Ep #3: Native Mascots: Really, Still?
MATIKA WILBUR: Welcome friends and relatives.
ADRIENNE KEENE: Weʻre so happy to have you here with us today and tuning back into this next episode of All My Relations, and today we are in the presence of greatness. Matika and I are so excited to have these warrior women scholar sisters here with us, our mentors, our idols, to talk about the issue of Indian mascots.
MATIKA: So Dr. Keene I thought maybe we could just take a moment to talk about the history of the R word and why this term is so offensive to so many of our people.
ADRIENNE: Well I think there is dissent within the scholarly community about like when the R word was first used to refer to Native folks, it definitely is a word that throughout history was used in a derogatory and negative way towards Native peoples. There's some folks who say that it initially was used to refer to the actual scalps of Native peoples. There are plenty of ads and newspaper articles that from the 1800s that refer to Native peoples by the R word, never in a positive way. It's one of those words that has evolved throughout history regardless of its initial use or origin to definitely mean a racist phrase towards Native peoples. It's not a positive term by any means, to the point that most of my friends who are Native won't even say the word. And I know a lot of us feel that way but it really is a racial slur.
MATIKA: Absolutely I I can't say in my own life, that that anybody has ever used that term towards me in a loving way.
ADRIENNE: I canʻt even, I'm trying to picture what that sentence would sound like and I can't even picture that.
MATIKA: And you know what else is that it's not a term that I think is that we've like taken back and I have like popularized into contemporary culture and and changed its meaning to mean something other than, you know, a word that has a very deep, ugly, racial slur attached to it and it's not used in any other way and, you know, if somebody was to walk up to me and call me the R word. Those would be fighting words, you know, yeah.
ADRIENNE: I often think of like supporters of the word, who seem to think that it's not, I'm not a problem. In, articles, when they're quoted, they never refer to Native peoples as the R word in the article so if they're interviewing a fan who's like yeah I'm such a big R-skins fan and everything is great, then those Native Americans came and they say that they're against the name, but they never say those R words came and they say they're against the name. So if it's not offensive why wouldn't you just use it to refer to us all the time. It's also a dictionary defined racial slur like it says in the Webster Merriam Webster dictionary offensive often slur, and I feel like white folks care very deeply about dictionary definitions for some reason. So there you go, it's in the dictionary.
MATIKA: The best thing about this episode, to me, is that we have the opportunity to talk with Dr. Fryberg and Amanda who are two folks that have really done a lot of research around the ways that mascots and imagery affect our lives with Dr. Fryberg, but also with Amanda in the ways that she's dedicated, you know, a dozen years of her life to trying to get rid of the R word from a public team and is still in that fight so I I find that people often will say to me,” Get over it,” or they'll say to me, that it doesn't actually affect people's lives move on. The point is, is that people often tell us that it doesn't affect our lives and that it's not in any way harmful to our people, and that they're honoring and attempting to respect us in some sort of way by having a characterized savage looking creature, as their mascot, and, and I just, I just can't believe that that's still an argument, and that there's false data to support it.
ADRIENNE: One of the important things to know is that with having Dr. Frederick here and Amanda we have two different perspectives of how we can fight against these Native mascots Dr. Fryberg is doing her research in the psychological and social psychology realm and education world, and Amanda was involved in the court case against the Washington football team, and that court case was one that started out by Suzan Shown Harjo. She decided with a group of folks that they would go after the actual trademark of the team, because we know that money talks and so if you can hit the team by canceling their trademark that means they can't make any money off of that logo or that name ever again. Because anyone could just make R word shirts and sell them or whatever, and making money off marketing is a huge part of the NFL. They found this law that said that you couldn't hold a trademark on a racist term or phrase, they decided to use that to go after the Washington football team, and they actually won, they went all the way through the court system and ruled in favor and said that the name was disparaging, and therefore it couldn't have a trademark on it. But then they lost on technicality and Suzan Harjo, they said that she waited too long to file her lawsuit that she was too old at the time of from injury basically it was too long. So they relaunched a lawsuit again with young people, people ages 18 to 24, because they were like okay if that's the only thing that you said we lost on, then we're going to do it again with younger people. That court case worked its way all the way through, and they won again and then it started working its way through the appeals court because of course the NFL is not going to take that decision lightly. During that time, a band in California, called The Slants, it's an Asian American band, they named themselves The Slants. They went to court to say that they should be able to hold a trademark on their band name, because they wanted to reclaim that slur for, they're banned. And the court ruled in favor of them. And so then it immediately canceled the case that was still pending on the Washington R words because the thing that they were using to argue was deemed unconstitutional. so it meant that the case was lost.
MATIKA: Can we just acknowledge that this is not our responsibility to have to regroup and go back to court again, over a racial slur. This is the responsibility of every single person supporting the NFL and supporting their the fan and the fans actually wearing this inappropriate clothing and participating in very racist behavior. They have a responsibility as well what do we say to the fans Adrian.
ADRIENNE: The research shows that over 60% of Americans have never met a Native American, if you talk to fans one on one, they're not thinking of us as real people. Education is a big part of it. But I also think that there are signs of positive change. I think the Cleveland Indians is a good example that they have finally after like 70 years or something decided to stop using Chief Wahoo on their uniforms, which is a blatantly racist image, and there has been little fan outcry for that like people are kind of at least to me it doesn't seem like people are that angry about it. So I think it's going to take a change from the top. And unfortunately the top right now for the Washington football team is Dan Snyder who has said on the record - you can use all caps that we will never change the name.
MATIKA: We see you, Dan. Get it together.
ADRIENNE: Joining us here today, we have Dr. Stephanie Fryberg, and Amanda Blackhorse. So welcome to both of you. Thank you.
