Between the anti-fracking protests in New Brunswick by the Elsipogtog First Nation and the wave of protests and discussion about mascots this football season, there’s plenty to discuss in Indian country this week.
Mascots became big news recently as Indigenous activists around the country have rallied to pressure Washington’s NFL team to change their name and mascot. The Oneida Indian Nation of New York launched Change the Mascot, a site filled with information and calls to action on the issue. Bob Costas called the team name “an insult, a slur” during NBC’s halftime show. Even President Obama entered the debate by saying that he would “think about changing the name” were he the owner. One of the councilmen from my Oneida Nation of Wisconsin argued that “race-based mascots will never honor us.”
The history of activism around Native American mascots stretches back to at least the 1940s when the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) launched a campaign denouncing the use of such mascots by sports teams. They argued then, as they do now, that such mascots perpetuated stereotyped and negative images of Indigenous peoples. The NCAI renewed their efforts in the late 1960s and soon many colleges and, later, high schools began changing their team names and mascots. As the negative effects of such mascots became more well-known, including increased stereotyping, racist bulling, negative self-image for Indigenous peoples attending schools with race based mascots, many organizations (e.g. the American Psychological Association) officially came out against the use of such mascots. Some Indigenous activists note that, historically, stereotypes of people of color have changed to justify actions against those peoples, a process called differential racialization that continues to this day.
In Canada, the Elsipogtog First Nation is trying to heal from a protest that turned violent this past Thursday. The Elsipogtog created a blockade to keep shale gas miners from entering their territory to perform seismic tests on a potential mining site. The company uses hydraulic fracturing, also known as “fracking,” to mine for shale. The negative environmental impacts of fracking can be extensive, and so many First Nations peoples have taken stands against such activity on their lands. Moreover, that specific section of land has, arguably, never been in the hands of the Canadian government and remains in dispute. Still, the mining company filed an injunction to have the blockade removed, and that’s when things got ugly.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) arrived (with fully militarized gear) to end what had been, until then, a peaceful blockade. RCMP cars were set ablaze. The RCMP shot tear gas and rubber bullets at protesters and arrested at least 40 protesters. Protesters captured what happened in real time and shared much of it on social media outlets like Tumblr and Twitter. Even Mark Ruffalo got in on the action.
Recently a judge lifted the injunction and all of the mining and testing equipment has been removed from the area. Many activists remain in the area of the blockade and will continue to stay put. Meanwhile there have been a slew of pieces on what really happened during this clash, and perhaps Leanne Simpson summed up the situation for Indigenous peoples everywhere when she wrote:
The story here, the real story, is virtually the same story in every Indigenous nation: Over the past several centuries we have been violently dispossessed of most of our land to make room for settlement and resource development. The very active system of settler colonialism maintains that dispossession and erases us from the consciousness of [settlers] except in ways that is deemed acceptable and non-threatening to the state… Our bodies should be on the land so that our grandchildren have something left to stand upon. –Leanne Simpson “Elsipogtog Protest: We’re Only Seeing Half of the Story”
Any other news about Indigenous peoples you’ve heard or read this week, readers?