Trail of Tears’ sign on ESPN’S College GameDay Show sparks Faux-pology


Overly zealous OSU fans display gross disrespect of American Indian history

Overly zealous OSU fans display gross disrespect of American Indian history

Guest Commentary

On August 30, 2014, ESPN’s College GameDay Show aired two disturbing and questionable signs from fans attending the OSU Cowboys vs Florida State Seminoles game in Arlington, Texas.

One sign read “Hands Up, Don’t Spear.” A combination of the phrase used to protest police brutality in the murder of Mike Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and the “Fear the Spear” phrase used by FSU.

The other sign that read “Send ‘Em Home. #Trail_of_Tears #GoPokes” sparked immediate backlash across social media. A photo of this sign was originally “favorited” by Oklahoma State University on twitter, but soon after they apologized saying that they missed the hashtag and they requested for the photo to be removed from Twitter.

Austin Buchanan, the student who created the sign issued the following statement:

“My name is Austin Buchanan. I am a junior at Oklahoma State University, having transferred last spring. Today was my first football game as an OSU Cowboy, so I am obviously new to OSU’s game-day traditions. In my zeal to support the OSU Cowboys in their season opener against the Florida State Seminoles in Dallas today, my friends and I made a banner. I appeared in a picture with that banner, which I shared via my Twitter account. Included on our banner was a hashtag insensitively referencing the Trail of Tears. The Twitter post and picture were retweeted and shared by many, eventually going viral.

“Though we did not set out to hurt or offend anyone when we made our banner, I see that it did just that. Referencing the Trail of Tears in such a flippant and disrespectful manner was insensitive and wrong, and I make no defense for our having had such a lapse in judgment. I apologize for our mistake. I am truly sorry.

“To all Native Americans: I hope you can and will forgive me for diminishing a part of your history that should never be made light of. I pledge that I will invest diligent study reacquainting myself with the horrors of Trail of Tears so I don’t repeat the mistake I made today.

“To the entire OSU family of administrators, students, student athletes, alumni, and fans: I embarrassed us today. I am sorry, and I hope you, as well, can forgive me. I love OSU. I want to contribute to, rather than take from, OSU’s positive image in the world. Today I failed in that effort. I promise to do better in the future. While I can’t promise I won’t make more mistakes, I commit to learn from them, hopefully becoming a better person in the process.

“Further, in the aftermath of today’s incident, the content of some of my social media accounts was called into question for various reasons. That is as it should be. As I look back on things I have shared online, I realize I’ve said hurtful, insensitive, and mean things that do not reflect the young man I want to be. I have deactivated my Twitter account so that I can give serious thought to how I can use all forms of communication more appropriately and positively in the future.

“I hope today’s mistake on my part serves as a reminder to all of us to put more thought into what we say, do, and share via social media. Words mean things, and statements have consequences. I have seen that very clearly today. To all who share part of themselves with the world via social media, please look to me as an example and a reminder that words can never be un-said and that what we share online can never, ever go away—though we might gladly give all we have to make it so.

“Lastly, to the many who have attempted to contact me in many various ways. Thank you for holding me accountable to the higher standard I should maintain as a responsible young man. I have heard you, and I will work hard to make sure that I do not repeat these kinds of mistakes.

“Words cannot fully express my sorrow and shame. While you certainly don’t owe it to me, I ask for your forgiveness.”

While many are quick to take his apology at face value because they feel that he didn’t intend to offend or disparage the Native community and that we should accept his apology, it doesn’t change that what these students did was despicable and they need to be held accountable. Apparently, I am not the only one who feels this way.

“As a graduate from Oklahoma State University, I was extremely embarrassed by the students who made this sign, as a Native American I found it extremely distasteful and feel the students should be found and disciplined. It is my hope that Native people across the nation don’t see this as an OSU problem, but as an act of pure stupidity by a group of kids who didn’t know what would happen as a result of their careless action.” -Carmello Reveles Sr., OSU alumni.

