It’s 2012 We Are Not Chief Wahoo!!

When I was a teacher candidate @ York U I had a placement at a suburban elementary school in the affluent Lawrence and Yonge area. The school lacked the visual diversity I was accustomed to during my middle school and HS years in Scar-Town. The minority group in this school were Jewish students. The majority group were Anglo-Saxon students. I was placed in a grade 5 class of 20 students, only two were of colour. With few teachers of colour on staff it was clear non-white cultural and historical identities were not being showcased or learned about. I soon changed that. One of the curricular focuses my classroom teacher asked me to examine with the kids was Media English. She knew I already had a BA from Ryerson in Radio & Television Arts. The first thing I taught the kids was how to write for radio. And specifically how to create editorials. I don’t think however the school administration was quite ready for the subject matter nor the method of delivery. I spent several sessions on exploring contemporary issues affecting First People’s. One of great interest to the students, especially the boys was the use of Native imaging in American sports teams. Yea those white kids woke up…they created an editorial segment on the use of these images and why it is inappropriate by reading their pieces during the morning announcements. This was the first time student voices were heard on the morning announcements at this school.

Fast forward ahead I’m starting Living Through the Arts Workshops for the RCM at Food Share. The focus is Anti-Oppression through Spoken Word. I was specifically brought in because youth in a summer internship program were regularly exchanging racial slurs and stereotyping each other to the point where things were escalating to physical violence and youth were starting to drop out.

In one of the first sessions we examined the top 10 most oppressive visual symbols in history. Amongst that top 10 were images such as the burning cross, confederate flag and the swastika. Also making this list was Chief Wahoo….I asked the youth participants to give me the first words that came to mind when they saw that image. Some of the words included:
Stupid, red skinned, foolish, disrespect to Native Americans….nobody said, “That’s an honorable Native Chief”….

Nevertheless the youth who was sporting the cap the first class didn’t want to sport it after that.

As a member of the Hip Hop community I see Chief Wahoo often on caps, jerseys and T’s. Everyone has a reason for wearing an “Indian Sambo”…whether their white, black, brown, yellow or red….

I’m still not down with Wahoo and maybe after reading this you’ll know why: Four Decades of Chief Wahoo!!

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