MATIKA: So let's just start with just introducing both of our guests today, and I'm going to introduce Dr. Stephanie Fryberg who is a member of the Tulalip tribes and an expert on the psychological and educational effects of social representations of race, class and culture. She got a PhD in psychology at Stanford University, where she is a member of the multicultural Hall of Fame. Just last month, she was appointed as the Gerberding university professor at the University of Washington, recognizing her exceptional research contributions and accomplishments in the field of American Indian Studies and psychology. Dr Frybergʻs research on stereotypes, race, class and psychological development led her to testify in front of the US Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, on the impact of racist stereotypes on Indigenous people. My favorite title of a recent paper would be hands down, “We're Honoring You, Dude: Myths, Mascots, and American Indians”. She is also one of the hardest workers I've ever known and one of my most influential thought leaders, and we're super excited to have you here.
ADRIENNE: Amanda Blackhorse is from Kayenta, Arizona on the Navajo rez and is a Dine social worker activist and mother. She was the lead plaintiff in the Blackhorse versus v. Pro-Football Inc., 2012 case which sought to revoke the trademark protection of the term Washington R words. She received her bachelor's degree in social work at the University of Kansas and her master's degree at Washington University in St. Louis. While her training and work history includes focus on substance abuse treatment health care and adult mental health in Native communities. She's fiercely fought against the use of Native American imagery and stereotypes as sports team mascots after filing her case against pro football, Amanda founded Arizona to rally against Native American mascots and later launched the website nomorenativemascots.org. Both entities are dedicated to spreading education, organizing protests and working towards the elimination of sports mascots based on Native imagery. She's a badass warrior woman and just this week was standing on top of a car in Arizona protesting Native American Halloween costumes. Welcome, Amanda.
AMANDA BLACKHORSE: Thank you. Thank you.
MATIKA: We're really excited to have you here and our season one of this podcast, it means so much just to have you here so we decided to title the project All My Relations and as you know that's a really common theme throughout Indian country not such a common theme throughout non Indian country. And so you know we're really interested in exploring our relationship-based identities, and our relationship to land, our relationship to water, and our relationship to one another. And so part of what we're doing in this show is asking each one of our participants if they could elaborate on on that topic and we realized that all over Indian country we have these, these ways of recognizing all of our relatives and so if you can sort of talk about that, personally, what that means to you. And also, if just if you just take a moment to introduce yourself as you would to a large group of people in a way that you feel most comfortable. We'd appreciate that.
STEPHANIE FRYBERG: Well I'm Stephanie Fryberg, and I on my father's side am Tulalip but on my grandmother's I'm actually not Tulalip, I'm Snohomish [Native language]. And my grandmother said I'm Quinault and Yakima, and I grew up in Tulalip, and am very, I think I've spent my whole life being influenced by what elders have said about the need to get an education and come back and help our children. The term, All My Relations, for me it has to to it brings. I think it brings two commitments to mind for me. One is that I have a commitment to every Indigenous community, not just my own. And we are all related we're all connected in some way, whether it's, you know, over hundreds of years of intermarriage or really just that we stand in a time, a place where our futures depend on each other. And so that relationship and holding up that responsibility to one another is really important. The other way in which I think about All My Relations is going forward and going back. So, when I think back in my past, my ancestors. I feel a responsibility to the fight that they took on to make us who we are today. And then I look at my children and I think about future generations and think about the commitment, and the responsibility I have to make society today, a better place, so that our future generations have a better life than perhaps we have now.
ADRIENNE: Amanda, what about you?
AMANDA: [Introduces self in Dine Bizaad] In Dine, we talk about something called K’e. You know everything that we do is supposed to be around K’e. And they say, [speaking Dine]. And that means, you know we have to everything that we do is intertwined with how we relate to other people. And our relatives around this. And so I always try to live by the mantra of love our people. And sometimes that can be really hard. You know, we're so complex and there's so many different layers to our community. And, you know, I'm sure just, you know, given where I come from and where everyone's fear comes from, you know, we have our challenges and our communities within our families within our relationships and so sometimes it's hard to to really just love our people and stand by that and also have love for ourselves as well, and learn how you know what that really means, so that we can be better role models for our kids and stuff so that's kind of what I think about All My Relations, and it's so it's so neat to see everyone here from very different backgrounds, very different tribes, and we all kind of share that same belief.
ADRIENNE: Thank you. So I think we just want to kind of dive into it and I'm curious to hear from both of you sort of what brought you to this work, this is something that has been a lifelong kind of passion for both of you, a project that you've been working on for a long time so what first brought you to this work around representations and around mascots specifically.
AMANDA: Well for me I kind of just fell into it, you know it's not something that I thought I would never do just happen, that happens to us and you know are working on throughout our lives are based on the struggles that we go through and for me it was just experiencing it and seeing the detrimental effects of Native mascots. For a lot of people, they don't truly understand the issue until they've actually experienced it, or seen, or been affected by stereotypes in some sort of negative way. And for me, you know, I think it was a combination of me growing up on them on the Navajo rez really sheltered, and then leaving and then going you know to a completely different state and experiencing what I experienced with seeing what happens at these games the type of culture that is there, you know the the football culture and the toxic masculinity and the way that people see us and mock our culture, and it's socially socially acceptable. And thatʻs okay to do in society. I think that was the biggest shocker for me, and that's what led me to to pursue this path.
