Calling a Spade a Spade

It’s a beautiful fall morning here on our back porch. Days like this used to be called Indian summer or, as they say in Seattle, Indigenous People’s summer. And next week, in my calendar, we’ll be celebrating Columbus Day by eating spaghetti which, according to what I’ve learned, Marco Polo brought back to Italy from China. We celebrate Columbus Day because he was supposedly the first European to hit these shores. But didn’t Leif Erikson come before that? (By the way, Leif Erikson Days is “observed” on October 9, but it’s not officially “celebrated,” and nobody gets the day off.) And what about those Ancient Romans. There’s some evidence to support that a few of their intrepid sailors showed up here, too. Just haul out your handy-dandy copy or the Peri Reis map and see what you think.

But back to Indigenous People. I know a little about them having spent five years working with and among them. Back then the reservation in question was referred to as the Papago. That name had something to do with their being “bean eaters” (tepary beans, I believe) which was what the arriving Spaniards called the people inhabiting the lands in and around what is now Tucson. Those folks actually called themselves the Tohono O’odham, the Desert People, to differentiate themselves from the ones who lived just up the road apiece, near the Gila River. Those were the Akimel O’odham, the River People.

On the reservation I was an “Anglo” although none of my forebears came from England–I’m actually a Scandinavian-American. (Go Leif!) On the Papago I was also referred to as a Milgahn, a White, although the occasional African American who worked on the reservation also landed in the Milgahn category. It didn’t really matter if we had white skin or black skin–we weren’t Indian. The term Native American hadn’t yet come into vogue or common usage.

The Tohono O’odham Nation has now reclaimed that original name, but back when I worked there and when Columbus Day came around, we were ALL, Indian and Anglo alike, glad to have the day off. My friend Loretta, the Papagoes token Quinault, called it “a national day of mourning,” but you know what? We all laughed about it, too. Together.

That was one thing I loved about working with those folks on the reservation. They had a sense of humor. I haven’t done an official poll, but I suspect that the Desert People would greet the whole “Indigenous People’s” debate on the Seattle City Council and the Washington Redskins controversy, (Go HAWKS!) with a shrug, a grin, and a sad shake of the head and say, “You know what? Those crazy Milgahn are at it again.” Which reminds me, why isn’t someone protesting about the Kansas City Chiefs or the Cleveland Indians? And what about the Arizona Cardinals or the Baltimore Orioles. After all, don’t birds have feelings, too?

I have a friend, a newly minted U.S. citizen, who immigrated here from South Africa. His forebears were Dutch. His skin is definitely not black, but he is legitimately an African American.

I read an article this week about how DNA researchers have found that Denosovians inter-bred with a previously unknown species. (What? You never heard of Denosovians? Look them up. I have it on good authority that those were some of our paleolithic forebears.) Who knows, maybe we’re all descendants from someone visiting from a galaxy far, far away. What does that make us–Intergalactic Americans? Will the city council grant us a special day, too?

I guess I’m a little grumpy with today’s all-pervasive political correctness that seems to have sent both common sense and humor out the window. Just because you put the words “Rapid Ride” on a bus doesn’t mean it will actually BE a rapid ride. When an Islamic fundamentalist beheads a co-worker in Oklahoma, you can go ahead and call it “work place violence” all you like, but just because you don’t call it terrorism doesn’t mean it isn’t terrorism. And please don’t lecture me that the “alleged killer” was simply exercising his “religious freedom.” When the media pulls its punches by saying silly things that their readers see as patently absurd, we’re all losers–the media most of all.

Isn’t it about time we called a Spade a Spade? No, that’s not hate speech. It’s playing cards, people. What about Hearts and Diamonds? That term means nothing more or less than saying it like it is.

After all, it’s not what we’re called that’s important. It’s who were are and what we do.

That was true all those years ago back on the Papago, and it’s still true today.

17 thoughts on “Calling a Spade a Spade

  1. I always thought of a spade as a type of shovel. Another nickname you missed is like the Golden State Warriors and so many other ones like that. They had the high school name here called the redmen. Then there is the school in the news who does not call boys and girls but Purple Penguins instead.

