By Rita Reynolds
Editor’s note: The following column is in response to Sports Columnist Doug Halberstadt.
At first I took offense to the idea that you do not understand the problem with using Native Americans as mascots, but alas, it is probably our own fault for not making it clear why using Native American symbols is a problem. Obviously, you don’t get it, so let’s start with that.
You are so proud because, to you, using Braves represented strength, reverence and honor. Native Americans honor the earth, all elders, our ancestors, braves, warriors, all things that are part of the earth, living and non-living, the four directions, west, north, east and south, the four elements, fire, water, air and earth, the four sacred herbs, cedar, sage, sweet grass and tobacco. We honor all creatures, swimming, crawling, walking and flying. Each of these are part of the things we respect and honor. Each has a special place when we pray. This is part of our walk in life: respect, honor, reverence, all taught to us as we grow, all part of our lives, religion and prayers.
Using these symbols out of context is where problems begin and how they continue. Learning to honor, knowing that the drum is the heartbeat of our [Native American] nations. Being unaware gives you a pass; remaining unaware does not give you the same pass. Bradley University is trying to finally do the right thing; it is a shame you have not taken the time to understand.
Now for yet another teaching; the word brave represents a young person — willing to sacrifice oneself for the people, to be a protector and to learn Native American ways to become future warriors and leaders. This is a step in our development both necessary and temporary. Being brave is not a way of showing respect; this we do with a special ceremony called “honorings.” Things are given and received, people pray, shake hands and show respect and honor. They may even sing and dance. But the way we honor and respect is definitely different than what you might be used to experiencing.
You named three possibilities for your mascot — gargoyles, lions and eagles. I will not comment on any but the last symbol — eagles. Native Americans believe eagles are the most sacred of birds because they fly highest to the Creator. Their feathers and the birds themselves are considered sacred. My suggestion might be to use the symbol that the eagle represents as brave, majestic, thus keeping the tradition but shedding problems and finding a compromise.
Rita Reynolds is a member of the Native American Awareness Committee in Rockford, a member of Midwest SOARRING, and a resident of Shabbona, Ill.
From the Nov. 14-20, 2012, issue