June 2, 2014
The End of Indian Mascots
NO INDIGENOUS CHILD, NO CHILD,
SHOULD GROW UP IN A WORLD
WHERE PROFESSIONAL SPORTS AND MEDIA
PERSIST IN USING DISCRIMINATORY MASCOTS.
I am a grandfather (mishomis) who enjoys bringing my grandchildren to football games. But when these strong proud young people grabbed my arm and cringed in both embarrassment and fear as fans near us chanted “scalp the f…ing Indians” and when they saw the minstrel show of white people and mascots desecrating their very identity, the experience for them became one about trauma, harm and degradation. And for me, the experience was sadly just one of hundreds throughout my life – convincing evidence that ALL Indian mascots disrespect our peoples and our standing as equals.
Like all mishomisinonnig, I have lived my life under the daily media stream of discrimination and oppression against American Indians. And every day of my adult life I have fought to assert the inalienable rights of all indigenous people. I am not talking about being offended. I am talking about harm and trauma to me, our children and to our way of life when the dominant culture continues to appropriate our land, our sacred religion and culture, and our heritage and traditions for your amusement and profit.
All mascots manufactured by non-indigenous people hurt our children, denigrate our peoples, and dishonor every man, woman and child who has suffered under the oppression of your culture. The issue for me is less about the specific word or image, although the “Reds..ns” name and the “Chief Wa..oo” image are horrific, but about the very idea that your culture has any right to appropriate our sacred names, images and beliefs as your pet mascots.
The battle for equality, and against prejudice, requires eternal vigilance for the long list people subject to the bite of institutional discrimination – women, religious minorities, people of color, indigenous people, immigrants, seniors, GLBT people, poor people, people with physical and behavioral differences….
If it is illegal to use the discriminatory “N” word in a traditional workplace setting, it is just as illegal to use the “R” word in a non-traditional workplace such as a stadium or practice facility. If it is illegal for public bodies and publicly supported institutions to use the discriminatory “N” word, it is similarly illegal for them to use the “R” word in a public school setting. If it is clearly wrong for a rich white team owner to display his institutional racism, then the tyranny and injustice must be blatantly obvious to all when similarly racist team owners, by definition, continue their tradition of denying that their appropriation of our race for their mascots, despite our overwhelming protests, and despite overwhelming evidence of harm to our children, is anything but racist.
It is illegal in the United States to discriminate against anyone on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, physical difference or gender preference. While many indigenous people choose to live their lives with pride and independence from the negative influences of institutional racism, it remains necessary to assert our equal rights as citizens of the United States through education and action.
The name for the Washington DC football team is a racial slur, is an illegal form of hate speech and discrimination, that damages a protected class of people by denying us respect and equality: in the workplace of the stadium and team offices, at government supported facilities and regulated contractors, at public gatherings, over regulated airwaves, and in corporations producing electronic and print content. The “R” word has no place in a country of equals. No similar denigrating term for other protected classes of people would be tolerated, and we would not accept any such denigration of anyone. Yet, sports organizations, media organizations and many fans have inherited an immunity to the racism embedded in sports mascots and the damage they do to the freedom of anyone to live their lives without experiencing prejudice or ridicule.
The argument or rationalization that sports mascots filled with fan tradition should somehow be immune from the laws of the land that protect people from discrimination hardly matches the damage to the heritage and traditions of indigenous people perpetrated by the mascots and by centuries of desecration and injustice that continue to this day.
All Indigenous Mascots manufactured for professional and school sports teams by and for non-indigenous people are unwelcome caricatures that do not represent the religion, culture, beliefs and rich history of native people. Moreover, there is overwhelming evidence from impartial academic research that unwelcome indigenous mascots and stereotypes and caricatures damage indigenous children, damage indigenous futures, and damage the perception of all protected classes.
Impartial academic research is abundantly clear that mascots and stereotypes harm the targeted class of people, Indigenous People, with children being the most affected by negative consequences. Moreover, this same research suggests that any specific use of mascots and stereotypes crosses over and affects all protected classes because any demeaning of one class increases the context and perceptions of all targeted classes as to their social status and self image, and increases the likelihood that the general population will view all classes of protected people with a lesser perception of equality.
There is a growing list of media organizations and reporters who are refusing to report or publish mascot names and images, using instead the harmless home city names. If you represent a media organization, stop using Indian mascots in your coverage. If you are a member of a community that still retains an Indian mascot, work to change the mascot. Hundreds and hundreds of teams have changed their mascots and while controversial and painful for some at the beginning, after a short period of time the new team names and images have become a stronger tradition.
On behalf of The National Coalition Against Racism in Sports and the Media, we insist that all sports mascots that use indigenous names and images be changed by the media and by the perpetrators so that they can no longer harm our children, and deny indigenous people and all protected classes of people our civil rights. We are a beautiful part of the fabric of the United States of America, as are all of our fellow brothers and sisters experiencing systemic injustice.
Mascots and the resulting institutional racism contribute to severe hardships faced by many indigenous people. The extent of damage is unimaginable to all but us. The issue is not political correctness. The issue is equality. I know the simple step of Changing the Mascots, just words and images, will have a massive impact toward equality for all, flesh and bone.
Used as a disparaging term for a Native American.
Historically, refers to the blood from murdered Indian men, women and children after being scalped for a bounty.
NeeGawNwayWeeDun – Clyde Bellecourt
White Earth Band of Ojibwe
Chairman, The National Coalition Against Racism in Sports and the Media
Executive Director, American Indian Movement Interpretive Center