STEPHANIE: Yeah, I mean I think my experience is much the same. I have sort of the experiences as a young person, and then the sort of academic awakening, I think I would say. So as a young person, I went to Marysville Pilchuck High School and we were the Marysville Pilchuck tomahawks. And there was always this moment at games where, you know, they would do the tomahawk chant. And I remember in those moments feeling like ah I got to fit in I'm supposed to do this. And then, often at pep rallies, they, the ASB president who is always white would come out with this chief headdress on. And again, like I remember feeling just very uncomfortable with it. But you know it was back in a time when people didn't really talk about race and discrimination in the same way. And, you know, I would watch many of my peers from the reservation disengage. And I just remember sitting in that space. Not, not sure. I mean, not understanding and feeling uncertain but then feeling like, Oh, this is what we're supposed to do and is this who we are like why is this how we're representing our people. But then, for me, I could, like, as an academic I actually came about this in kind of a sideways piece so I was very interested. Again, connecting back to the responsibility to the elders, telling me to get an education and come back and help our children as I was really interested in how do these public representations of Natives influence Native children? And so a lot of my early work in grad school, where we expose Native students to public representations and looked at what effect they had. Well we determined the representations based on what was most popular in society like what were the most common images. And so one of them happened to be Chief Wahoo, because the Cleveland Indians were actually a good baseball team then I don't think they've been since and I could be wrong, but if they were really I mean World Series and there was even a time period then when it was actually the Atlanta Braves, and the Cleveland Indians and so we included Chief Wahoo in the very first study we did had Chief Wahoo and Pocahontas, and each of them was a different condition. And then these negative stereotypes were really common. And so, what really drew me to the mascot issue which I had been in, I mean I'd certainly been around through the college environment different cases that had come up, but the results of that study surprised me. So the very first study we did showed that exposing Native high school students to Chief Wahoo lowered self esteem. And as we continue to do more work. The strength of that particular image continued to shine through. And so that for me I mean I've taken the role of really being the scientist I haven't gotten so involved in activism because I think it's really important to separate those roles and and so you know we've really worked hard in my lab to, you know, have different people that do stem statistics, and I'm really working to maintain the integrity of the work we're doing on bias. But I think for me, it really came about by seeing how much it harmed Native children.
MATIKA: Yeah. I, I remember when I first became familiar with that study. And I was teaching in Tulalip at the time. And, Shelley had asked me to put together a curriculum of a year's worth of photographic representations of Native people of contemporary representation so we could teach our kids you know in a way that was respectful and something they feel excited about. And I couldn't find enough material to to expose them to positive Indigenous folks from all over the country that wasn't photographed by non Indigenous people and. And when I learned about your work, I was just at the time, feeling so overwhelmed by the sadness in the community and like going to so many funerals in our community and thinking like if, if, negative representations are affecting the self esteem of our kids. And I'm constantly having to lay my kids to rest because of early death for whatever reason suicide or, you know, whatever it is that, that leads to those things in our community I, I realized I had to be a part of creating an image that was different, you know. Yeah, it was really it was like somebody kind of just like a scientist saying out loud like this is true like we're not making this up. This is real. This is the data, it was really meaningful for me and I really appreciate you talking about that and doing that work and I think it made waves throughout Indian country. You know that. I mean, that's how it affected me and I can't even imagine how it affected so many others.
STEPHANIE: Well, I mean I honestly see you and I as having very similar projects right because part of what we're trying to do is to say, look, there's, I mean I love this James Baldwin, quote, that is about. You have to make the world see us as who we are not the idea of us they envision and that's not an exact quote of how he says it but the content is there that you know so much of the work we need to do now is making people see us as who we are as contemporary Native people and not continue to allow them to see us through their ideal of us, so they like the romanticized image they like the Pocahontas, the Chief Wahoo. I mean I have just been so surprised over the years you know you hear the common arguments that people make. For example, it's just a mascot don't Native people have more important things to deal with and what you just said is exactly why the mascots important that you're playing with identity, when you look at health research psychological wellbeing, education, it all comes down to how we're represented all of those literature bases, tie back to identity. And so how I density is being used by mainstream society matters. And not because we don't have strong identities, but because we have to negotiate that public identity out there. And when we're not shown in these really highly capable ways as being contributing members of society, there are consequences for that. And that's the omission. You know that's the what it allows non-Natives to feel good about American history it allows them to feel good about their, their lot in life where they are situated and not have to realize that they got there as a result of what they've done to other groups. And so it's I mean I really see us as engaged in a very similar project right is how do we how do we maintain and understand and change that representational space.
MATIKA: And I learned about your research from Adrienneʻs blog and whatʻs funny about that Adrienne was writing about it from Stanford and I was reading about it on my rez.
STEPHANIE: All My Relations. Here we go.
ADRIENNE: Amanda you said that you just sort of fell into this world and we're kind of thrust into it and you've been at the forefront of the fight for now, like going I mean it's almost a decade at this point. But the ways that you've seen the conversations change either for the better or I know you face personally, a lot of blowback from your activism and involvement in this issue so maybe talking about. If there's ways you've seen the conversation change in the time you've been involved and also the challenges that come with doing this work.
AMANDA: So, for me, it's been about 13 years now. I've been involved in about 12 years since the case started.
ADRIENNE: Unfortunately our Skype connection wasn't that great so much room and is recording as an audible. So we're going to summarize some of what she says and offer the best of the audio that came through.
MATIKA: Amanda along with the defendants Marcus Briggs-Cloud, Philip Gover, Jillian Pappan, and Courtney Tsotigh have been actively fighting against the Washington R words for over a decade now. Her court case was filed in 2006, it was tricky because it was pending Suzan Harjo case, which she eventually lost because of a technicality. The Supreme Court said that she should have filed the case when she was the majority age. Basically they said she was too old, which led to Suzanne, helping Amanda and other young people filing suit.
AMANDA: For those folks who don't know the case officially started with the trademark law. It was the under Ed Administrative Court, and the purpose was to cancel the federal registrations of the Washington team name the R word and a logos, to, you know, to get rid of their name, so that the team no longer has rights to that and they can no longer profit off of the name and the logo.
ADRIENNE: When Amanda's case was filed she was only 23. She just graduated and was off to the University of Kansas and around this time she started her family. She says the entire court case shaped her 20s.
AMANDA: I kind of grew up with the case I feel like my young adult years, all of those years were, you know, I grew up with it, and so did my kids.
ADRIENNE: In 2009 Suzanne's case was officially thrown out and that's when their case picked up steam. And then, finally,
AMANDA: 2014 was when we won when our big victory.
MATIKA: It was a huge victory in Indian country but then it went into the appeals court and just this last year, they lost.
AMANDA: And we eventually lost this year because of a separate case that had to do with the constitutionality of the piece of legislation that leaves in our case it was deemed unconstitutional. So, we had no foundation we had no real legal footing to move forward with our it died in....
