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 Perspectives March 01, 2004 - 7:16am EST 

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AMERICAN INDIAN OPINION LEADERS: American Indian Mascots
Respectful gesture or negative stereotype?







In a survey by Indian Country Today, 81 percent of respondents indicated use of American Indian names, symbols and mascots are predominantly offensive and deeply disparaging to Native Americans.

"Indian mascots, by today’s standards, would be offensive to any other race if portrayed in a similar manner," wrote Fred Blue Fox, Sicangu Lakota. "Indian peoples are no different in regarding the depiction of eagle feathers, face paints and war objects such as tomahawks. These are all sacred to the people and therefore have no place in any sort of public display, let alone mascots."

Only 10 percent of respondents indicated use of American Indian mascots is a respectful gesture and predominantly honors Natives. Nine percent of respondents did not know if American Indian mascots either honored or offended Natives.

Mark Thornton, Cherokee, taking a position within the minority viewpoint, wrote, "It is my opinion that mascot and other uses of Native American tribe names, terms, etc … causes the world to acknowledge and respect us. The use of these Native American names for our weapons systems, mascots, and products brings honor and recognition to Native Americans."

Seventy-five percent of respondents also believe use of American Indian names, symbols and mascots at non-Indian schools, colleges and universities should be in violation of anti-discrimination laws.

"It should be recognized there was a time when Black Americans were put through the same treatment as we face today," wrote Dan Townsend, Ojibway and Odawa. "However, their revolts toward society led to laws that forbid discrimination towards them, and opened a door to shine a light on Amerindians and Hispanics."

Twenty percent of respondents indicated that the use of American Indian mascots at non-Indian schools is not in violation of anti-discrimination laws while 5 percent did not know.

Seventy-three percent of respondents also indicated that American Indian mascots create a "hostile educational environment" for Native American students. Seventeen percent indicated that it did not create a "hostile educational environment" while 10 percent did not know.

Dan Webster, Seneca, commented, "I believe that as long as Native names, symbols, etc … are used, the school should avoid using them in a non-stereotypical manner and should also get permission and/or advice in the use of the symbols of the tribes involved. As long as the school follows these basic guidelines, I don’t think it would create a hostile educational environment for Native students."

Respondents also were asked if federal and state education funds should be withheld from schools that continue to use American Indian names, symbols and mascots. Sixty-nine percent indicated yes, 22 percent said no, and 9 percent did not know.

"Under no circumstances should a nation, race or culture be used for entertainment of others," wrote Jerry Gaspard, Choctaw and Tsalagi. "If we cut off funds to these institutions, we hurt only the students that need it the most and that includes Indian students. The program that needs to be instituted should be education for those that walk the fence line between racism and those that just want to belong."

Kara Hawkins, Nez Perce commented, "All teams have named themselves to aspire to the name. The Warriors. The Tigers. The Chiefs. The names themselves are honorable. It’s what the fans have done with them. It’s what the media has done with them. It’s what advertising has done with them. To change the public’s attitude is to do as our ancestors do it, by our own example. Our sights and energies should be set on more important concerns, the environment and continued connection to Spirit."

To become an American Indian Opinion Leader send name, tribal affiliation and email address to: aio@clarityconnect.

Survey comments

"I don’t know why so many people have such a problem with treating Native Americans the same as any other minority group in regards to stereotypical portrayals. … If you refer to me in a manner I find offensive, then you are being offensive ... Telling me you are honoring me by referring to me in that offensive manner does not make it OK, and it does not make it an honor."

-- Carey Purnell, Tsimshian

"Its hard to say what’s right or wrong when it comes to the mascots, but I don’t think our people should be used for "mascots" ... We were already hurt by "Hollywood’s impressions of Indians" which we’re still trying hard to change ...."

-- Brenda, Siksika

"I firmly believe most white Americans believe American Indians possess a kind of magic charm that could enhance their victory at sports events. They do not look at the basis that it offends American Indians … (Black Americans’) revolts toward society led to laws that forbid discrimination … and opened a door to shine a light on Amerindians and Hispanics. …"

-- Dan Townshend,

Ojibway-Odawa Nations, Sagamok First Nation

"Indian mascots, by today’s social standards, would be offensive to any other race if portrayed in a similar manner. What most white people do not understand is that the regalia depicted in mascot art is sacred to Indian people. Catholics would be offended if a caricature of the Pope or of the Chalice or Eucharist was used as part of the art for a mascot for a sports team, Jews would be offended if the Torah was depicted as part of mascot art, etc. … ."

-- Fred Blue Fox, Sicangu Lakota

"I feel that teams and mascots were named after our people simply because we are who we are. … They appear to be names that were common at the time with whites, (braves, Indians, redskins, chiefs, etc... .) … it is up to the individual to be proud of or offended … ."

-- Jason Solomon, Cherokee

"With all the hardships and shortcomings facing Indians in today’s world, I think this is the silliest ‘cause’ to argue, and there is little to be gained even if the battle is won. I sincerely believe time is better spent developing local economies, promoting higher education and assuring Indian communities of adequate health care, along with a myriad of lesser concerns …"

-- E. Wilson, Oglala Lakota

"This issue is not as simplistic as this survey indicates. The intent is what is important to the question. Under no circumstances should a nation, race or culture be used for entertainment of others, such as the Cleveland Indians logo, or the phony Florida Seminole cheerleader. … The program … should be education for those that walk the fence line between racism and those that just want to belong. … ."

-- Jerry Gaspard, Choctaw-Tsalagi

"I leave the bandwagon on this issue. All teams have named themselves to aspire to the name. The Warriors, The Tigers, The Chiefs. The names of themselves are honorable. It’s what the fans … the media… advertising has done with them. To change the public’s attitude is to do it as our ancestors do it; by our own example. … Our sights and energies should be set on more important concerns, the environment and continued connection to Spirit."

-- Kara Hawkins, Nez Perce

"It is an abomination that Indians are still perceived by many as heathens and scalp hunters, which is still being helped to be a perpetuated thought due to these symbols and mascots, etc. Other groups of peoples would not wish their names desecrated in such a fashion. To use the Indian names in such a fashion is irreverent and hinders the cause of freedom that we still seek to attain."

-- Lone Eagle Eye, Blackfoot










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