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Incendiary Commentary on Innocent Words

An issue that I can say honestly concerns me pertaining to American Indian Studies is inflammatory speech and imagery toward Native Americans. The reason it effects me is because of the removal of Chief Illiniwek because it was labeled as a “hostile” image. However, while the issue hits close to home, it also extends far beyond this university.

By now, all of us have heard the news of the shooting in Touscon by Jared Loughney where he took several people’s lives as well as gravely injuring U.S. representative Gabrielle Giffords. In the aftermath of this unfortunate incident, many “higher-ups” and news corespondents are making waves in response to remarks made in a memorial service from Pascua Yaqui tribemember Carlos Gonzalez. In the memorial when he referenced the representative, he mentioned Mother Earth, Father Sky, and the seven sacred directions. At the time it was praised widely. However, since the remarks were made, he has since been portrayed as a cartoon character for these meaningful remarks. TV commentator Michelle Malkin said that Gonzalez was “babbling about two-legged and four-legged creatures.” Some websites such as Power Line called his speech “ugly” for all his references. No one cared that Gonzalez was just honoring his heritage while trying to give a meaningful speech. Gonzalez himself is Catholic and said that in his prayer, he was just honoring the creator and further, it was just a prayer, not a political statement.

Carlos Gonzalez

This pertains to American Indian Studies because these callous remarks are something that have always been made even though they are damaging and inflammatory statements. Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele referred to someone as an “honest injun,” but did not really understand the statement he was making. Even remarks that are not meant to be made in reference to Native Americans can sometimes be taken as slights. An example of this was in Obama’s inaugural address where he said “the lines of tribes shall soon dissolve.” While this is meant to be taken on a global level, the word choice can have certain implications. These problems have plagued American Indians throughout history starting with colonists calling Native Americans “savages.” It is sad that we as a people claim to be more politically correct nowadays yet certain instances like this keep on occuring. This is not the first and definitely not the last time this will occur. As Bob Miller (law professor at Lewis & Clark and citizen of the Eastern Shawnee Tribe) says, the only thing people can do is “keep calling people out” and “never give up.” Hopefully there comes a day when there is no need to keep calling people out.



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