A Salute to Native Americans

Conversation at the monastery table recently included the Washington Redskins being renamed over the "over my dead body" protests of, well, Redskins who unlike the PC crowd appreciated the recognition; my abbot, an anthropologist by training, explained that at a first contact European explorers met Native Americans who lived in a place where the mosquitos were very bad, and so they blended an ointment to repel mosquitoes and slathered it all over their skin to make the problem less obnoxious, and the ingredients included red berries that turned the bug repellent red, so at a first contact Europeans met locals whose skin had been reddened more than anybody else the explorers had ever seen, and called them, "Redskins."

It's a similar story to calling Native Americans "Indians" when Spanish explorers believed they'd reached India; the term is not politically correct but it is used widely by Native Americans to refer to themselves. (I personally avoid that use of "Indian" because I sometimes want to refer to natives of the Americas and sometimes want to refer to natives of India, but this is not because I consider the term abrasive. They don't!) I grew up using the term "Native American," although I acknowledge the term "indigenous peoples."

For an example of perfectly respectful use of the term "redskin," I would refer to the reader by including Native Americans among a testimony to basic morals shared across all kinds of cultures, in C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man, in an appendix about a universal human grandeur:

'You will see them take care of their kindred [and] the children of their friends ... never reproaching them in the least.' (Redskin. Le Jeune, quoted ERE [Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics] v. 437)

'You will see them take care ... of old men.' (Redskin. Le Jeune, quoted ERE v. 437)

'The killing of the women and more especially of the young boys and girls who are to go to make up the future strength of the people, is the saddest part... and we feel it very sorely.' (Redskin. Account of the Battle of Wounded Knee. ERE V. 432)

'You will see them take care of., widows, orphans, and old men, never reproaching them.' (Redskin. ERE v. 439)

And as far as the insensitivity of renaming the Washington Redskins and trampling the wishes of those in the community who appreciate the recognition, we have an example of political correctness at its worst. Old references to Native Americans are removed and tarred not politically correct even when they are not offensive to Native Americans.

So I would like to give a small and inadequate tribute to Native Americans.

I am interested in cultures, and I was always fascinated by the encounters with Native American cultures in books like Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television and The Dance of Life: The Other Dimension of Time. And after earning a second master's in theology, one of the places I contacted about teaching was an Orthodox seminary in Alaska where a friend moved to, that would be serving Aleuts. And I've brought toys for, and spoken in broken Spanish with, an Ecuadorian family who fled the violence there and reached the back yard of a parish I'm connected to. Though there it hasn't really been a cultural interest for me; it was, "The parents are working on basics like getting an income; they probably don't have leisure to buy good, colorful, stimulating toys for their ten month old boy whom they obviously love very much."

Beyond that, I don't know what to say besides that Native Americans have always been a little on my radar, I count it a personal treasure to have been invited to join a Native American dance, and they are more on my radar now that political correctness is erasing references to "Redskins" and "Indians" over the strident objections of Redskins and Indians themselves.

You, Native Americans, are on my radar and always have been, at least a little. And if the erasure is effaced from a handegg team, I will humbly offer you a posting on my own website.