In April 1991 when my daughter Christine wrote a letter to her principal about her high school's "Indian" mascot and logo, I did not realize that the issue would lead our family to activism on the state and national level. Whether the problem surfaces in New York state; Los Angeles County; Tacoma, Wash.; or Medford, Wis., I have found that it is framed by the same questions and themes.
As long as "Indian" team names, mascots and logos remain a part of school athletic programs, both Native and non-Native children are being taught to tolerate and perpetuate stereotyping and racism. I would like to point out some common misunderstandings on this issue and suggest constructive ways to address them.
"We have always been proud of our 'Indians.'"
Most communities are proud of their high school athletic teams, yet school traditions involving Native American imagery typically reflect little pride in or knowledge of Native cultures. These traditions have taken the trappings of Native cultures onto the athletic field where young people have played at being "Indian." Over time, and with practice, generations of children in these schools have come to believe that their "Indian" identity is more than pretending.
"We are honoring Indians; you should feel honored."
Native people are saying that they don't feel honored by this symbolism. We experience it as no less than a mockery of our cultures. We see objects sacred to us -- such as the drum, eagle feathers, face painting and traditional dress -- being used not in sacred ceremony, or in any cultural setting, but in another culture's game.
Among the many ways Indian people express honor are: by giving an eagle feather, which also carries great responsibility; by singing an honor song at a powwow or other ceremony; by showing deference toward elders, asking them to share knowledge and experience with us or to lead us in prayer; by avoiding actions that would stifle the healthy development of our children.
While Indian nations have the right to depict themselves any way they choose, many tribal schools are examining their own uses of Indian logos and making changes. Native American educators, parents and students are realizing that, while they may treat a depiction of an Indian person with great respect, such respect is not necessarily going to be accorded to their logo in the mainstream society.
"Why is an attractive depiction of an Indian warrior just as offensive as an ugly caricature?"
Both depictions uphold stereotypes. Both firmly place Indian people in the past, separate from our contemporary cultural experience. It is difficult, at best, to be heard in the present when someone is always suggesting that your real culture only exists in museums. The logos keep us marginalized and are a barrier to our contributing here and now.
Depictions of mighty warriors of the past emphasize a tragic part of our history; focusing on wartime survival, they ignore the strength and beauty of our cultures during times of peace. Many Indian cultures view life as a spiritual journey filled with lessons to be learned from every experience and from every living being. Many cultures put high value on peace, right action and sharing.
"We never intended the logo to cause harm."
That no harm was intended when the logos were adopted may be true. It is also true that we Indian people are saying that the logos are harmful to our cultures, and especially to our children, in the present. When someone says you are hurting them by your action, then the harm becomes intentional if you persist.
"Aren't you proud of your warriors?"
Yes, we are proud of the warriors who fought to protect our cultures from forced removal and systematic genocide and to preserve our lands from the greed of others. We are proud, and we don't want them demeaned by being "honored" in a sports activity on a playing field.
Indian men are not limited to the role of warrior; in many of our cultures a good man is learned, gentle, patient, wise and deeply spiritual. In present time as in the past, our men are also sons and brothers, husbands, uncles, fathers and grandfathers. Contemporary Indian men work in a broad spectrum of occupations, wear contemporary clothes, and live and love just as men from other cultural backgrounds do.
The depictions of Indian "braves," "warriors" and "chiefs" also ignore the roles of women and children. Many Indian Nations are both matrilineal and child-centered. Indian cultures identify women with the Creator, because of their ability to bear children, and with the Earth, which is Mother to us all. In most Indian cultures the highest value is given to children -- they are closest to the Creator and they embody the future.
"This logo issue is just about political correctness."
Using the term "political correctness" to describe the attempts of concerned Native American parents, educators and leaders to remove stereotypes from the public schools trivializes a survival issue. Systematic genocide over four centuries has decimated more than 95 percent of the indigenous population of the Americas. Today, the average life expectancy of Native American males is 45 years. The teen suicide rate among Native people is several times higher than the national average. Stereotypes, ignorance, silent inaction and even naive innocence damage and destroy individual lives and whole cultures. Racism kills.
"What if we drop derogatory comments and clip art and adopt pieces of 'real' Indian culture, like powwows and sacred songs?"
