News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Opinion Columns

November 2, 2013

RONN MOTT: Thoughts about the ‘Redskins’ controversy

TERRE HAUTE — I am not amused by the uproar for the Washington NFL team to stop calling themselves the “Redskins.” I think it is, frankly, much to do about nothing. This recent hoop-du-rah has been stirred up by the leader of the Oneida Indian Nation, or Native Americans. Of course, it may be difficult for me — my heritage is Anglo, my dad’s ancestors came from England, and my mother’s from Scotland. Growing up, I never heard a disparaging word against Native Americans. For that matter, I never heard a disparaging word about African Americans.  

My father’s attitude was everybody should have a chance to live a life of freedom in America. It didn’t matter what the color of your skin was, or where you went to church, or what old-world customs you brought to these shores. Once born here, or once arrived here, you were American, and my dad expected you to be one.

So, this recent uproar that was brought to a head by the Oneida Nation is now reaching out to the president of the United States. The National Football League commissioner and various members of Congress, who, after looking through a microscope, have found some Indian blood in their veins.  

This idea, of the noble savage, grates at me and my knowledge of American history. The Algonquin, the Huron, the Mohawk and the Iroquois tried to kill each other off. It was pure genocide. The Iroquois was pretty much hated by most tribes in the northeast. The Illinois Indians and a few soldiers of a French Army (or maybe the Marines) totally destroyed the Fox Indians who were being forced out of their homes in Wisconsin because the Fox didn’t like the French priests who were trying to teach them a new religion.

The Fox felt the religion they had was working quite well and did not need a religion that was centered in Italy. So, near Normal, Ill., near a small stream, the Fox Indians were obliterated. After their final stand was made, only 50 members of the tribe were left.

The Chippewa drove the Sioux (Lakota) out of the woods of Minnesota onto the western plains that were occupied by other people, like the Mandan, the Omaha, the Pawnee and others. You can’t find many people today claiming to be Mandan because the Sioux killed almost all of them. A little further west, the Blackfeet would kill any stranger and ask questions later. Down in the southwest, the Comanche drove the Apache out of the plains of Texas and they had to learn how to subsist in the mountains of New Mexico and Arizona. If you were a stranger trekking across Comanche territory, they would kill you.

By the way, the Comanche were not only well known for their belligerent attitude toward other Indians, but everyone else as well … Spanish, Mexicans, buffalo hunters and mountain men. They also were well known for their lack of hygiene.  

The tragedy of all of this, as far as the Indians are concerned, is if they had gotten together they could have driven the white men back into the ocean from whence they all came. But different languages, different ideas about their religious beliefs and constant territorial claims kept them from rising up and claiming what was really theirs. We must not forget the diseases the white man brought with him. The Indians had no chance of surviving.  

For the Oneida Nation, when Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox Court House in Appomattox, Va., one of the generals was an Oneida Indian who was proud to serve on General Grant’s staff. I can see how a Native American can take the name “Redskin” wrong and see how it could be hurtful. But the fact of the matter is, it is too little and much too late.

Ronn Mott, a longtime radio personality in Terre Haute, writes commentaries for the Tribune-Star. His pieces are published online Tuesday and Thursday on Tribstar.com, and in the print and online editions on Saturday.

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