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Madland: Signing Indian mascot bill, Gov. Scott Walker defends white people's freedom of speech

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When Gov. Scott Walker announced he would sign the bill that makes it much, much, much harder to require Wisconsin schools to remove potentially offensive American Indian mascot names, he said he was doing it to protect free speech under the First Amendment.

"While I may not like or necessarily approve of others' speech, where do you draw the line to say, 'It's okay to do things that you like but not that you don't?'" said Walker.

The people of Mukwonago are lucky that the founding fathers decided to write up the First Amendment at the same time they were stealing land from American Indians.

There was a time when Walker wouldn't have had to fight this battle for white people's freedom of speech. When communities like Mukwonago were founded, American Indians didn't have First Amendment rights. Indigenous peoples didn't have universal citizenship in their indigenous country until 1924. Some states limited American Indian voting rights well into the 1950s.

The First Amendment has protected the Indian mascots of sports fields, but it has long failed actual American Indians themselves. American Indians have made strong First Amendment arguments of their own throughout the nation's history, only to find both state and federal governments weren't such sticklers for freedom when the victim was an Indian.

Across each of the five pillars of the First Amendment, from the 19th century to the 21st, the government has failed to recognize the rights of American Indians.

Freedom of speech: Tribal boarding schools from the 1890s up through the 1960s forbid American Indian students from speaking their native language. Apparently, that was not as onerous an offense as asking a high school to change a couple signs.

Freedom of assembly: When Oglala Lakota member Raymond Yellow Thunder was murdered and his killers were given a light sentence, American Indians went to the county courthouse to protest. Upon arriving, they were greeted by cops in riot gear who told them that a group of more than four people protesting in the government building would be considered a riot (hmm, that sounds vaguely familiar). Many were arrested and given prison sentences, including the murder victim's mother.

Free exercise of religion: In 1890, the U.S. Army cracked down on the Ghost Dance spiritual movement, leading to the Wounded Knee Massacre. Well over a century later, in 2008, a Texas school district forbid an Apache student from wearing his hair in traditional braids. And in 2009, a South Dakota law forbid American Indian inmates from ceremonial tobacco, which is used for myriad spiritual purposes.

Freedom to petition the government for a redress of grievances: When American Indians petitioned the government in 1973, it led to the Wounded Knee incident, a two-and-a-half-month-long armed standoff with the FBI. Yep, that place again.

Freedom of the press: The FBI prevented media from speaking with the American Indians after the first month of the Wounded Knee standoff after they found that members of the public were too sympathetic. This left American Indians with Marlon Brando as their sole representative.

These examples are just from the First Amendment; there are plenty more offenses against American Indians to be found across the rest of the Bill of Rights.

The new law's supporters in Mukwonago are cheering their victory over good taste and basic respect. They should also take the time to celebrate the fact that school mascot legislation was probably the greatest infringement they've ever had on their personal rights.

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