“Trail of Tears” Banner Goes Beyond Political Correctness

Inappropriate sign used in last Friday's football playoff game.

Inappropriate sign used at football playoff game in Alabama

A photograph of the inappropriate bust-thru sign that read “Hey Indians, get ready to leave in a Trail of Tears Round 2″ during a state football play-off game in Alabama circulated around the Internet on social media sites last weekend like wildfire among American Indians.

The banner was made by the cheerleaders of McAdory High School, which is located in McCalla, Alabama.

Needless to say, American Indians who saw the photograph were highly incensed and outraged by the callous and insensitive usage of the term “Trail of Tears” that was intended to taunt the opposing team—the Pinson Valley Indians.

In Indian country, the Trail of Tears represents a dark chapter in American history. During the 1830s, several tribes—including the Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Muscogee (Creek) and Seminole—were forced to leave their homelands in the southeastern portion of the United States to Indian Territory in which is now the state of Oklahoma. For some it was a 2,200 mile journey through nine states.

Along the way, thousands died.

While the true historic data of how many actually died during the Trail of Tears will never be known, it is estimated that up to 10,000 men, women and children died from starvation, illness and exposure along the journey.

So there is no humor in using the term Trail of Tears as a catchy phrase on the football field or in any other arena for that matter. Whoever came up with the phrase showed gross ignorance – or even indifference – to American Indians and our history.

The national media would have been all over this story had it involved a reference to the Holocaust or Jewish people. For some insane reason, non-Native people must feel American Indians are “fair game” when it comes to using the term “Indians” in the context of sports.

Often it is said that non-Native people use Indian names to honor American Indians. Clearly, there was no honor on the Alabama football field to Indians when the banner was displayed a week ago Friday.

The inappropriate banner presents a strong argument for non-Native sports teams to never use the word “Indians” or tribal names as a sports name, mascot or other imagery.

The argument against using Indian names in sports goes way beyond political correctness. The argument against using the term “Trail of Tears” goes way beyond political correctness. It is really about human decency.

By this past Monday, schools officials issued an apology and the blame went to the cheerleaders with an explanation that the person who is normally in charge of the cheerleaders was out on maternity leave.

Ouch.

Blaming high school cheerleaders and the absence of someone to oversee them seems as if the male administrators were playing the “blame game.”

Given the size of the banner, other people beyond the cheerleaders must have known the Trail of Tears message was on the banner.

While the principal said in his apology that was posted to the school’s website he was taking the full blame, it was the cheerleaders who had to go visit a Trail of Tears museum as their punishment so that they would never make the mistake again.

I would hope the school officials would send an apology letter to the various tribes that were impacted by the Trail of Tears. It seems like the civil thing to do.

The blame for this inappropriate banner should be shared by a system that has consistently denied American Indians a proper place in American history. It can begin with the school officials.

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