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Monday, May 24, 2010
I met Brian three years ago. He's among the outstanding Native people in the Class of 2010 at Yale.
Brian took the photo at "Hat Day"---one of the many events taking place this week at Yale. Events at which graduating students and their families gather to celebrate four years of hard work and study.
Brian's family is there at Yale with him. They are Navajo.
They are, understandably, experiencing a wide range of emotion. Joy and pride in Brian's accomplishments, and, surprise and anger at the audacity or ignorance in the two students wearing these headdresses.
Brian inspires me. He approached one of the students and asked her to take it off. He explained why it inappropriate. In the foreground you see a baseball cap and a hard hat---both of which signal an occupation or a pastime. They signal something you can do or be through training or study.
The thing is, unless you are born into a Native family, you can't really "be" an Indian. You might dress up like one, but, doing that is precisely the same thing as putting on one of the items the pope wears on his head (the small white skullcap is a zucchetto and the larger one is a mitre---I'll need to double check these terms later), and most people would recognize that activity as sacrilegious.
As I said, Brian inspires me. Rather than fret, he took action. He talked to the individual, and she took the headdress off. I don't know if he knew her personally or not. The point is, he demonstrated a tremendous act of courage and pride in who he is. In doing that, he modeled activism for his family.
Brian is considering further actions he can take. No doubt, he is thinking about other Native students at Yale, and what their "Hat Day" experience will be like.
Today's blog post is a public CONGRATULATIONS, BRIAN YOUNG, for graduating from Yale. I am deeply proud to know you.
Let's get some chili in July...
Update, May 25th, 6:45 Central Time
How/why does Brian's experience relate to children's books? A few years ago (before I started this blog) I came across a children's picture book. The cover was hats of all sorts. Among those hats was a Plains-style headdress. I'm sure thee are others like it. If anyone knows the book I'm remembering, please let me know. And there are, of course, other examples of non-Native characters wearing a headdress to "imitate Indians", dress like "an Indian", or, as a disguise to conceal one's identity....
Brian submitted a comment last night. It's the fourth comment below. Thanks, Brian, for taking time on your graduation day to submit the comment. Some people may think that students at an Ivy League school would "know better" --- and I am confident that some, if not most of them, do --- but the point is the increase in this sort of thing all across the United States.