By Una Yarsky
“I am not your mascot, and I don’t live in a tipi. See me for who I am, hear me say my name.”
Today, American Indians are both visible and invisible in American culture. There are caricatures of their faces. Movies that romanticize their history. And, sports teams that use their faces as mascots, all while refusing to acknowledge the damage these depictions might have.
These images don’t reflect the reality of living as a Native American. So, where do they fit among the stereotypes and misconceptions ubiquitous in American life and culture?
At the National Museum of the American Indian, a group of performers challenged the average American’s ideas about indigeneous people in the play, Hear Me Say My Name, performed by Erin Westfall (Cheyenne), Morgan Hall (Blackfoot), and Russell Campbell (Nottoway). Hear Me Say My Name sought to spark a conversation about the American Indian legacy: what it was, is, and will become.
Any media about American Indian history is especially relevant in D.C. Here, it’s impossible to have a conversation about Native Americans without mentioning the city’s football team. The Washington Redskins team name has been the subject of controversy for years, and at the moment, there are few signs of it changing. Name addressed this issue head on with a skit that explains the negative effects of hearing this slur on a daily basis to Native Americans across the country. The play was a reminder of the rich history behind American Indians today, and the stories they hope to build for the future.
The play was created in collaboration with the Smithsonian Discovery Center and the Museum of the American Indian, and funded by the Rasmuson Foundation. Hear Me Say My Name ran from Dec. 26-31, at the American Indian museum.