Discrimination Against Native Americans: From “Godless Pagan” to Cultural Voice

Discrimination Against Native Americans

One of my uncles got a job with a local construction company upon graduating from high school. After a few months and learning how to operate the equipment he and some of his fellow workers were having lunch together. It was Friday and they had just got paid. My uncle saw a couple of his co-workers’ payroll checks and noticed both were making a dollar an hour more than he was even though they were doing to same work. His foreman said it was because he was not in the union, and that the union did not accept Indians.

I have never lived in a community, held a job, attended a church or become involved in a social event where I did not encounter prejudice. The school textbooks in my southern Michigan hometown still had references in them such as “godless pagans,” “savages” and “bloodthirsty heathens.” (Omitting the historical facts of Native American conquest, genocide and the removal act of 1830, and sexual violence.)

I was made to feel ashamed of who I am.

Discrimination Against Native American

The current mascot of Columbia River High School in Vancover, WA

The preferential treatment continued into high school in Lansing, Michigan. The high school mascot was “Big Red,” a short, snarling gnome in a headdress, and an embarrassing depiction of our people. One of the coaches would holler when he saw me coming “Here comes the biggest of the Big Reds.” My junior year at Sexton High School the Social Studies teacher said we were going to study such dignitaries as George Washington, Abe Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt…and “General George Armstrong Custer and them dirty heathen savages that killed him.”

The other students gasped because of my reputation for retaliating for prejudice directed at me or my people. In most cases I would have come out of my chair and gone after the perpetrator, but I wanted to prove that I could be “civilized” too. I raised my hand politely and when I was recognized by the teacher I requested that he not refer to my relatives as dirty heathen savages.

I have chosen to forget many other incidents because of the negative energy they represent. I will not let these issues define my existence.

I am grateful to be able to say that I have a lot of good friends who are non-native. I am also excited by the rise in efforts to bring cultural understanding recognizing racial and cultural diversity around the world. I am now invited to speak at multicultural events on behalf of my people. It is a wonderful thing to finally have a voice.

To see how I found healing from generations of discrimination, read Dancing My Dream, available through this web site and through Amazon.com.

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