Wisconsin Indian Education AssociationTaskforce Logo. Artist: Barbara E. Munson (Oneida).
About seven years ago, when I was teaching a course on Race in the United States, at St Cloud State University, I had a student who was hard reach. Nothing seemed to interest her. She spent the class filing her nails, updating her date book. Until the day we talked about Indian Mascots. Suddenly this student was sitting at the edge of her seat, hand thrust in the air.
She had a story to tell.
Her small Wisconsin town high school had a beloved Indian mascot, she told us. Until one day, they didn’t. Just like that. The kids received an announcement over the PA system. The mascot had been changed to some bird or mammal. No explanation. In fact the students and faculty were not allowed to talk about it.
Explanation for the silence? Lawsuits.
My student was livid. Here anger was fresh. She knew what it was like to be oppressed, to have a part of your identity stolen from you. She was eager to talk about it — finally.
My purpose in telling this story is not to set up my student and her story of misappropriated misappropriation for ridicule. To the contrary, it is her school, and their color blind policy of silence that I would like to condemn.
Pressured by American Indian organizations, the school had made a policy change. Fine. Good. Over due. But I agree with the student. The manner in which they did it insured the growth of ignorance. It gave status quo anti- indigenous, White animosity another half life.
From a pedagogical standpoint the school made a tragic mistake, throwing away a golden teachable moment. No presentations from representatives of Indigenous groups, no reading, no writing, NO TALKING. No critical thinking.No debate. No perspective broadening, no empathy-building. No history, sociology, or psychology. Just mandated anger-stuffing. I imagine some of the teachers and administrators were as pissed as the students that they lost their beloved mascot. Banned from all discussion, their opinions were bound to come out sideways, in the treatment of Native students and their families.
As a result, my student came to college with a deficit hampering her academic development, requiring remedial catch-up.
Ethnic studies K-12 movement can combat this type of color-blind subtractive education in three ways. 1. Include stories that reflect the realities of students of Color and American Indian students in your classroom. 2. Teach ALL students the history and reality of U.S. racism. 3. Use current issues, local to global, that address inequalities — like the Indian Mascot issue — to teach critical thinking skills.
Blinders off. Time to educate.
Anne Winkler-Morey has been teaching college-level ethnic studies courses since 1994. She initiated and coordinated the national campaign for Ethnic Studies Week October 1-7, k-gradschool, in response to Arizona’s ban on ethnic studies in 2010.