Though well-intended, these solutions are culturally naive and would exchange one pseudo-culture for another. Powwows are religious as well as social gatherings that give Native American people the opportunity to express our various cultures and strengthen our sense of Native community. To parody such ceremonial gatherings for the purpose of cheering on the team at homecoming would compound the current offensiveness. Similarly, bringing Native religions onto the secular playing field through songs of tribute to the "Great Spirit" or Mother Earth would only heighten the mockery of Native religions that we now see in the use of drums and feathers.
"We are helping you preserve your culture."
The responsibility for the continuance of our cultures falls to Native people. We accomplish this by surviving, living and thriving; and, in so doing, we pass on to our children our stories, traditions, religions, values, arts and languages. We sometimes do this important work with people from other cultural backgrounds, but they do not and cannot continue our cultures for us. Our ancestors did this work for us, and we continue to carry the culture for the generations to come. Our cultures are living cultures -- they are passed on, not "preserved."
"Why don't community members understand the need to change; isn't it a simple matter of respect?"
On one level, yes. But in some communities, people have bought into local myths and folklore presented as accurate historical facts. Sometimes these myths are created or preserved by local industry. Also, over the years, athletic and school traditions grow up around the logos. These athletic traditions can be hard to change when much of a community's ceremonial and ritual life, as well as its pride, becomes tied to high school athletic activities.
Finally, many people find it difficult to grasp a different cultural perspective. Not being from an Indian culture, they find it hard to understand that things that are not offensive to themselves might be offensive or even harmful to someone who is from a Native culture. Respecting a culture different from the one you were raised in requires some effort -- interaction, listening, observing and a willingness to learn.
That's ticket sales, concessions, merchandise and advertising all earned on a racial epitaph.
Oh, I know, I know. Eyes roll every time an editorial like this sees print. They pop up, they fade away, and nothing ever changes.
I first became aware of this issue in the mid-1980s on the Phil Donahue show. An American Indian activist employed the phrase "Washington [N-words]" to pointedly demonstrate how offensive the word "Redskin" was to his people.
That was in the mid-1980s.
It is 2012 and the NFL hasn't done a thing.
You'd think that after the Civil Rights Movement, African-American players would be especially sensitive to how our American Indian brothers and sisters are demeaned for profit.
I wonder if they would be offended to visit their team's website and see an advertisement emblazoned with a minstrel caricature touting, "Bank of America is proud to be the official bank of the Washington [N-words]."
It's a wonder the NFL players, for all the good they do, never banded together to remove this hurtful word. I wondered that, too.
So, on July 14, I emailed Carl Francis, the Director of Communications at the NFL Players Association. After a brief introduction, I wrote:
The NCAA and local school districts are demonstrating respect for Native American communities by discontinuing such hurtful words and imagery, yet the NFL has no qualms about a team name that is a substitute for a racial signifier; "skin" is in the very word.
What is the NFLPA going to do about this?
Before you reply, I ask that you read this passage from one of my articles:
Consider the comments by Sanford, Maine, resident James Auger when the School Committee voted on May 7 to stop using the Redskins name at his alma mater Sanford High School. Auger said no offense was meant toward Native Americans, but made it equally clear, "No matter how you vote tonight, you are not taking away my Redskins (varsity sports) jacket or my yearbook."
In the same Indian Country Today article where Mr. Auger was quoted, Donna Loring, a member of the Penobscot tribal nation, makes the point that racist indoctrination affects everyone. People don't question accepting an insensitive mascot because it is "what they have been taught and what their parents have been taught. It's generations of thinking and not really understanding what Native people have not only suffered but accomplished."
Still, one has to wonder how the money men owners can continually and in good conscience profit from such a blatantly racist term all these years. So, on July 26, I emailed NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell a similar email to the one above, but added:
What are the owners going to do about this?
Before you reply, I ask that you read this passage from one of my planned articles:
Would Jewish NFL owners Arthur Blank, Randy Lerner, Jim Irsay, Zygi Wilf, Robert Kraft, Al Davis, Jeffrey Lurie, Malcolm Glazer, Stephen Ross and Steve Tisch ever allow such an affront? No, probably not. But they abide Red-skin.
As a matter of fact, another Jewish NFL owner is the Redskins' very own Daniel Snyder, and such an offensive scenario was actually once presented to him. The incident is recounted in the book "Capital Punishment: The Hard Truth About Washington Corruption From America’s Most Notorious Lobbyist," by lobbyist cum criminal Jack Abramoff:
"In my letter to Snyder, I asked him how we would feel if the New York team were called the [antisemitic phrase], or worse. Moreover, I knew that all Native Americans resented the use of the feathered headdress in the team band’s uniform. I asked how he would feel if the New York [antisemitic phrase] band had a uniform of black hats and prayer shawls...
"Snyder called me within hours of receiving the letter, and reviewed each point with me. He was kind and gracious, not the imperious brat the media had portrayed him to be. He said that he sympathized with my points about the team’s name, but he had been a Redskins fan since he was a kid, and he couldn’t bring himself to change it."
Jack Abramoff was equitable in his illegal activities, as well, having swindled Indian nations along with everyone else. This man should not be the voice of moral reason in any conversation, yet he is with Snyder regarding that oh so cherished team name.
Just as Abramoff held the financial futures of so many in his selfish scheme, Snyder sympathizes that he is promoting a racist image, and though he has the means to end the practice, he chooses not to... because he liked the name when he was a kid.
I didn't get a reply from this email either.
Yes, there's a bevy of reasons why an email wasn't responded to. However, the questions remain, and now that they're out there, they warrant a reply.
As long as this racist team name exits, a case can be made that the NFL players come off looking like hypocrites and cowards, and the owners like money-grubbing profiteers of human misery. Others, however, have taken the issue to heart and are helping to create the needed change.
When Kathleen Rutledge, Editor of Lincoln, Nebraska's Journal Star announced the paper would no longer reference offensive terms such as Redskins in their sports reporting, she gave credit to "the words of a Lakota man who recalled that he wore a 'Redskins' T-shirt as a boy. He thought it was cool. When he was older, when he heard fans 'woo-wooing,' he saw things differently. 'I felt like a cardboard cutout, a cartoon,' he said."
It is unfortunate Daniel Snyder has no appreciation for how his beloved Redskins affects reservation childhoods.
Perhaps Snyder is just following the racist example established by his predecessor, Redskins founding owner George Preston Marshall.
According to Thomas G. Smith's Showdown: JFK and the Integration of the Washington Redskins, Marshall made certain no African-American player ever donned his team's gear from 1946-1961. Part of this was because he wanted his all-white team to reap the financial rewards of segregated Southern markets, a fact evident even in the lyrics his wife wrote for the team's fight song.
Smith claims the only force that could break the team's segregation was the moral outrage of the Kennedy Administration, specifically Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall.
At that time, the Redskins had a 30-year lease to play at D.C. Stadium, which was on Department of the Interior land. Udall had President Kennedy agree to deny Marshall use of the facility until he hired black players.
The team's first round draft choice, Ernie Davies, outright refused to play for Marshall (his exact words, according to the Redskins Encyclopedia, were, "I won't play for that S.O.B.") and was quickly traded to Cleveland for Leroy Jackson and Bobby Mitchell.
In 1961, the United States government was willing to step in and create equal opportunity for African-American athletes, yet in 2012, no one in the franchise or the NFL has the courage or common decency to stop using this racist name that was installed by its racist founder.
Washington Post sportswriter Shirley Povich characterized the team of that era as "all-white losers."
It's easy for Americans to battle racism just so long as they have a stake in it.
Long-suffering fans welcomed the black players because it finally meant their hometown heroes would have a competitive chance against teams led by the likes of Jim Brown.
But what have Native Americans done for us? Why should we care about them, when they can't offer us anything? Instead, we're sharing with them the glory of our playing fields.
Don't they know we're honoring Native American heritage, regardless of if they see it that way? Obviously they don't, or Native groups wouldn't keep filing lawsuits trying to cancel the 1967 Redskins trademark on the basis it is a disparaging term.
Don't they know we funded polls to justify our use of our disparaging terms for them? What right do they have to disagree with us?