  2. Absolutely wonderful blog. We have gone to the silly extremes of political correctness without changing the behavior in this country.

  3. No doubt I’ll draw some fire from one side or another for my comments.
    I just don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings or say something historically incorrect.
    When I heard the historical background for the redskin, I was appalled.
    So, no, I wouldn’t mind losing the term. That said, I live in KC so I also like the name of our team. But until I hear otherwise about the background of the word Chief, I am for it staying.
    So there you go, people, take your best shot.

  4. I think all of this fuss about names is unnecessary. We are all human beings and some of us are Americans.

    My ancestors came from the Provence of Smaland, Sweden (Home of novelist Vilhem Moberg) in the 1870’s. One landed in Watertown, South Dakota (My Great Uncle Pete Lunbom) and the another brother and sister settled in Iowa. They were my Grandfather Otto Lunbom and my Great Aunt Hilda Sophia Lunbom Newman. She told me they were starving in Sweden which was a good reason to leave.

    I’ve never thought of myself as a Swedish-American. I am an American whose ancestors came to this melting pot called America. I’m really glad they did.

  5. I agree completely. Our government and other idiots have become so concerned with upsetting people that they have forgotten that we are all part of the same race; the human race. I have Scot, Scandinavian, Native American, English, and I just recently found out I have African (slave) ancestor. So where does that leave me?
    Love your books, keep them coming.

  6. Thank you for coming to Kennewick. I missed you because I was sick, but it was nice of you to cross those mountains. The world has gone crazy, but there is hope. Recently Raven told Oprah that she was American, not African-American and that is a start! Thanks for sharing your talents with the world.

    Mary B

  7. Thank you for your voice of reason! It is about time we look at who we really are — a nation made up of peoples with many faces and not a single one is perfect!!
    As Americans, we come from different places. No one on this Continent is really a native — we all immigrated from Europe, Africa, or Asia, whether it was via the land bridge or on a ship from elsewhere.

  8. I have been enjoying your series of stories (Joanne Brady first and now half way through Beaumont) for the past six months.
    They are outstanding!!!!”
    What I like most about them is that they all say nice things about nice people.
    Thank you for many hours of great entertainment and pleasure.

    I found this blog because I was looking for some way of writing you to express my gratitude and enjoyment.
    Hope you don’t stop.
    I also enjoyed your thoughts about Political Correctness. I agree 100%.
    I think that it is often just part of the ‘Human Condition’ that makes some folks want to focus on issues OTHER than ones that are really important; kind of an avoidance mechanism.

    • Henry, I started reading Beaumont in the middle of the series and then went back to the beginning. It is so much fun to read how he came to live in the penthouse apartment of a luxury building and drive a Porsche. His adventures over the years learning to operate a fax machine, an answering machine for the phone and other up-to-the- minute gadgets are great reading. He seems to attract wonderful people who make his life easier and more complicated at the same time. I don’t know how Judy is able to come up with his stories, but I hope they never end.

  9. Once again, you sure don’t disappoint! Thank you for sharing. You are just a wealth of information and as usual, you have edumacated me as my momma used to say. You are absolutely right about it’s who we are and what we do that makes us great! And God bless you for always knowing and reminding us of who you are and what your are about. Hope you have a wonderful holiday.

  10. The other morning it was foggy here. The weather guy called it
    Apache Fog
    guess we need to change that one! I can’t see it. *howl*

  11. Okay, I’m not sure about saying this, but I’m going to take the risk of being ‘flamed’. Here’s the thing – we would NEVER consider calling a sports team the “Yellowskins”, “Slant-eyes”, or “N…gers”, would we? Those are viewed (and were/are used) as derogatory descriptions and so is (should be) “Redskin”. Warriors & Chiefs are position titles, not physical descriptors. The word Indian doesn’t seem to hurt the Indigenous Peoples the way the skin descriptor does.

    I, too, get irritated sometimes at the level of political correctness asked of me, but this concern, as expressed by the Indigenous, I can sympathize with.

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