We Are Not Victims: Quechan People, Suicide, and the Redskins



This is a short story about a group of Native people who refused to be victims.

I wrote a story some time ago about “Poverty Porn”—poverty porn is created by people who have a vested interest in pushing the narrative and images that Native people are nothing but victims. Helpless. These clowns pretend that our homelands are these shitty places and that’s all; that they are chosen by God to document and rescue us from them. The Aaron Hueys of the world. The Dan Snyders, who only want to talk about the “more important things” without having any freakin’ clue what those more important things really are. 

RELATED: Don't Believe the Hype: Beyond Poverty Porn, Pain and Drunk Indians

It is called “porn” because it’s excessive. Just like in real porn (or so I hear), yes, those activities actually happen—but it’s exaggerated. Not realistic. In poverty porn, those folks who create those “victim” images try to pretend that dysfunction is the norm with no healthy behaviors to balance it out just like real porn people pretend (or so I hear) that threesomes and little people are the norm. 

The point of that story? Native people are not victims. Historically, we couldn’t afford to be victims—blame our environment for being harsh, blame the weather for being cold. It didn’t work. Our ancestors knew that blaming the environment didn’t work, that blaming the weather was stupid. 

Maybe it was the weather’s fault for snowing too damn early. It didn’t matter either way—we still had to feed our families despite the surprise snowstorm. And that prevented our ancestors from ever becoming victims: we still have to feed our families. We still have to survive. 


Poverty porn and it’s advocates (Huey, Snyder, many more) give the image that when Native people look at the numbers about Native American suicide, they are supposed to get depressed. They are supposed to wonder what they’re supposed to do and throw their hands up in the air—like a victim does—and feel completely powerless to stop it. 

Life happens to them—they cannot control it. 

But in this short story, the Native people—a group of Quechan tribal members—didn’t get depressed. They got organized to understand suicide. They didn’t wonder what they were supposed to do; they developed a plan to prevent suicide. 

Those Quechan tribal members didn’t throw their hands up in the air as if they had no options—no, they put their heads together and decided that they were going to change the situation. No victims. Self-determination. And…they were so self-determinant and STRONG that they didn’t even feel that they had to take any money that was offered to them.

RELATED: "Poverty Porn" Is Manufactured; Stories of Struggle Are Real

OOHHHHH…I didn’t tell you that part of this short story?? See, some condescending and insulting white man named Dan Snyder was willing to help them with their suicide problem IF they were willing to play ball. Lie. Say that the condescending and insulting white man was NOT, in fact, condescending and insulting. Pretend that he likes Native people—some of his best friends are Indian. Pretend that the Redskins name isn’t insulting and pretend that they’re cool with it. 

That’s all that they had to do—play along and that man, Dan Snyder, will give them hush money to prevent suicide within their communities. Just like he did with so many other impoverished Native communities, Dan Snyder came to Kwatsan Media, Inc. (a California incorporated non-profit created by a group of Quechan Tribal Members) and offered them money to build the skate park. (No, not the Quechan Tribe—he came to a group of the Tribal members, because that’s his tactic: divide and conquer. Offer them hush money.) He figured that they were helpless, so of course they would take.

But instead, these Quechan Tribal members were so principled that they said, “We are not going to take this blood money, this hush money. We are going to work to end suicide within our communities AND we are going to do it in a manner consistent with our tribal values: integrity, strength, self-determination. Indian Country will have our back.” 

RELATED: Quechan Skate Park Project Turns Down "Bribe Money" From Redskins

And they did that. These Quechan people refused Dan Snyder’s blood money—that is a matter of fact. Now we need to show that we can do more than simply complain and snipe when Tribes accept that bribe money—we gotta show we will likewise support our people when they show strength.


I’m asking ALL of you a favor: Donate SOME amount of money to this skatepark that is dedicated to ending suicides within a Native community. Donate to these strong Natives who had the audacity to refuse Dan Snyder’s blood money. $5... $10... $25... something. Show that we’ll work together. Me? I’m running a race (I hate running) with a crew of Native people and allies to raise money for this. Sponsor me! See ME suffer! 100% of the donations are going directly to the skatepark—no administrative fee, not even any Gatorade. 

100%. I don’t ask for much—I love the support you give me and am thankful for it. Let’s also support our folks.

Let’s work together. We’re not victims. Here’s a way we can help ourselves. PLEASE give at quechanskate.com: $5, $10, whatever…let’s do this. No poverty porn here—these are powerful Native people. 

