FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Of Scalps and Savages

by RUTH HOPKINS

Before I head out the door, I watch Morning Joe on MSNBC. It’s part of my workday routine. Yesterday they were talking about the latest issue of the New Republic and its lead story, entitled, “How the NRA is Going Down: This is How the NRA Ends.” Since the Newtown tragedy, Republican Joe Scarborough, the show’s host, is openly advocating for gun control. Still, Joe disagreed with the assertion that the NRA’s power and influence is eroding, especially in the wake of recently defeated gun control legislation.

In the midst of this exchange, John Heilemann, an author, journalist and political analyst who frequents Morning Joe (and who occasionally says things that make sense to me), said, “But who’s the SCALP?” John paraphrased this statement by saying, “who’s gonna pay the price for having voted the wrong way?” In other words, John was questioning whether any of the congressmen who voted against the recent legislation in question will be defeated next election specifically because they voted against gun control, i.e. who will be the “scalp” (defined in the dictionary as a “trophy of victory”) that gun control proponents win.

Mr. Heilemann made a perfectly rational argument. Unfortunately his archaic phraseology took me right out of the conversation. The moment he said, “Who’s the SCALP?” my mind immediately raced to the fact that my ancestors (the Dakota people) were hunted down and murdered in their Minnesota homelands in the late 1800s, when then Governor Ramsey placed a $200 bounty on their scalps. Yes, you read that correctly. It was once government policy to encourage civilians to hunt down American Indian men, women and children (human beings), kill them, and rip the flesh from their skulls. Anyone who did so was rewarded handsomely for it.

I wanted to talk about gun control. Hell, I might have written about it. Instead, I’m writing about how colonial language can be used as a tool to denigrate and discriminate against Native people alive today, who are ready and willing to participate in logical conversations with other cogent human beings but are hindered from doing so because of its interjection. These semantics of white privilege serve to enforce old colonial notions that attempt to reduce Natives to primitive caricatures. It suggests that we are not equals. It implies that mainstream society owns Native identity, or that we as Natives are relegated to the past. Mainstream Native appropriation language like, “He went off the reservation,” “Let’s have a powwow,” or “Who’s the SCALP,” and racial slurs like “Pochahottie,” “Redskin,” and “Savage,” among others, all discriminate against Natives and prohibit effective dialogue.

The U.S. Supreme Court, the highest court in the land, still cites case law that calls Native people “savages.” Johnson v. McIntosh (1823), Cherokee Nation v. Georgia (1831), Worcester v.Georgia (1832), Ex Parte Crowdog (1883), and Tee-Hit-Ton Indians v. United States (1955) all refer to Native people as savages directly, or use the language of savagery to justify treating Native people as less than human and unworthy of rights afforded to non-Natives. These cases, in large part, form the basis of Federal Indian Law.

You see, it was crucial for European colonialists to paint Natives as aggressors to justify their own violence against the original inhabitants of this land. While Natives fought against settlers, these battles were waged primarily in self-defense. America invented the “savage Indian” to subjugate Natives, abrogate Tribe’s sovereign rights, and so they could freely initiate war against them for any reason whatsoever. As long as Indigenous peoples are consigned to the post of savage, we are the “other,” and those in power can argue that they do not need to follow their own laws when it comes to us. We are still being forced to deal with the consequences of this “savage” invention.

This column isn’t about whether I took offense to a statement made on a television show. This is about equality. To truly benefit from a diverse global society, we must raise public discourse above antiquated race-based language couched in manifest destiny. Ignorance is no excuse, because Natives are not silent- you’ve only to hear us.

As far as debate is concerned, read Sun Tzu. Throw away your race-based terminology and discover the true nature of your adversary, or ally. Learn about Native history and who we are. To get respect, you must give it. This is how you invite us in as intellectual, physical, and spiritual equals. This is how you might win an argument against me, based on merit alone. But be warned, I count coup with keystrokes and my arrows are dipped in ink. Now, who’s the scalp?

Ruth Hopkins is a Native American writer, blogger, Judge, administrator, a founding writer at Lastrealindians.com, and columnist for Indian Country Today Media Network.

Ruth Hopkins (Sisseton-Wahpeton and Mdewakanton Dakota, Hunkpapa Lakota) is an author, blogger, biologist, activist, judge, columnist for Indian Country Today Media Network, and founding writer with Lastrealindians.com.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
January 20, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Divide and Rule: Class, Hate, and the 2016 Election
Andrew Levine
When Was America Great?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: This Ain’t a Dream No More, It’s the Real Thing
Yoav Litvin
Making Israel Greater Again: Justice for Palestinians in the Age of Trump
Linda Pentz Gunter
Nuclear Fiddling While the Planet Burns
Ruth Fowler
Standing With Standing Rock: Of Pipelines and Protests
David Green
Why Trump Won: the 50 Percenters Have Spoken
Dave Lindorff
Imagining a Sanders Presidency Beginning on Jan. 20
Pete Dolack
Eight People Own as Much as Half the World
Roger Harris
Too Many People in the World: Names Named
Steve Horn
Under Tillerson, Exxon Maintained Ties with Saudi Arabia, Despite Dismal Human Rights Record
John Berger
The Nature of Mass Demonstrations
Stephen Zielinski
It’s the End of the World as We Know It
David Swanson
Six Things We Should Do Better As Everything Gets Worse
Alci Rengifo
Trump Rex: Ancient Rome’s Shadow Over the Oval Office
Brian Cloughley
What Money Can Buy: the Quiet British-Israeli Scandal
Mel Gurtov
Donald Trump’s Lies And Team Trump’s Headaches
Kent Paterson
Mexico’s Great Winter of Discontent
Norman Solomon
Trump, the Democrats and the Logan Act
David Macaray
Attention, Feminists
Yves Engler
Demanding More From Our Media
James A Haught
Religious Madness in Ulster
Dean Baker
The Economics of the Affordable Care Act
Patrick Bond
Tripping Up Trumpism Through Global Boycott Divestment Sanctions
Robert Fisk
How a Trump Presidency Could Have Been Avoided
Robert Fantina
Trump: What Changes and What Remains the Same
David Rosen
Globalization vs. Empire: Can Trump Contain the Growing Split?
Elliot Sperber
Dystopia
Dan Bacher
New CA Carbon Trading Legislation Answers Big Oil’s Call to Continue Business As Usual
Wayne Clark
A Reset Button for Political America
Chris Welzenbach
“The Death Ship:” An Allegory for Today’s World
Uri Avnery
Being There
Peter Lee
The Deep State and the Sex Tape: Martin Luther King, J. Edgar Hoover, and Thurgood Marshall
Patrick Hiller
Guns Against Grizzlies at Schools or Peace Education as Resistance?
Randy Shields
The Devil’s Real Estate Dictionary
Ron Jacobs
Singing the Body Electric Across Time
Ann Garrison
Fifty-five Years After Lumumba’s Assassination, Congolese See No Relief
Christopher Brauchli
Swing Low Alabama
Dr. Juan Gómez-Quiñones
La Realidad: the Realities of Anti-Mexicanism
Jon Hochschartner
The Five Least Animal-Friendly Senate Democrats
Pauline Murphy
Fighting Fascism: the Irish at the Battle of Cordoba
Susan Block
#GoBonobos in 2017: Happy Year of the Cock!
Louis Proyect
Is Our Future That of “Sense8” or “Mr. Robot”?
Charles R. Larson
Review: Robert Coover’s “Huck out West”
David Yearsley
Manchester-by-the-Sea and the Present Catastrophe
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail