‘What it truly means to be an Indian in America’

Junior addresses PV's logo

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(Editor’s note: The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those of The Smoke Signal or its staff.)

The Battle of Little Bighorn. The Massacre at Wounded Knee. The Fort Laramie Treaty. Since the founding of our country, Native Americans have been swept under the covers.

When walking around the halls of Pascack Valley, one can see students wearing merchandise with a stereotyped Indian head. Various clubs and sporting teams in the school have branded the logo on clothing. “Fear the Indian” is a Twitter account handle and the saying used to be branded on t-shirts.

But what is there to fear?

While some may see the symbol as a way of glorifying the Native people, many are unaware of what it truly means to be an Indian in America.

The history of the Native people in the United States encompasses marginalization and hardships, and currently, these individuals have been disregarded as a whole.”

I know that some people might read this and say that there are no negatives to having an Indian head as PV’s logo, but I have garnered the thoughts of Native Americans on two reservations in South Dakota.

They told me that being Native American is more than just a logo. The history of the Native people in the United States encompasses marginalization and hardships, and currently, these individuals have been disregarded as a whole.

In the middle of the United States stands a third-world country: the Cheyenne River and Pine Ridge reservations. Recently, these reservations have just declared a state of emergency, causing many to be stranded without basic necessities from a recent flood. The Oglala Sioux tribe has also just declared that South Dakota’s governor, Kristi Noem, is not welcomed on the reservation. Last summer, I had the opportunity to volunteer with other students at PV and immerse myself with their culture.

The Lakota, a group from the Sioux tribe, occupy the Cheyenne River and Pine Ridge reservations. Both reservations, given to Native Americans by the government, lay on remote land miles away from neighboring towns and cities. This isolation, containment, and segregation has resulted in the reservations becoming the poorest counties in the nation. This has had a lasting impact on the Lakota, even to this day.

The Pine Ridge Reservation is known for its high rates of impoverishment, unemployment, and suicide from the restriction of economic resources. The average poverty percentage in the United States is 15.6 percent, but on Pine Ridge, the total is 53.75 percent, according to Re-Member, a nonprofit organization on the reservation. Additionally, 89 percent of people living in Pine Ridge are unemployed.

Discussing with children at the Cheyenne River Youth Project, these issues came off as conventional. Majority of their family members and friends have had or still have problems with alcoholism and drug dependence. Listening to their stories, I noticed that many were left behind to stay with their grandparents, family friends, or even siblings from absent parents. Statistics show that being surrounded by substance abuse has increased their chances of following down the same path.

Despite these setbacks, the Lakota maintain their culture and stay connected within their communities. Rather than perceiving money as being rich, they believe that their lifestyle is. Lakota elders constantly remind the youth that following their practices and traditions are imperative to keeping their lifestyle alive.

There is nothing to fear.

Since we are named the Pascack Valley Indians, it is important to become educated on the current situation that they undergo. Although it is crucial to realize these struggles, it is also vital to discern that they are the same as us.

They are people too — not just a “character.”

When I asked Yvonne “Tiny” DeCory, the training director for The SweetGrass Project and a creator and of The B.E.A.R. (Be Excited About Reading) Program on the Pine Ridge Reservation about Indian logos, she said “Our culture, our lifestyle, and who we are is not a mascot.”

Our ancestors are part of the reason why they are not within our national consciousness. Other than mascots of schools or sporting teams, Native Americans are not represented for their contributions to society.”

I’m not saying that being called the “Pascack Valley Indians” is offensive, but the logo itself perpetuates degrading stereotypes, including that Native Americans have aggressive tendencies and are warlike figures. The image diminishes the self esteem of the Native youth. Especially if the student body is unaware of the history of this country, these concepts could be perceived as the truth.

Not only is a stereotyped Indian seen in the school — from costumes to popular fashion trends, mimicking Native culture has become normalized. On television, popular football and baseball teams have an Indian as their mascot.

PV, at the very least, should teach all students about Native American history and their current situation in the United States. Our ancestors are part of the reason why they are not within our national consciousness. Other than mascots of schools or sporting teams, Native Americans are never represented for their contributions to society.

Under PV’s One Spirit Club, we have created an alternate logo of a feather and a dreamcatcher which are both symbolic of harmony within Native American culture. Rather than patronizing, we are promoting peace, which is the main objective of the club: to educate the school about Native American history and help those living on the reservations.

And it is time for all of PV to make a similar change.

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