8/05/2006

Might Dietz have invented his "Indianness" in order to be able to play ball for Pop Warner?

Here's the situation. The author is referring to the controversy surrounding the offensiveness of the Washington team name.

The team got its name in 1933 from the late owner George Preston Marshall. He wanted to pay tribute to the Indian ancestry of his coach at the time, William "Lone Star" Dietz. But a revealing story published two weeks ago in the Baltimore Sun, which focuses on new research by a California multicultural studies professor, discredits Dietz. Turns out he was a white man "who began taking on an Indian identity as a teenager and ultimately seized the past of a vanished Lakota tribesman and made it his own." The coach was convicted of misrepresenting his identity on military draft documents. So there was no American Indian for which the team was named, just a perpetuated stereotype of the time.
Mike Wise, Sept 17, 2005 Washington Post
"Questionable Naming Rights"

1 comment:

Linda Waggoner said...

Hi again. Just to clarify: I never stated that it was not possible that Dietz had Native DNA. I have not ruled it out, but I'm certainly suspicious about it. I think Tom Benjey and I are pretty close in agreeing with the possibilities for Dietz's real origins--though we would probably favor different possibilities. I tend to think IF Dietz had Native ancestry (and that's a BIG IF for me), it was through his mother (who could have become pregnant by another man when she and her husband were separated) OR that a random Native child was taken by Dietz, Sr. (sheriff of a sparsely populated Barron Co., Wisconsin). I favor the first possibility IF his story is anywhere near the truth, because the evidence that I have supports a real pregancy for Leanna Dietz with a baby arriving and surviving. I don't believe that the son of Dietz Sr. and a "Sioux" woman came into the household and replaced Leanna and Dietz Sr.'s still-birth child.

More importantly, I DO believe that Dietz knowingly (at least by 1916 when he collected tribal annuity money) impersonated a real Lakota man, James One Star, and virtually erased his existence today. Benjey and I are very much in disagreement about the motive and significance of this.

Benjey is also incorrect in claiming that there is no documentation showing Dietz linked to Sallie Eagle Horse until several years after 1912. In fact, Dietz wrote to her in March of 1912. This letter is actually in the Spokane Review coverage of the trial that Benjey cites in his book.

I also wonder if we are in great disagreement about the difference between ethnic identity and "racial" identity. I am not an essentialist. I believe that Native American DNA is one thing, and tribal membership and cultural identity is quite another. I don't believe culture or cultural orientation is passed to one through one's genes. Dietz was raised as a German-American boy no matter how many "Indians" he hung out with in Rice Lake. If he truly was a "changeling," who later sought out his biological mother, he nevertheless stole a man's identity and bamboozled his sister without any trace of remorse. They had civil rights even though no one cared enough to defend them. I disagree entirely that Dietz was the victim in this situation.

I also don't believe there was no reward for Dietz in claiming Native heritage. When I wrote about Dietz in his wife's biography, I stressed football at Carlisle as the motive for claiming a Native American identity. In his era there was, like today, a certain exotic romanticism attached to "being Indian," particularly if one was deemed athletic, artistic, and attractive to boot, and could communicate well with an elite "white" audience. It was a brief, shining moment in history that quickly waned after WWI. There were many more cases of people pushing that ethnic envelope for personal gain. Many in society who scorned most real-life Native people, living impoverished and/or traditional lives on reservations across the country, found the "educated Indian" quite fascinating. And we all know many more loved the Carlisle "Redmen." Let's just say it was "in" to be "In-dian" for a short period of time, but as Gerald Vizenor writes, "indian" is "an occidental misnomer . . . that has no real referent to real native cultures." Dietz courted his America by exploiting its fantasy of "Indians," and, sadly, his ghost still courts us today.