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Letter to the editor: Native Americans are not a 'thing' of the past

  • DQ Joe aka the "Crazy Indian"

    DQ Joe aka the "Crazy Indian"

updated: 7/10/2020 12:58 PM

To the editor: I read with some interest your July 7 article on the call to end the racist mascot of your local high school, DQ Joe ("1964 alumni says it's time to retire DQ Joe").

While I am not historically tied to your town or your high school, I am Dine (Navajo) and have lived in Illinois for nearly 14 years.

It's not unusual to see Native Americans portrayed in this manner -- as mascots for high school sports teams or, even in my own area, for universities.

More often than not, many alumni of these schools and their fans will defend the use of the caricatures or mascots as a way to honor the tribes that once lived before them. They say these mascots represent power, strength and a tribute to Native ancestors. Sometimes, they will say that they've had permission from a tribe to use a mascot in this manner.

While their intent may be honorable, there continues to be a blatant disregard for the impact these mascots have on Native Americans today.

Not in the least, these mascots perpetuate a stereotype that Native Americans are a thing of the past -- not a people, a thing -- and in turn, makes our neighbors lack empathy for our struggles today.

A caricature like DQ Joe is even worse -- it portrays Native Americans like a cartoon character out of Looney Tunes -- dumb and dehuman.

While not as populated as before the arrival of Christopher Columbus (the U.S. government annihilated millions of us in its quest to occupy our land), today there exists more than 5 million Native Americans who still fight for recognition, honor and respect.

Many elders from my own tribe were ignored until recent years for their contribution to helping the U.S. and their allies win World War II (the Navajo code-talkers).

I bring this up to draw your attention to one key point in this discussion: Native Americans are alive today and should not be remembered as simply mascots for a sports team.

Dean Dempsey

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