Idle No More: What’s In A Name?

Earlier this summer — in July to be precise — a woman in England had her passport application rejected on the basis that her legally adopted last name was copyrighted by someone else.  That someone else was George Lucas, creator of the Star Wars franchise.  The name Skywalker is allegedly copyrighted and trademarked to Lucasfilm, ILM, and Skywalker Sound.

Oddly enough, Skywalker as a surname was used at least 249 times in 17 countries according to the website Namespedia.com.

So is the story about George Lucas making up the name Skywalker true?  Did the studio object to the main character’s original surname of Skykiller?

I don’t know if any of the “Star Wars” trivia is accurate, but I do know that, according to the Texas State Historical Association, the surname Skywalker existed in Texas long before George Lucas was born.  You see, according to the TSHA, in May of 1871, a group of Kiowas, Comanches, Kiowa-Apaches, Arapahoes, and Cheyennes were involved in what became known as the Warren Wagontrain Raid.  They were led by Sitting Bear, White Bear, Big Tree and Skywalker.  Skywalker, of course, had predicted the outcome of the attack so, in many ways, you could say that Skywalker was as much a visionary as Luke Skywalker was in “Star Wars.”

Unfortunately, Sitting Bear, White Bear, and Big Tree were arrested by General William Tecumseh Sherman.  White Bear and Big Tree were found guilty on all charges against them, and sentenced to hang.  On the way Fort Richardson, Sitting Bear tried to escape and was shot dead.  However, at the request of a group of Quakers, and thanks to the negotiating skills of Kicking Bird through to 1873, the hanging sentences for White Bear and Big Tree were commuted by Governor Edmund J. Davis, and they were eventually paroled.

This incident was one of many that culminated in the Red River War that was fought from June 1874 and well into the spring of 1875 between Indigenous peoples of the region and the United States army.  But the Red River War wasn’t caused by a few “Indian raids.”

In 1867, the United States government defaulted on the Treaty of Medicine Lodge by refusing to enforce provisions that prohibited settlers to trespass on tribal lands.  Instead, the United States government cut back rations that were to go to the Indians, and gun running and alcohol trafficking by settler businessmen were allowed contrary to agreements.  Theft by settlers of animal stock belonging to Indigenous peoples was allowed to continue without consequence to the thieves.

Four years after the United States government began to turn a blind eye to the treaty, those living on reservations found themselves without rations and without herds to hunt that would feed their families.

The Red River War failed in that it led to white settlements in the Texas Panhandle, which resulted in the complete subjugation of the Indigenous peoples who were fighting for the right to live in accordance with the agreements forged in the Treaty of Medicine Lodge.

Sadly enough, among the leaders who were incarcerated after the uprising, Skywalker was one of seventy prisoners.

So while George Lucas may believe he came up with the surname Skywalker all on his own, the fact of the matter is that it’s a name that belonged to a brave Indigenous leader almost one hundred years before George Lucas’s movie.

Does this mean that George Lucas has disrespected Indigenous peoples by naming his hero Luke Skywalker?  Hardly.  However, he also cannot lay claim — copyright, trademark, or otherwise — to the name, thereby refusing to allow others the right the use of that name.

Maybe it’s time people started putting things into perspective, and stopped thinking that they can own those things that are not to be owned like possessions.  A name is something that defines the person, and no person should be told they cannot be who they are.

Elyse Bruce

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