Creating America's Soul: E Pluribus Unum and Native Identity

In March CNN’s Christine Brennan berated President Trump, claiming that his hosting of the Clemson Tigers was meaningless as “It was all about using Clemson as a prop.” She criticized him again on the topic of identity appropriation last week as part of the President’s Medal of Freedom ceremony: “You can see Donald Trump wants to attach himself to Tiger Woods.” She added: “…you think about these two men linked together, this was just kind of a ‘bro event.’”

Yet Woods also earned Brennan’s wrath as the reporter called the Master’s Champion a ‘sellout’ who stood for nothing, unlike “his peers LeBron James and Serena and Venus Williams” as justified when he didn’t attend President Clinton’s Jackie Robinson 50th Anniversary party in 1997. Yet social scientists such as Robert Putnam and Abraham Maslow counter the sports correspondent’s assessment, suggesting that the process of sharing identity, as a group or individual, builds unity, solidarity, and social reciprocity.

And CNN’s Business reporters would have to agree that commoditized identity bonding is now helping drive Trump’s red hot economy. Platforms like Facebook allow users to ‘attach themselves’ to nearly anyone else regardless of race or class while Airbnb specifically attributes its success to matchmaking often dissimilar clients by requiring identity disclosures to overcome what they concede is a natural “stranger danger” bias.  Psychologists have determined that this type of bonding reduces prejudices and social anxiety between races and it’s happened at the Presidential level for years.

Other Presidential examples include John F. Kennedy -- of Gaelic-Irish heritage -- “attaching himself” to Germans at the Berlin Wall claiming; “Ich bin ein Berliner” or “I am a Berliner”. Likewise Barack Obama, of Kenyan-and-Indonesian heritage, not only accepted a Norwegian-based Nobel Peace Prize that promotes brotherhood among nations while giving an acceptance speech where he claimed that the path to world peace specifically involved ‘reducing the fear of losing one’s identity’.

In both cases, these Presidents built on their reputations by ‘attaching themselves’ to the identity, values, or accomplishments of other’s racial or national diversity.

Thus while Brennan disparaged the “Green-Jacket” wearing golfer for missing a 50th anniversary, her story failed the note that we are in the midst of the 230th Anniversary of the Medal of Freedom’s predecessor, which saw early recipient named “Red Jacket” and George Washington ‘attaching themselves’ to each other in one of the nation’s first bonding ceremony that carried on for more than 100 years and helped cement our nation’s foundational identity as Native American-centric. 

One wonders if Brennan’s psychological evaluation would similarly dub the 1789 inception of America’s first peace award, the Indian Peace Medal, as a “bro event”?  A fair question as -- notwithstanding the pressures of social justice crowd back then -– the first Commander in Chief demonstrated Trumplike temerity in providing an engraved full-body likeness in juxtaposition with a head-dressed warrior on the award that historians note became “badges of power” and “trophies of renown” to their recipients. And it’s worth noting here, as well, that Red Jacket’s Iroquois Confederacy beat General Washington in the ‘Identity-and-culture-as-a-gift trend,’ in 1776 when they bequeathed John Hancock the sacred native name “Karanduawn” while also providing the Philadelphia-based founders a set of 117 articles known collectively as the Great Law of Peace.

So important was this cultural transaction in defining who the United States was that in 1988 a formal U.S. Joint Resolution credited this gift as the basis of the U.S. Constitution while the Great Law -- even today -- is symbolized by a “Great Tree” which in Iroquoian translates to -- wait for it -- Karanduawn, which was already Hancock’s “gifted” name.  How’s that for an example of farsighted and elegant bit of Indian diplomacy?

A final link connecting the goal of the Medal of Freedom with its native roots is seen through the use of the nation’s motto, “E Pluribus Unum,” Latin meaning: “From Many, One.” It appeared on Indian Peace Medals a full three years before being inscribed on U.S. coins and currency and today this native brotherhood motto survives on our coins and dollar bill, making it a President-to-Indian-based “bro-event” legacy if there ever was one.  

Washington’s medals formally recognized deeds specifically carried out by “Village Chiefs,” “Principal War Chiefs” and “Warriors” -- in order of importance and by medal size. So popular were they by 1821 that a veteran 18-year U.S. Indian Agent wrote that demand had outstripped supplies and feared further delay in recognizing distinguished “Red Skins of various nations” could have national repercussions.  An example was when a Potawatomi Chief requested Washington medals to emphasize to his warriors that they would no longer take orders from the British (their one-time ally) and “Will view the Americans as their only true friend.”

