Native American Mascots

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North Dakota is currently in one of the biggest debates over a Native American team mascot. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe is fighting with the University of North Dakota regarding the Fighting Sioux mascot. The Native American students have been increasing the pressure on the University to change its name. “We’re seeing more educators around the county, in middle Schools, high schools and at universities, concerned about the racial climate in schools dropping these symbols” (Johansen, 2004). 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...
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