If the club is named after an animal, or a myth, or a tribe, makes no real difference. It's got nothing to do with them. It's all about you, and your self-interested games of play. Sports fans possesses such deep emotional connections to teams in a recreational activity, yet cannot comprehend the deep emotional connections Indian people possess for aspects of their culture, history and lives.
Look again at Sanford High School alumni James Auger's self-interested comments: "No matter how you vote tonight, you are not taking away my Redskins (varsity sports) jacket or my yearbook."
Now read Donna Loring's previously mentioned comments to Indian Country Today, that people don't question accepting an insensitive mascot because it is "what they have been taught and what their parents have been taught. It's generations of thinking and not really understanding what Native people have not only suffered but accomplished."
Couple that indoctrination—that these images are innocuous—with the intense environment sporting events create.
In a past article, I wrote, "Whether by school or by city, the language of sports is a jingoism to protect one's turf, crush the opponents and seize the enemy's flag. It is war for the masses, without the mess.
"In much different eras, families would picnic on battlefield hillsides and watch actual, bloody war unfold. Those historical and today's sportive contests gave the everyday person a chance to own a victory in some aspect of life."
Combine these fervent forces (indoctrination and intense attachment to a team) in the psyche, and it is little wonder why Americans are so reticent to let go of these Native American mascots.
But it doesn't excuse the fact that we must.
Sanford High senior Michaela Dwyer said of the school's former mascot, "I think it's shameful. If just one person is offended, it is one too many."
The high school cheerleader sympathized and did something about it by speaking out. She was able to effect real world change while Daniel Snyder, billionaire head of the NFL's Redskins, sympathizes, but refuses to do anything.
I guess racism doesn't count when it is directed toward Native Americans.
They were supposed to go to their reservations and die while the rest of us got on with our country.
Fire water jokes gave way to casino jokes—even though games of chance have long been a part of Native American culture, and were even played at the first Thanksgiving, but who cares about any of that?
It is 2012. America has culturally exorcised the mammy rag off of Aunt Jemima's head, yet we abide Red-skin every football season.
Native American athletes such as Jim Thorpe helped make football a national institution and the league repays them in caricature.
As long as the slur doesn't affect the NFL owners and the NFL players, their inaction demonstrates they don't care.
If they cared, if they were at all sensitive to other races' problems, then they would have done something about abolishing this racial signifier from the league a long time ago.
The continued revenue of advertisers such as Bank of America demonstrate those corporations don't care about promoting a pejorative term. Apparently, such banks and corporations are willing to pay big bucks to tell the world they endorse culturally insensitive names.
As long as Washington employs the racial signifier Redskins, there is always going to be controversy surrounding the team. It is a blight from which the organization will never escape.
The reason for that can be summed up with a line from the film "Milk," where the title character tells the man who would later murder him, "It's more than an issue. This is our life we're fighting for."
The bottom line is, a race continues to be marginalized by a billion dollar industry and those who have the power to stop it don't. That includes the players, the owners, and even the fans, who, yesterday on this very website, vehemently defended that there's nothing wrong with the name because it's just a sports team and has no real bearing on life—all the while hailing to the Redskins and refusing to change this antiquated term.
Well, the Washington franchise can't have it both ways.
The onus is now upon the players, the owners and the fans to banish this spectre that hangs over the team so that the focus can return to what fans assure is nothing but inoffensive, harmless sport. Washington will never be free from the stigma of this hateful word until it is removed.
It falls upon the league and the fans to prove just how harmless and innocuous a sports team name really is, and change precious, outdated Redskins into something that won't bring the franchise—and more importantly, the actual American Indians—any further grief.
If the team, the owners and the fans truly want this controversy to abate, then they must do the only thing which will end it—retire the name.
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site for this is a crying shame. These racist images and names, offensive
to American Indian people, should have been long gone by now. Yet, here
they are, still tomahawk-chopping us with racism in sports and media while
they grin at us like that red-faced racist 'chief wahoo'. I get a bit sick and
tired of trying to explain what is racist about these names and mascots.
I am in no way a fanatic about political correctness, and besides, that is not
what this is about. It is about racism on a national scale, and it must stop.Point in Case....
