Titled, First Thanksgiving, the cover—a painting by Bruce McCall—shows a trio of Native Americans arriving at a feast.
Some of their hosts are wearing Redskins t-shirts over the black-and-white vestments we’ve come to associate with pilgrims.
The table is adorned with turkey and trimmings while a banner hangs above the flat-screen TV with the words, “Go Redksins!” The team’s logomark decorates the rafters.
The painting is like a Rorschach image: people see in the picture what they want to see.
I showed my students the cover and asked what it meant to them. All agreed the painting criticized the team that has refused to change its name.
The First Nations people pictured look proud and dignified, one student said. Another chimed in that the football fans looked like drunken louts.
Not one student thought the fans were honoring American Indians.
I checked the internet for news stories about the cover to see whether folks had weighed in on the image.
The Washington Post, the Washington Times, the mainstream broadcast news stations, News from Indian Country and the Huffington Post all had stories or editorials. Only one considered the cover a bad idea.
Journalist Christopher Harper commented in the Washington Times that the cover is the most offensive he has seen in the New Yorker.
“Let us…concentrate on what Thanksgiving is really about. It is not a day of controversy about what immigrants did to the indigenous population. Thanksgiving is a day to thank God for all he has done for us.”
Writing in News from Indian Country, Simon Moya-Smith called the cover “profound.”
Moya-Smith says the truth about Thanksgiving has been both omitted and mythologized.
In 1676 settlers in the New World said Thanksgiving offers a time to rejoice in the subduing of their enemies. “The enemies [mean] Native Americans,” Moya-Smith writes.
He closes by noting that the term Redskin offends, rather than honors.
And the artist? McCall says team names like the Redskins and Braves came from another era.
“This is 2014, and it seems a little late to be dealing with that stuff,” McCall says. “It should have been quashed a long time ago. We did everything to the Indians that we could, and it’s still going on. It seems crude and callous.”
The interview with McCall appears on the magazine’s website in a story written by New Yorker staffers Mina Kaneko And Francoise Mouly.
McCall wanted to see the reaction to the cover: “I’ve brought the cultural arrogance of one side back to the sixteen-hundreds and the first Thanksgiving dinner.”
Blog #27 for Native American Heritage Month