Guest opinion: Needs of impoverished neighbors test journalist's principles

2014-04-03T00:00:00Z Guest opinion: Needs of impoverished neighbors test journalist's principlesBy CLARA CAUFIELD The Billings Gazette
April 03, 2014 12:00 am  • 

Most Reservation folk, including me, pursue hard scrabble living, worrying about gas, food, phone bill (if we have one), light bill, etc. We have been dimly aware of the Washington Redskins mascot controversy, but it has not been a burning issue for many of us.

Some Cheyenne are even devoted Redskin fans, proudly wearing the caps and T-shirts. Since we have smaller fish to fry, the controversy has been remote, championed by more intellectual leaders, such as Tim Giago, grandfather of Native journalism.

I became directly associated with this matter when the Washington Redskins’ new philanthropic group, The Original Americans Foundation, recently came to Northern Cheyenne to donate new brand-name coats to more than 500 children at the Lame Deer Public Schools. One of the more civic-minded Tribal Council members requested that story in my local newspaper.

Coats for needy kids

Council member Merlin Sioux, a key figure in this story, is extremely dedicated to community projects. He says our community deals with horrific poverty and children at the Lame Deer School really needed the jackets, the shoes to come and other promises offered by the Washington Redskins. They want to help other worthwhile community projects. The tribe cannot finance or address these needs.

Economic development administrator Steve Small, who helped coordinate the coat project, added, “We had to weigh need against principle. Many children come to school each day dressed only in hoodies and tennis shoes, even in -40 degree winter weather, very dangerous. Thus, Merlin, myself and the tribal president (Llevando "Cowboy" Fisher) came down on the side of the children when this benefactor showed up.”

That is also why I did a nice “warm and fuzzy” front page story about the Redskin donations. And I still commend that council member and our Tribe for “putting the needs of our community and people first.” I also alerted another of my editors, Tim Giago of the Native Sun newspaper, about this development. The Redskins Mascot issue has long been one of Giago’s causes advanced on a national basis and by many others in Indian Country. Tim hoped I had backbone to write an article questioning the motivation of those donations. I didn’t then, but do now.

The Redskins foundation was created to divert attention from the mascot issue and to rebut controversy. I mentioned this to the Redskins representatives (who declined to talk about it) and to Tribal Council members, including my brother Oly McMakin.

“Do you think this will make us, the 'Fighting Cheyenne,' look like sell-out wimps?” he asked. “Possibly, but, the council must decide since you are on the twin horns of a dilemma. You are charged to meet the needs of our people, including children and elders who need coats, shoes, food, etc. But, you must also consider principle. Not all Cheyenne, like you, count on a regular paycheck.”

The publisher of a very small reservation newspaper, I should not offend the tribe, the major player in this desolate economy. But, after reading opinions, news articles and consulting with Dr. Richard Littlebear, a key adviser who usually sees things more clearly, I must write this opinion.

A slick PR move

The Original Americans Foundation is a slick PR move to gain support from poor Native Americans to keep the Redskins mascot. It's cheaper than changing the brand name and commerce associated with the current mascot and logo. Most likely, the Redskins owner calls upon many corporate sponsors (the representatives mentioned Wal-Mart and Sears) to get free tax write-offs. Do we think the money comes from the hip pocket of the Redskins owner or is jerked from the tights of Redskins players? If so, we are foolish.

Now, I might alienate tribal support, free speech being unpredictable. Yet, right is right. Principle is principle. I hope this does not offend the tribe. If so, Native journalist Giago would say: “What else is new?”

Clara Caufield of Lame Deer can be contacted at acheyennevoice@gmail.com.

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