Daniel Snyder, owner of the NFL team the Washington R[acist]s, was made
acutely aware, back when he purchased the team, of the fact that the team's
name is a nasty racial slur which is just as ugly as the "N" word. He chose to
do nothing, and by doing so, announced to the world that he was a racist,
because everyone with a brain knows that "inaction to racism is racism".
Message to Daniel Snyder: I don't hate you, but I do hate that it seems you
care more about making a buck than you do about doing what is right. Sure,
it would take some courage, and certainly some investment to, at long last,
rid the team representing the nation's capitol of its racist name, but hey, if
you need advice on how to do it, you can always call Stanford University!So....
If you belong to a school or pro franchise that endorses racism toward
Indian people with its name, logo, and/or mascot, I ask you to put on your
common sense cap, read this page, then do something about it. It is long
overdue for this form of racism toward Indian people to stop. I long for the
day when we can remove this page from my website.... May it come soon.
(Been here now for over 11 years.... still waiting.......)
Does it really need to be explained why the "N" word is not
used as the name for a sports team? Probably not. And does
it need to be explained why using racist caricatures of other
minority groups as a team 'mascot' would be unthinkable?
Again, probably not. These things are now common sense
for most sensible people. Yet, for reasons deeply ingrained
in American culture, First Nations people are expected to
explain why certain words and images are racist to us!
And as if that weren't enough of an insult, the reaction we
often get from people who have had these issues brought to
their attention is to either do nothing to change it, or worse,
to actually argue with us in defense of racism!! Unbelievable!
And so.... Here I go again, with the "explanation"....
Let's take a look at sports team names in general. There are
only three categories that nearly all sports team names fall into.
1. Animals 2. Objects 3. 'Professions'
Eagles, Bears, Falcons, Lions, Tigers, Ravens, Bulls,
Wolverines, Cardinals, Dolphins, Ducks, Jaguars etc.
Pistons, Bullets, Rockets, Suns, Jets, Red Sox, White
Sox, Stars, Rockies etc.
Packers, Kings, Steelers, Spartans, Buccaneers,
Vikings, 49ers, Cowboys, Rangers, Lakers etc.
Obviously there are exceptions. Such as:
Bills (named after Buffalo Bill), Redwings (could be an object
or an animal), Titans (a large giant), Rockies (a mountain) etc.
But most sports team names fit into the 3 categories.
Now, a list of 'Indian' team names/mascots....
Chiefs, Braves, Indians, Redsk**s, Fighting Illini, Chippewas,
Savages, Seminoles, Warriors, Redmen, Chieftains etc.
So which category do these fit into?Before we answer that, it needs to be fully understood
that some of these so-called 'Indian' sports team names
are actually racial slurs. Obviously, a racial slur is an
completely unacceptable choice for a sports team name.Here is a list of some of the racial slurs
which are still used as sports team names:
I don't think this one needs a whole lot of explaining. Indian people are not beasts,
and we never were. But we were considered to be 'uncivilized', bloodthisty, demon
'savages' by european invaders merely because our societies were foreign to them.
This is a word that has been used to refer to Indian women. Used as a name for many parks,
valleys, mountains etc. The term 'squaw' is VERY offensive to Indian women. The term was
taken from an Algonquin word which made reference to female genitalia. The word was
taken and twisted by those european immigrants who would rape Indian women. They used
the term in much the same way the "C" word is used today, as a denigrating term to women. Redsk**s
Used as a name for many sports teams, this word is offensive by its very nature. In it's
origin, it refers to the bloody scalps of Indian children, women and men that were sold for
bounties aside animal skins in the USA. At this sad period in american history, Indians
young and old, male and female, were hunted like animals by bounty hunters. They were
killed, and then scalped. When these bounty hunters would come to the trading post, they
would receive payment for their deer-skins, their, beaver-skins, their raccoon-skins, and
their red-skins. It is sickening that this horrifying word is still used as a sports team name. Braves
This is a word that has been used to denigrate Indian men. It dehumanizes the Indian male
and equates him to something less than human. The terms 'buck' and 'doe' were also used
by early european immigrants as a way to patronize Indian men and women. As you can see,
they also infer that the Indian person is in some way inhuman. We are men, NOT 'braves'.... Chiefs
This is a word that is commonly given as a nickname which insults Indian
men. The cultural equivelant would be to nickname all white men 'Prez' or 'King'.