Francis Prucha, in his book Indian Peace Medals in American History, notes that the 1855 Indian Peace Medals provided to Blackfeet chiefs left such an impression that 85 years later one of the medals was discovered with an aged Indian who refused to part with it at any price. He writes, “It was the most treasured of the family’s heirlooms.” And it was also the Blackfeet Nation’s Blackie Wetzel -- the one-time President of the National Congress of the American Indian -- who convinced the NFL’s Washington Redskins to shed their pedestrian “R” logo and instead use a Indian-Peace-Medal-like profile of one of their own… Chief Two Guns White Calf is the native face and soul in spiritually standing alongside George Washington at his capital. 

But what Wetzel did in the early 1970s, and what 90% of Native Americans agreed with in the groundbreaking 2016 Redskins survey, was a simple reaffirmation of Washington’s strategic nation-building goal that Congress ideated in 1988: “to preserve tribal cultural identity and heritage.” And it was the Presidential Indian Peace Medals which set the stage in not only providing the basis of America’s foundational identity, but also in providing thousands of native-themed tribute schools, which cropped up in the wake of historic Peace Medal ceremonial sites or near the homes of their heroic recipients.  Moreover, due in part to this process, nearly half of the U.S. state names also stand today as tribute. 

So while the current Commander in Chief announced last month that he will attend a Washington Redskins game this season, there’s no doubt that activist reporters will pounce and continue to deliver shallow, party-serving, division-minded storylines claiming that Trump is terrible for “attaching himself” to the most important diplomatic and heritage-based team in sports which CNN’s Brennan -- of course -- claims is “racist.”

Meanwhile, in other news, CNN viewership is imploding… 

Andre’ Billeaudeaux is a board member of the Native American Guardian’s Association and a retired military journalist.  His journal-published research covers topics such as National Identity, Politics and Mass Media.  He’s the author of a book entitled: How the Redskins Got their Name which embodied the arguments successfully laid out in a First Amendment Federal Court Amicus Brief which included sponsorship by the four-time Navajo Nation President and Medal of Honor U.S. Marine Corps “Code Talker” Peter MacDonald.  Together, these native leaders share deep concerns that Native American traditions are on a slippery slope towards cultural extinction.  

In March CNN’s Christine Brennan berated President Trump, claiming that his hosting of the Clemson Tigers was meaningless as “It was all about using Clemson as a prop.” She criticized him again on the topic of identity appropriation last week as part of the President’s Medal of Freedom ceremony: “You can see Donald Trump wants to attach himself to Tiger Woods.” She added: “…you think about these two men linked together, this was just kind of a ‘bro event.’”

Yet Woods also earned Brennan’s wrath as the reporter called the Master’s Champion a ‘sellout’ who stood for nothing, unlike “his peers LeBron James and Serena and Venus Williams” as justified when he didn’t attend President Clinton’s Jackie Robinson 50th Anniversary party in 1997. Yet social scientists such as Robert Putnam and Abraham Maslow counter the sports correspondent’s assessment, suggesting that the process of sharing identity, as a group or individual, builds unity, solidarity, and social reciprocity.

And CNN’s Business reporters would have to agree that commoditized identity bonding is now helping drive Trump’s red hot economy. Platforms like Facebook allow users to ‘attach themselves’ to nearly anyone else regardless of race or class while Airbnb specifically attributes its success to matchmaking often dissimilar clients by requiring identity disclosures to overcome what they concede is a natural “stranger danger” bias.  Psychologists have determined that this type of bonding reduces prejudices and social anxiety between races and it’s happened at the Presidential level for years.

Other Presidential examples include John F. Kennedy -- of Gaelic-Irish heritage -- “attaching himself” to Germans at the Berlin Wall claiming; “Ich bin ein Berliner” or “I am a Berliner”. Likewise Barack Obama, of Kenyan-and-Indonesian heritage, not only accepted a Norwegian-based Nobel Peace Prize that promotes brotherhood among nations while giving an acceptance speech where he claimed that the path to world peace specifically involved ‘reducing the fear of losing one’s identity’.

In both cases, these Presidents built on their reputations by ‘attaching themselves’ to the identity, values, or accomplishments of other’s racial or national diversity.

Thus while Brennan disparaged the “Green-Jacket” wearing golfer for missing a 50th anniversary, her story failed the note that we are in the midst of the 230th Anniversary of the Medal of Freedom’s predecessor, which saw early recipient named “Red Jacket” and George Washington ‘attaching themselves’ to each other in one of the nation’s first bonding ceremony that carried on for more than 100 years and helped cement our nation’s foundational identity as Native American-centric. 

