I bring this issue up due to this article I recently came across. The racist words of “Prairie Ni****” being used by an older woman, at a basketball game to describe the Natives present.
The fall of 2001 was when I first heard this racist term: “Prairie ni****” or more accurately, “prairie ni**** lover.” I was 12 years old when I first heard this racist term. It was used towards me and my friend, Jeff Davis in middle school. We were walking from Mt Blue Junior High to his grandmother’s house/my dad’s office on campus, when 3 guys in a car kept driving by us. They kept shouting obnoxious profanity at us. I didn’t understand at all what was going on, because for me, I was in Maine, and didn’t think racism existed. I fully knew that I was different. But my parents tried to do all they could to shield me from those kinds of incidents, which is why we left South Dakota, for better opportunities. So hearing these guys shout at us… I didn’t get it. Then, they got out of the car, one with brass knuckles, surrounded us, calling us names and calling my friend Jeff, a “prairie ni**** lover.” As things were getting heated, I was getting scared and my friend, who was a hero in the situation, was basically ready to take the punches and stand up for the both of us. He told me run, and I took off, but stopped as I couldn’t leave him. In the end, they left, and I made sure he was okay, and then I ran to my dad’s office, where we called the police, and they went out looking for these guys, they were found, reports were made, but then later, the case was dropped. I wanted it to be over. But this was my first time, really experiencing racism, and made me realize I had been around it before. And since then, it was like I had radar for it, and not so naive to the situation that everyone can just be accepting and nice. I experienced more during High School from those who were more ignorant and well, just not educated. Some who had never met a Native American before… some who had heard about them, and some who thought, we were extinct. Some made comments that we “live the great life,” “we get everything free,” and “our taxes keep you guys afloat.” Lies. Lies. Lies.
The whole thinking “we’re extinct” part, came up when I was on the Hill in DC before, visiting with some Congressional members during my efforts to get them to vote NO on Keystone (which then was vetoed by the President, thanks Obama!). I was asked once, if we still lived in tipi’s and “oh, you guys are still around?” Granted, that member was from a state with hardly any native population but still, the ignorance and the lack of no curiosity resides with many non-natives.
I have experienced racism the most in South Dakota, Maine, and now, DC. I still get those looks by non-natives. I still hear of comments/assumptions that we are all just disgusting humans: “oh another drunk Indian,” “Indians get all the free shit,” “go back to the reservation, chief,” and I could go on. We have all heard it before. The one I hate the most, thanks to Disney, is being called Pocahontas or if I have my hair in braid/s, I am asked if my hair is real or if they can touch it. And that’s happened so many times to my other Native winyans (women). I have experienced racism in the inter-racial relationships I have had in the past. Some I didn’t know of until a while later when my boyfriend at the time, felt comfortable enough to tell me what was being said. But for me, I just deal with these things, as we all do, no matter what race we are. And I have just accepted the fact, that racism exists still, sadly, and that it’s all due to generational thinking passed down, ignorance, and lack of proper education on Native American culture in the schools.
Racism is hot and heavy here in DC. I have really seen the racism be pointed at the area Natives when it comes to Dan Snyder’s, Washington Football team. I’ve been to rallies and protests, where you have a bunch of drunk people of all ethnic backgrounds, yelling racial profanity towards me and the large group of protestors, including my nephews (ages 2-9 at the time), and other children. One die-hard fan, flipped off a 6 year old Dine girl. However, thanks to social media and all of us that were there and supporters, blasted the photo below all over the place.
End result: he came out of hiding and apologized. But will things change because of that? Or is he simply trying to save face for being drunk at 11 am on the last home game of the Washington Football team and flipped off a 6 year old? Who knows.
The Washington Football team name is a racial slur. Plain and simple. The Obama Administration has even stated that the name should change. There is no honor in the name. And I get sick of non-natives telling me that I should be honored that we are at least acknowledged and have a name. Well, I do not appreciate being called the R word when it means the bloody scalp of an Indian, when bounties were placed for our scalps and the mutilation of women and children’s genitalia. I have never used the R word towards anyone else. I literally cringe at the thought of the word and I can’t even say it… my body does this weird thing, where I can’t even get the word out. And for those who think there are bigger issues to work on, coming from natives and non-natives, that may be true, I’m a huge health/youth empowerment/resilience advocate in Indian Country, but this is an important issue because it tells our youth, our children, that this is okay, and that their culture can be portrayed in this negative light and completely lowers the self-esteem of a child, and leaves them wondering, “why do you want to call me a racial name?” Racism and being bullied, are one of many factors that our Native youth choose or think it’s best to end their life. But that’s not the answer, and it breaks my heart to know and hear about suicides happening in Indian Country, because they were bullied, and in the midst of that bullying, racism is or can be the root of it.
It’s 2016, and racism has got to come to an end. There is such hypocrisy in it all. But coming from a Native standpoint, it seems that people will get fired up when other racial slurs are said of other cultures, but for Native Americans, the R word is just a normal, everyday use in normal conversation. So many cultures are awesomely coming together as a people/group, and standing up for themselves, but the collaboration among us all, is when we can really get things accomplished, and really make America great, and start living the “American Dream.”
Even though to me, the saying is a little corny, but something I believe in and always am hopeful for, is “I just want world peace” and I just want us to respect each other, because in a sense, we are all holding each other back. We are all ready to blame the other. We are all ready to pin each one another against each other. We are all ready to demean and belittle other people because “superiority” is at the forefront of a lot of racism. But that’s just my opinion. Let’s push to end racism. Let’s make a push to empower each other and actually come together as a nation. Let’s strengthen these nation to nation relationships in Indian Country. Let’s be more than a racist name. Let who we are as a person, not what the color of our skin is, where we come from, our religious beliefs, etc., dictate the opinions of those who deem to judge us.
My family and cultural traditions have helped shape me into who I am. I am more than just a racist name and remark. I am where I am with the help of my family, friends, running, and from ME! I voiced my dreams and goals, and I have set out to do just that. Nothing will hold me back, regardless if assumptions or a name is directed towards me because I am Native. That just fuels my fire even more.
So if you’re experiencing racism, no matter who you are, rise above it. Believe in karma. And just know that you are more than that word. You are beautiful, amazing, wonderful, and you are set to do amazing things. As my dad would always say to me in the mornings before I took off for school,” Be a strong, proud, Indian woman.” That is exactly what I am, how I feel and how I will live my life.
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Click here to see who supports the name change of the Washington Football team!