North Dakota U Dumps Fighting Sioux Mascot. Can We Finally Get Rid of ‘Prairie N****r,’ Too?

( – promoted by navajo)

What does the epithet “Prairie Nigger” have to do with the controversy around the University of North Dakota’s mascot, the “Fighting Sioux?”

It’s simple.


Simply racism.

Follow me from a 2009 Tribal Council Meeting on the Standing Rock Reservation where students testified about why they had dropped out of the University of North Dakota to recent news that the North Dakota legislature has effectively repealed a law it passed earlier this year that mandated that the UND keep the Fighting Sioux Mascot, bucking a 30+ year trend to to get rid of these disrespectful signs of school spirit. So now the mascot and team name is “in transition” (to avoid further NCAA sanctions).

How long did this thing going take to play out?

Decades. Decades during which American Indian students on campus were the subject of racist attacks while the university simultaneously built up its American Indian Studies program.

And to add intrigue to this story, there was a nefarious, Nazi-obsessed, big capitalist donor (read, casino owner) behind this controversy at its height.

And P.S. No, I’m not exaggerating about the Nazi obsession. This actually supports research suggesting that once you stereotype one group you’re more likely to stereotype other groups. So, the mascots actually increase stereotyping in general.

There is a long history of sports teams using American Indian mascots in this country, and another long history of activists convincing schools to stop this disrespectful practice. There is a good timeline”here of efforts to get rid of Indian mascots since 1968.

Here is a good summary of the issue. It is from an academic article that talks about “the activists” but then goes on to show the the historical and psychological accuracy of the arguments below:

Anti-mascot activists articulate many different arguments against the mascots. First, they assert that the mascots stereotype Native Americans as only existing in the past, having a single culture, and being aggressive fighters. Second, they hold that these stereotypes influence the way people perceive and treat Native Americans. Such imagery is seen as affecting Native American images of themselves, creating a hostile climate for many Native Americans, and preventing people from understanding current Native American realities, which affects public policy relative to Native Americans. Third, the activists state that no racial cultural group should be mimicked (especially in regard to sacred items/practices), even if such mimicking is “culturally accurate.” And fourth, they argue that Native Americans should have control over how they are represented (Davis, 1993,2002; King & Springwood, 2001a, 2001b; Pewewardy, 1991; Spindel, 2000; Staurowsky, 2000).


I have posted the references from the article at the end of the diary for your further research. Research does NOT support claims that these mascots are harmless, or respectful, or anything but hegemonic discourse that makes stereotyping seem natural.

Taunts and Eggs on the UND Campus

I went out to the Standing Rock Reservation in 2009 and ended up sitting in on a Tribal Council meeting. The Tribal Chairman at the time, Ron His Horse is Thunder, was ardently against continuing the use of the Mascot, as were most of the Tribal Council members. The Tribal Council had voted to continue objecting to the use of the mascot in 2007. In 2009 it was voting on whether to hold a reservation-wide vote.

As I was watching the normal business of the Tribe being discussed, a line of former UND students began emotional testimony about why they had dropped out of school. They all dejectedly described how they had been harassed on campus by white students, had eggs thrown at them, and sometimes had been physically attacked. They all had also been called “prairie nigger” on several occasions.

Prairie nigger?
I really thought I hadn’t heard that correctly. What must it feel like to be called that while you’re trying to get yourself an education to improve your lot in life????? It was jaw dropping.

What the HELL was THAT all about?

Racism. Racism inflamed by money. More specifically, big donor Ralph Englestad’s threat to withdraw $100 million in funding for a new stadium, which he had engraved with hundreds of Fighting Sioux mascots.

Although there had been tensions on campus around the issue for a couple of decades, they became inflamed at the turn of the 21st Century, and the NCAA finally stepped in in 2005:

The NCAA instituted its policy in 2005, initially listing 18 schools whose nicknames and/or mascots were “hostile or abusive” toward native Americans. Schools that continued to use the nicknames, or hostile or abusive images, would not be able to host NCAA postseason events or use the images at an NCAA postseason event.

North Dakota is the only school from that initial list that has not already changed its nickname, mascot and/or logo.

The university had agreed to retire its nickname and logo in mid-August, but the Legislature pre-empted those plans by approving a bill in March that requires UND to keep them.

Nickname supporters flooded lawmakers with emails at the time, and Gov. Jack Dalrymple signed the measure only a few hours after he received it.

That legislation is what has just been repealed.

A little more on what happened after the initial 2005 NCAA action.

Here’s an excerpt from a recent Sports Illustrated article:

…UND filed a lawsuit challenging how the association had reached its decision. In an October 2007 settlement, the university agreed to retire its nickname and logo if it could not get approval from North Dakota’s two largest Sioux tribes, the Standing Rock Sioux and the Spirit Lake Sioux, for their continued use.

The Spirit Lake Sioux tribe endorsed the nickname in a subsequent referendum, but the Standing Rock Sioux tribal council declined to support it or call a reservation referendum on the question.