MATIKA: The whole thing has not been easy on Amanda, she had to relocate, people have been horrible to her. She's encountered real bullying, and it even affected her stability.
AMANDA: And eventually, I ended up losing my job, because of all of this. Fell into some really hard times, I lost my job, I had to relocate to Phoenix which is why I'm here. There's so much, you know, because of the way that people feel about this case people's opinions about this are so polarized either for it or they're against it, but that's just the type of feeling that it evokes in people from what I've seen.
MATIKA: She's still trying to regroup from the whole fiasco.
AMANDA: Itʻs definitely been a long journey and I kind of went through my mourning period, and now it's like okay now you need to have your ceremony and figure out what to do next. You know, it's okay to just itʻs okay to mourn for a while. And now you need to figure out what you need to do moving forward.
ADRIENNE: Amanda has been incredibly resilient and has continued to stay in the good fight, pushing Native causes around representation all around the country.
AMANDA: Feeling the invisibility invisibility of Native people, so strong, you know, we're so invisible in this world, we have done everything we're supposed to you've done everything right we have, you know, we have done our speeches we've done our peaceful protesting and it's like, what's next.
MATIKA: I'm really glad that you touched on in visibility because you know Fryberg as you said that often you say that you like to think about how to make the invisible visible. And, you know, how has your research, and your, your recent research with Native truth and reconciliation. How have you been working towards that in your work?
STEPHANIE: Yeah, and that's really been the focus. I think what we, the way we've shifted is that now we feel we have enough evidence to show that invisibility is the modern form of discrimination against Native people, and that there's really been a practice of actively writing us out of contemporary life. And I, you know, I really appreciate what Amanda was saying, because you know it's touching us at the everyday level. And I think what people, I mean again it always comes back to people think that the mascot issue is not a big issue, but actually it's a huge issue, because it's very emblematic it represents the way that we're being treated on every other issue. It just happens to be the most public issue. So when you think about the Megyn Kelly issues last week, it's very similar. So there was outrage over blackface not outrage over red face, and you look at the Elizabeth Warren, President Trump situation I mean here are two people who keep locating contemporary issues around whiteness and not around what's happening to Native people, and we have to take control of that narrative. And what I love about the Reclaiming Native Truth Project and now IlluniNative. My next stage is really about taking that back, taking control of the narrative, working to both understand so in our own work. We've been looking much of the research so they're kind of two really interesting pieces as we've continued to push that work forward is that many of the issues about bias against Native Americans is actually about how white people feel about themselves. So once again, it's about whiteness, but it's about nationalism, and the extent to which people identify as being American and how important that identity is, the more the more American people identify with the more comfortable they are and actually prefer the invisibility of Nativepeople and the less support they have for any social issue, you know holds for the mascot issue for material inequity so poverty issues, issues related to sovereignty is so really big issue and so not only have we been able to show those relationships but what we show is that what underlies it like what mediates or explains, these relationships, is how people connect it to racism. And so there's this denial of racism, when it comes to Native people. We don't experience discrimination, African Americans experience discrimination. And I want to be really clear here because to me they do. This is not a African Americans, really don't or you know the the oppression Olympics. This is really about a recognition that discrimination is discrimination and people of all groups in America are experiencing it, but there are many indicators by which we are experiencing discrimination at much higher rates than any other group you look at violence against women. You look at police brutality, you know, just, you know, issues around health and psychological well being, suicide, kids dropping out of school. I mean there are many ways in which that isn't about us it's about how the world is responding to us. And so we have to get more vocal in in setting that narrative setting the story. And what's exciting about IllumiNative is we're going to do that. And so I think the work that Crystal Echo Hawk and her team are doing. You know the other research teams that have been involved in this work. It's just a really exciting time, because I think we are coming together, Native people are coming together in this country. And now really recognize that these narratives have to change that we need for our own well being. We need to take charge of setting that narrative, and we need to push back against these situations that keep coming up like we have to be really swift and how we respond to things like the Megyn Kelly issue, and the Elizabeth Warren issue, and I mean honestly the Donald Trump issue. And so, yeah, there's a lot of work to be done. I feel optimistic I mean I think more than ever before. I do feel like we are coming together. And it's because of activism, like, what Amanda is doing it's because of the representational work that you guys both do through your blogs, through your websites. through, creating new imagery. I use it in my class all the time, because it's really important that we start to help people see that the mascot is one representation. But it's actually not so different than the Halloween costume. And it's not. And we have to do a better job of also educating people in our own communities. So there's work to be done.
ADRIENNE: Well, first of all, thank you so much for taking this time, we've been asking some of our guests like pretending it's 200 years from now it's 2218. What do our communities look like, and what kind of the world that you hope for your, the future generations in 200 years around some of these representations issues?
AMANDA: I think it would be great to be in a world where we're not so invisible. Our kids can grow up and not have to battle every corner, outside of their community have to battle misrepresentation of themselves. I mean, it's everywhere. It's, it's, and my kids, they understand this stuff, I don't have to explain it to them more than a couple of times they understand it, they're actually even more woke than I am. I mean, you give them some information, and they just get it, their minds are very, very pure. They haven't been exposed to the things that we have. And so they're able to make decisions just based on what is good and what is bad. But I think it's everywhere, you know, they come home from school, and they say, look at what we're learning today. And it's about Christopher Columbus, it's about Thanksgiving, it's about you know, we went to a birthday party recently and they were, you know, the men were over here talking about how to wait for the Washington team and the Cowboys to play for Thanksgiving in Dallas. And there's so many times where I have to literally just keep my mouth shut, because it's a kid's birthday party. I'm not going to, you know, upset these kids, but, and eventually I'm like, you know, what I, you know, I'm like, you know, it's a terrible tradition. And, you know, we kind of went back and forth on the mascot thing with the parents, but and then it just got super awkward. And then they ended up leaving, and it's like, gosh, can I just go to can we just go to a party and not have to experience these things. But I think that once we have that sort of lifted, we can then you know, there's so many different possibilities, even with just empowering our people. The reason why I went into social work practice is because, you know, when I went through my sort of decolonization, sort of awakening, where I'm like, wow, you know, if everyone can learn this, we could do so many things for our communities. You know, we can all have this realization, this is the answer, bringing, you know, people, you know, people who haven't necessarily thought about this, their lives change, and then they affect other people, they affect other issues. You know, that's the type of world that I want to see what comes out of that. The possibilities are endless, and I can't even predict that. But that's just, I think, the very basic level. That's what I would like to see in our communities.
