Village Seal and Sports' Mascots Representing Racist History

Residents of the upstate New York village of Whitesboro voted whether to keep or to change its official seal depicting a white man strangling an Indian man in manual combat.

"There's been this nationwide controversy [over the logo]," said Whitesboro Village Clerk Dana Nimey-Olney, "[and] it was time to put it to the residents."

Whitesboro comprises a village within Whitestown, New York, named after the European Hugh White who claimed the land in 1784. According to 2013 census data, 94.3 percent of the village's 3,735 residents were "white alone," with just five Native American residents, or 0.1 percent.

While I find the seal repugnant and offensive at best, I also see it as more historically honest and representative of European colonialism and treatment of First Nations people than the seals and mascots of amateur and professional sports teams promoted as "honoring" or "respecting" Native Americans.

Controversy is swirling around a long-overdue public debate whether to change the name of the Washington Redskins football franchise. At the center of this maelstrom, team owner Daniel Snyder continues to hold firm by announcing he has no intention of changing the name, referring to it as a "tradition" and as a "badge of honor." In fact, on the wall of the organization's Ashburn, Virginia, offices hangs a commemorative plaque given to the team's former coach, George Allen announcing:

"Washington Redskins is more than a name we have called our football team for over eight decades. It is a symbol of everything we stand for: strength, courage, pride, and respect -- the same values we know guide Native Americans and which are embedded throughout their rich history as the original Americans."

I believe this so-called "honoring," taking "pride" in, and "respecting" Native Americans by the cultural descendants of those who engaged in land theft, forced evacuations, scapegoating, and slaughter strikes me as hypocrisy at best, and more like justification for further colonization and misappropriation of cultural symbols, in addition to racist stereotyping.

Joel Spring refers to this "cultural genocide" defined as "the attempt to destroy other cultures" through forced acquiescence and assimilation to majority rule and standards. This cultural genocide works through the process of "deculturalization," which Spring describes as "the educational process of destroying a people's culture and replacing it with a new culture."

An example of "cultural genocide" and "deculturalization" can be seen in the case of Christian European American domination over Native American Indians, whom European Americans viewed as "uncivilized," "godless heathens," "barbarians," and "devil worshipers." White Christian European Americans deculturalized indigenous peoples through many means: confiscation of land, forced relocation, undermining of their languages, cultures, and identities, forced conversion to Christianity, and the establishment of Christian day schools and off-reservation boarding schools far away from their people.

The first off-reservation Indian boarding school was established in Carlisle, Pennsylvania in 1879 and run primarily by white Christian teachers, administered by Richard Pratt, a former cavalry commander in the Indian Territories. At the school, Indian children were stripped of their culture: the males' hair was cut short, they were forced to wear Western-style clothing, they were prohibited from conversing in their native languages and English was compulsory, all their cultural and spiritual symbols were destroyed, and Christianity was imposed.

As Pratt related to a Baptist audience: "[We must immerse] Indians in our civilization, and when we get them under, [hold] them there until they are thoroughly soaked."

Between 1879 and 1905, 25 Indian boarding schools operated throughout the United States. "Civilizing" Indians became a euphemism for Christian conversion. Christian missionaries throughout the United States worked vigorously to convert Indians.

A mid-19th century missionary wrote: "As tribes and nationals the Indians must perish and live only as men, [and should] fall in with Christian civilization that is destined to cover the earth."

Throughout the Alaska territory, Christian missionaries, including Presbyterians, Catholics, Moravians, vied to win converts. Simultaneously, the United States government issued laws barring Alaskan Indian ceremonies regarded as "pagan" and contrary to the spread of Christianity.

The expansion of the republic and movement west was, in part, justified by an overriding philosophical underpinnings since the American Revolution. Called "Manifest Destiny," it was based on the belief that God intended the United States to extend its holdings and its power across the wide continent of North America over the native Indian tribes from the east coast to the west. The doctrine of "manifest destiny" embraced a belief in American Anglo-Saxon superiority.

"This continent," a congressman declared, "was intended by Providence as a vast theatre on which to work out the grand experiment of Republican government, under the auspices of the Anglo-Saxon race."

During the early years of the new republic, with its increasing population and desire for land, political leaders, such as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, advocated that Indian lands should be obtained through treaties and purchase. President Jefferson in 1803 wrote a letter to then Tennessee political leader, Andrew Jackson, advising him to convince Indians to sell their "useless" forests to the U.S. government and become farmers. Jefferson and other government leaders overlooked the fact that this style of individualized farming was contrary to Indian communitarian spiritual/cultural traditions.

Later, however, when he inhabited the White House, Jackson argued that white settlers [a pleasant term for "land thieves"] had a "right" to confiscate Indian land. Though he proposed a combination of treaties and an exchange or trade of land, he maintained that white people had a right to claim any Indian lands that were not under cultivation. Essentially, Jackson recognized as the only legitimate claims for Indian lands those on which they grew crops or made other "improvements."

The Indian Removal Act of May 28, 1830 authorized President Jackson to confiscate Indian land east of the Mississippi River, "relocate" its former inhabitants, and exchange their former land with territory west of the River. The infamous "Trail of Tears" during Jackson's presidency attests to the forced evacuation and redeployment of entire Indian nations in which many died of cholera, exposure to the elements, contaminated food, and other environmental hazards.

The Naturalization Act of 1790 excluded Native American Indians from citizenship, considering them, paradoxically, as "domestic foreigners." They were not accorded rights of citizenship until 1924 when Congress passed the Indian Citizenship Act, though Asians continued to be denied naturalized citizenship status.

In addition, though Jackson founded the Democratic Party and brought greater popular control to government, as a farmer, his wealth increased enormously through his enslavement of Africans, and he gave the lash to any who attempted escape.

And the beat goes on, since the majority of residents in the village seal controversy in Whitesboro, New York voted January 11, 2016 to remain as intransigent as Washington Red Skins team owner Daniel Snyder by retaining their racist symbols.