Robert Kelley, UND’s president, said he had spent about half his time as president on the nickname and logo issue since taking the job in 2008. In the last year, the issue has demanded almost three-quarters of his time, Kelley said.

Repealing the law would “support our student athletes by removing sanctions (and) other restrictions that complicate the future of UND athletics,” Kelley said.

The 2009 vote on Standing Rock came out of the 2007 suit. How could it vote in favor of it after that testimony? Too many white students were acting out the disrespect and racism embodied in the use of the Fighting Sioux mascot.

But lets go back a bit farther to who the hell this donor was (he died in 2002).

A Nazi-obsessed Donor

From a 2001 article:

Enter Mephisto, dasher boards left. Ralph Engelstad is a Las Vegas casino owner and a major donor to the University of North Dakota, where he was a goalie in the late ’40s. He’s also a guy who’s been fined $1.5 million by the Nevada Gaming Control Board for damaging the reputation of the state by holding, in two separate years, private Hitler’s Birthday parties at his casino, complete with a swastika cake, German food and marching music, bartenders wearing T-shirts with the words “Adolph Hitler European Tour 1939-45,” and a life-size portrait of Hitler inscribed “To Ralphie from Adolph, 1939.” He says he despises Hitler, and that the parties were merely “spoofs” meant to celebrate new purchases for his collection of Nazi memorabilia.

Yeah, right….

Here’s an excerpt of a letter he wrote to UND in 2000, yes almost 12 years ago, about the mascot issue:

If the logo and slogan are not approved by the above-mentioned date, I will then write a letter on December 30, 2000, to all contractors and to everybody associated with the arena, canceling their construction contracts for the completion of the arena. I am a man of my word, and I will see to it that a settlement is made with all subcontractors, with anyone who has purchased prepaid advertising. I will refund money to all ticket holders and abandon the project. It would then be left up to you if you want to complete it, with money from wherever you may be able to find it.

I have spent, as of this time, in excess of $35 million, which I will consider a bad investment, but I will take my lumps and walk away.

As I am sure you realize, the commitment I made to the university of North Dakota was, I believe, one of the 10 largest ever made to a school of higher education, but if it is not completed, I am sure it will be the number one building never brought to completion at a school of higher education, due to your changing the logo and the slogan.

You need to think how changing this logo and slogan will affect not just the few that are urging the name change, but also how it will affect the university as a while, the students, the city of Grand forks, and the state of North Dakota.

If I walk away and abandon the project, please be advised that we will shut off all temporary heat going to this building, and I am sure that nature, through its cold weather, will completely destroy any portion of the building through frost that you might be able to salvage. I surely hoped that it would never come to this, but I guess it has.

It is a good thing that you are an educator because you are a man of indecision, and, and if you were a businessman, you would not succeed, you would be broke immediately.

Please do not consider this letter a threat in any manner, as it is not intended to be. It is only notification to you of exactly what I am going to do if you change this logo and this slogan.

In the event it is necessary to cancel the completion of the arena, I will then send notification to anyone who is interested, informing them of the same, and laying out to them all of the facts and all of the figures from all of the meetings that led me to make this decision.

Your lack of making a decision has hung over our heads too long, and we can’t go on with it any further.

It is your choice if you want to put hundreds of construction workers out of a job, and deprive the local businesses of Grand forks of the income they are receiving f4rom the construction of the arena.

Always sticking to the economic blackmail, as is typical of the right.

By now it should be clear that the Fighting Sioux mascot was directly related to harassment of American Indian students at the University of North Dakota, and that the racism that it promotes was directly related to the frequency of the “prairie nigger” epithet. The example I cited from the testimony wasn’t the only instance of this kind of racial harassment. Similar incidents, including hateful emails, are documented in articles describing tensions in the early 2000s.

So, if you look at the UND website, you’ll see an overlay about the transition, which seems to have taken place immediately after the Nov 10 vote by the North Dakota legislature.

Can we now work on retiring the epithet “prairie nigger” too? I’m not naive enough to believe that nobody will hear that again, but with this mascot issue gone, I’m hoping that there will at least be LESS harassment of American Indian students.

Here are the references from that article:


American Indian opinion leaders: American Indian mascots. (2001, August 7). Indian Country Today Retrieved May 22, 2002 from

Berkhofer, R. F. (1978). The White man’s Indian: Images of the American Indian from Columbus to present. New York: Vintage/Random Rouse.

Bird, S. E. (Ed.). (1996). Dressing in feathers: The construction of the Indian in American popular culture. Boulder, CO: Westview.

Brown et al V. Board of Education of Topeka et al. (1954) 347 U.S. 483.

Clark, D. A. (2002). Someone inside me, there is a memory of my grandfathers:Mis-educated representations of “Indians, those symbolic insiders.” Unpublished manuscript.

Coombe, R.J. (1998). Embodied trademarks: Mimesis and alterity on American commercial frontiers. Cultural Anthropology, 11(2), 202-224.

Davis, L. R. (1993). Protest against the use of Native American mascots: A challenge to traditional American identity. Journal of Sport & Social Issues, 17(1), 9-22.

Davis, t. R. (2002, Summer). The problems with Native American mascots. Multicultural Education, 9(4) 11-14.

