The Banning of the Indian
By Jeffrey Hart | Tuesday, December 15, 1998
I judge the 1974 decision to attempt to abolish the Indian symbol to have been a moral, intellectual, and above all, because we are talking about an educational institution, an educational disaster.
I do not speak from the standpoint of a nostalgic alumnus. I am not nostalgic for the so-called 'old-Dartmouth' and in fact transferred out of it after two years to Columbia. When I was an undergraduate at Dartmouth I did not use the Indian symbol stationery nor give much attention at all to the symbol.
But the 1974 decision has itself become a symbol much more important than the Indian itself.
First of all, let us address substance. It was essentially asserted by the College that the Indian symbol is insulting to American Indians or is, in the current jargon, 'racist.'
This is clearly false. The Indian has appeared on US coinage, often and prominently, along with Lincoln, Washington, Roosevelt, Kennedy, and other dignitaries. This was not denigration of the Indian. It would be difficult to explain that the Washington Redskins or the Cleveland Indians are trying to denigrate the American Indian. All of these uses of the Indian symbol did assert sa common right to the assorted symbols of the American's past — which I take it, is one thing that is being precisely denied.
Now, if a critic argues that, whatever, the Indian symbol is 'perceived' — more current jargon —?as 'racist,' then the only reply that includes respect for the critic is that the p'perception' is wrong. If a person tells you that he 'perceives' that the moon is made out of green cheese, the only reply that respects him is that sorry, it is not.
There flowed after the 1974 decision a whole train of evil consequences beginning with the official misinformation that I must regard as deliberate. That for example, the Indian symbol was introdced to general usage by 'sportswriters' during the 1920s. As I write this, I note the nearby presence of my father's Indian-head senior cane, class of 1921. The sportswriters of the '1920s' must have worked rapidly indeed. The Baker library archives possess Indian-head canes dating much farther back. Indian figures inhabit the weathervane atop the library and also the College Seal, because they are part of Dartmouth's particular and America's general past. If you enter the lower west entrance of Baker, you will see in a glass case on the wall some memorabila of a Dartmouth student killed in World War I. It includes a patch of canvas with an Indian head on it. No one can deny him, or us, access to the past.
It was even asserted, at least semi-formally, that the Wah-Hoo-Wah cheer signified imminent sodomization of rivals taken in war. This turns out to be entirely false. Appropriately enough, the words signify the coming of snow - the snow job given to the Dartmouth community.
The clay pipe ceremony in the Bema no longer exists - the Thought Police have finally caught up with it. Which moves us beyond false arguments and deliberate misrepresentation to the subject of censorship of art, and other censorship. Yes, deliberate official censorship of art, 'book-burning' as President Eisenhower called it in his 1954 commencement address at, yes, Dartmouth. There has been censorship of our great song 'Eleazar Wheelock.' There has been the censorship of traditional football cheers. There has been censorship of the Hovey Grill murals, featuring bare breasted ladies. I certainly would not consider the latter to be great art, but they certainly can be seen as an important period-piece. The same can be said of the much-touted Orozco murals, which are bad art - overdrawn, overstated, and in bad taste, along with being anti-white and, especially, anti-Protestant, but Dartmouth is not baout to cover up work by a Mexican communist, no matter how garish and propagandistic. Dartmouth looks upon the Orozco murals with breathless awe.Which brings up to the inner, the core meaning of the 1974 decision. What is signaled, and here is the worst educational disaster, was that henceforth minority demands would be specially privaleged, even if the demands might be absurd. The same rules of argument and evidence would not apply to minority claims. If a minority and not just any minority, but henceforth priveleged minorities - asserted something, well, then, amen brother, that was it.
And it has been it, from special admissions priveleges, to special 'programs' in the curriculum, to segregated social arrangements and notable faculty incometents. It is to Dartmouth's honor that in 1986, 27 Jews, asserting that they did not need or want it. Well done.
Of course, Dartmouth will not only survive but prevail. The current auspices of the college are merely leaseholders, not owners. You can, with some effort at selection, get an excellent education here, and as Adam Smith once said, 'a nation has a lot of ruin in it.' Indeed America itself has demonstrated Smith's point.
Dartmouth students are voting with their T-shirts and windbreakers and above all with their brains. It will take ten or twenty years to recover from this issue - but 'The Indian Will Never Die.'
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