ADRIENNE: Thank you so much for taking the time to join us. We're so appreciative. For the audience, are there places where folks can support your work? If they want to learn more support your work? Where should they go?
AMANDA: Yes. Our website is www.nomoreNativemascots.org , Arizona to rally against CMS sponsors my group here in Phoenix and that you can follow us on Facebook. You can follow me Amanda Blackhorse on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Yeah, that's it. And I just want to say thank you to you guys. You guys are so inspirational. You are definitely people I look up to for sure that you do
ADRIENNE: The feeling's mutual. That's why we asked you, we look up to you so much
AMANDA: We all kind of do our own, you know, sort of work and it all complements each other. And I think that's that's awesome. And it's amazing. Some kind of been a fan girl right now just like fanning out a little myself. But thank you guys so much. And you know, what I am really appreciating right now in this time with our people is the the female empowerment and the dismantling of toxic masculinity and the dismantling of misogynistic behaviors in our communities. So I look to you guys, I see that that's what we're doing here.
MATIKA: [speaking Dine] I look forward to meeting you in person. Amanda, I hope that can happen soon.
AMANDA: If youʻre in Phoenix, let me know, you should hit me up.
MATIKA: I'm here all the time. So I'll look you up girl. Can we switch gears to education? Sure. Okay, I really like your concept about identity safe spaces. And I'm wondering if you could sort of break that concept down and talk about those small indicators that you're talking about changing and shifting, because I think the audience could really benefit from implementing some of that into their own classrooms into their own spaces. And so I'll give you the floor for that one.
STEPHANIE: Yeah, well, identity safety, the way that we utilize it. And in all of the work that we do is identity safety is important for everyone. So even if we think about this representational battle that's going on, we can't move people if they don't feel safe. And so more and more, we're recognizing that we need to be better at taking people where they are. And then helping people to understand you can only know what you know. And then we help you move from there. And so there are certain factors we know that influence identity safety. One is stereotypes, right? But there are stereotypes about all groups. So it's not just stereotypes about Natives. But white people also have stereotypes. And when it comes to race and cultural issues, a lot of the stereotypes are that they're not good at these issues. And that also puts them in a position of threat. And so as we think about building allies, part of what we want to do is build identity safety, which means we need to have a good theory of making mistakes, we need to allow people to grow and to make mistakes, and to recognize, I mean, I don't know everything about every other group, and I have a PhD in this area. And what we really want is people to be able to have real conversation have have talk, and I, you know, I when I think all the time about, you know, you hear people talk about white privilege, and the problem of white vulnerability, the problem with that is that also makes white people feel threatened. And part of the work that we need to do is to help people to feel like they can be an ally. So other issues. Another indicator of identity safety is cultural matching. It turns out the way that a context or an environment such as a school, classroom or school, with valid cultural values and norms come through a match for some kids and not for others. And so when it matches when, you know, the ways of being that are being expressed in that environment, match how you've been brought up by feels like a really safe environment. But when it doesn't, and you're getting all these subtle messages about you don't you know, you don't speak up enough or you know, why do you not care so much about choice or whatever the issue is then those children are left to basically figure out, why don't I fit in here? And there are these subtle cues in the environment that essentially say, Not you, and children code these. Weʻre extremely social beings. And so there are these wonderful stories if you look at Patricia Greenfield's work Barbara Rogoff's work, you know, these wonderful examples of the ways that teachers undermine young children of color simply by not allowing them to finish their thought because it's not the thought they wanted. One of my favorite examples from Patricia Greenfield's work is the teacher holds out an egg, and the egg is going to hatch and she asked the child to explain the properties of the egg. And a young five year old Latina girl says well in the kitchen with my grandma, and she says, No, no, no, no, the egg, the egg. And again, the little girl says, well in the kitchen with my grandma, and identity safety, it is, in this case, that teacher needed to step back and say, Okay, I'm going to let this child finish and see where she's going. And so we call it an interpretive power read to help expand the interpretive power of people in positions of privilege. And so for that little girl, each time, the teacher said, No, just the egg, know that five year old is coding, oh, I don't belong here. And my grandma doesn't belong here. And the story doesn't belong here. And it becomes this little indicator that pushes that child one step out the door. And it's all these subtle cues. We also get them through positive representation. So and this is something that for Native children is particularly a big issue because of the way in which we've been omitted from contemporary life. So it's really hard for Native children to look out on social media, on television, in the film industry and see our people, representatives, doctors and lawyers, teachers, you can really across the spectrum of nurses, and the problem with that is that we all go about a process of building identities. And so when you're omitted from that space, it's a little bit harder for you to figure out how to be in that space. But more importantly, it denies for children the contribution that our people have made. And often people think, Oh, you know, Native people, we have to give them things and but tribes all over this country are giving millions and millions of dollars to states and local schools and working, you know, building infrastructure, with no appreciation whatsoever. And that's important, because when we deny that contribution, we also deny it for our young children. And they don't get to see that I can stand up, I can take a stand, I can work hard our community we give back. And we do. And so identity safety is about how do we control those three sets of factors, the negative stereotypes, positive representation that allow them to see themselves in the future, see what's possible for them. And then these cultural matching features. And so we've worked with teachers through a variety of interventions, to really help teachers build a model that works for all kids. And that allows for greater variation in the classroom. So it's good for Native kids, it's good for low income kids. And so it's something I feel very passionate about. It's kind of it may seem like a totally different part of my research. But actually, both the Native bias work and the work we do in schools is about representation. At the end of the day, we're just trying to understand how can we change environments? How can we cue kids who genuinely don't feel like they belong, that you do belong here, and you can be successful in this space.