Davis, L. R., & Rau, M. (2001). Escaping the tyranny of the majority: A case study of mascot change. In C. R. King & C. fl Springwood (Eds.), Team spirits: The Native American mascot controversy (pp.221-238). Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.

Deloria, P. J. (1998). Playing Indian. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Farnell, B. (in press). The fancy dance of racializing discourse. American Indian Quarterly.

Fenelon, J. V. (1999). Indian icons in the world series of racism: Institutionalization of the racial symbols of wahoos and Indians. Research in Politics and Society (6): 25-45.

Goldberg, B. (2001).Bias:A CBS insider exposes how the media distort the news. Washington, DC: Regnery Publishing.

Green, R. (1988). The tribe called wannabee: Playing Indian in America and Europe. Folklore, 99, 30-55.

Greenfeld, L. A.& Smith, S. K. (1999). American Indians and crime. Washington, DC:Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Grounds, R. (2001, June). Tallahassee, Osceola, and the hermenuetics of American place-names. Journal of the American Academy of Religion, 69(2), 287-322.

Hooks b. (1992). Black looks: Race and representation. Boston: South End Press.

Jaimes, M. A. (1992). The state of Native America: Genocide, colonization, and resistance. Boston: South End Press.

King, C. R. (2001). Uneasy Indians: Creating and contesting Native American mascots at Marquette University. In C. R. King & C. F. Springwood (Eds.), Team spirits: The Native American mascot controversy (pp. 281-303). Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.

King, C. H. (2002). Defensive dialogues: Native American mascots, Anti-Indianism, and educational institutions. SIMILE: Studies in Media and information Literacy Education, 2(1). Retrieved from – Dead link >

King, C. H. (in press). Arguing over images: Native American mascots and race. In H. A. Lind (Ed.), Race /gender~media: Considering diversity across audiences, content, and producers. Boston: ABLongrnan.

King, C. R., & Springwood, C. F. (2000). Fighting spirits: The racial politics of sports mascots. Journal of Sport & Social Issues, 24(3): 282-304.

King, C. R., & Springwood, C. F (2001a). Beyond the cheers: Race as spectacle in college sports Albany: State University of New York Press.

King, C. R., & Spriagwood, C. F (Eds.). (2001b). Team spirits: The Native American mascot controversy Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.

KoIb, J. J. (2001). Indian mascots: Activists say change needs to begin at home. American Indian Report 11(3): 24-25.

Mihesuah, D. A. (1996). American Indians: Stereotypes and realities. Atlanta, GA:
Clarity Press.

Nagel,J. (1995). American Indian ethnic renewal: Politics and the resurgence of identity. American Sociological Review, 60, 947-965.

Pewewardy, C. D. (1991). Native American mascots and imagery: The struggle of unlearning stereotypes. Journal of Navajo Education, 9(1), 19-23.

Pewewardy, C. D. (2001). Educators and mascots: Challenging contradictions. In C. R. King & C. F Springwood (Eds.), Team spirits: The Native American mascot controversy (pp. 257-278). Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.

Pewewardy, C. D. (2002, May). From subhuman to superhuman: Images of First Nations people in comic books [Electronic version). Studies in Media & Information Literacy Education, 2(2), Retrieved from

Rosenstein, J. (1996). In whose honor? American Indian mascots in sports [Film]. (Available from New Day Films, 22-D Hollywood Avenue, Ho-ho-kus, NJ, 07423)

Shively, J. (1992). Cowboys and Indians: Perceptions of western film by American Indians and Anglos. American Sociological Review, 57(6), 725-734.

Sigelman, L. (1998). Hail to the Redskins? Public reactions to a racially insensitive team name. Sociology of Sport Journal, 15(4), 317-325.

Slapin, B., & Seale, D. (1998)-Through Indian eyes: The native experience in books for children. Berkeley, CA: Oyate.

Spindel, C. (2000). Dancing at halftime: Sports and the controversy over American Indian mascots. New York: New York University Press.

Springwood, C. F. (2001). Playing Indian and fighting (for) mascots: Reading the complications of Native American and Euro-American alliances. In C. R. King & C. F. Springwood (Eds.), Team spirits: The Native American mascot controversy (pp. 304-327). Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.

Springwood, C. F. (in press). I’M an Indian too! Claiming Native American identity, crafting authority in mascot debates. American Indian Quarterly.

Stapleton, B. (2001). Redskins: Racial slur or symbol of success? San Jose, CA: Writers Club Press.That

Staurowsky, E. J. (1998). An act of honor or exploitation? The Cleveland Indians’ use of the Louis Francis Sockalexis story. Sociology of Sport Journal, 15(4), 299-316.

Staurowsky, E. J. (2000). The “Cleveland Indians”: A case study of American Indian cultural dispossession. Sociology of Sport Journal, 17(4): 307-330.

Trainor, D. J. (1995). Native American mascots, schools and the Title VI hostile environment analysis. University of Illinois Law Review, 5, 971-997.

