Native Americans are still losing their Facebook accounts for having “Fake Names” and now it is being used to silence them.
As a Native person in today’s society, you might internalize a fear that you’re not “Indian enough”, not real enough. With our cultures repeatedly misrepresented, misunderstood, and aggressively appropriated all around us, this fear is only compounded. Yet here we are today, continuing to stand up to the misrepresentation of our peoples, even when we are told to “go back to the Reservation” and have beer thrown at us (as at Eastern Michigan University last week) or as we can be too unbelievably Indian, as Deloria Many Grey Horses discovered this weekend when her Facebook account was suspended because her last name was reported as fake in retaliation for creating a petition asking Biloxi High School to stop mascotting Native people.
After seeing TV coverage of the Biloxi Senior High School band at the D.C. Cherry Blossom Festival all decked out in sacred war bonnets and toting the name “Indians”, Many Grey Horses-Violich began a petition on Change.org, stressing the importance of accurate and respectful representations of indigenous peoples within our schools.
In her petition’s open letter to Biloxi Superintendent Arthur McMillan, she described the continued use of the mascot as “misguided and concerning.” And quotes the an Indian Country Today article, “Mass Display of Non-Natives in Headdresses – and No, It’s Not Coachella” which asks, “What are these boys and girls being taught about respect for Native people?”
Petition signers’ comments soon flooded in:
Many Grey Horses’ petition, a peaceful call-to-action promoting true understanding of what the headdresses mean to our people was met with outright hostility by alumni of Biloxi Senior High School who rallied online.
These products of a Biloxi education responded to Deloria’s honest efforts with a petition of their own titled “Save the Biloxi High School Mascot & Tradition” also on change.org and started by Kristen “Krissi” West, a 2005 graduate. “Please Mr. McMillan, keep our Indian tradition alive!” West writes in her petition.
But West didn’t stop there. She announced proudly on April 20th that she had found the woman who started the petition and silenced her (Many Grey Horses), stating “I reported her for hate speech and had her profile shut down lol.”
And thus began a one-sided cyberattack by the alumni of BHS on a Native woman and mother. Not only was an enrolled tribal member, daughter of Yankton Dakota Chief Phil Lane, Jr., called “not Indian enough”, but suddenly alumni’s claims to blood quanta of “part Choctaw”, “part Cherokee”, and “part Seminole” were used to justify their actions. Acceding to the alumni’s repeated reporting of her account, Facebook required Many Grey Horses to provide government-issued identification (her birth certificate, marriage license and driver’s license) to confirm her surname “Many Grey Horses” was in fact real. F.A.I.R. Media (For Accurate Indigenous Representation) was also targeted, accused of promoting racism by denouncing “red face” and “black face”.
In the afternoon of April 20th, after following the Facebook policy procedures demanded of her account was suspended twice in a row, Many Grey Horses’ profile was permanently banned from Facebook after more allegations of her indigenous surname being “fake”.
Not only was this petty of the alumni, who later took their movement underground to the exclusive “BHS Alumni Secret Group” to plot more revenge, but it is an unacceptable flaw in Facebook “Real Names” policy. As it stands, the lapses in Facebook’s name policy gives carte blanche to those who wish to cyberbully, “troll”, and silence Natives. Natives who fall victim to this loophole are either robbed of their voice in social media or must, ironically, assume an actual fake name to pass Facebook’s name screening algorithms.
The initially permanent (which eventually became temporary) ban of Many Grey Horses from Facebook led her cousin Jacqueline Keeler (Yankton Dakota/Navajo), an outspoken Native American activist and writer and co-founder of Eradicating Offensive Native Mascotry to create the Facebook event All Natives Become Zuckerbergs! Protest FB Name Policy.
She explained in a Facebook post, ““The way these Facebook ‘real name’ policies are enforced reveal cultural biases against our people that are still alive in the minds of our peers. And that is not acceptable. Also, since they rely on an account being “reported” they are useful tools for bullies to use to silence and further marginalize Native people. I cannot silently accept either while I enjoy the protections my surname gives me on FB. That I even have to type that sentence is unbelievable to me in this day and age but then, so is the fact that our people are mascotted. It is all unbelievable and yes, unacceptable in 2015.”
The irony? Many have been changing their last names – or nicknames – to “Zuckerberg”, an actual fake name. Profile and cover photos show Zuckerberg’s face, emblazoned with #IndigenizeZuckerberg. Hundreds of Tweets, Instagram photos, Tumblr posts, Blog articles, Pinterest boards, and Facebook status are being littered with the same hashtag as well as #NotYourZuckerberg. Another irony? The Biloxi alumni have told media that “there is no mascot controversy” – just in time to see this trending movement blow up in their faces.
“I just did some family tree shaking and it turns out I’m 1/18th Zuckerberg Nation! #NotYourZuckerberg #IndigenizeZuckerberg” Anthony Roy of Chicago satirically Tweets, reflecting the frustration of erroneous claims to Native blood that opposing parties often use to justify their racist actions.
Meanwhile, back in the Biloxi High School alumni Facebook group the alumni had determined that the actual citizens of the Biloxi nation were not “Indian enough” to suit them. “Their ancestry cannot be 100% confirmed,” a Biloxi alum intoned, claiming that “the tribe, and factual descendants are extinct.” Ignoring the tribe’s federal recognition, the group wondered if the Biloxi nation could even be considered Biloxi at all. Another member concluded, “The Biloxi blood line is dead and only traces reside in those at Tunica-Biloxi. In fact you can find old Biloxi French families with as much Biloxi in them. I’d still love to hear from Tunica-Biloxi, but let’s be honest there is no real ‘Voice of the Tribe’ left.”
Other members share photos and reminisce on their days as playing “Indians.”
The conversations of the Biloxi Alumni amongst themselves demonstrate they honor nothing but stereotypes, cultural appropriation, themselves and the “Indian” idea that puts Native Americans in the far distant past and our identity open to co-option. They not only lack cultural sensitivity but are willing to attempt to silence Native American voices who seek to educate them. These “BHS Indians” pass judgment on “real Indians” and call them “racists” and “whiners” for standing up for their right to be seen not as stereotypes mascots promote, but as real, living human beings.
All of these actions, the mascotting of Native people to the discrimination perpetuated by Facebook’s “Real Name” policy perpetuate unequal treatment of our people. Biloxi High School did not stop racially segregating its students until 1970. It’s time both the high school and Facebook move beyond the old bounds of racial inequality.