Since the early 1970’s, about 1,250 of the nation’s 3,000 elementary schools, high schools, and colleges with American Indian nicknames and mascots have dropped them, said Susan Shown Harjo, president of Washington D. C. ’s Morningstar Institute (Johansen, 2001). Are we being disrespectful to the Native American people? Should the Native American people be proud that a school uses an icon as a mascot? Schools all over the country begin with a story and honoring of the Native Americans at each sporting event. Why have Native Americans asked for an end to Native American mascots?
Native Americans perceive this as a racial issue. The problem has stirred up controversy because Native Americans maintain that such symbols and mascots are stereotypical and dehumanizing. They also feel it is derogatory to their tribe and people. They feel it reflects a violent caricature of Native Americans. They have heard several people make fun of the noses on the mascots. They should never use cartoons or violent images of Native Americans. One of the biggest concerns is the physiological impact that this will have on the children.
For their part, many Indians feel strongly that these glorified interpretations of their past negate their right to define themselves and have a severe impact on the self-images of their children. “Copycats,” children somehow understand,” appropriate the power of the people they mimic. ” These symbols are a religious significance to every tribe. This is a disrespect to imitate or misuse these symbols. The posters “Scalp the warriors,” or “Massacre the Indians. ” Whether intended or not, such slogans are racial slurs. Individual tribes each have different symbols and representation.
There is little regard for the differences among all the tribes. Native American mascots became an active political issue during the late 1960s. This is when the American Indian Movement (AIM) was founded. The AIM movement caused some of the Indian stereotypes to fall in the Midwest. At the University of Nebraska at Omaha, a chapter of AIM spearheaded a change of mascot from “Indians” to “Mavericks,” a beef animal with an attitude in 1971. During the same year Stanford University changed its Indian mascot to a cardinal.
In the meantime, Marquette University has replaced “Warriors” in favor of “Golden Eagles. ” Dartmouth changed its “Indians” to “Big Green,” and Miami of Ohio changed “Redskins” to the “Redhawks. ”The U. S. Commission on Civil Rights believes that the use of Native American images and nicknames in school is insensitive and should be avoided. They declared that “the stereotyping of any racial, ethnic, religious or other group, when promoted by our public educational institutions, teaches all students that stereotyping of minority groups is acceptable, which is a dangerous lesion in a diverse society. The commission also noted that these nicknames and mascots are “false portrayals that encourage biases and prejudices that have a negative effect on contemporary Indian people. Native American and civil rights advocates maintain that these mascots may violate anti-discrimination laws. ” Mr. Millman contends that the Civil Rights Commission’s position contradicts the federal government’s own practices. ‘Why is it all right for the U. S. government to call a piece of its military equipment the Apache,” he said, “but not for a little school in the Catskills that has had this heritage for 50 years” to call its sports teams the Indians?
The National Congress of American Indians launched a campaign to bring an end to the use of Indian sports mascots. Throughout the years schools have continued to change their mascot symbols and names. A moment in history was made in February 2002 when Northern Colorado changed its name from ‘Native Pride” to ‘The Fighting Whites”. The Fighting Whites set thousands of virtual tongues wagging. Everyone had an opinion, from AIM to affiliates of the Ku Klux Klan. The reactions provide a flash-frozen ideoscape of racial humor in an age of political correctness.
Within weeks, the Fighting Whites had become nearly as well known as established professional monikers. The publicity helped to sell thousands of T shirts and other items for a hastily endowed scholarship fund to aid Native American students. By the end of 2002, the team had raised $100,000 in merchandise sales for Native American students. This was also called a case of “Political correctness gone Mad! ” How do the people on the Standing Rock Sioux Indian reservation in North Dakota feel? On the Standing Rock Sioux Indian reservation there is a strong Indian tradition.
I personally conducted a research project to find out the true feelings of our biggest tribe in the state. I personally interviewed 2,000 people on the telephone or in person on the Standing Rock Sioux Indian Reservation. I wanted each individual opinion on the University of North Dakota Fighting Sioux Mascot. I first conducted interviews with the elderly people on Standing Rock. Conducting my interview I found that on average the Native American people on the Standing Rock Reservation are in favor of the Fighting Sioux Mascot. Everyone asked who suggested and started the process of this ban?