Journal of Sport & Social Issues, Volume 26, No.4, November 2002, pp. 381-402

Lifting the Digital Curtain: an NN Pepsi Challenge

( – promoted by navajo)

Pepsi Challenge Grant Lifting the Digital Curtain

Many communities across the United States, especially rural communities and communities of color, live behind a digital divide. They don’t have access to the same online organizing tools as urban white upper and middle class neighborhoods. And, at the same time, progressives find it difficult to engage the under-served.

Each year, at Netroots Nation, bloggers bemoan the fact that too few people of color are included or heard. We reach out again and again to the blogging world to recruit African Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans and other people of color. And each year we fall short of the mark because we cannot find the activists we seek in sufficient numbers among bloggers.

I have a different kind of idea. Let’s help leaders of community health coalitions attend Netroots Nation to introduce them to online organizing tools. More below the jump:

Communities Joined in Action is a national alliance of community health coalitions working to end disparities in health care. CJA believes health care is a Civil Rights issue and it works to create Civil Rights facts on the ground by teaching coalitions in underserved communities to use the Affordable Care Act and other tools to insure access to quality health care among the poor, people of color, the homeless and other hard-to-reach populations.

This year, we have created a Marketing and New Media Committee dedicated to teaching coalitions to build power through community organizing, and to make use of online organizing tools. We have submitted a Pepsi Challenge Grant to bring 24 coalition participants to Netroots Nation in Providence, RI to caucus with bloggers and to learn on and offline organizing techniques.

IMG_6069Last year, I brought three colleagues from Rio Arriba County in Northern New Mexico, to Netroots Nation in Minneapolis. (Here I am with David Trujillo after a long day of flying. Photo Credit to navajo.) We attended the Native American and Latino Caucuses as well as workshops in community organizing, messaging, online tools, etc. Since then, we have hired a Public Information Officer, revamped our County and health council websites, even including a blog so that we can communicate directly with the public (unmediated by our Fox-like local paper).

In a week and a half, mindoca is coming to Rio Arriba County to teach a team of us to use (and teach others to use) new media tools such as Twitter, Facebook and blogs. She’s going to teach us to incorporate their use into advocacy campaigns, marketing of our website and blog, community strengthening activities and legislative action. Mindoca also came out to the annual CJA conference in Washington DC where she trained coalitions to use online tools in their organizing efforts, and to organize to build community power.

We want to come back to NN this year and we want to bring colleagues from other communities of color with us. We want to come back in force.

I, TheFatLadySings, known to my non-blogging friends as Lauren Reichelt, have been tapped to chair this new CJA Marketing and New Media committee. I have submitted a Pepsi Challenge Grant for $50,000 to help Communities Joined in Action to bring a large CJA delegation to NN 2012. And I will help CJA to develop webinars to teach community coalitions across the US to use some of these tools.

We need your help. Specifically, we need you to promote and vote for our grant application.  Go to refresheverything and sign up for an account with Pepsi. Then go to Lifting the Digital Curtain and vote for us. You can vote five times a day. We certainly hope you will vote all five times for us!

IMG_6216If funded, our grant will also send two members of Native American Netroots who would not otherwise be able to go, to Providence. And NAN will help Communities Joined in Action to recruit Native American Coalitions as members. (This is navajo’s photo of navajo, meteor blades, Lucia Sanchez and Raymond Ortiz at the NAN caucus last year.)

We hope to see you at Providence. We hope to be able to tell you there about the many wonderful facets of the Affordable Care Act that are helping us to eliminate health disparities. And we hope to learn from you to use online tools to register and mobilize our communities to vote.

Help us to help you by voting for: Lifting the Digital Curtain

And tell a friend.

We need diarists to help us promote this cause every day in December. Sign up for a day in the comment thread below.

The Yavapai Indians

The 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo between the United States and Mexico gave the United States what is now the southwest. Under the Discovery Doctrine-a legal concept under which Christian nations are given the right, and perhaps the obligation, to govern all non-Christian nations-the Yavapai became a domestic dependent nation within the American empire. The Yavapai, living in their homeland in an area which would later become known as Arizona, did not know that they had become a part of the United States.  

First, about terminology: the name Yavapai may be derived from En-ya-va-pai-aa which means “people of the sun,” or from Yawepe which means “crooked mouth people.”

Second, the Yavapai are not Apache, although many nineteenth-century Americans and a few twentieth-century historians considered them to be an Apache group. Linguistically they are classified as Upland  or Northern Yuman and thus most closely related to the Walapai (Hualapai) and Havasupai.

Politically, the Yavapai were not a single political entity, but were a loose association of locally organized groups speaking mutually intelligible but nevertheless distinct subdialects. The Yavapai were divided into three groups: Yavepe (also spelled Yavapé; Northeastern Yavapai), Tolkapaya (also spelled Tolkepaya; the Western Yavapai), and Kewevkapaya (also spelled Kwevkepaya; the Southeastern Yavapai). In addition, there may have been a fourth group: the Wipukepa.  

Yavapai oral tradition tells that the people first emerged from the underground through a large hole called Ahagaskiaywa. Today this hole is identified as Montezuma’s Well. After some time, water flooded from the hole and destroyed all of the people except for a single woman who found refuge in a hollow log.

