Voices: Thanks for trying to honor my culture ... but please stop
My name is Dean Dempsey and I was born for the Towering House Clan and the Bitterwater Clan.
I am Dine, more commonly known as Navajo, Native American, Indigenous and to some people, simply "Indian." My census number, the number the U.S. government gives to all us "Injuns" — or "chiefs" as I'm sometimes referred to when someone forgets my name — ends in 869.
This federally recognized number, given as proof that I'm authentic, is similar to the counting system that Hitler tattooed on the Jews he imprisoned.
I moved to central Illinois six years ago and found a wonderful community of friends and family here.
Apparently my culture moved with me.
Lucky me to see my native pizza place in Vermilion County — aptly named "Indian's Pizza" with a traditional headdress on the sign.
Each morning, "The Chief" greets me on the radio as he connects me with the prayers and songs of my ancestors. Yes, it seems, my historical prayers always begin with "Stairway to Heaven," 'cause the "The Chief" says they do.
If I want to go to a traditional dance, I simply need to track down the pro-Chief Illiniwek supporters and find out when the next Return of the Chief dance will be. It so reminds me of sacred ceremonies when a white person runs out to the roar of a crowd and demonstrates their gymnastic abilities as people whoop and holler to encourage the "warriors."
If I miss home and the rich arts and crafts that my people have perfected, I only need to go the local "Indian" store to buy a handcrafted rug, a plastic turquoise necklace or sand painting. Curious, though, why each is stamped with "Made in Mexico." And here I thought America didn't want anything coming from Mexico.
It seems that anything marked "Indian" warrants an awe and respect that my people and all indigenous tribes didn't get when we were forced from our homes, imprisoned and slaughtered in the name of progress more than 150 years ago.
It seems that those same fights are going on today.
For as our various cultures and people were wrongly portrayed as beggars, thieves and murderers back then, we are now wrongly portrayed as pizza makers, cheap jewelry craftsmen or gymnasts in headdresses.
There is a persistent belief that our culture died and has left a need for the non-Indigenous to pick up and honor simply by putting feathers on a costume and dancing around or by painting the words "Indian made" on a sign or making a pizza and calling it Indian.
Thank you for your efforts to honor my culture.
But please stop now.
I am still alive, as are the estimated 3.8 million indigenous people today. We don't need you to capitalize on a culture you know nothing about in a way that only serves to insult us.
Instead, please offer your support as we work to preserve our culture, our language and our traditions in a manner better consistent with our past.
Dean Dempsey was born and raised on the Navajo Nation. He moved to Danville in 2007, where he lives and works today. He can be reached by email at email@example.com