In America, we don’t decide questions of minority rights by way of majority votes.
No matter what the people running Defend Dartmouth would have you believe.
From the beginning of this nation, the Bill of Rights has protected the minority views and actions of white men. From the middle of the 19th century, the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments to the Constitution have protected the minority views and actions of all men, including those of color.
The 19th Amendment didn’t grant voting rights to women, who are the real majority of people in this country, until 1920. That’s a whole different story.
The Indian Citizenship Act did not make members of the Native American nations of this country American citizens until 1924. That’s another different story too, and perhaps more to the point if you consider who is really an “illegal immigrant” in this nation and who isn’t.
The real issue for the town of Dartmouth going forward is this: You can’t force minorities in the United States of America to do things or take actions that they would rather not, as long as those actions are legal.
No sooner had the ballots been counted in John Nunes’ effort to kill, once and for all, the discussion of this overwhelmingly white town’s use of the name “Indians” for its school sports teams and other school matters, than Defend Dartmouth was out with a press release. As the result of the “non-binding” referendum, the group crowed, the elected School Committee had better make the “non-binding” referendum a binding one or they would quickly vote them out of office by way of a Recall.
Huh? What ever happened to elected officials having the right to vote their consciences? What ever happened to educators teaching that America is a country founded on the right to protect unpopular points of view?
The vote in Dartmouth was overwhelming. A total of 4,048 residents voted to keep the moniker Indians while only 960 voted to do away with it. Similar results have happened in school systems across the country when this kind of an issue was put to a vote. It’s worth noting, however, that even in a high turnout town election like this one, that only meant 23% of the registered voters. Never mind the public as a whole. People just don’t vote very much in municipal elections in 2022.
Here’s what I have to say to the “overwhelming” vote in Dartmouth.
Here’s what happened. The Dartmouth Republican Town Committee, and many of the folks who are active Donald Trump supporters, made this a wedge issue right out of the demagogue’s playbook. It was all about the average Joe being tired of so-called “woke” consciousness and political correctness. And the folks speaking against Native American consciousness, aided by a sleepy media, quickly branded themselves as the ones who really respected the local tribes — even though their branch of the Wampanoags was not even the Dartmouth branch. And even though the experts on Native American sports imagery, described the use of the name Indians for a sports team as demonstrably hurtful for Native youth.
That’s fine. The pro-Indian name folks felt passionate about it. They ran a slick campaign. They got out their voters. You can say shame on the Democrats or the progressives or whoever it was in town that voted against the change, but that’s also beside the point. They didn’t care that much about the name. To which I also say: SO WHAT?
In all honesty, it’s true that political correctness has gotten out of control. In Dartmouth and everywhere else, people are afraid to opine on subjects involving Indians or Blacks or Hispanics or Jews or Muslims or Gays or the Transgendered for fear of being thought prejudiced or retrograde.
But still. As much as political correctness can be tiresome, there are good reasons for it. Do we really want to go back to the days when there was all this establishment hostility against groups who are minorities, all of it blessed with a biased language that framed all debates against them? No, it’s better to leave the hurtful words behind once and for all no matter how awkward the transition may be.
Let me give you an example if you really think there is nothing wrong with the name Indians for sports teams and a school identity. We all know of the great achievements of Hebraic and Islamic history but would we ever think of naming a team the Dartmouth Jews or the Dartmouth Arabs? The Dartmouth Blacks or the Dartmouth Latinos? We would not. But somehow it’s OK to use the white man’s name for indigenous peoples this way.
Here’s the thing: No matter who cares and who doesn’t care about the nickname Indians for Dartmouth sports teams, roughly one-fifth of the people who voted Tuesday didn’t like it. That includes lots of folks whose kids who go to Dartmouth schools.
So, what’s to happen to those kids?
Do they have to just grin and bear it, and say we lost so I’ll wear a uniform with an image of a Native American that I find degrading? I’ll just read those headlines in the local newspapers that say “Indians romp over Blue Devils” in the annual Dartmouth-Fairhaven game and suck it up?
Somehow that doesn’t seem right.
If the town is going to have to swallow this poison-pill “non-binding” referendum, and formally adopt the name “Indians” once and for all, then at the very least there needs to be a way for student athletes who find the name degrading to opt out of it and still play on a team.
The problem reminds me of the post-Civil War South and what it was like for the Northerners who wanted to help the newly freed Blacks against native Southern hostility. The pressure against kids in this town who don’t want to use the name “Indian” after this lop-sided referendum is going to be enormous. Which of these kids will be willing to be labeled a “lily-livered lib”?
The whole issue, of course, would be easier if Mr. Nunes and company would simply settle on a name that the whole town could get behind, or even just use no name at all and be called “Big Green” or “Little Green” by those who care enough. Or “bleed green” as some of the true believers who have made this the Number 1 issue in town for years now have told us of their emotional attachment to the name “Indian.”
Bruce Springsteen sings the song “Glory Days,” about the times when we could throw a baseball faster than our peers or dodge and weave down the football field more powerfully than most. Some of us were called Indians in those days and some of us were called Crusaders or Demon Deacons.
The Crusaders are gone in the wake of the growth of the age of religious tolerance, The Demons and Devils, blue and red, are still around although the Christian fundamentalists may get to them yet. As for the name Indians, it is far and away the high school sports team name that has most frequently been changed in recent years as consciousness has been raised about the way a European civilization with better technology conquered the indigenous, nomadic civilization that came before it.
In 2013, Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder said he would never, ever change that most loathsome of sports team names. The name “‘Skins” had become associated with a beloved team over 80 years, and the roughnecks that loved it also often even called themselves the “Hogs” back when the team and its oversized offensive linemen were most successful in the 1980s. A lot of the fans were overweight and bought tickets in the End Zone stands where they wore pig noses. That’s the aesthetic.
Something happened in 2020, however, that woke us up for just a little while at least.
George Floyd was crushed to death in public by a Minneapolis police officer; the long-overdue Black Lives Matter movement grew up; and Dan Snyder relented and finally changed the name to Washington Commanders this past winter.
What will it take for the Dartmouth Indians to finally give in? It will inevitably happen but not until the current crowd of townies moves on or passes away. Or something worse happens in town that raises our consciousness.
In the meantime, there is no legal protection for the Dartmouth kids, or the kids who play against them, who might be uncomfortable or embarrassed by the name. They will have to go along with it. Regardless of the testimony from experts that the use of Indian names for rough sports teams hurts indigenous kids. Let’s be honest, it’s the concept of “wild Indians” that determined why teams chose these names in the first place — no matter how much revisionist history has been put forth recently that it’s really about respecting the local tribes. If this was so true, why not change the name Indians to the real Indian name, which is Wampanoags, or even better, the Pocassets, who are the tribe that actually lived in Dartmouth.
This will be a test for the Dartmouth School Committee. There are some things worth losing a job for, and I have no doubt at least some of the majority would be willing to lose it. Maye they could add a second name. The Dartmouth Indians and Little Green. Or the Dartmouth Indians and Big Greens. And maybe those kids at least could wear a uniform that has no semblance of an Indian name or image on it.
It just seems that the committee should be able to find some way out of this morass that helps these kids. That would be the way to truly defend Dartmouth.
Email Jack Spillane at firstname.lastname@example.org.