Traditional Yavapai territory stretched from the San Francisco Peaks in the north, to the Pinal Mountains in the east, and to the confluence of the Gila and Colorado Rivers in the southwest. Some archaeologists feel that the Patayan culture which developed along the Colorado River about 1,300 years ago was ancestral to the Yavapai. These scholars suggest that about 700 years ago, some Patayan groups began leaving the Colorado River area and moving east into the highlands of Arizona. These groups then evolved into the Yavapai.

Hunting was an important source of food for the Yavapai. The primary big game animals hunted by the Yavapai were mule deer, pronghorn antelope, elk, and desert bighorn sheep. Deer were driven into blinds by a number of men hunting together. In addition, the deer were stalked by hunters who were camouflaged with deer-headed masks. They also hunted rabbits, squirrels, skunks, porcupines, raccoons, bobcats, mountain lions, wild turkeys, quail, desert tortoises, and lizards.

The Yavapai followed an annual round based on the ripening of wild plant foods in different zones. They would travel from one area to another, timing their arrival so that the wild foods would be ready for harvest. Yavapai families exploited a great variety of wild foods.

Following their annual round, the Yavapai women would begin harvesting squawberries and other green plants at lower elevations in May. They would then gather mesquite beans and various cactus fruits (including saguaros). Next, they would begin harvesting ironwood and palo verde seedpods which would be ground into meal. As these plants went out of season in midsummer, the Yavapai would move into the higher elevations where they would exploit resources such as walnuts and manzanita berries. By early fall, they would be gathering acorns, juniper berries, and prickly pear fruits. As the weather cooled in October, they would turn to gathering piñon nuts and assorted berries.

One of the wild foods that was important to the Yavapai and to the other Yuman-speaking tribes in the region was agave, a succulent which was usually gathered in the Spring. Agave, also known as the century plant, was the most dependable source of carbohydrates for many tribes. The Yavapai roasted the agave in pits lined with heated stones. It would usually take a day to prepare the agave to be roasted and then roasting would take another day and a half. Women would pound and dry the roasted agave flesh, producing fibrous slabs that were easily transported or cached and lasted for years. For the Yavapai, agave was often their staple food.

The Yavapai supplemented their hunting and gathering with agriculture. For them, agriculture was unpredictable, difficult, and hard work. The Yavapai planted corn, beans, squash, and tobacco in washes, streams, and near springs. In some areas, they would also plant watermelons, pumpkins, and sunflowers. Following planting, the band would leave to engage in gathering and hunting, returning to the fields intermittently and finally for harvest. They would return in late summer and early fall to harvest whatever had matured and had not been eaten by animals.

The Yavapai would sometimes water their fields with small irrigation ditches. The banks of dependable, slow-moving streams like the Verde River provided the best planting areas. These were also ideal for weirs and diversion ditches.

The Yavapai were active traders and often went on trading expeditions to the west coast, south into Mexico, and north into Paiute country. They also traded with the Hopi and Zuni. At the villages on the Hopi mesas, the Yavapai would barter for corn, fruit, and blankets. Navajo traders would often bring these same goods to Yavapai camps.

The primary form of housing for the Yavapai was the domed hut called a uwa. This structure, oval in shape covering an area about 10 feet by 20 feet, was framed with ocotillo (cactus) branches or other wood, then covered with layers of grass, bark, dirt, and animal skins. In the summer, the uwas were built without walls to allow the cooling breeze to flow through, while in the winter they were closed huts.  The Yavapai often temporarily camped in caves and rockshelters that could easily be heated by fire.

Yavapai Shelter

Among the Yavapai basketry was an important craft. They made burden baskets, parching trays (flat baskets for winnowing and parching seeds), water bottles (smeared with pitch to make them water proof), and containers for boiling food. In boiling food, the baskets were filled with water which was brought to a boil by adding hot rocks. The baskets were made with coiling and twining techniques.

Yavapai Basket

A Yavapai basket is shown above.

In general, the Yavapai lived in small bands of extended families which were identified with certain geographic regions in which they resided. Government among the Yavapai tended to be informal. There were no tribal chiefs. Certain men became leaders because others chose to follow them, heeded their advice, and supported their decisions. Men who were noted for their skills as warriors were called mastava (not afraid) or bamulva (person who goes forward). Other warriors were willing to follow such men into combat. Some Yavapai men were noted for their wisdom and speaking ability. Called bakwauu (person who talks), they would settle disputes within the camp and advise others on the selection of campsites, work ethics, and food production.

For the Yavapai, disease and illness were caused by evil spirits. The medicine people-called basemachas-would counteract the evil spirits by singing, dancing, smudging with different herbs, and with the use of gourd rattles. Using a variety of dry colors-red clay, charcoal, yellow pollen, and others-the basemachas would create spiritual pictures in the sand. Following this, the ceremonial participants would rub the powders from the picture on the bodies.

