Chut Chut Disney,
My name is Johnnie Jae and I am from the Otoe-Missouria and Choctaw tribes of Oklahoma. I am the founder of A Tribe Called Geek and co-host of our namesake radio show. A Tribe Called Geek exists because I am a native geek and I wanted to create a platform where we could share our indigenous perspectives and highlight our contributions to both mainstream and indigenous geek culture.
It was brought to my attention that you have partnered with the Washington Football team and created a line of Star Wars themed R*dskins merchandise. With the upcoming release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, I know that you are just trying to capitalize on the popularity of the franchise. I know that it may not have been your intent, but I am deeply disappointed that you would allow the Star Wars Universe to be associated with an entity that promotes and profits from the use of a racial slur and racism towards Indigenous people.
In an article that was published in October, Amid the controversy, a NEW Trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens is Released, I wrote:
“The inclusivity and diversity of the Star Wars universe is why it continues to be such a beloved worldwide phenomenon. Young, old, white, black, native…..it doesn’t matter and it never has because the Force is strong with us and it unites us as geeks and as human beings. If there’s anything that the last 38 years of Star Wars has taught us, it’s that the Sith will never be victorious. So, the clueless trolls trying to infect the franchise with their hate and white supremacy should just stop because the dark side never wins.”
So, imagine my surprise and heartbreak in discovering that it is not the nameless and faceless trolls threatening to destroy that legacy of inclusivity, but Disney itself. For a company that declares to value decency, associating Star Wars with a racial slur is very contradictory and disrespectful to our native communities. It also stands in stark contrast to the way that Lucasfilm treated our native communities in regards to Star Wars.
In 2013, with permission and help from Lucasfilm, 20th Century Fox, and Deluxe, Manuelito Wheeler of the Navajo Nation Museum was able to organize and produce a dubbed version of Star Wars: A New Hope in the Navajo language. It was a very memorable and unique opportunity for the Navajo Nation to highlight their language and inspire their youth to learn it and take pride in it. Personally, this effort just made sense to me because the use of native languages in Star Wars helped lay the foundation for one of the main languages spoken in the franchise.
Huttese, the native language of the Hutts and the 2nd most commonly used language throughout the Star Wars Galaxy, was inspired by Quechua, the language of the ancient Tawantinsuyu. Sound Designer, Ben Burtt, used the Quechua language to create a model for the linguistic sound and style using samples from a language learning tape. While he did use many Quechua words and their correct pronunciations within the Huttese language, the spelling, use and meanings were changed. So, it wasn’t a stretch of the imagination that LucasFilm would be open to a dubbing entirely in a native language. Native languages were already a part of that universe and it was a good way to pay homage to those indigenous roots.
Allowing the Washington Football team to promote their racism through use of Star Wars is NOT a good way to pay homage. It’s definitely not good business for a company that prides itself on decency and being a family friendly entity.
Our Native children love Star Wars. As children are your target demographic, the licensing of R*dskin merchandise featuring Star Wars characters alongside the R-word slur and logo is especially troublesome. Aside from the use of a racial slur, there is empirical evidence that proves the misappropriation of Native Identities and imagery through mascots is severely damaging to the self-esteem of Native children and affects the way that they view their identities as Indigenous people.
“Mascots have negative tangible side effects to the mental health of native youth. Combining Star Wars with a professional football team whose identity founded on the murder of native people for bounties, the effects it would undoubtedly have on native children would be widespread and long-lasting.” – Sloane Cornelius, Native Community Advocate
As Yoda would undoubtedly say:
As a Native Geek and lifelong Star Wars fan, I ask that you stand by Disney’s core value of decency and reconsider allowing the Star Wars franchise to be tarnished by associating it with the anti-indigenous values of the Washington Football team. The Star Wars franchise has always been light years ahead in terms of racial diversity, inclusivity and equality. Don’t Destroy that legacy.