Gyasi Ross
Blackfeet Nation/Suquamish Territories
Twitter: @BigIndianGyasi

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tmsyr11's picture
Submitted by tmsyr11 on
That is quite a stretch….poverty, suicide, Bad White Guy Synder, skate-park. Poverty is the parent of revolution and crime.” ― Aristotle; my only question is has anybody inquired and asked where/how Quechan Casino profits are going/leaving? Wouldn't this be the responsibility of the duly appointed/elected Quechan Tribal Nation Government? >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> I always thought from my understanding that Suicide was the result of self idiotic maneuvers (tearing one's back), living with the back-pain, and having children from three failed relationships, and sticking a shotgun in your mouth to 'get even' with an ex over overdue child-support payments….No? >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> Bad White-Man? Then there must be Good White-Man too? >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> No Skate-park. There are over 570+ OTHER established legitimate Indian Nations that could and should use the available offer with funds. Let's see I would like to see supplemental funds to go into a 50-year Waste/water Treatment facility spewing waste into the near-by ditch. How about Redskin funds to go into a humane jail holding facilities for tribal members waiting to be extradicted for jail for drugs, alcohol crimes, domestic abuse. How about supplemental funds for a Tribal Domestic Abuse Center? >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> I am not shy nor would i be shamed in taking money meant for social services. The appropriations (federal) are not coming because of FEDERAL POLITICS - much was promised in 2008 and 2012, but are tribal nations better off than from 2000 or 2004? This is no longer about "false pride" or "fake bravado", this is about survival despite having to endure trival issues as a logo or brand name.

Michael Madrid's picture
Michael Madrid
Submitted by Michael Madrid on
To tmsyr11: Here you go, sunshine! All you need to do now (AFTER reading this article) is convince us all that you know more about this problem than a psychologist with a Ph.D. or Native Americans themselves: The Harmful Psychological Effects of Washington’s Redskins Mascot Michael A. Friedman, Ph.D. 9/27/13 The simplest way to dismiss the intensifying national controversy over the word redskin is to insist that the NFL's use of the slur is merely a victimless crime. This rationale suggests that the Washington football team's name may be an ugly epithet, but nobody is really harmed by its continued use, and therefore those who want it changed are just part of the PC police. The problem with this flippant line of reasoning, though, is that this is not just an issue of political correctness. Promoting such an epithet with millions of marketing dollars creates very real mental health consequences—and not just for the indigenous populations the word denigrates. Not only does the use of this slur risk causing direct damage to the mental and physical health of our country's Native American population, it also puts us all at risk for both participating in and being harmed by ongoing prejudice. The effect of prejudice on minority populations is well documented throughout our country’s history. Evidence from studies of obese, gay and lesbian, African-American, Latino, Asian and female populations suggest that prejudice perpetuates major mental disorders such as depression, anxiety and alcoholism, as well as physical health problems such as cardiovascular disease. These health problems are caused not only by the direct biological effect of increased stress on the body, but also worsening self-concept as a result of prejudicial behavior. Harmful prejudicial attitudes underlie systematic discrimination in education, employment and housing that destroys quality of life, health and well-being. These findings are consistent among Native Americans. The effects of systematic prejudice and discrimination against Native Americans can be best illustrated in that Native American/Alaska Natives have among the highest suicide rates in the country. The rate of suicide among Native Americans has risen 65% in the past decade alone. The acknowledgement of the catastrophic effects of prejudice on the Native American population prompted the American Psychological Association in 2005 to strongly urge the banning of all Native American mascots for sports teams. Read more at http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2013/09/27/harmful-psychological-effects-washingtons-redskins-mascot

Frank N JoJo Cochran
Frank N JoJo Cochran
Submitted by Frank N JoJo Cochran on
Money is money and if the kids get to play ~and~ Dan gets a good nights sleep ~ that's good ~ The tribe that I relinquished my enrollment from took the money ~ for the kids playground ~ no shame in their game ~ I am enrolling my 2 youngest kids @ the The Rocky Boy Chippewa Cree tribe because they care about kids and elders and that is what we are supposed to care about (or so I hear)~ I teach my kids to walk in two worlds and we know right from wrong ~ this is not blood money ~ I am not red ~ I'm brown ~ and the picture on the helmets and sportswear ~ I like it ~ not a big dumb ~ but good bone structure ~ I'll have mud slung at me ~ that's what adults do ~ take the heat so the kids can play ~ very proud to be 1/2 Cree ~ from Rocky Boy Montana ~:)

tmsyr11's picture
Submitted by tmsyr11 on
I'm sorry, I cannot see the connection between the Good Dr's medical 'opinion' on the Washington Redskin name and the problems that exist today on indian reservations, especially the poorer, Western Indian tribes, i.e. Navajo Tribe. I located various web-links & articles about the problems and issues and changes faced by Indian tribes. I'm no expert but just a realist and for all practical, sensible purposes, I can't accept the Redskins are in anyway contributing to these problems. In fact, blaming the Washington Redskins name or making Dan Snyder the "bad White-guy" seems….well desperate. I am not even sure if the links will be allowed on the ICTMN, but there are at least 14 links (below) highlighting issues as sexual abuse, alcoholism, diabetes, substance addiction, domestic violence, jails and isolations, etc. (NOTE: but on a side note, Indian Casino revenues are flourishing and obviously going somewhere else). I don't have to look far beyond my tribal relations to witness this happening either. http://www.forbes.com/sites/johnkoppisch/2011/12/1... http://www.spotlightonpoverty.org/ExclusiveComment... http://www.nrcprograms.org/site/PageServer?pagenam... http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/21/us/on-indian-res... http://america.aljazeera.com/watch/shows/america-t... http://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/south-dakotas-... http://www.ibtimes.com/native-americans-tragedy-al... http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jay-tavare/suicide-a... http://investigations.nbcnews.com/_news/2012/10/10... http://www.nytimes.com/2007/06/09/us/09suicide.htm... http://nativetimes.com/news/federal/3297-us-senate... http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-secur... http://missoulian.com/news/state-and-regional/prog... http://www.fronterasdesk.org/content/native-americ...