Among the southwestern Yavapai there is a group curing ceremony in which masked dancers impersonate spirits called Akoka. The dancers are summoned into a brush enclosure by a shaman swinging a noise maker. The patients are treated by the masked dancers by having pollen placed on different parts of their bodies.  

The Chemawa Indian School

During the nineteenth and part of the twentieth century, American policies regarding Indians focused on assimilation. Under these policies, the American government sought to destroy Indian cultures: their religions, their languages, their manner of dress, their government, their traditional economies, their traditional families, and anything that might be considered Indian. Individual Indians were to assimilate into American mainstream society. One of the primary mechanisms of assimilation was the boarding school.

Chemawa 5

Inspired by the glowing success stories coming from the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania, the Indian Office (which would later become the Bureau of Indian Affairs) in 1879 decided that a boarding school should be established in Oregon to provide middle and high school education for the Indian nations along the Pacific Coast. In an off-reservation location, far removed from parental and tribal influences, the Indian Office felt that educators would be able to inculcate their students with the primary tenets of American society: patriotism, Christianity, the English language, and husbandry.

Initially, the location selected for the new school was Forest Grove in a site adjacent to Pacific University. It was originally named the Normal and Industrial Training School, but it would later become the Forest Grove Indian Training School, the Salem Indian Industrial School, the Harrison Institute, and finally, the Chemawa Indian Boarding School. Hereafter the school will be referred to simply as Chemawa.

Chemawa 6

The photograph above is from the Oregon State Library.

Classes at the new school began with 18 students (14 boys and 4 girls), all from the Puyallup Reservation. School superintendent Edwin Chalcraft writes:

“Chemawa was essentially a vocational school, where attention was about equally divided in training both the hand and the mind, the object being to prepare students to go forth after graduation and take their place with other citizens of our Country.”

In 1880, President Rutherford B. Hayes visited Chemawa to see for himself how the government was educating Indian children. In a speech to the crowd who had come to see him, the President told them that some people in the United States had come to the conclusion that God had decreed that Indians should die off like wild animals. He went on to say:

“If they are to become extinct, we ought to leave that to Providence, and we, as good patriotic, Christian people, should do our best to improve their physical, mental, and moral condition.”

He also reminded people that the Indians had once owned America and that the Americans displaced them. He concluded by saying:

“I am glad that Oregon has taken a step in the right direction. I am glad that she is preparing Indian boys and girls to become good, law-abiding citizens.”

In 1885, fire destroyed the original school and the facility was moved to its present location just north of Salem, Oregon.

With regard to the role of Indian boarding schools, One Indian agent wrote in 1887:

“Education cuts the cord which binds them to a pagan life, places the Bible in their hands, and substitutes the true God for the false one, Christianity in place of idolatry, civilization in place of superstition, morality in place of vice, cleanliness in place of filth, industry in place of idleness, self-respect in place of servility, and, in a word, an elevated humanity in place of abject degradation.”

In 1897, Chemawa obtained a foot-power printing press and began publication of a school newspaper called the Chemawa American. School superintendent Edwin Chalcraft reports:

“The Chemawa American, issued weekly in magazine form, seven by ten inches in size, contained sixteen to twenty-four pages of reading matter, and four to six pages of advertising by Salem merchants.”

Chemawa 3

The basic concept of the American Indian boarding schools, pioneered by Carlisle and Chemawa, was that the students, under the guise of industrial education would actually underwrite a good portion of their education through their free labor. By 1921, federal funding for boarding schools was $204 per student. This compares with $360 per boy at state reform schools and $436 per girl at state schools for girls. In order for the boarding schools to operate at these costs, students were required to work for their room and board.

In 1934, federal Indian policy changed: no longer was the primary focus on assimilation, but instead the tribes were allowed more self-government. With regard to education, it was now more possible to teach Indian cultures in the boarding schools. In 1939, Chemawa began the Reservation Survey Course. This survey course was designed to teach the students about their own reservations and the surrounding areas. It was felt that this would help them to select a more useful vocational course that would offer the best chance at employment on their reservations. Homerooms were established by tribal affiliation and each had a council modeled on the tribal council. It was hoped that students would become familiar with their reservation environment and would eventually take their place in the reservation community. The course was inspired by the 1934 Indian Reorganization Act.

At the end of World War II, Indian policies once again began to change: there was pressure to return to assimilation. In 1945, Chemawa began to require a course in Ethics and Christian Doctrine for all grades:

“All students are required to attend and for this reason the ministers have been asked not to stress a particular creed but to present moral and christian [sic] doctrine such that it will be accepted by any student regardless of his chosen faith.”

When the Bureau of Indian Affairs found out about the class the school was informed that it was illegal to require a religion class.

In 1950, the Commissioner of Indian Affairs ordered classes in BIA schools to stop stressing Native culture and to prepare Indian students for off-reservation employment. This included the reinstitution of the old efforts to curb the use of Native languages

In 1956, the regular academic program at Chemawa was terminated and the focus shifted to the Navajo Special Education Program. The Navajo are a southwestern tribe, far away from Oregon. Only 150 non-Navajo students remained at the school and these were to be transferred to public schools or to other boarding schools.

