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

March 23, 2017
Chip Gibbons
Crusader-in-Chief: the Strange Rehabilitation of George W. Bush
Michael J. Sainato
Cybersecurity Firm That Attributed DNC Hacks to Russia May Have Fabricated Russia Hacking in Ukraine
Chuck Collins
Underwater Nation: As the Rich Thrive, the Rest of Us Sink
CJ Hopkins
The United States of Cognitive Dissonance
Howard Lisnoff
BDS, Women’s Rights, Human Rights and the Failings of Security States
Mike Whitney
Will Washington Risk WW3 to Block an Emerging EU-Russia Superstate
John Wight
Martin McGuinnes: Man of War who Fought for Peace in Ireland
Linn Washington Jr.
Ryancare Wreckage
Eileen Appelbaum
What We Learned From Just Two Pages of Trump’s Tax Returns
Mark Weisbrot
Ecuador’s Elections: Why National Sovereignty Matters
Thomas Knapp
It’s Time to End America’s Longest War
Chris Zinda
Aggregate Journalism at Salon
David Welsh
Bay Area Rallies Against Trump’s Muslim Ban II
March 22, 2017
Paul Street
Russiagate and the Democratic Party are for Chumps
Russell Mokhiber
Single-Payer, the Progressive Caucus and the Cuban Revolution
Gavin Lewis
McCarthyite Anti-Semitism Smears and Racism at the Guardian/Observer
Kathy Kelly
Reality and the U.S.-Made Famine in Yemen
Kim C. Domenico
Ending Our Secret Alliance with Victimhood: Toward an Adult Politics
L. Ali Khan
Profiling Islamophobes
Calvin Priest
May Day: Seattle Educators Moving Closer to Strike
David Swanson
Jimmy Breslin on How to Impeach Trump
Dave Lindorff
There Won’t Be Another Jimmy Breslin
Jonathan Latham
The Meaning of Life
Robert Fisk
Martin McGuinness: From “Super-Terrorist” to Super Statesman
Steve Horn
Architect of Federal Fracking Loophole May Head Trump Environmental Council
Binoy Kampmark
Grief, Loss and Losing a Father
Jim Tull
Will the Poor Always Be With Us?
Jesse Jackson
Trump’s “March Massacre” Budget
Joe Emersberger
Rafael Correa and the Future of Ecuador: a Response to James McEnteer
March 21, 2017
Reshmi Dutt-Ballerstadt
On Being the “Right Kind of Brown”
Kenneth Surin
God, Guns, Gays, Gummint: the Career of Rep. Bad Bob Goodlatte
David Rosen
Popular Insurgencies: Reshaping the Political Landscape
Ryan LaMothe
The Totalitarian Strain in American Democracy
Eric Sommer
The House Intelligence Committee: Evidence Not Required
Mike Hastie
My Lai Massacre, 49 Years Later
James McEnteer
An Era Ends in Ecuador: Forward or Back?
Evan Jones
Beyond the Pale
Stansfield Smith
First Two Months in Power: Hitler vs. Trump
Dulce Morales
A Movement for ‘Sanctuary Campuses’ Takes Shape
Pepe Escobar
Could Great Wall of Iron become New Silk Roadblock?
Olivia Alperstein
Trump Could Start a Nuclear War, Right Now
David Macaray
Norwegians Are the Happiest People on Earth
March 20, 2017
Michael Schwalbe
Tears of Solidarity
Patrick Cockburn
Brexit, Nationalism and the Damage Done
Peter Stone Brown
Chuck Berry: the First Poet of Rock and Roll
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail