Old Mother Nature certainly teased us this week with glorious weather on Monday – and even a hope of spring – followed so quickly by 7 or 8 inches of snow here in Hillsdale on Wednesday. Despite the weather, I am enjoying my Spring Break and the opportunity to leisurely work on projects, including this blog, without the “tyranny of the urgent” which normally characterizes my week! I hope the weather hasn’t gotten you down; I really don’t believe it can last forever!
As I’ve written before, the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church met in February. One of the resolutions they approved for the Household – A&N 023 Elimination of So-Called “Native” Names that Promote Negative Stereotypes – has taken on weightier significance for me after learning of the sudden death of Rev. Dcn. Terry Star, a member of Executive Council, on March 4. Deacon Star spoke passionately about this issue and actively worked as an advocate for people marginalized by society, especially native peoples. For Deacon Star this resolution was personal: he was a member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and served his congregation, Standing Rock Episcopal Community, as deacon. At our Diocesan Council meeting on March 1, Bishop Gibbs spoke of Deacon Star’s statement on this resolution from the Executive Council meeting:
“Terry helped us all see (particularly in relationship to the Washington, DC football team), that the “R” word was as offensive to him and other Native peoples as the “N” word was for many of the rest of us. He told of the history of the word and that at one time, there was even a bounty offered for the collection of the skins of Native peoples. Thus for the Washington team to continue to use that name is akin to having a team named using the “N” word…not something any of us would want, approve or tolerate. If that’s true of the “N” word, why is it not true of the “R” word?”
While I was aware of the many discussions arising from the use of these names, I am ashamed to admit that because the issue wasn’t part of my own experience, I hadn’t given it a lot of thought…until now. Now, I have many questions: What image do we present when we stereotype any group of people? And what does it really say to other nations that the football team representing our nation’s capital continues to use this derogatory term? The continued use of these “Native” names flies in the face of the promises made in our Baptismal Covenant to “strive for justice and peace for all people and respect the dignity of every human being.” And this is not just about the NFL; many schools within our own diocese continue to use these names for their sports teams and mascots: Clinton, Plymouth, Tecumseh, Birmingham Brother Rice, Camden-Frontier, Grass Lake, Lansing Sexton, Utica and Walled Lake. I also just learned that the Michigan Department of Civil Rights filed a lawsuit against schools with Native American mascots in May 2013 but the case was dismissed because there were no individual plaintiffs reporting specific harm from these names. While, perhaps, there was no evidence of physical injury to any particular individual, can we assert that no emotional damage is done? How does this differ from other forms of name calling which we would agree are a form of bullying? Here’s a link to the complaint – http://www.michigan.gov/mdcr/0,4613,7-138-5933—,00.html
The question came up in Clinton a few years ago when it managed to get on the school board agenda but no positive outcome came from the effort. And it continues to arise in this small, rural community. Just this past summer, the student handbook/planner for Clinton High School came out with “Redskins” emblazoned across its cover. Ironically, inside the handbook, the code of conduct clearly states that bullying and harassment are unacceptable citing bullying to include “taunting, malicious teasing, insulting, name calling, [and] making threats” and harassment as “racial slurs, mocking behavior, or other demeaning comments.” How does the use of the “R” word on the cover of their handbook not fall under any of these categories?
Here’s the resolution:
A&N 023 Elimination of So-Called “Native” Names that Promote Negative Stereotypes
The following is a true copy of a Resolution adopted by the Executive Council at its meeting from February 5-7, 2014 at which a quorum was present and voting.
