By Paige Radcliffe (Environmental Conservation & Sustainability ’21)
Editor’s Note: This is one of a series of blog posts written by students in Professor Martin’s NAIS 400: Introduction to Native American and Indigenous Studies at the University of New Hampshire. To learn more about the Native American and Indigenous Studies minor, visit https://cola.unh.edu/interdisciplinary-studies/program/minor/native-american-indigenous-studies
The history of Abenaki people in this region spans over 12,000 years, including a period of historic displacement. As Abenaki ancestors were forced inland and away from coastal watersheds, then even further north to Cana, many of the sacred Indigenous places that were valued by ancestors have been claimed by the state or private landowners. However, in the region known today as New Hampshire, multiple locations have kept their Indigenous place names, such as Wiwininebesaki (Lake Winnipesaukee) and the Kancamagus Highway. But in other instances, Indigenous names were changed. For example, Mount Pemigewasset became Indian Head Mountain, referencing a racially stereotypical Indian head that is commonly seen in white culture. This nickname was then used by the Indian Head Resort, opening up in 1913 with an observation tower for visitors. This resort is still open and runs under this name, even through more people are realizing the cultural appropriation that lies behind this symbol. The times haven’t affected the Rye Beach Abenaqui Country Club either, whose logo also uses an Indian head caricature. This elite country club claims to be a “facility of rich tradition” but nowhere in the “About Us” section on its website do they explain why they chose the name Abenaqui for their facility or Indian Head as a symbol, and no Land Acknowledgement can be found. Commodifying cultural heritage for tourism is seen all over New England, The United States, and the world and needs to be continually challenged in ways that highlight Indigenous peoples’ ongoing relationships with their homelands. Recognizing Indigenous place names is one way to do this.
The opening pages of Tommy Orange’s novel There There expresses the deep-rooted oppression behind the history of the Indian Head symbol throughout white culture and cinema. Orange stated that an Indian Head would appear on TV screens after broadcasted television would end in the 70s with surrounding bull’s eye circles like a rifle is pointed at the Indian Head (Orange, 3). Beyond this, an Indian Head has been put on coins, flags and jerseys with an image defined by white Americans, not Indigenous peoples themselves (Orange, 7). Despite the presence of hundreds of diverse tribes in the U.S., an Indian Head makes all Indigenous people appear the same. The Indian Head is a symbol of cultural appropriation because it is using a stereotypical caricature of a Native person and turning it into a mascot for a non-Indigenous owned resort and country club. This issue of cultural appropriation, misuse, and abuse of an Indian Head as a symbol is constantly seen in sports teams but was most widely publicized by the Washington D.C. football team, who are finally changing their name and logo from the Redskins to The Washington Football Team (Last Word Staff). The Cleveland Indians baseball team is planning on changing its name in 2021 as well, and has already changed its mascot from a stereotypical Indian head known as “Chief Wahoo” to the letter C (Last Word Staff). Making people aware of the racism behind this symbol is just as important as giving Indigenous places their proper names. I believe it is important to acknowledge the land as N’dakinna, which is Abenaki ancestral homeland. There is still a need for awareness behind Abenaki place names as well as giving Indigenous names to historic and geographic locations.
Too much has been taken from the Indigenous people of this continent and reparations need to be made. With Deb Haaland now appointed as Secretary of the Interior under President Biden’s administration, there is hope among Native Americans that legislation will be passed across the country in favor of recognizing places of Indigenous importance. Haaland stated “A lot of people don’t really understand the relationship that Indigenous people in this country have had with the federal government. There’s a whole history of broken treaties, of land for forced removal of our people” (Korte). It is important to acknowledge the progress that has occurred, but much work is yet to be done in terms of public education when it comes to Indigenous heritage. The time for reparations is now; knowledge and recognition of injustices Indigenous peoples faced is an essential step in this process. Just thinking of how President Trump’s administration reduced the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument and Bears Ears National Monument, and was attempting to sell oil rights in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge shows the lack of respect toward Indigenous land, history, and heritage. Another landmark disgrace during the Trump administration was the Dakota Access Pipeline, which would run in the proximity of Lake Oahe, the water source of the Sioux Nation. The recognition and respect of Indigenous land and necessity of clean water are essential human and communal rights.
Abenaqui. About us. https://www.abenaquicc.com/about-us
Korte, Cara. 2021, March 18. What Deb Haaland’s historic confirmation means to Native Americans. CBS News. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/deb-haaland-native-american-confirmation-interior-secretary/.
Last Word Staff. 2021, March 12. Changing a Team’s Insensitive Name Is Not A Novel Thing. Last Word On Sports. https://lastwordonsports.com/2021/03/12/teams-changing-name-not-novel/.
Orange, Tommy. 2018. There There. Vintage Books. New York.
Ramer, Holly. 2021. “Bill promotes Native American history through NH place names.” Jan. 20, 2021, Seacoastonline. https://www.seacoastonline.com/story/news/state/2021/01/20/native-american-history-nh-place-names-watters/4230617001/