I’ve been watching with interest, the political battles over the names of big-league sports teams: Washington Redskins, Cleveland Indians, etc. Apparently these designations are offensive to the Native American peoples of our nation, and we should show them respect by changing the names.
But hold the phone for a moment. I live in Southern California, the home of dozens of Native American tribes (which, despite being politically correct, is actually a eurocentric designation in itself). These include Agua Caliente, Augustine, Buena Vista, Campo, Capitan Grande, Cupeño, Fernandeño, Fort Mojave, Gabrieleño, Inezeño, La Jolla, La Posta, Los Coyotes, Luiseño, Manzanita, Mesa Grande, Migueleño, Obispeño, Ramona, Rincon, San Clemente, San Manuel, San Pasqual, Santa Rosa, Santa Ynez, Santa Ysabel, Serrano, Ventureño, Viejas, and others. These names reflect the influence of Spanish colonists and missionaries as they encroached from the South.
Other tribal names include Benton, Big Pine, Bishop, Blue Lake, Bridgeport, Cloverdale, Death Valley, Fort Independence, Lone Pine, Manchester, Mission, and Twentynine Palms. These names reflect the influence of the White man as he encroached from the East.
These are the names they call themselves, in just the southern half of the state. Yet, curiously, they are not “Indian” names; rather, they are slave names brought by outsiders. This is a strange response for a proud people who long to celebrate an ancient heritage and cast off the shackles of foreign invaders who stole their land.
Further, if I should venture out to the desert, I will encounter many “Indian” casinos. (Their designation, not mine.) Again, this is an appellation imposed by foreigners -- in this case Columbus, when he relied on a faulty map and mistakenly believed that he had landed in India.
I’m beginning to think that Malcolm Little had the right idea in 1952, when he changed his last name to X, to signify his family’s unknown ancestral name. Or the traditionalist citizens of Myanmar, who continue to call their nation by its old name Burma, because they refuse to recognize the legitimacy of the new military dictatorship.
So should the sports teams change their names? I don’t know. I don’t have a dog in this fight, so as to have much of an opinion. But to this observer, it seems, the tribes can’t have it both ways. If they want to be respected by outsiders, they should start by respecting themselves.