Resolved, that the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church, meeting in Linthicum Heights, MD, from February 5-7, 2014, calls the church’s members to remember their commitment to the Baptismal Covenant, which states that we will strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being; and be it further
Resolved, that the Executive Council affirms the various General Convention and Executive Council anti-racism resolutions of the past several decades, the House of Bishops pastoral letters of March 1994 and March 22, 2006, that have declared that racism is a sin from which the church and its members should repent, and Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori’s pastoral letter of May 16, 2012, on the Doctrine of Discovery and Indigenous Peoples; and be it further
Resolved, that the Executive Council affirms and declares its solidarity with the following resolution, including its “Whereas” clauses as being educational opportunities for the wider church and community, as adopted on December 12, 2013, by The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights of which the Episcopal Church is a member:
WHEREAS, similarly, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) has instituted and enforced a policy that has penalized collegiate athletic programs that use pejorative or disparaging team names, images, mascots, and behaviors, a policy that has promoted respect for Native American tribes and peoples without detrimentally affecting the success of any athletic teams or programs that have changed their names or other forms of branding; and
WHEREAS, the term “redskin,” when used in reference to Native American cultures and people, has a history of use as a pejorative and insulting name; one that is and has been defined by numerous dictionaries as an offensive racial, ethnic slur; one that is widely considered to be just as offensive and demeaning as historically-used slurs that are no longer deemed acceptable when used in reference to groups and individuals in African-American, LGBT, physical or developmental disability, Jewish, Italian-American, or other communities; and one that cannot in any reasonable way be viewed as honoring the culture or historical legacy of any particular Native American tribe or individual;
WHEREAS, the fact that the private or commercial use of athletic team names, images, mascots, and behaviors is protected by the rights guaranteed under the First Amendment t the United States Constitution, and similar state and local protections of the right of free expression, does not make the use of offensive or demeaning names, images, mascots, and behaviors any less harmful and inappropriate, and does not require local, state, or federal government entities to be complicit in or supportive of their use;
NOW THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, that The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights calls upon the National Football League’s Washington Redskins franchise to change its team name, and to refrain from the use of any other images, mascots, or behaviors that are or could be deemed harmful or demeaning to Native American cultures or peoples; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights calls upon the District of Columbia, the State of Maryland, and other local, state, and federal government entities to take any and all appropriate measures, while taking special care to avoid infringing any of the freedoms of speech or association guaranteed by the First Amendment and the U.S. Constitution and similar local and state protections, to disassociate themselves from the Washington Redskins franchise and to end any preferential tax, zoning, or other policy treatment that could be viewed as supporting the franchise as long as it retains its current team name; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights commends the current and former government officials, media outlets, and other entities that have encouraged the Washington Redskins franchise to change its team name or that have refused to be complicit in promoting the current team name; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights calls upon other sports teams to eradicate the use of team names, images, mascots, and behaviors that are or could be deemed harmful or demeaning to Native American cultures or people, and be it further
Resolved, that the Executive Council also calls on other professional sports leagues and college and high school organizations to endorse the policy instituted and enforced by the NCAA in regard to so-called “Native” names that promote negative stereotypes; and be it further
Resolved, that the Executive Council calls on the National Football League (NFL) to endorse the policy instituted and enforced by the NCAA in regard to so-called “Native” names that promote negative stereotypes, and not to allow a major football event like the Super Bowl to occur in Washington.
Resolved, That the Executive Council encourages local churches and dioceses to engage the issue of pejorative or disparaging team names in their local contexts when such occurrences exist within their local schools and community sports teams; and be it further
Resolved, That the Executive Council renews a call to Episcopal Church clergy and lay leaders participate in anti-racism training as a fundamental aspect of their ongoing Christian formation.
There’s a lot there and I know it was a very long read so I hope you’re still following along. The next question, as with all these resolutions, is “so what?” What do we do with all this? As always, education is the first step. Do you live in one of these school districts? Do you have friends or family who do? To get more information to help forming your opinions and action plans, here’s a very helpful link to a paper on understanding the Native American mascot issue –
After you’ve learned more about the issues at stake, it’s time to speak out. Find some friends to work with in your congregation and begin letter-writing. Go to school board meetings together. Contact the NFL. The Church lost a fine and courageous man with the death of Terry Star; we must not let his passion and his work die. In his memory and for the good of all people, let us join together to bring an end to the injustice and further marginalization of people groups who are stereotyped and insulted by the continued use of derogatory names and mascots.
Almighty God, you proclaim your truth in every age by many
voices: Direct us to speak where many listen and write what many read that
we might advocate for those whose voices are not readily heard.
May we may do our part in bringing justice and honor to all people;
to the honor of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Here’s a link to the Presiding Bishop’s pastoral letter addressing this –
House of Bishops’ Pastoral letter of March 1994 –
House of Bishops’ Pastoral Letter of March 2006 –
A link to the Episcopal New Service article about the Rev. Dcn. Terry Star – http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/ens/2014/03/05/deacon-terry-star-executive-council-member-found-dead-at-seminary/
~Judith Schellhammer, chair, Resolution Review Committee, Diocesan Council