stevef's picture
Submitted by stevef on
Indian speakem with forked tongue...( Thing About Skins Read more at https://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/department/thing-about-skins)...I tried to import the image of 'The Thing about 'Skins'...with the work Skins in red...So, let me see if I understand this, its OK for Indian Country to day to discuss 'Redskins' as something that we call ourselves and have for most of my 55 years of life with a certain amount of pride at time......now your telling me that it's degrading and offense....but only when some dumb @$$ honky named Synder says it. No, wait, NCAI says "No 'real Indian' ever refers to themselves as a Redskin." So Chemawa all Indian boarding school and reservations all over Washington, Oregon and Idaho must be full of fake Indians? .....Or.....could it be that we just learned why someone of you have brown eyes? Also, I don't really care or need Mr. Friedman to tell me if or when I should be insulted.

tmsyr11's picture
Submitted by tmsyr11 on
my reply wasn't posted by ICMTN and it would've easily countered the above Strawman (STARSHINES) argument (ICTMN so much for freedom to speak? Understandably, the links could have been left off, but chose instead to list them). Here goes again: poverty existed long before Dan Synder came along. As much as the purveyors and instigators of Hate want to align Dan Synder and the Washington Redskins with today's poverty, there are countless news links that explain poverty in forms of diabetes, health, employment, isolation, alcohol & drug abuse, etc. The list goes on. Suicide is only responding to what could for one being deemed hopeless and powerless over their scenario. That is unfortunate but for the grace of God…..The good doctor is only one of so many professional opinions out there. Why doesn't anybody ask where is the Indian Tribal Government (as representative of the Indian ppls.) in securing social service resources? Why can't the loud and proud Redskin agitators combine their efforts and challenge the US Federal Govt? Are these agitators even American Indian and do they still practice those traditional/conservative ties that bound an Indian Nation?

Submitted by crystal on
tmsyr11 and stevef never have anything positive to say about any Indian issues. Tricksters in troll's clothing or on the Snyder bankrolls? Whatever the case, Ross is a strong voice for Native people and some, like the two mentioned, only want to keep Natives down, make light of the issues we are concerned about, and discourage those making positive progress for Natives, in any way. I would rather hate filled discourse stink up the comments sections of some other deserving news website, (Fox News perhaps?), but there is always a place for the tricksters as long as we all know who those tricksters are. Keep it up Ross, you've got those guys scared!

builds-the-fire's picture
Submitted by builds-the-fire on
Asking "...has anybody inquired and asked where/how Quechan Casino profits are going/leaving?" is akin to asking, "has anybody inquired and asked where/how the Federal government is spending our money?" My point? The question is irrelevant to the argument. Life is something that we all want. Even the truly evil among us hold onto life until the very end. Suicide is the act of a desperate person—no matter the reason. The WHY can be as unique as the person, but when such a desperate act exists among a people in high numbers, it stands to reason that there is probably a common denominator that can be traced to a root cause. In the case of Native Americans that root cause includes the history behind the word “redskins”. When one considers that the history of that word includes soldiers of the 1800s shooting—at point blank range—the elderly, children still at their mother’s knee, and babies—and the fact that the general population was encouraged to go out and murder “redskins” in order to steal their land—it’s a wonder anyone would want to use that word at all, other than in historical context. On another note, I read "ICTMN Staff" in the byline of this article, wondered why the opening paragraph was in all caps (knew after I kept reading, of course), kept reading, got intrigued, kept reading and said to myself "this sounds more like a Gyasi Ross article". Near the end of the article, I couldn't stand it any longer, and had to scroll down to see if it was, and yelp, it is. Went back up to where I'd left off and finished reading the article. Gyasi writes with insight, so whether you agree with him or not, his articles will make you THINK. I visited the donation site. I’m not big on donating online, so I’ll mail a check to them. I will give what I can. Unfortunately, it won’t be very big, but it will be something that I can do to help. And really, as Gyasi expressed in his article, that’s what it will take, the people doing something good for themselves.

Michael Madrid's picture
Michael Madrid
Submitted by Michael Madrid on
To Crystal and Builds the Fire: I'm glad to know that I'm not the only one who thinks tmsyr11 and stevef are trolls with a chip on their shoulder. There is an old saying among White people and it nearly always escapes those who could use the advice most: "It is better to remain quiet and be thought an idiot, than to open your mouth and remove all doubt."