By 1967 there were sufficient educational facilities on the Navajo reservation so the Bureau of Indian Affairs began phasing out the Navajo students at Chemawa. Once again education at Chemawa emphasized an academic high school program. The vocational program was reduced to a pre-vocational program that included cooking, office practice, welding, auto shop, and small engine repair.

In 1976, the Affiliated Northwest Tribes met at Chemawa and unanimously agreed that the school was

“essential for an Alternative Educational Resource for the forty-two Northwest reservations and urban areas.”

By 1977, Chemawa’s mission was to provide for the enrichment and future prosperity of all Native American peoples. In the words of one staff member:

“Its prime function is to produce and prepare Native American peoples capable of performing adequately, if not superiorly, within a world society that is economically and financially dominant without having to degrade, denounce or substitute their culture heritage or uniqueness.”

Today, Chemawa remains as one of two Indian boarding schools in the United States. It is the oldest continuously operated boarding school in the United States.

Chemawa Cem

Centuries of Genocide: Modoc Indians, Part V (Termination Era, 1954-1986)

( – promoted by navajo)


photo credit: Aaron Huey

Don’t worry if you missed previous installments. This diary will serve as a stand-alone and as part of the series.

In the 20th century, there were two separate, legal, Modoc entities: the Klamath Tribes of Oregon, which includes the Klamath, Modoc, and Yahuskin peoples (a band of Snake Indians), created by an 1864 Treaty, and the Modoc Tribe of Oklahoma, who were created out of the US Army’s POWs from the Modoc War of 1872-1873.

Blogging is a self-reflexive and responsive activity. Several commentators have appeared, calling these diaries “whining” about the past. Not relevant to present concerns.  That is not true.  This is a generational series, and by starting off with contact, we’ve worked our way with a context to the 20th century. We’ve covered the eras of (Fur) Trade, the First Reservation System (they stay over there) the Second Reservation System, (they move to there) the Indian Wars in the West, (kill the people) forced removal (we send them there) the Assimilation Era (save the man, kill the Indian) and now we come to a forgotten time. It’s forgotten even though many of its survivors are still alive: The Termination Era. And many of you were alive then, too.

What is Termination? If I was to tell you that an Indian tribe legally existed and then it later didn’t, you might find that a little surprising. But that’s exactly what happened, multiple times, in modern American history.  So along came a proponent of assimilation.  He was a Western senator, a Mormon, moderately conservative, of the Republican Party. And he had a plan that would legally extinguish Modoc people in Oregon.

Geographic and Economic Context

In order to understand the termination of the Klamath Tribes, we need to talk about money, politics and God.  With the Fourth and Fifth Generations since contact nearly all dead, Modoc people in Oregon were fully transformed. Once a people of marshes (originally called “Lake Indians”) who would subsist on the woca lily, fish, waterfowl and their eggs, and big game, the Modoc people now lived far to the north, east of Crater Lake in the Ponderosa pine forests of the Klamath Reservation. The Sixth and Seventh Generations grew up speaking English and were Christians–Methodists mostly. Forced dependency on western foods–flour, sugar, salt–made for a semi-Western diet.

All together, the land that had been lost by the three tribes totaled 23 million acres. By comparison, in 1888, the Klamath reservation spanned 1,056,000 acres (that equals 4.5%).  The rights to fish, hunt and gather on the reservation were retained. However, the reservation was resource poorer land than the wetlands and the major rivers to the south.  Attempts to farm as instructed by missionaries had failed. But since all three tribes considered horses a form of wealth, cattle ranching easily translated into a major industry.  Back in the 1850s, cattle on Modoc land was a source of contention as settlers passed through, and Modocs treated the animals as game. But historically, the largest industry of all proved to be timber.  Shortly before the war had began in 1870, a sawmill was finally constructed, as promised in the 1864 treaty.

By the 1880s, Modoc people were transporting goods across Klamath County, down to the main settlement at Linkville, now Klamath Falls, which is on the eastern side of Klamath Lake.  In 1911, reservation timber sales soared with the advent of the railroad economy in the county.  

At the turn of the century, the US was reaching a peak of industrialization; port cities across the West Coast blossomed. That meant a lot of construction–wood construction.

Timber management made the Klamath Tribes one of the richest in the nation.  While pictures of early Portland show a tree-bereft landscape out to the horizon, the Klamath Tribes did not clear-cut.  They would select individual trees, from which sale proceeds would enter a tribal (communal) fund.  There always was (and still is) resentment towards Indians, especially Klamath Tribes people, as to Indian wealth management and resource rights.


Indian policy at this time had taken a turn. Now considered mostly Westernized–educated at boarding schools, English speaking, hair cut, and Christian, not to mention off the valuable land and hidden away at former POW camps–officials saw Indians as mostly benign. In their eyes, assimilation had succeeded. Indians were granted the right to vote in the 20th century. To complete assimilation, Indians would have to be no longer legally separated from society.