ADRIENNE: Listening to you talk, I just keep thinking about the power of research in moving the needle on these conversations. And matea told the story of her first kind of encountering your work and for me, I was at Stanford in 2004 as an undergrad, and I think that was when you were a grad student
STEPHANIE I actually just left.
ADRIENNE: Okay, so I was taking psych one, the intro psych class at Stanford, and we had to for our final , design a study. And we had watched In Whose Honor which is a documentary that follows Charlene Teters in her fight against the University of Illinois mascot. And that watching the documentary combined with my experiences at Stanford, which used to have the Indian mascot and would pop up all the time, when I was a student there, I decided that my final I was going to write this study that was groundbreaking about how Native mascots influenced how Native college students thought about themselves. And I presented it to my TA and he graded it and he gave me like a decent grade. He's like, have you ever heard of Stephanie Fryberg? He's like, she just left here so it must have been she just left here. And this is the work that she is doing. Like you should reach out to her, you should talk with her cuz this is what she does. And I was a freshman and afraid like, the idea of reaching out to this Native person who had just graduated was too much for me. But that was when I was first made aware that there was a Native woman doing this work. And then when the study came out, everything clicked into place where I could be like, no, there's actual data, like, let's point to this, I can send this file to people like we can talk about it. And now as the things have moved forward from that first initial stage, to thinking about these ideas of bias, and about the ways that the invisibility piece comes into it, and talking to focus groups about the ways they think about this, and all the pieces coming together, to be able to have that tangible data and those stories that come with it. But to be able to have that tangible data, and the stories that come with it is so powerful, and points to the need for more Native researchers in these areas so that we can tell the research stories through our voices. Yeah. So um, I'd love to hear just broadly like your thoughts about the role of research in these processes of changing the narrative?
STEPHANIE: Yeah. Well, I mean, obviously, I'm a researcher, and so I see some utility. I mean, it's also been very clear to me both in the work I've done with schools and the work around the mascot issue and other issues, right, and we're we're doing work, my team is looking at a variety of different issues. How do we talk about and build alliance with non Natives around the lives that contemporary Native people experience? And, and how can we do that in useful and important ways that allow us to, to bridge that gap? Right. So, you know, really building those intergroup relations? Well, for me, it has been okay. Do you know Beyonce song Listen? Okay, one of my favorite songs? Well, I think there's a, there's a piece in, there's a line in there about being at a crossroads. And you need to listen, right? My relationship with science is somewhat like that song. I feel a bit like, you know, science has, and research has problems, right, we have gatekeepers. And you know, it's hard for people to get into the field. And it's hard to do research on a group that's small, and it's hard to get data. And then at the same time, you have this clock that you're working against. I mean, you're all too aware of. On the flip side of it, data has power. And so what I've really come to recognize is that 10 years ago, I couldn't imagine being allowed to have the voice in spaces that I do today. And we do need for Native scholars to step up young people to step up and become researchers, because data gives us power. It's one thing to say, Oh, you know, we are the three of us, we stand together. And this is wrong. It's another thing to be able to say, when we have this undermines the well being of Native children. That's a very different and very powerful story. And so as we think about the work that we do, we have to think about what are the social issues we're trying to address? How do we, how do we address those, and then I have, in the last 10 years, really moved into intervention research, and where we're actually taking what we know, from research, and trying to change these environments and contexts. And so, research is important. It's, I mean, I feel like, you know, in my team, I'm constantly giving my grad students a little pep talk, because it's hard. And it seems scary, and a lot of research is very independence based. And, you know, that's hard. Because, you know, Native people, a lot of people of color, which is not really independent, you know, we're doing it for our community, we're doing it for others, but then I have to sit in a cubicle by myself and do it like that feels. And so we're trying to also build new models of research. So in my lab, we run our lab through teams. So I have two teams, one team for each of the big research projects. And then we run all of our sub projects that so that my younger grad students, they have a team of people to work with, they have other people to connect with, connect with, to ask for help when they're struggling. And I think it's really important that we start to also take back that space, it doesn't have to be the way it's been created. That's just sort of how, you know this sort of middle class educated, white influence. But as you know, a Native woman, I can bring a sense of tribal collectivism, to the to academia and create those spaces for some students. It's not easy, but we definitely need more Native young people to step up and become researchers. And anytime I see a great applicant, I'm, I want. So come work with our team. We want you.
MATIKA: That's actually a perfect segue when you brought up independence, because I was into I was reading about how you you found that 25% of students do better in education when they are thinking about it in terms of community and tribe. Yeah. And tribe. Yeah. So can you talk tell people more about that study?
STEPHANIE: Yeah, yeah. So I mean, what we did is we expose Native middle schoolers to either a Native or white role model was always the same gender as them. And then we vary the message as being great independence, getting an education can benefit you in the future are more interdependent. getting an education can benefit your family and or your community or tribe in the future, and increases motivation for Native kids when you use. First of all the Native role model. And getting an education will benefit your community, your tribe in the future is much more motivating to our children. And of course, not every single one like there is variation among our kids and of course, data reflects that too, right? We have a standard variance, standard error that we report in the data. But nonetheless, it gives teachers a tool that they can use, right utility becomes a framework. There's no reason that a teacher can't say we're going to learn x and it's useful for you and your family and your community in this way. And really engage children in that learning process. It takes that took like, what five seconds to say, we all have time for it. But we all come to learning spaces with different motivational needs. And what we have shown in our work is that Native kids, and actually, one of my collaborators and former grad students, Rebecca Covarrubias, has done a number of studies that we've published together with Latinx kids, and also with Native kids around belonging and different ways that we can increase belonging by tapping into utility framing, for family, doing it for community, and getting away from it's all about you. Because for us, it's not all about us. It never is all about us.
