Letter to the Editor: Honoring the Rights of Indigenous Nations and People

January 31, 2020

Submitted by Erin McCormack

This letter, based on a statement authored by the United American Indians of New England, is used with their permission.

The message somewhat shortened and modified and supports legislation that I hope will have an impact on our town and our schools.

“The year 2020 is the 400th since the Pilgrims’ arrival on the shores of what is now called Massachusetts. That arrival has been viewed by the majority of the population as a cause for celebration of the initial “settling” of the colonies that would become New England. Increasingly in recent years, non-Indigenous New Englanders have come to recognize Indigenous Peoples’ reality – that the Pilgrims’ arrival marked the beginning of “the genocide of millions of their people, the theft of their lands, and the relentless assault on their cultures.” (Plaque erected by the town of Plymouth, on behalf of the United American Indians of New England, UAINE).

“While we should not need milestones to remind us of our obligation to honor the rights of indigenous nations and people, the 400th anniversary can serve as an impetus for committing ourselves to tell the story of our history truthfully. It can also be an opportunity to go beyond changing the narrative, by supporting legislation that promotes justice for Indigenous People.

“Now is a significant moment: there are bills focused on correcting the narrative and reducing stereotyping: to establish a commission to study the MA flag and seal (S.1877/H.2776), to prohibit the use of Native American mascots by public schools (S.247/H.443), and to establish Indigenous Peoples Day (H.3665).

“Our current state flag and seal depict a disembodied arm holding a sword over the head of a pacified (arrow facing down) Native American…We need to transform our flag and seal from a celebration of violence and dominance over Indigenous People to one that reflects and embodies our Commonwealth’s commitment to peace and social justice.

“We also must stop using Native American images and symbols as mascots. Currently, many organizations, including the US Commission on Civil Rights and the MA Commission on Indian Affairs, have recognized the negative impacts of Native American mascots. The American Psychological Association has… cited research underscoring that the continued use of mascots negatively impacts all students, teaching “children that it’s acceptable to participate in culturally abusive behavior and perpetuate inaccurate misconceptions about American Indian culture.”

“Finally, by establishing Indigenous Peoples Day, we have the opportunity to address persistent misconceptions, including those of Columbus as a heroic explorer, and to raise awareness about the violence he perpetrated against Indigenous People.  Establishing Indigenous Peoples Day is not an erasure of history; it is part of a reexamination that will promote ongoing conversations about history, resilience, and contributions of Indigenous Peoples.”

For More Information

Visit MAIndigenousAgenda.org. Through “Find my legislator – MA” you can also contact your representatives to express support for these bills before the February 5th deadline for moving them forward in the State House.

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