The term 'chief' itself is incorrect. Our leaders were never 'chiefs', but headmen,
or clan mothers, and so on. Not 'chiefs'. Our leaders were highly disrespected by
the USA. So calling someone 'Chief', is just a way to continue that disrespect.... So having addressed that, which category do these
so-called 'Indian' sports team names fit into?
Animals? Objects? Professions?
The answer of course, is simple, none
of the above! These names/mascots fall into the
category: RACIAL. It may be argued that the
names 'Chiefs', 'Warriors' and 'Chieftains' fit
into the 'PROFESSIONS' category. Allow me to
explain why they don't.
When you think of a 'warrior', what's the first image that pops
into your mind? How about a 'chief' or a 'chieftain'? These
3 terms are nearly always applied to American Indian people.
Take some time to investigate the antics and images of teams
that use these names/mascots. I have yet to find one team
using one of these names that isn't up to their ears in the use
of highly offensive racially geared antics and images. It is
due to this strong racially offensive connection that I tie
these 3 team names/mascots to the 'RACIAL' category.
American Indians are a race of people, not
ANIMALS, OBJECTS, or 'PROFESSIONS'.
So how does this equate to racial oppression?
Allow me to explain....
Let me begin by addressing the obvious first. The
terms 'reds**n' and 'brave' are, by their definition
alone, racial slurs. 'Reds**n' is a historic word
which came into use during the times when Indian
men, women and children were hunted like animals
and murdered, then scalped. These scalps or
'redsk**s' were then turned in for a bounty. The
term 'brave' is a demeaning word used for many
centuries in reference to Indian men. It stems
from the once popular belief that Indians were
less than human. Indian men were also referred
to as 'bucks', and Indian women as 'does.' These
terms dehumanize and insult. The continued use of
these demeaning words leads me to believe that this
'less than human' belief still exists today....
These 'Indian' mascots/team names oppress Indian
people. They oppress because they continue in the
use of extreme negative stereotypical antics, words
and images. Antics like the 'tomahawk-chop', mock
'Indian war-chants', non-Indians painting their faces
and dressing-up like 'Indians', mascots performing
mock 'Indian' dances or throwing fiery spears etc..
Indian children cannot possibly look at a stadium full of
thousands of people mocking their ethnicity and making
fun of their traditions and feel good about being Indian. This
is what 'Indian mascots' do. They glorify all the stupid old
stereotypes and steal the pride our children could have in
the beauty of their race. They insult the entire Indian race.
Insulting an entire race.... the very real definition of racism....
RACIAL should not be a sports team name/mascot
category. Did you know that Irish people, not so
long ago, fought Notre Dame about the harmful
use of the name 'Fighting Irish'? So you see, this
issue is not exclusively an Indian issue. Many
thousands of institutions, grade-school, collegiate
and professional, have made the decision to do
the right thing and remove their RACIAL names
in exchange for names that fall into the three
categories above. It is the morally right choice.
We are people. Not objects for America's
amusement. We have been idealized, demonized
and romanticized by America long enough. It must
stop. We are NOT 'honored'. We are DIS-honored
and DISrespected. Treat us as people, not as
infallible, mighty, powerful, glamorous romantic
'warriors' straight out of a hollywood fantasy movie.
We're just PEOPLE. And we demand to be treated so.
"I believe that the hidden agenda behind Indian mascots
and logos is about cultural, spiritual, and intellectual
exploitation. It's an issue of power and control. These
negative ethnic images are driven by those that want
to define other ethnic groups and control their
images. To me, power and control is the ability to
make you believe that someone's truth is the absolute
truth. Furthermore, it's the ability to define a reality
and to get other people to affirm that reality as if it
were their own. As long as such negative mascots
and logos remain within the arena of school
activities, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous
children are learning to tolerate racism in schools."
Excerpt from an article by Dr. Cornel Pewewardy
It is my hope that these honest words have touched
your heart and made common sense to you. Racism
is racism, no matter how 'attractive' one makes it
look. Pilamaye (Thank you) for taking the time to
read this material. Stop in again, as maybe some
day you will come here, and this page will be gone!