Tara Houska discusses the R-Word and Historical Trauma

Near the end of the year, the production team for Dodging Bullets was given the opportunity to sit down with Tara Houska, Anishinaabe and a member of Couchiching First Nation, is an attorney from Washington D.C. and founding member of  Not Your Mascots. Being from a Native American heritage, Houska was an excellent source of information and credibility behind the debate over the use of the Washington Redskins name and mascot. She was able to concisely and passionately explain the harms that have come from the use of this particular mascot, and helped paint a vivid portrait of how this mascot does not honor Native American culture, rather how it is damaged it.

Tara Houska was born and raised in International Falls, MN. Her birth mother are father are both Native American and her step-father is Norwegian, giving her a unique perspective into growing up looking Native American, while her siblings looked white.  In our interview, Houska discusses how this unique insight played into the woman she is today, and why she takes a stand to protect the Native American culture and sense of identity.  She is especially adamant about these changes because she does not want Native children today to grow up viewing their culture the way she did, seeing Native Americans as caricatures, mascots, and costumes on Halloween and Thanksgiving.  She shared with us, how as a child these exact examples gave her a sense of shame in being Native American; how it is even ingrained in our education system, this inability to recognize the humanity of Natives.  We teach children in grade school to make paper headdresses, put paint on their face, and smack their mouth while wielding a toy tomahawk.  Houska, relates this to wearing black face, making a point that she doesn’t see the difference.  We don’t allow black face because it is wrong, yet we still allow redskin.  Tara points out that this doesn’t teach honor, it teaches that Native American’s are perceived as funny characters that the majority don’t really understand or try to teach the true history of.

The topic of Historical Trauma, it seemed was not the focus of Houska’s interview, until she began talking about the Boarding school era, and how it has effected multiple generations of Native families the experienced it.  She plainly states that the boarding school era was a way for the US government to “Kill the Indian and save the man”, and how this plan backfired horribly.  She then relates directly back to what we had been talking about prior, which is the mascot debate, and the loss of cultural identity.  Houska explains that the boarding school era, and what we are debating now, is not so different. She concedes that one was extremely violent and resulted in deaths of individuals as well as culture, but she points out that the result, even today is the same.  Native American’s, during the boarding school era, and today, are being told that they and their culture are worthless, caricatures. The loss of identity and respect for your culture she believes is one of the main, if not the main reason why Native American’s are still struggling with Historical Trauma today.

Tara Houska is an extremely bright and intelligent person to sit down and listen to. The passion for the issues she represents is palpable.  She speaks with emotion and truth as her tools for change. She provides some of the best real world examples of problems faced by Native Americans plagued with Historical Trauma, from the perspective of someone who was caught between the two worlds.  She sees a need for change, and she knows that change is needed.

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