MATIKA: Because of all my relations.
STEPHANIE: It always comes back.
MATIKA: Because you said that universities are making about making individuals independent.
STEPHANIE: That's right.
MATIKA: And that I would say that that's much of the problem and Western belief system. Yes. And that maybe that's why we you know, and also your level, you also made the association that our independence is linked to our ability to be successful. And so how do we encourage our communities to manage and maintain a sense of interdependence or a sense of relationality relationships or have a relationship based identity? If when, if we're having to choose independence, to be successful in the western model, or interdependence to be successful in atribal model? How do we? How do we integrate those two concepts?
STEPHANIE: Well, what's nice is I don't think we have to integrate them, we can have context dependent identities. And I think more and more, you know, it's not that I went to college and became independent and forgot who I was, as a tribal person, I grew up on the reservation, I learned, you know, through participation in my family and our community, how to exist in the world, what I did is built another self. And what's true for me is over the years, I've never ever felt like my academic self is my true self, it always feels like a self I'm having to put on. And then when I go back to the community, that's when I get to be my real self, I'm hanging out with my cousins, you know, we're joking around, I'm spending time with my great uncle writing a book and listening to him. And in that moment, that's when I feel connected and grounded in a way that I know a lot of other people who don't know, what it's like to belong to a tribe and a community can't understand. But I think it's also really important for us to recognize, even as we work to push educators to realize that there are these other ways of being, we also want to be careful not to say that independence is a problem, right? independence is one way of being. And it works for a lot of people. And it's connected with a lot of positive outcomes. But so too, is interdependence. And so we have to get because of the diversity in American society, we have to get educators to branch out and see beyond just their own. So again, we get back to this idea of interpretive power, that what we want from our allies, what we want from our educators, lawyers who work with our communities, people, social workers who come in, is we want them to have an expanded cultural toolkit, we want them to not default to their way of the only way. There's many ways to be in the world. And we can all learn, right? We need Native kids to be able to see, oh, that actually wasn't about me, that was about and they're just being their hyper independent self. That's just not my way, then it's not a subtle cue that's flowing us out is something that we can say, Oh, yeah, that's just them. And I'm going to, you know, keep moving forward. And so there's a lot of really cool and exciting work we can do with this. We've been working with seven school districts and you know, really doing very, very tedious intervention work, really, with a goal of making this but collecting data on kids before the intervention after the intervention, videotaping before and after collecting data with teachers. And at the end of the day, we are going to learn how to give this away it with ability so that it can be done well and we are going to create educational spaces that identity safe for all kids. middle class white kids, African American kids, low income, Native kids, everyone is included in This and it's a model that I think educators have been looking for, but really a toolkit to work with, so that they can engage their kids and feel like they have some, some tools to work with. So I offer you, Matika, a choice and your responses. I don't care. Why because you don't you don't live in a choice world. That's not a problem. I, as a teacher, I'm going to go back and say, Okay, next time, I'm going to try a different strategy with Matika. And so I might come back next time and say, I thought about you last night. And I was thinking, you might like I make the choice for you. At the end of the day, you don't have to accept my choice. I actually won the day, the minute I told you, I thought about you last night. And it's really helping teachers to understand that for some kids, it is about recognizing that you are in a hierarchical relationship, and you have that comes with responsibilities. And when you give them a choice, you're essentially saying, I don't know you. So what do you want? And so it's really teaching teachers to see kids through a different relationship framework. But the end goal is exciting, right? Because I think we can take these studies we've done around belonging, role models, different kinds of utility framing, and we can turn it into really meaningful work for on behalf of Native kids.
MATIKA: There's two things that I was really taken by when you were talking about this. One, you said that pushing back against mascots is in essence protecting ourselves, you know, to kind of summarize this idea when you say that, what, what do you what are you really talking about that?
STEPHANIE: Well, I mean, one, we have evidence that when Native people disagree with the use of Indians as mascots, it protects them, it buffers them from the negative effects of the stereotype. And so we do need our people to understand that literature. But of course, part of the problem is, is that pushing back, also comes up against invisibility. So for some of for some Native people, they'd rather be visible through a mascot than completely invisible, which is just a terrible choice. All right. But at the same time, teaching our young people, especially, that pushing back actually protects you, it benefits you, and then helping educators to also understand that we need to keep these things out of educational spaces, because we have a responsibility to Native kids, to protect them, and to give them the best opportunity to be successful. And so we can educate them about the way representations work. We can also simply like be okay when they are against it, right? I mean, it's interesting how, how much pushback our our children get when they try to stand up against the Indian mascot. And we have to do more. And it shouldn't come down to Native kids having to go stand in front of school boards and do things like that. School boards need to take responsibility for protecting Native kids. This is a stereotype it's discrimination. I mean, there are laws in this country that say this is not allowed in educational spaces. This should not be a community debate, right. And when they do that, often, the families that pay the price are Native families. So we have to do better.
ADRIENNE: Next, weʻre gonna be moving onto Skoden, which is our lightning round on Indian time. Basically all it means is we have some questions in this basket, and we're going to pull them out and answer them. You're allowed to pass or also answer the person's question before you if you feel so inclined. The rules are loose.
STEPHANIE: Oh, I get to pick the question, okay.
ADRIENNE: We're answering too so donʻt worry.
STEPHANIE: Okay, what is your favorite book of all time?
MATIKA: Ooh, good one.
STEPHANIE: Oh do I answer this? I thought I got to ask you the question.
MATIKA: I am. I think my favorite book of all time, I think, like that influenced me the most was first Kerouac because on the road, like got me when I was like, 13 it was like, gave me this life. I have to go travel and then do heroin. And then and then the next book that changed me was the Alchemist. It made me believe that the world wants me to succeed. I was like 16 and so those aren't my favorite, like literature, but they changed my life the most.
