The following is an update to share the powerful words spoken by GPAS Board Member Regina Tsosie at a recent Rock Island City Council meeting:
My remarks from the meeting:
I am a City of Rock Island employee and my niece and nephew are 6th ward residents. We are registered with the Potawatomi tribe and I am here to represent them and members of the Native community. As a Licensed Master Social Worker, I fiercely advocate for vulnerable people. It is my hope that my niece and nephew will look back on today as the day they began to fight for social justice and that they will continue to challenge systems of oppression for generations to come.
Although some members of the Native community positively identify with the sign, the facts of the matter are that the commonly referred to “Black Hawk statue” is not a statue at all, it is a commercial sign that was designed by a contracted artist, for the owner of the former Watch Tower Plaza in the 1960s. The owner of the plaza utilized the Native American image for economic gain and the continuation of the use of this sign perpetuates misconceptions and stereotypes of the Native American image and our culture.
This sign was put in place during the Civil Rights Movement. I would certainly hope that the City of Rock Island has grown more compassionate and empathetic toward its ethnically diverse populations since then. I fully endorse the remarks made by Jane Simonsen during the last Council meeting, as she demonstrated cultural competence and artfully illustrated the negative impacts of Native representation in our community with research findings.
Last Friday, Alderman Healy said some of his constituents had contacted him to tell him the sign should be kept due to its sentimental value. He then remarked about not hearing from Rock Island Native Americans about how the sign personally impacts them. I can appreciate Alderman Healy’s desire for personal testimony even though it is convenient to put the burden of proof for racial injustice on the group impacted.
I have known for as long as I can remember that I am Native American and I take great pride in that, however, I have been defending my lineage and heritage for just as long. I have experienced countless instances of racism but the ones that stand out the most involved caucasian men in positions of power. It was my fourth grade gym teacher, my consumer economics teacher when I was a senior at Rock Island High School, and most recently Rock Island’s 2nd Ward Alderman.
I’m sure you didn’t assume I am Native just by looking at me, which was certainly true for Alderman Hurt when he boasted to me about being labeled the “Chief of the 2nd Ward Black Hawk Sign” by Alderman Healy. This was a continued insult after Alderman Hurt posted online that the sign had fallen in the storm because “the gods have spoken.” There were numerous posts that made jokes at the expense of Native people when the sign fell and even one by the City’s Community Engagement Manager that declared her God said “let there be wind.” So the irony is City representatives have demonstrated the harm caused by the use of Native imagery while asking for proof of the harm.
I have been negatively impacted by witnessing the intolerable racist behaviors of people emboldened by the sign, in an attempt to diminish my cultural identity, the sacrifices of my ancestors, my spiritual ideology, and my heritage. These actions demonstrate that white people more strongly identify with the commercial use of Native images. My ancestors did not fight to survive genocide so that white people could claim entitlement to Native representation because of their sentiments.
I encourage the City to support our position for the sign to be dismantled and recycled. My niece asked that I emphasize the process should be done in the most environmentally responsible way. My nephew would like the metal to be repurposed into a historically accurate representation of Black Hawk. I request that the Native community be given the opportunity to raise funds to pay for the demolition if cost is a determining factor for the City.
Please ask yourselves, what you are doing to create a safe environment for people to share their lived experiences with you, and how do you demonstrate to the people around you that you are willing and able to be open minded, to hear their perspective without looking for ways to discredit them.
For my fellow Natives I will close with the words of Austin Channing Brown, an advocate for social justice and racial equity, “your experience of racism isn’t a position to be debated or a theory to be proved.”
An Open Letter to Rock Island Mayor Mike Thoms,
We at Great Plains Action Society (GPAS) see beyond colonial borders. As such, we’re happy to include Illinois in our New Year/New Iowa Open Letter Campaign. In our efforts to make our communities better places, one of our greatest sources of inspiration is our Elders. Our board member and cherished source of wisdom, Regina Tsosie, has taken time to write a letter to Mayor Thoms in regard to the donation of a signage of Black Hawk to a bank. We think this letter is absolutely wonderful and are excited to share it with you and we encourage you to write to Mayor Thom to amplify this message.
Great Plains Action Society
From GPAS Board Member Regina Tsosie:
Mayor Mike Thoms,
My name is Regina Tsosie, President of the Native American Coalition of the Quad Cities, Board member of the Citizens to Preserve Black Hawk Park, Co-founder Sage Sisters of Solidarity, Board member of the Great Plains Action Society, recently retired educator, and a member of the local community for over 38 years.
The recent decision from the Rock Island council to gift the Watch Tower Black Hawk statue to the Black Hawk Bank and Trust has caused great concern and disappointment from the local Native American community and our friends/allies who support us.
Please read our following concerns:
A. Why was the NA community overlooked and not consulted?
B. The BH statue should NOT be given to a for-profit institution/business where exploiting and profiting from an image representing a race of people perpetuates a form of racism which is very offensive and disturbing.
C. Black Hawk State Bank in the past has been notified by local educators that Black Hawk was never given "chief" status according to Sauk traditions. Yet, the bank continues to use the slogan, "Choose the Chief". This trivializes and perpetuates misinformation and misconceptions about a race of people.
D. The current movement of the majority of Native Americans/American Indians/Indigenous Peoples throughout the country regarding the use of NA imagery, mascots, etc., is gaining momentum in the removal of such objects due to the hostile, damaging, and hurtful environment it creates and perpetuates, especially when it involves the well-being of NA/AI/Indigenous children.
E. Critically, the formal position of the Sac and Fox Tribe of the Mississippi in Iowa (Meskwaki Nation), the only federally recognized Tribal Nation in the state, is categorically “against the use of Native American terms or images or symbols for sports or other marketing uses.” Additionally, other federally recognized Tribal Nations – including the Ponca Tribe of Nebraska – with ties to the state of Iowa have taken similar positions against the use of Native American names, imagery, symbols, and customs as school mascots. So, too, have key Native organizations that serve Native people residing in the state, including the Iowa Commission on Native American Affairs (an excerpt from an open letter written and signed by Sac and Fox Tribe of the Mississippi in Iowa (Meskwaki Nation), Ponca Tribe of Nebraska, National Congress of American Indians and American Indian Council)
If there is an option to reverse the council's decision and create an opportunity to discuss our concerns seeking out well-meaning solutions, that would be the best action.
I am currently in Arizona taking care of family responsibilities for an unforeseeable time, and cannot be there to monitor this situation. But, I have discussed this matter with community members who are in alignment with our concerns.
You may contact me via email or call my personal cell number, [redacted].
In a good way,