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Brave No More


Charles Bird King, "Young Omahaw, War Eagle, Little Missouri, and Pawnees," 1821, Smithsonian

981 words

I can’t think of too many English words more positive than “brave.”

The word brave conjures up a man who is bold and heroic. The brave man is no self-indulgent daredevil. He’s not pushy, cocky, or foolhardy. If the brave man faces danger, we assume he has a good reason (or at least thinks he does.) You can picture the profile of a brave man set against the horizon, resigned, with his chin thrust up like a galley’s bow set in the general direction of destiny or doom.

Men have always been quick to brag about the heroic deeds of their ancestors. The histories and mythologies of men are exaggerated retellings of the courageous deeds of the men who came before us.

The words “fighting Irish” put a little spring in my jig, and I’m glad to be linked with ornery hordes of Celtic badasses. If I could trace my line back to armored knights or revolutionary war heroes I’d be telling every damn person I met. Samoan men [2] love their tribal warrior tattoos.  And, while the Spaniards conquered the Aztecs long before the Cherokee walked the “Trail of Tears,” saying the word “Aztec” to a Mexican [3] gets the same kind of response the word “Viking” elicits from a white heavy metal fan.

“Fuck, yeah.”

That’s why I’ve never been able to understand why Native Americans get offended when depicted as “braves,” or “chiefs.”

Recently, after years of pressure from tribal leaders and PC busybodies, the Oregon State Board of Education ruled [4] 5 to 1 that Oregon schools will lose state funding unless they remove all Native American-themed mascots by 2017. “Indians,” “Chiefs,” and “Braves” must go. Teams can keep the name “warrior,” but must remove references to tribal customs or traditions.

Creator forbid people think of your tribesmen as warriors.

Professional redskin activist and educator Se-ah-dom Edmo, a woman who claims to be part of “many grassroots causes” that celebrate “victories for LGBTQ, Two-Spirit equality & racial equity,” played a major role in Oregon’s “I am a person, not a mascot [5]” campaign. As part of that campaign, she recounted stories of the horror and shame her father was subjected to when people asked him to dress up in the traditional garb of his people’s once-proud warriors.  She claims that being associated with the brave fighting men who stood their ground (often to the death) against hostile alien invaders armed with superior technology somehow “reinforces negative stereotypes.”

After considering the issue, Edmo concluded that even schools whose students, administrators, and alumni showed respect for Native Americans and who proudly cheered for their Native American mascots were somehow, “bargaining for accepted levels of racism.”

What is an “acceptable” level of racism? Clearly, cash buffalo like Oregon’s many Native American-run gambling casinos show acceptable levels of racism—if, by racism, you mean identifying an ethnic group as being different and associating an institution with elements of that group’s heritage.

Native Americans have a well-established reputation all over the United States for sloppy drunkenness. I have three adopted Canadian Indian cousins, and all three have had lifelong substance abuse problems. They’ve been arrested for charges ranging from prostitution and drug dealing to drunken bicycling. Edmo has admitted that alcoholism hits her community “extra hard.” [6] Yet, Edmo seems to feel that high school students cheering on their “Braves” is more hurtful than associating her people’s heritage with Injun-themed temples built for booze, gambling, and washed-up recording artists.

Edmo isn’t campaigning against the thousands of New Age snake-oil “shamans,” or the mountains of Native American “healing” products exploiting her religious traditions for profit.

It’s homophobia and transphobia and global warming [7] that really ruffle Ed’s feathers.

She may mean well, and the Oregon State Board of Education may mean well, but what they are doing is emasculating her people.

Yukio Mishima often complained that after World War II people wanted to forget about the Samurai sword and focus on the chrysanthemum. Japan wanted outsiders to see them as pleasant, peaceful, and polite.  Japanese culture was reduced, in Mishima’s words, to “flower arranging” [8] and robbed of its “brutality.” This is an emasculating revisionism. The virile history of brave samurai warriors was de-emphasized in favor of less threatening aspects of Japanese culture.

The same thing is occurring with the conquered Native American people, albeit over a longer timeline.

Dime novels and Hollywood westerns have long portrayed Native American men as ill-fated but honorable defenders of their people—the kind of men I would admire.  The colorful slurs our ancestors had for Native Americans—like “prairie niggers”—are all but forgotten. I had to look some up because I didn’t even know any. Some Native Americans might be hyper-sensitive to inaccurate portrayals of their people. But, as a white man, the idea of the Native American warrior I’ve received over the years has been, for the most part, positive. I mentally place them alongside other virile warriors who fought honorably for their kin.

By jumping on the PC wagon train, Native American activists are leaving behind our image of their people as noble tribal warriors, braves, and chiefs.  Without those manly symbols to keep that great heritage alive, future generations will focus on fresher memories of sloppy drunks, cheesy casinos, trailer park shamans, and ugly blue jewelry.

Maybe all of the worthy braves did perish in battle long ago, if they let radish squaws do their talking for them now.

I don’t want to believe that.

Given the influence our own women have over what aspects of history are deemed “negative” and what is taught in our schools, white men may not be far behind. Our heroes are being defamed and replaced every day.

No, I hope them heathens have fight in ‘em still.

And I hope the white man does, too.

World’s more interesting that way.