Air Force Using Native Names: An Open Letter

By Richie Plass

My name is Richie Plass. I am a Menominee, Stockbridge/Munsee Indian from northern Wisconsin. I was raised on the Menominee Indian Reservation, and I presently reside in Green Bay, WI. I have been fighting against Native American mascots and logos since the winter of 1968. I was the mascot for the high school I attended. We were the “Shawano Indians,” and I had some bad experiences soldier holding flat at sunsetwhile trying to show my pride and honor of being Indian. I chose to stop when things got very racist.

I was contacted by SRGT. Larry Miller a few years back about his concern and displeasure of the United States Air Force using our names and images on planes and ceremonies. I have known for some time that certain factions in the Air Force actually have a ceremony where personnel are made “Chiefs”. This is one of the most racist procedures I have ever heard of being carried out by our own government.

Doesn’t anyone in the Air Force know the true meaning of the word “Chief”? Doesn’t anyone in the Air Force know the significance of this word or the honor and responsibility of our people, a living culture that is still here in the 21st century? Why doesn’t the Air Force use the term, “Grand Knight” from the Ku Klux Klan? Isn’t this a group of people still alive and well in the United States?

I am well aware of schools, universities, professional teams and communities forever saying, “We are honoring Native Americans” with these names and images. I have read far too many articles of the United States Air Force saying the same thing. I am here to tell you there is NO honor in what you are doing to ME. Yes, ME! I personalize all of this. I am Menominee. My Menominee name is “Powekonnay” which translates to “One who changes his feathers”, which refers to the Eagle. The Eagle feather headdress is NOT to be used as a moniker on the side of an airplane on the head of a human skeleton and have ANY type of honor for me, my parents, or grandparents. This type of imagery is NOT to be used to try and show “honor” to our ancestors. These sacred items are used and possessed by a handful of Elders in our culture to only be used at certain times and locations, NOT on the side of airplanes or t-shirts.

You want to “honor” us, our culture, and our heritage? Stop this practice, teach ALL Air Force personnel who we are and that we are STILL alive in the 21st century and carrying on our TRUE ways as they were done BEFORE the landings of the Europeans over 500 years ago.

Richie Plass is a Menominee and Stockbridge-Munsee writer from Wisconsin. He has been writing since the 1960s.