ADRIENNE: And I had a really hard time we had this question before in the basket and I like I can't answer it. I have so many books that have been like so foundational from like, I think about Harry Potter as being something that was really change my mindset on being able to imagine like a different world. There's this book from the 1930s called I Capture the Castle, which is like, so problematic on some levels, but it's also just beautiful. And I love it. And my sister, my sister and I have read it, like 100 times between us, I think we even stole the library book version of it. Um, and then all of the, like, Native literature, so I could just go on and on. I love to read, I read a lot.
STEPHANIE: Yeah, I mean, I definitely I also love to read I love I mean, it's been fun having young kids and getting to read books with them. But two books, I think, for me that were really like, they came around at the right time in my life. So one was Women on the Edge of Time. And it's really about it's an imagined world, it has that kind of Walden, you know, feel to it. But it was really about how would the world be different for women, if you could change some of these social structures. And for me, it really was the first time I really started to rethink the interface between inequality and identity. And so it was a really powerful and it's the main characters are like, you know, this Chicano woman and this African American woman. And, and so you know, it just I just remember being in college and being like, and so really powerful. And then there were really sort of two authors, so Yellow Raft on Blue Water, and I know that were problems with Michael Dorris. But that book, the way that it talks across three generations and experience, for me really helped me to see the ways in which the transmission of trauma, the way that history gets transmitted across generations, but then also the way that we come to identify two generations and our connection to both the past and the future. And, and so I think the other is some poetry by Harjo, that I just absolutely, I've heard her so many times, like, there's one about the what is it the window on the set, like, so they're standing at a window in Chicago on the south side, I mean, like, you know, so as someone who's not like a poet at all, but I her voice, I could just always hear, like, I could hear the struggle. I had been there, I could feel it, I could see it in my community. And it was the first time I could connect literature to what my experience was like on the reservation and growing up there, I could seriously go on about like 100 other books.
ADRIENNE: I did think of one I thought of one that is more specific. And that is Wilma Mankillerʻs autobiography. And it was, as you were talking, that was the book for me, that was the first time I kind of saw myself reflected in a story, because I just knew a Wilma Mankiller as this amazing leader in our tribe, the first like female principal Chief, but I didn't know that she had grown up away and came back to the community and that she had this story of reconnection, and that in the book, she talks about, like, all those experiences of like going to this dog dances and going to these spaces, and that completely resonates with my own experiences, too. And so to be able to think like this person that I admired so deeply, actually shared a lot more with me than I thought was powerful. And I returned to that book pretty often.
STEPHANIE: A total side story about Wilma Mankiller. I met her at every stage of my career. And by the time I was faculty at Arizona, and we, like the third time, we got to sit down and share a meal together. I was like, You make me feel like I'm in the right place all the time. Because it's like, you know, I was at Kenyon, I was the only Native there, we got to have dinner together. And I just remember asking her like, How do I know that I'm not losing who I am as a Native person here. And she was like, Are you kidding? Like, you are so much more than any one experience? You are collection of values and, and stories and histories and you carry all that you're not like, Okay, I got it. I'm good. And then I saw her when I was at Stanford. And again, got to have a conversation with her. And so I just felt like she wasn't someone. I mean, she's not from my community, but she was this very powerful, meaningful woman in my life, elder , who, just every time I talked to him, it was like, okay, she said to me what I need to hear right now, okay, I'm good. We can keep moving, moving on. And so.
ADRIENNE: I found out she and my auntie wrote letters to each other. Like later in her life when she was sick. My auntie wrote her a letter that was like, I admire you, thank you for your work. I'm sorry. Like you're going through these things. And she wrote back and they had a correspondence and that aunty is not super involved in Native stuff at all. She just felt like he moved to write. And as someone who gets a lot of correspondence from people, I don't know, like, I don't think I would take that time. So she just, totally, I wish I would have had the opportunity to sit down and meet her. She seems amazing. Yeah. I know. So that's why this is not really a lightning round.
MATIKA: If you could smudge anyone living or dead? Who would it be? And why? I'm gonna go with Trump today. Someone needs to smudge him off like heʻs trippin, heʻs so trippin.
ADRIENNE: I donʻt feel like it would help at this point, but maybe.
STEPHANIE: I don't know, I, I feel like I can't answer that question. Because to be honest, I feel pretty down on a lot of different domains. And I can't quite figure out like, Who do I need to stand up to be powerful in this space. And when I think about, like, to me, smudging has sort of both, it's sort of getting rid of the bad, but it's also like giving one strength. And so then they're like, people I sort of I want Michelle Obama to have more strength than I want, you know, and I start to think of like people who have stood up who we need allies. And I think of people in our community who I want to stand up, some of the elders I wish would stand up more and, you know, speak up against things that are going on. So I can't actually, I'm struggling to, like put it in any one place. But really like, the world as it is right now is not the world that I feel comfortable in. And so, I sometimes feel like it feels like the world is upside down. And we all know it's upside down. And we agree not to talk about the fact that it's upside down. But we just keep walking through the world. And you know, things just keep dropping to the sky. And at the end of the day, you're like, Why? Why can't we right this? And so, there's sort of a very deep, unsettled feeling that I have about the way the world is right now. But I keep hoping that ship is going to right itself. Or maybe we need to do a whole lot of work to write it.
MATIKA:For the Native mascots conversation, I'm going to take a moment to thank Dr. Fryberg and Amanda Blackhorse, for visiting with us, these strong Indigenous resilient women, they've been an incredible source of light and inspiration for both Adrian and I. And now hopefully for you, too. Thank you. listener, thank you so much for joining us. We hope that you enjoyed this conversation. We love you and weʻre glad youʻre here with us. Be sure to subscribe and come back next week for a discussion with Dr. Kim Tallbear - can a DNA test make me Native American? - it is a spicy one, you're gonna like it. You know, it takes a lot of work to put something like this together and I just want to thank our team that make it possible. Teo, Brooke, and Juanita [thank you in Native language], our sponsors, raise your hands, you are so grateful for you. Peace and love, friends. See you next week.