From the monthly archives:

November 2009


November 23, 2009

By Betty Jo Chang

This is the 40th Anniversary of the Occupation of Alcatraz Island by the American Indian Movement (1969-1971), AND Football season so perhaps this little tale is timely.

I was at Stanford during the great controversy (1970-1972) over the Stanford Indian Symbol for the Football team, and over Chief Lightfoot (Timm Williams, a Yurok Chief) and his Indian dance in full regalia at the start of every Stanford game .

As I recall…

In November 1970, 23 Native students handed University officials a petition to remove Stanford’s Indian mascot. In 1972, 55 students, supported by the other 358 American Indians enrolled in California colleges, renewed this demand in meetings with the Stanford Administration. This time around, students made a full court press.

Some students play the ‘protection of native religious practices’ card. They said, “These are religious dances, he is not authorized by our Indian religious authorities to dance them. Therefore, he must be stopped. The Yuroc Tribal elders weighed in with a deposition that their ceremonial dances are not being performed by Chief Lightfoot, and they therefore have no objection to his activity.

Other students tried a “purity of tradition” argument. They said, “These are not authentic, they are just made up. Therefore he must be stopped”. Chief Lightfoot says, “I’m Indian.” “I dance”. “This is my dance.” “Who are you to say I am unauthentic?”

The students say, “It is demeaning for you to dance to the yells of a Football Crowd.” He says, “I don’t feel De-meaned. They aren’t yelling at me, they are cheering for me.”

They say, “You are bad for the image of the Native American”. He trots out his creds - Williams served  as elected leader of the 3000—strong Klamath River Yurok tribe, Chairman of the California Rural Indian Health Board, and director of the California Indian Assistance Project. He helped found the National Indian Health Board. He views his record as one of service and championing Indian rights.

The students, politicized by the recently ended 18 month long occupation of Alcatraz Island, and thus hyper-aware of the fairly poor record of agencies and boards intended to help Native Americans, get nasty.  With no respect, the Chief is called “a Banana”. (Yellow on the outside, white underneath).

That poor guy. He’d been fitting up his headdress and looking forward to Stanford Football games since he first danced at Stanford during the 1951 football season, when Stanford went to the Rose Bowl. Timm represented Stanford there at the first Rose Bowl game to be televised in color and to the entire country. He danced at every home game and many away games. The old guy LOVED IT. I mean, how many old guys get to get all duded up and dance their heart out to the cheers of thousands every autumn weekend. He must have looked forward to Football Saturdays all year long. Now along come some angry young bucks saying all this silliness and threatening to lose him a beloved fun and prestigious job he’d done earnestly and well for 20 years.

Of course, the Stanford Alumni weigh in big time. They trot out Tradition. Yes, that AXE was first taken as a symbol by our beloved University back near the very beginning.  And, by 1930 the Stanford Indian symbol was formally adopted though it had informally been in use for some years previous.

The Administration is duley impressed, for “Tradition” (not to mention Alumni) are important in so relatively young an institution as Stanford. Emboldened by their intial positive reception, the Alumni happily trot out their ‘evidence’. Indeed, there it is: In 1899 a large Axe became symbolic of this athletic rivalry (between CAL and Stanford) when Will Irwin produced the famous yell : “Give ‘em the axe, … Right in the neck!” For some years after, theft of the Axe from whichever school had custody of it, occupied many hours of frat boy time. The Stanford team was formally named Indians in 1930 when, for a pivotal football game, a war chant was invented that went thus: “Stanford Indian Scalp the Bear…Take the Axe; To his Lair….” (CAL’s mascot is a Bear).

The Administration dithers: How to decide? On the one hand is exercise of sensitivity to Native American Culture. On the other hand is honoring as a valued and meaningful University Tradition a name derived from a couple of stupid cheers by a pair of drunken frat boys…. Hmmm. This hand or that hand…this hand or that hand…. Tough choice.

The students find a welcome ally in Ombudswoman Lois Amsterdam, who, no doubt sensitized by the increased understanding of the impact of objectification as articulated by the Women’s Movement at the time, understood the student’s angst. She is quoted as saying that “Stanford’s use of the Indian symbol in the 1970s brings up to visibility a painful lack of sensitivity and awareness on the part of the university…. it was a reflection of our society’s retarded understanding, dulled perception and clouded vision.”

