(L to R) Kyle Blackhorse, Analicia Salas, Megan LaRose, and Jared Massey pose in front of a 12 News van after meeting with News Director Mark Casey at the Phoenix TV station to discuss use of the term "R*dskins" during its newscasts.

Navajo Student Debates R-Word: We Are too Small of a Populous to be Infighting!


Last fall, a handful of Native American youth had two opportunities to meet with the news director from 12 News, a Phoenix NBC affiliate station, to discuss the use of the word “R*dskin” during its newscasts. Below is an essay written by Analicia Salas, one of the students who attended the meetings. Salas, 14, is Navajo, and a descendant of Gabrieleno Kizh, Luiseno La Jolla, and Mexican. She is secretary of the Morning Star Leaders Youth Council and a 9th Grader at North Phoenix Preparatory. Morning Star Leaders Youth Council is an Intertribal Youth Council serving tribal youth in the Phoenix-Metro area.

Last fall, I attended an R-word protest at the University of Phoenix Stadium as the Arizona Cardinals hosted the Washington R*dskins and learned much. I was surprised at the divisiveness this issue created, and even more amazed at how the dominant culture’s age old tactic of “divide and conquer” is still very effective amongst Native American people. Following are two examples of this effective tactic: 1) Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly accepted an invite from the Washington team owner Dan Snyder to attend this football game in his suite, even after Navajo Nation council delegates passed a 9-to-2 resolution early last year taking an official stance opposing the derogatory term; 2) Administrators from Red Mesa High School on the Navajo Nation reportedly accepted tickets to the football game for themselves along with more than 110 students. For those teachers and students who were willing to apply critical thought, and were courageous enough to engage in discussion, indeed, experienced a learning opportunity.

That same week, Mary Kim Titla, executive director of the United National Indian Tribal Youth (UNITY) and former AZ Channel 12 news personality, asked members of the Morning Star Leaders Youth Council members and other youth to participate in a Q&A session regarding the protest with 12 News Director Mark Casey. This discussion was enlightening on multiple fronts: 1) I learned how the influence of the almighty dollar and/or popular opinion has over (the popular meme) “standing on the right side of history”; 2) What news people consider “news worthy”; and 3) How 12 News, at this time, is taking a neutral position on the mascot topic because of how “muddy the water” is (in addition to every American’s right to freedom of speech as outlined in the First Amendment).

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I have temporarily and grudgingly accepted why our local Channel 12 News outlet has taken a neutral position under the guise of “muddy waters” and Freedom of Speech. There is conflicting support or non-support from Native people in regards to the “R” Word. For the majority of the population, this issue is muddied when mixed reports are coming in from different Native Americans. I will argue this point when it comes to the mascot issue, and hope this argument transcends into other arguments that divide or have divided our Native people. 

Although many of our Navajo people may not directly link the significance of the R-Word’s bloody past to our Navajo history, the point is: the R-Word’s bloody history is linked to the past of our Native kin from throughout the United States and abroad. I use the word kin with intent, especially from what I’ve learned about the Navajo term “K e’.”

I am not fully aware of other divisive issues out there yet (aside from this topic and our own Navajo 2014 Election debacle), but whatever they are, we as Native people have to consider that our enrolled population is about 1 percent of the U.S. population; we are too small of a populous in this overwhelming dominant culture to be infighting! I am Post 7th Generation, and choose to take a stand collectively with my Indigenous relatives throughout the Nation. I will use this learning experience as fuel to propel and guide my consciousness into the future. 

I stand beside Native Youth who have the courage to influence change, and assume the leadership responsibility associated with being a change-agent. I stand beside the 1,400 Native youth leaders from around the country who I was privileged to cross paths with this past summer in Portland at the National UNITY Conference. Thank you, Morning Star and UNITY, for helping me find my voice and promote pride in who I am as an Indigenous Strong Young Woman. I am not a mascot. I am not a Halloween costume. 

Special thanks to Mr. Casey of Channel 12 here in Phoenix for taking time out of your busy schedule to meet with myself, my two younger sisters along with Kyle Blackhorse, Megan LaRose, and Jared Ivins-Massey of the White Mountain Apache Tribe and Project Support Assistant at the UNITY office. Ahéhee', Hágoónee’.

For more information about UNITY, visit UNITYInc.org.


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