Thursday, January 14, 2016

Pulling an Oneida....

This seal will stay

When I saw this village emblem in an article on my Facebook news feed I thought I was looking at something from the Onion or some other piece of satire.  I looked for a motto such as "A noble spirit embiggens the smallest man."

Fortunately I'm not overly sensitive, for it appeared as though some white dude is choking the life out of some unfortunate Native American guy, perhaps a Mohawk or Seneca (he's an Oneida).  Under the impression that this was a joke, I found it a pretty deft piece of satirical dark humor.

But wait, the link was to a "serious" newspaper.  Just to clear the remaining grit from my eyes after having rubbed them both vigorously with the top of my clenched fists, I did a quick Google and found an article in America's paper of record.  Surely, that can't be true!  The village emblem shows a man killing an Indian?  In a town named Whitesboro?  I could already see the protest signs being marched in circles in front of city hall on an Onion News Network segment:  "Whites don't borrow, they steal!"

The drawing itself is so lacking in stately gravitas....that....surely it was something popped out by an intern graphic designer for use in a little article poking fun at white insensitivity to Native American complaints about offensive place names, mascots, Hollywood depictions, municipal logos....

Nope.  The image depicts an allegedly real occurrence, a friendly wresting match won by town founder Hugh White, who in a swift and decisive victory over his challenger gained the respect and acceptance of the Oneida already living in the area.  Presumably these Oneida were subsequently forced off their lands because the village's Native American residents make up a scant .33% of the total population, according to recent census results.  But that's another story.

19th c. version

As for the quality of the image in the current iteration, it's as if they'd hired that lady in Spain who transformed a portrait of Jesus in her local church into some kind of weird, featureless monkey:  Ecce Mono!  

Better than the Whitesboro emblem

In 1977, the current emblem replaced an earlier version; White's coonskin hat disappeared and his hands are now on the Oneida's shoulders and not around his neck, in order to make it appear less like what it still seems to depict, e.g. the murder of a Native American.

In any event, this comes hot on the heels of our last post about updating place names and public art in order to reflect changing attitudes towards targeted elements of our history.  Not to mention demographic reality.  Although the slight modification in '77 was triggered by a complaint and that even the mayor at one time suggested a change, it's apparently not offensive to the majority; on the 11th of January a vote was held and the townspeople came down in favor of keeping their disconcerting village emblem.

But even if the emblem does depict a friendly wrassle, it's a bit weird when you consider that the town was founded in 1784 and incorporated in 1813.  This would be about the time that veterans of the Revolution began occupying their land grants, received as a reward for their military service....despite the fact that the land was often already occupied.  Incidentally, it's also about the time my ancestor Amos Adkins was leading his family through the area, staying long enough to give birth to Great (etc.) Grandfather Issac in Cayuga County (1817), before moving on to Ontario and finally to Newport, Ohio.  When Amos and Mary Adkins arrived in Newport (1830), the local Indians had for the most part already been forced west.

The Whitesboro emblem is more of a wound than an offensive image to New York's Native American nations, because they are still fighting in the courts to regain some of the lands wrestled away by the State of New York around the turn of the 19th century.

New York's Native Americans have tended to make slow headway, despite the fact that the very first act of the very first Congress under the newly-ratified Constitution was to pass a law declaring that only the Federal Government could negotiate with foreign nations.  Congress thus defined the Native American nations as sovereign -- which is sort of why you can buy your tobacco tax free and go gambling on the Rez.  

That Congressional action also renders un-Constitutional any treaties signed between New York State and the Native American nations.  Of course, as Native Americans were overwhelmed by ever-growing numbers of illegal aliens on their soil, their sovereignty became increasingly meaningless.  Disease and warfare continued to reduce their numbers and the tribes became a shadow of what they once were, pushed onto reservations which continued thereafter to be nibbled away as these European immigrants and refugees saw the "need" arise.

Every treaty ever signed between Congress and Native American nations has been broken by Washington.  Not a single treaty has been signed that Washington has not broken when European numbers made it possible to ignore what they had signed when they had been vulnerable due to the fact that they were so few and far between.  When these newly-minted Americans grew in numbers strong enough, they no longer concerned themselves with treaties in order to acquire land.  Brute force was both quicker and had the added advantage of killing off as many of those bothersome aborigines as possible.

So Whitesboro might as well have kept the pre-1977 version of the emblem, showing a Daniel Boone-style frontiersman with a more determined choke-hold on a Native American's neck.  Unlike the wrestling match, this part of history can be confirmed.

But to be honest, I'm far more offended by the flag of my hometown of Tampa, Florida.  I mean, one can argue that Hugh White was a decent guy and by all accounts trusted by the Oneida, so the flag represents not hatred, but a friendly tussle.  But Tampa's flag, my God!  Whoever approved that thing should be tried at The Hague for Crimes Against Humanity.  Don't look too long, your eyes might fry in their sockets....

At the Mountains of Madness

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