Brenda Christopher, a former school board member, is riling the Lancaster community against changing the school district’s “Redskins” mascot. Christopher has announced on Facebook her plans to run for her former school board seat — which has infuriated deep pocketed Indians who are invested heavily in the tobacco industry.
Among Natives, the word is widely understood to be a racial slur recalling the American Indian genocide. The word “Redskin” refers to the scalps of dead Indians, which were red because they were bloody from dismemberment. Pioneers would collect the scalps of dead Indians in order to provide proof of their kills, allowing them to collect state-sponsored bounties.
Students at Akron Central Schools, where the Native population is around 11%, are pushing for a boycott of Lancaster sporting events. The varsity lacrosse team, which is majority Native, is planning on boycotting the scheduled March 31st game.
In 2005, American Psychological Association published a study indicating that Indian mascots increase the self-esteem of white students while negatively impacting the self esteem of Native students.
Native student groups on college campuses across the country have long complained of the hostile environment that the use of Indian mascots creates — often in the context of sporting events where alcohol consumption is pervasive and prone to even more explicit anti-Indian assaults.
The local controversy comes amid a national discourse on the NFL’s Washington Redskins, and its disgraced owner Dan Snyder. Natives are often vilified for speaking out against the use of the word Redskins, and concerns are often belittled.
The National Congress of American Indians, the most representative Native organization in the United States with nearly 300 member Nations, has long called for eliminating the use of Indian mascots.
The anti-Indian activist Brenda Christopher is a longtime resident of Lancaster, a relatively affluent and nearly all-white suburb, where Polish and German ancestry is most prevalent. In many ways she typifies the ignorance and that stems from privilege and a lack of diverse real-world experiences.
She has been publicly ridiculed for flying in two individuals who claim to be Indian — one from Connecticut and another from New Mexico — to speak in favor of retaining the “Redskins” name at a school board meeting earlier this week. The two were roundly exposed as frauds by the local Natives who attended the meeting, and Christopher looked foolish for having thought the tactic would be compelling.
It is clear that local Native businessmen are gearing up to soundly defeat Christopher in any attempted school board run. They are willing to put considerable resources into preventing these types of people form accessing elected office. If you would like to contribute to the effort to defeat Christopher, please contact Matthew Ricchiazzi, via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Our nation was born in genocide when it embraced
the doctrine that the original American, the Indian,
was an inferior race. Even before there were large
numbers of Negroes on our shores, the scar of racial
hatred had already disfigured colonial society.
From the sixteenth century forward, blood flowed in
battles of racial supremacy. We are perhaps the only
nation which tried as a matter of national policy to
wipe out its indigenous population. Moreover, we
elevated that tragic experience into a noble crusade.
Indeed, even today we have not permitted ourselves to
reject or to feel remorse for this shameful episode.
Our literature, our films, our drama,
our folklore all exalt it.”
– Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Why We Can’t Wait, 1963