One wonders if Brennan’s psychological evaluation would similarly dub the 1789 inception of America’s first peace award, the Indian Peace Medal, as a “bro event”?  A fair question as -- notwithstanding the pressures of social justice crowd back then -– the first Commander in Chief demonstrated Trumplike temerity in providing an engraved full-body likeness in juxtaposition with a head-dressed warrior on the award that historians note became “badges of power” and “trophies of renown” to their recipients. And it’s worth noting here, as well, that Red Jacket’s Iroquois Confederacy beat General Washington in the ‘Identity-and-culture-as-a-gift trend,’ in 1776 when they bequeathed John Hancock the sacred native name “Karanduawn” while also providing the Philadelphia-based founders a set of 117 articles known collectively as the Great Law of Peace.

So important was this cultural transaction in defining who the United States was that in 1988 a formal U.S. Joint Resolution credited this gift as the basis of the U.S. Constitution while the Great Law -- even today -- is symbolized by a “Great Tree” which in Iroquoian translates to -- wait for it -- Karanduawn, which was already Hancock’s “gifted” name.  How’s that for an example of farsighted and elegant bit of Indian diplomacy?

A final link connecting the goal of the Medal of Freedom with its native roots is seen through the use of the nation’s motto, “E Pluribus Unum,” Latin meaning: “From Many, One.” It appeared on Indian Peace Medals a full three years before being inscribed on U.S. coins and currency and today this native brotherhood motto survives on our coins and dollar bill, making it a President-to-Indian-based “bro-event” legacy if there ever was one.  

Washington’s medals formally recognized deeds specifically carried out by “Village Chiefs,” “Principal War Chiefs” and “Warriors” -- in order of importance and by medal size. So popular were they by 1821 that a veteran 18-year U.S. Indian Agent wrote that demand had outstripped supplies and feared further delay in recognizing distinguished “Red Skins of various nations” could have national repercussions.  An example was when a Potawatomi Chief requested Washington medals to emphasize to his warriors that they would no longer take orders from the British (their one-time ally) and “Will view the Americans as their only true friend.”

Francis Prucha, in his book Indian Peace Medals in American History, notes that the 1855 Indian Peace Medals provided to Blackfeet chiefs left such an impression that 85 years later one of the medals was discovered with an aged Indian who refused to part with it at any price. He writes, “It was the most treasured of the family’s heirlooms.” And it was also the Blackfeet Nation’s Blackie Wetzel -- the one-time President of the National Congress of the American Indian -- who convinced the NFL’s Washington Redskins to shed their pedestrian “R” logo and instead use a Indian-Peace-Medal-like profile of one of their own… Chief Two Guns White Calf is the native face and soul in spiritually standing alongside George Washington at his capital. 

But what Wetzel did in the early 1970s, and what 90% of Native Americans agreed with in the groundbreaking 2016 Redskins survey, was a simple reaffirmation of Washington’s strategic nation-building goal that Congress ideated in 1988: “to preserve tribal cultural identity and heritage.” And it was the Presidential Indian Peace Medals which set the stage in not only providing the basis of America’s foundational identity, but also in providing thousands of native-themed tribute schools, which cropped up in the wake of historic Peace Medal ceremonial sites or near the homes of their heroic recipients.  Moreover, due in part to this process, nearly half of the U.S. state names also stand today as tribute. 

So while the current Commander in Chief announced last month that he will attend a Washington Redskins game this season, there’s no doubt that activist reporters will pounce and continue to deliver shallow, party-serving, division-minded storylines claiming that Trump is terrible for “attaching himself” to the most important diplomatic and heritage-based team in sports which CNN’s Brennan -- of course -- claims is “racist.”

Meanwhile, in other news, CNN viewership is imploding… 

Andre’ Billeaudeaux is a board member of the Native American Guardian’s Association and a retired military journalist.  His journal-published research covers topics such as National Identity, Politics and Mass Media.  He’s the author of a book entitled: How the Redskins Got their Name which embodied the arguments successfully laid out in a First Amendment Federal Court Amicus Brief which included sponsorship by the four-time Navajo Nation President and Medal of Honor U.S. Marine Corps “Code Talker” Peter MacDonald.  Together, these native leaders share deep concerns that Native American traditions are on a slippery slope towards cultural extinction.