(Washington DC) As yet another Veteran's Day has passed with nationwide remembrance of those who died so that others may live free, there are still those who serve under the veil of overt racism in our nation's military.
Each year the Air Force tries to celebrate American Indian Heritage Month to bring light to the proud tradition and heritage of American Indians and the proud contributions of those who served this country. Yet in the background lurks the evil of racism. How can Native people in uniform and those native civilians who work on Air Force Bases feel honored when the CMSgt mock and degrade the Native Americans heritage. Zero tolerance against disparaging attitudes, racial overtones is a double standard at all Air Force Bases.
The Air Force top enlisted grade is that of Chief Master Sergeant (E-9). Only
1 percent of the AF enlisted grade achieves this rank. It is also believed
that these senior NCOs by virtue of their rank are suppose to set the professional standards in leadership, training and to be the eyes and ears for the commanders. They help identify and take the lead to help correct discrimination and racial problems. To promote harmony and camaraderie, these CMSgts formed a private organization and called themselves the "Chiefs' Group". (Which leads them to take on an American Indian Chief as their official mascot). Virtually every Air Force Base has a local Chiefs'
Group-which makes them a worldwide fraternity. Although they are private organizations and not officially sanctioned by the Air Force, they are indeed known to exist and approved by every wing commander. Many CMSgts' Group has their own website. Their conduct is still subject to the Uniformed Code of Military Justice. Racism is not to be tolerated. However, these groups as a whole to include the Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force, Frederick Finch, have sanctioned and been complicit in disparaging Indian religious leaders by adopting the Indian Chief as their romanticized symbol of an Ideal. Although to the Chief Master Sergeants this sound like an honor, it is a desecration of things held sacred. We as Native People are not honored by the CMSgts' Group mascot. Websites for each base have run amuck with Indian imagery and any number
of pictures clipped from Indian Religious ceremony only to be placed by an Image
of the distinctive CMSgt Chevron. What Indians see as a trivialization of their religion, the CMSgts see as honoring them.
Around 1970, the CMSgts Group took on a mascot. This mascot is a Native American Indian Chief in a full chief's bonnet. This image is still used today but many have gone to create elaborate images that ridicule and demean the Native American culture, religion and way of life. Many of these images have ceremony pipes, eagle feathers, paints and some drawings even lead one to assume that Native Americans prays to the CMSgt stripes. These types of artwork are ridiculing and hurtful and are form of discrimination or subjugating one race to a mere mascot. This is RACISM. This problem extends to the usage of Native American Indian Chiefs and other symbols
as mascots and trinkets by the United States Air Force Chief Master Sergeants'
Group during their annual CMSgt induction ceremonies and other activities such as retirements, promotional parties, etc.
At many CMSgt induction ceremonies, new CMSgt promotees put on the Indian Chiefs Bonnet as a gesture to accept the promotion. Though many CMSgts including the Air Force CMSgt Finch, say that this practice is almost never done, there is evidence that this is a continuing activity that will not stop. Earlier in the years and perhaps in many states, there were indications that some members not only don the Chief's bonnet, but also attempt a ritual called smudging. It has been said that these rituals were
never done but as these pictures show, people routinely play Indians. CMSAF Finch has stated that they are not demeaning or ridiculing Native Americans, but in fact honoring the American Indians. He also stated that he has no control over the CMSgts' Group, as they are a private organization. As the Senior NCO in the top Air Force position, he is the advisor to Air Force Chief of Staff General Ryan. In this position, he does have the authority to inform the CMSgt groups that they should refrain from using
Native Americans as their official mascot. Any member in uniform practicing racism or discrimination, or making disparaging images is subjected to the UCMJ. CMSgt Finch has informed many Native Americans who have written to him and General Ryan that they should feel honored. Native Americans continue to write and email General Ryan, CMSgt Finch, and their state representatives that it is wrong for members of the United States Air Force to use Native American Indians as Mascots. CMSgt Finch goes so far to justify the Indian mascot by stating, "the USAF Academy has a mascot and it is the
Air Force Policy and AFI says:
**Discrimination. Any action that unlawfully or unjustly results in unequal treatment of persons or groups based on race, color, gender, national origin, religion, age, and, if civilian, handicapping conditions, for which distinctions are not supported by legal or rational considerations.
(AFPD 36-27, Social Actions; AFI 36-1201, Discrimination Complaints)
***Disparaging terms. Terms used to degrade or connote negative statements pertaining to race, color, gender, national origin, religion or age. These terms include insults, printed material, visual material, signs, symbols, posters, or insignia. The use of these terms constitutes unlawful discrimination.
**Prejudice. A negative feeling or dislike based upon a faulty and inflexible generalization (i.e., prejudging a person or group without knowledge or facts).
**Racism. Any attitude or action of a person or institutional structure which
subordinates a person or group because of race.
Section 4F-Accommodation of Religious
4.40. Religious Accommodation:
*** 4.40. 1. Religious accommodation is based on the constitutional right of
the free exercise of religion in accordance with DOD policy.
***4.40.2. Commanders should approve requests for accommodation of religious
practices when accommodation will not have an adverse impact on military readiness, unit cohesion, standards, or discipline.
***4.40.3. Commanders are expected to respect the religious beliefs and
practices of Air Force members in a manner that is consistent and fair
As every Indian knows, the Chief is a mentor, usually an elder, a religious leader and perhaps a warrior or more accurately put into today's terms, a statesman. The Chief is of the same blood as the people in the Nation that selected the Chief.
Two retired Air Force members have began the arduous task of convincing the CMSgts and the Air Force that these images promote stereotypes--indeed even Air Force Policy agrees on this count. They have met resistance and hard-heartedness to date however. The movement is catching fire of late with many joining the civil rights battle to include the Principle Chief of the Piscataway Nation, The Leagues of Indigenous Sovereign Nations, and many more Indian people who find this practice appalling.
The United States Air Force and the CMSAF should seek the advice and inputs from real Native Americans from recognized Indian Nations instead of align themselves with a few "So-called Indians" of dubious credentials who thinks there is nothing wrong with the CMSgts' group mascot of an Indian Chief.
Many of these a self-proclaimed holy men on the Internet (that no Indians have heard of), have written the Air Force as the "official spokespeople" for all Indians, the two who can prove heritage are not deterred. CMSgt Finch would do well to disassociate himself and all chief master sergeants from anything that is Native American. This is the only honor we want from the United States Air Force.
"We are certain the Air Force will take these complaints seriously and focus on structured empathy to view this from our eyes vice their own views that were honed watching the Hollywood version of the Indian." said one of the two retired members who wished to remain anonymous only to avoid the appearance of not being humble in the eyes of their creator.
Members fighting for Indian civil rights remain optimistic that the Air Force
will desire to do the right thing.
You can help by writing to your state representative, senator, and governor or directly to General Ryan at firstname.lastname@example.org and CMSgt Finch.
Frederick.Finch@pentagon.af.mil. Tell them to stop racism. If you are near a base or work on an Air Force base, contact the EEO office there and tell them you object to the usage of a Native American Indian Chief Mascot by the CMSgts' Group. Please send a copy of your letter to
Please visit the following website to get emails and addresses to write your concerns to. http://earnestman.tripod.com/cmsgts/cmsgts.htm
Yes, Racism Is Alive And Well In The Air Force.