“In many ways, after dealing with Mary Fallin inviting herself to the Choctaw Labor Day celebration in order to con votes out of Natives these past few days, waking up to that image of smiling white faces proudly holding up a banner that reduces a death-march, a massacre, that members of my family, including children, died on, was the final straw, says Louis Fowler, writer for the Red Dirt Report. “It is obvious whites are waging a war on Natives and will do anything to denigrate us especially now that we are fighting back. I will not get over it. I will not accept apologies. I will not accept the ignorance argument anymore. I will not accept the whole “they need to be educated” argument. It is not the jobs of minorities–Native or otherwise–to educate whites on how to be better people. They should want to do that anyway and seek that education out themselves if it truly means that much to them.

He adds, “OSU needs to publicly identify each one of these students and deal with them in a harsh manner to send a message. Until they do, these kids are representatives of the school and its beliefs. To make a mockery of the Trail of Tears–especially on the anniversary of this genocide–is nothing but pure evil and an evil that must be extinguished.”

“Over 100,000 visitors came to Oklahoma this weekend to celebrate the survival of the Cherokee Nation. I doubt a single one of those cowards who made that racist sign would have the fortitude to drive to the East a few hours and stand in front of the Cherokee people with their hate speech. Shame on our neighbors for having such hate in their hearts towards our families, says Jennie Stockle, indigenous rights activist and executive committee member of EONM (Eradicating Offensive Native Mascotry. “How much blood and tears from a single people-men, women, and children-elderly and infant-do people like that want? Americans need to see that the answer for racist people like that is-all of it. That is how deep hate and genocide goes for some truly sick and depraved people who were most definitely taught that it was okay to act in such a way. Sadly, they live right next door and go to the same schools as my children. In fact, my husband worked to build that very stadium. It leaves me incredibly shaken and saddened.”

Many natives across social media, but especially here in Oklahoma, believe that the only way to quell these acts of willful ignorance is for the offenders to be held responsible for their actions. An apology is not enough and is the reason that these kind of acts continue to happen. You can willfully engage in cultural appropriation and blatantly racist behavior towards Native American people and as long as you issue a faux-pology all is forgiven. There are no real consequences and there should be, especially in this case.

There’s no excuse, no justification for what they did. They were fully aware of the atrocities of the “Trail of Tears” and CHOSE to use it anyway because how else does one taunt a team named after an Native American tribe that uses a native mascot? DUH! He mocks the very real genocide of the very real Native American people. Then, he feigns ignorance of his malicious words/behavior and issue a very sincere sounding faux-pology and goes on with his life. Meanwhile, the Indigenous people who call him out on his racist words/behavior are told to “Get Over It”, “Stop being so Thin-Skinned”, and to “Quit being so PC”. They are, also, subjected to further racist behavior by those who decide to follow his lead.

This is why intent does not matter.

“Racism is not in your intent. Your intent is immaterial in how racist your actions are. This isn’t about you BEING a racist. It’s about you DOING A THING that is racist. Your intent doesn’t change it. Your ignorance of its meaning doesn’t change it. It’s got nothing to do with you as a person and everything to do with the meaning of your action in the context of socio-cultural history.” – moniquill (on red face & cultural appropriation)

The intent of these students may have been to be funny and to show school spirit (although I fail to see how humor can be found in the “Trail of Tears”), but it does not negate the fact that what they did was an act of racism. It does not negate the fact that it is the Indigenous people who are left to deal with the consequences and damage of the choices made by these students.

I commend Oklahoma State University for their quick response to this issue and for recognizing the damaging nature of these students’ actions. I commend the student who issued the apology, although I cannot accept it. Until all the students involved are not only held accountable for their actions by the university, but are willing to accept and face the consequences of their actions….apologies are meaningless.

“The one thing the apology does is shows that a college “kid” CAN understand these things and none of them, from this point forward, have an excuse. Everyone and every school is now on notice. They need to be called out quickly and harshly for repeating this mistake.” -Summer Wesley, Oklahoma Tribal Law Attorney.

I couldn’t agree more.

Johnnie Jae is of the Jiwere-Nutachi and Chahta tribes of Oklahoma. Executive Managing Partner & Midwest Regional Director @ Native Max Magazine | Executive Committee member of Eradicating Offensive Native Mascotry| Member of the Native American Journalists Association.


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