The Axe still does not fall  though on poor Chief Lightfoot and the Stanford Indian symbol, until one of the students finally finds the perfect foil with which to best the Administration.  In his memoirs the University Pres. reports a student telling him: “You see something dignified and vaguely authentic. I see a Yurok Indian performing Plains dances in Navajo dress, and I find it troubling.”

YES! Nothing like it. Attack an Academic by disparaging his scholarship as superficial. Takes ‘em down every time.

Chief Lightfoot was enjoined from dancing at the games. The Stanford dollies hung up their beaded deerskin headbands and outfits. The tradition had come to an end. Several student body votes followed the decision to abandon the Indian as the team Symbol for Stanford.

The last vote on the subject was characterized by a rare concurrence of interest between the Frat House crew, still smarting over loss of their beloved yells,  and  the more radical students who, ever didactic, said, “It’s about political correctness.”  The Frat crews said, “‘Political correctness’. OK, we can go with that.” The Student body then voted for “ROBBER BARONS” as the name for the team, in honor of the source of founder Leland Stanford’s fortune.

The administration, sick to death of the subject, cancelled the election and called no other.

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Thought I ought to mention…

November 22, 2009

If we are to believe uncle Albert (and why should we not?) then there is no such thing as simultaneity. Every event occurs in a relativistic context. In physics. Cosmologists seem to put a different spin on matters (and yes, I do crack myself up). They define a “rest state” relative to the Cosmic Microwave Background, a state that permits measurement of the uniform rate that the universe is expanding in all directions, and why we perceive all the other galaxies hurrying away from us as if we were the only garlic eaters on this bus.

Physicists and cosmologists alike are chary about discussing what happened at the moment of the big bang, and indeed what happened in the flash of time that preceded the moment of Planck density, a finite and describable event comprising incomprehensibly vast amounts of matter compressed into a ridiculously small space. Prior to that moment, there was-I guess-a period of unreality, when all time, mass, energy, and antimatter were balanced in a singularity the destruction of which precipitated a big bang that emerged into our reality an absurdly short time after it actually began. Those moments of singularity and displacement that preceded a physical universe with a density of 5.1 × 1096 kg/m³ are the moments where we can sort out just what it is all about. If we can hurdle the barrier of incomprehension, the limit of our understanding framed by physicists and astronomers, and vault into the realm of poets, tango dancers, and doowop singers… only then will we be able to master this matter/antimatter thing.

Will confirmation of the existence of the Higgs boson help us get there? You decide, but read this first!

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Friday Follow

November 20, 2009

Over on twitter there is a practice known as Follow Friday.” Twitterers craft tweets and often tag them with the characters #ff (for Follow Friday). If you show up on a Follow Friday list you know that at least one twitterer likes your tweets, or respects you, or appreciates the links you share, or is [...]

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November 19, 2009

At a time when the excesses of American industry scream for some kind of regulation and control, Comcast wants to buy NBC/Universal. The purchase flies in the face of network neutrality and will, if permitted, allow Comcast to control the content that travels in their network. The big keep getting bigger. Karoli has an informative [...]

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Leader of the Pack

November 18, 2009

She ain’t no Toto She ain’t no Lassie She ain’t no Rin Tin Tin But she does have a high degree of self-importance. Combine that strong personality with a great sense of humor, a little arrogance, limitless energy, and an assertive nature and you have Tessa, a pup that’s very hard to train. When she’s [...]

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Raw milk freakyosis

November 17, 2009

Scott Trautman has a problem that affects all of us. State authorities are forcing him out of the dairy business because he wants to sell raw milk products. Early in the summer the Trautman’s had an open house. I stopped by to see their operation and to visit my brush mower which Scott is holding [...]

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Word of the year

November 16, 2009

“Unfriend” The slackers at the Oxford University Press USA, they who prepare the superfluous New Oxford American Dictionary have chosen “unfriend,” a louche locution from the world of social media, as the word of the year. I had occasion to unfriend a Quaker this year. Unfriending a Quaker is unfriending a Friend who may or [...]

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Web versioning

November 15, 2009

Ethan Zuckerman refers to Dan Gillmor’s slow news advocacy here, and he extends the concept to journalism criticism, the stories about stories that critics write. His post traces the update history of a recent story about a story that dominated the news cycle for a few days last week. He says, “What I’d love to [...]

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