I found that a majority of the elderly found the mascot offense and disrespectful. They all believe this was a big racial issue. They said the white people continued to ignore the Native American voice. The elderly people believe in the old Indian ways. They are still angry with our government on how the white people took over the land and confined them to the reservation. I do not predict there will be any way we can change the elderly minds. Speaking to the middle and young adults regarding this issue surprised me. The majority of this group is in favor of the Fighting Sioux mascot.
Several members have attended games at the University of North Dakota. They said they held their heads up high before each game when the Indian people were acknowledged. I honestly can say not one school age child was against the mascot. Several of them thought it was sad that there is so much fighting going on. They said the focus should be on educating our Indian people. We need more education across the nation on Native Americans and their history. They felt there was more important things in life that need attention. I spoke with some high school students that will be attending the University of North Dakota in the fall of 2008.
They have went and toured the campus. They could not even imagine how the school really supports Native American students and are proud to have them be a part of their school and tradition. The University also offered many scholarships to Native American students each year. After interviewing the students they now have plans of their own. They want to hold a debate to discuss the pros and cons of the mascot. They said they will also include the public in this debate. This visual shows that a majority of the Native Americans do not find the Fighting Sioux Mascot offensive.
They believe that the Tribal Chairmen was overstepping his boundaries by speaking for all the people. Mr. His Horses Thunder has been on TV and interviewed by the state capitol’s newspaper. He always states the people of his tribe want this mascots eliminated. Everyone I spoke with had not even spoken to Mr. His Horses Thunder regarding the mascot. They spoke of this symbol with pride and honor. The people thought the best way to decide this is to hold an election on all the reservations in our state. This will allow for all the Indian people to speak their mind. Native Americans should feel honor and pride towards these mascots.
I am an enrolled member in the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in North Dakota. I have personally went to several sporting events where an Indian name or mascot was used. Prior to the start of a game they announce a statement of respect for the Native American people. Schools use the mascots because they stand for power and pride. They represent bravery, courage and fighting skills. The use of these mascots has been a cherished tradition. The Indian mascot symbolizes a local heritage. According to the Sports Illustrated survey 87% of Native Americans who lived off Indian Reservations did not object to the mascots. 7% who lived on the reservation did not object to the mascots. Only 33% who lived on the reservations opposed the mascots. This is an honoring of the country’s Native American past. Schools around the country use these symbols to rally the students together. Several Native American Indians have embraced schools and teams to use their mascots. This battle first started in 1968 when the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) launches a campaign to address stereotypes images in the media. We are still continuing to fight this battle in 2008.
Fans and players are constantly asking themselves if it is right to participate in the sporting events symbolizing Native American names and mascots. Fans seem to have the hardest time at the sporting events. They wonder if they should participate in the chants and cheers. The struggle and fight over the Native American team mascot has caused arguing, violence and vandalism. The mascot issue has also torn school boards apart and made a political nightmare of school board elections. The schools have thought about changing their names to reflect black and white people. The Fighting Whites caused quite a controversy.
Why is this issue getting so out of hand? In his foreword to Team Spirits, Vine Deloria, Jr. identifies several reasons: residues of racism, a sense of the Indian as “other,” and the fact that “Indians represent the American past, and Europeans and Americans have been fleeing from their own past since the days of discovery and settlement” (King and Springwood, 2001 pp. ix-x). These images are ideological artifacts reflecting attitudes toward “race, power, and culture” (King and Springwood, 2002, p. 1. ). The controversial issue is causing violence across the United States.
People are getting into fist fights. School Boards are fighting amongst each other and with staff. After school board meetings members are finding their vehicles vandalized. Friends and families are engaging in a war. People have been sent to the emergency room after riots broke out. I witnessed a school board meeting that became out of control. Three board members against four board members. They were calling each other names. Threatening each other with violence. Every school board meeting a member of the student council is present. What kind of example did the school board teach this student?
This particular student was so scared she left the meeting immediately. The argument was sad and very disrespectful toward the Native American people. We need to quit fighting and come together as one. As a Native American I am proud of our symbols and mascots. Native Americans and American sports fans in general not only support the use of such images, but also believe that the images honor Native Americans. We need to focus on the positive aspects of these mascots and put all our energy into the schools. This has caused big debates throughout the county between communities, school boards, students, and Native American groups.
With each opinion this debate will continue to rage on. The best solution to the problem is to let the Native American people vote to decide on the issue. Let the Tribes in our country vote on every mascot that is voice and can be heard. This will let the schools and world know what the majority of the Native American people feel regarding this issue.