native American Church, the Christian sect of Indians who use Lophophora Williamsi (peyote).
But there is a small group of people, Indians and others, who have been working to bring American Indian Studies into the Indiana University system. And it is about time.