The path to termination began in the 1940s, coinciding with the Cold War. The Cold War was at its “hottest” from 1948, when Stalin blockaded Berlin, to the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. Washington D.C. saw itself in a struggle to defend free markets and democracy both against collective ownership and authoritarian government.  With an American people firmly adhering to generations of rugged individualism philosophy, with warfare seen as positive again (it was despised in the 20th century until WWII) and a deep animosity towards collective ownership, it’s not hard to imagine the sentiments felt by both non-Indians in Klamath County and non-Indian lawmakers in Washington as to the Tribes.

From 1947 to 1959, Arthur V. Watkins served as US senator (sorry for the error) from Utah. He had been a rancher on 600 acres, a Columbia University-educated lawyer and a missionary for the Church of Latter-Day Saints. He remained highly active in the Church.

Watkins was not a rabid anticommunist, but he was fully anathema to Indian values and became the leading proponent of Termination. He saw termination as the completion of assimilation. The senator envisioned benefits from the erasure of differences between Indians and whites (who would eventually breed out the Indian). Actually, he went further, comparing termination to the emancipation of slaves during the Civil War, freeing them from wardship of the state.  Watkins chaired the Senate Interior Committee Subcommittee on Indian Affairs.

Termination Begins

In 1953, the US Congress officially began Termination Era legislation with House Concurrent Resolution 108:

Whereas it is the policy of Congress, as rapidly as possible, to make the Indians within the territorial limits of the United States subject to the same laws and entitled to the same privileges and responsibilities as are applicable to other citizens of the United States, to end their status as wards of the United States, and to grant them all of the rights and prerogatives pertaining to American citizenship.

Responsibilities here means federal and state taxes to which legally recognized Indian tribes were not subject. This use of wards arises from perception, dating to surveys in 1943, that found that American Indians were living in abject poverty across the nation. Officials believed they were doing the morally right thing and correcting government abuse by termination. Bureau of Indian Affairs compiled a list of the most economically prosperous tribes to start the termination process. The Klamath Tribes were the second richest. That year, Congress passed Public Law 280, which gave the states legal jurisdiction over all but a couple reservations in the US.

The next year, 1954, was the 90th anniversary of the creation of the Klamath Tribes. Through the heavy involvement of Watkins and like-minded legislators, the first American Indian tribe would be terminated by the Menominee Termination Act.  That August, Congress passed the Klamath Termination Act. Only four years prior, Jennie Clinton, the last Modoc War survivor died.  The Modoc people would legally no longer exist. It only took seven generations since contact.


Termination was not immediate. In fact, Klamath Tribes members could choose between remaining as tribal members or accepting a payment for an individual land parcel to be ceded, but only one choice had much incentive.  Federal recognition of the tribe ceased, and with that, the hunting and fishing rights. And with that abrogation, even more water rights had been lost across the generations. A total of 1660 people withdrew from the tribe. Those remaining became part of a management plan handled by a bank up north in Portland.

The Klamath Reservation lands entered the US Forest Service system, where the lands were badly managed. One portion of former reservation fell under US Fish and Wildlife management. The Tribes state that “the Deer population (while in State and Federal control) went from 60 per sq. mile in the 1950’s, to approximately 4 per sq. mile today, in the former reservation area.”

Modoc people along with the other tribes suffered increasing poverty. The small town of Chiloquin, at the former center of the Klamath Reservation, saw an influx of new whites and a rise in violence. A town of less than 1000 became known as one of the most dangerous places in Oregon: robberies, kidnappings, unsolved disappearances and shootings.

The Seventh and Eighth Generations knew Termination. Kossack deeproots bears witness in the comments:

I remember what happened with the Klamath/Modoc (2+ / 0-)

termination.  Although my family is not Native American, my father had lived and worked in Klamath County and had a number of Klamath friends.  He was in anguish as he saw what happened to so many members of the tribe.  Those who took the cash settlements were preyed upon by merchants in Klamath Falls who sold them stoves and refrigerators when some didn’t even have electricity in their homes, and they jacked up the prices of everything, especially automobiles, which many Klamaths wanted.  The money was soon gone for many former tribal members, who then had absolutely nothing.  Those who kept their land did somewhat better, although the loss of hunting and fishing rights was grievous.  My father said the U.S. government was trying to kill off the Indians and was doing a damn good job of it.  

Congressional termination of tribes ended in the 1960s. Other aspects of Indian policy proved more pernicious. Discreet sterilizations of American Indian women, without their consent or knowledge, date back to the early 20th century and continued until at least the late 1970s. These were especially common in Oregon, the last state to employ sterilization, where it may have continued into the early 1980s. The Indian Adoption Era officially lasted from Termination into the 1970s. With tribes no longer federally recognized, Indian individuals could be adopted by white families and the process of assimilation completed.  Even members of the Ninth Generation of Modoc people since contact, Millenials, have been adopted out to non-Indian families.

Centuries of Genocide: Modoc Indians

Part I (Contact, 1820-1852)

Part II (First Reservation Era, 1852-1872)

Part III (War and Second Reservation Era, 1872-1950)

Part IV (Removal Era, 1873-1909)

Tribal Restoration and Dick Cheney will feature in the next (and final?) part of this series.