The University Record, February 22, 1999


Simmons does not speak for all Native Americans, writer says

In Lois Simmons’ letter to the Record published on Feb. 15, 1999, she accuses Charlene Teters of speaking for all Native Americans, but who asked Simmons to speak for us? Simmons presumes to write as an authority on Native American etiquette and traditions stating, “only the chief of each tribe speaks for his/her people.” Simmons is the one who needs to do her homework. I have never heard Ms. Teters claim that she spoke for all Natives or even for her own tribe. Many tribes including my own, the Odawa, have representatives that speak for their people on various issues, such as lawyers who are not chiefs.

Simmons mentions four tribes who may support colleges that continue to offend many Native Americans by using Indian symbols to represent their sports teams. What she does not mention are the hundreds of tribes and Native organizations across the country who are deeply offended by this blatant act of racism. She states, “The Hurons are standing firm in their desire to be restored as namesakes of Eastern Michigan University.” How dare she! The Huron people, once one of the largest and most powerful people indigenous to the Eastern Great Lakes, was all but exterminated by the genocide inflicted on them by the Europeans when they arrived in this area 300 years ago. The remnants of this tribe, like many others, were packed up and shipped out west, torn away from their homeland. One or two Huron “chiefs” who were wined, dined and postured by some Eastern Michigan Alumni do not speak for the Huron people.

Simmons continues to show her ignorance by stating, “The tribes . . . were brutally subdued battle by battle, for individual tribal territory.” Many of those battles were won by Native Americans, as even the white man’s history books indicate, including the last major battle between Indians and the United States at the Little Big Horn. Not all our tribal land was stolen or lost through every treaty the United State broke with the Indians. There are many hundreds of thousands of acres of land owned by sovereign Indian nations in this country, and we are gaining more back year after year, sometimes one quarter at a time. She goes on to state the number of our people are dwindling, but once again Simmons should have done her homework. When my tribal band obtained federal recognition in 1980, there were a little over 300 enrolled tribal members. Today our tribe has well over 3,000 members. According to recent federal government statistics, Native Americans are the fastest growing minority population in many parts of the country, second only to the Hispanic population. Do not feel sad for us, Ms. Simmons, feel sorry for your ignorance and lack of education.

As for her statement that some tribes ask to be remembered in association with universities because, “We are afraid that one day people will forget that we ever lived here.” For the tribes my family belongs to, the Odawa, Ojibway and Potawatomi, also from the Great Lakes area like the Huron, we were here before your ancestors arrived and we will be here as long as the Creator wishes us to be. We do not need a sports team or pro-corporate advertiser to carry on our memory.

Simmons states that Charlene Teters is promoting a tyrannical political correctness that would eventually render the Indian nations invisible. Wake up Ms. Simmons! Despite 500 years of genocide, war, sickness and disease that continue to this day, brought on by the arrival of the Europeans to this continent against Native Americans, we are strong nations of survivors, with our own flags waving proudly.

Charlene Teeters does speak for me as a Native American and many others who believe that sports teams that use Indian symbols and mascots are being racist.

Finally, I felt so strongly about the letter that Ms. Simmons wrote attacking Charlene that I had to respond. Let me state that my words are my own. I do not speak for anyone else, including the Native American community at the University of Michigan or the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti area, the people of the Odawa, Ojibway or Potawatomi Nations or any other Native Americans.

Bill Martell, Turtle Clan, Odawa, and financial aid officer