Saturday Nov. 14,  1998
Use of Indian mascots is a big deal
"These caricatures and stereotypes are really intended as prisons of image.  Inside each desperately grinning Indian or each stoic redskin brave or Chief Illiniwek, there is someone we know.   If you look hard at these symbols and don't panic, you begin to see the eyes and then the heart of these despised relatives of ours  --  who have been forced to lock their spirits away from themselves and from us.   I see our brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers captured and forced into images they did not devise  --  doing hard time for all of us.   We can liberate them by understanding them and free ourselves."
                       Alice Walker,  poet

Implicit in the words of Alice Walker is the fact that the war against Indian mascots is being waged on behalf of this and future generations of children,  white and Indian -- and on behalf of all persecuted people whose voices are growing weary.

Using the images of Indian warriors and chiefs and symbols sacred to the indigenous peoples of America is a big deal.  It's bigger that Erwin High School,   Florida State University and the Cleveland Baseball organization.  It's about more than a few restless trouble makers in Washington State or in Buncombe County.  It's about the mis-education of the children,  the institutional bigotry of the corporate boardrooms and the tarnished image of the land of the free.

Charlene Teters, artist and activist, came to Asheville this week to educate as many people as she could.  More than 100 willing listeners showed up to hear her at UNCA's Highsmith Center on Thursday.   Two of those who came,  willing to revisit "a tradition" were new Buncombe County School Board members -  Jim Edmonds and Richard Greene.   County Commission Chairman Tom Sobol was also in attendance.   All the school board members should have been there.   After all,  they have a responsibility to adhere to the Non-Discrimination Policy set by the Board of Education and,  therefore, a duty to end the racist demeaning of Indian people.

The Indian warrior and the squaw are no more acceptable as representations of modern American people than is a backward, barefoot,  whiskey-swigging, Snuffy Smith.    Eagle feathers,  precious tribal regalia and burial grounds of ancestors are no less sacred to Indians than the crucifix,  the American Flag or the burial site of George Washington is to others.

There was a time when their religion was illegal,   now it is made a mockery;  when their dances were forbidden, now they are stolen;  when their regalia and sacred bundles were gathered up and burned,  now they are paraded before irreverent mobs;  when their elders were herded into boarding schools,  now their children try to wrest an identity out of disparaging graven images.

In the words of Bruce Two Eagles, of the Intertribal Association,  "We have our own language and our own words - why do you chase after your linguists and look to your dictionaries to refute our words and definitions?"

The use of human beings to add color to athletic events is anything but respectful.  Over the past 150 years, popular culture has grown into a powerful source of information,  selling to America and to the world a global perception of American thinking.  Among those thoughts is a pervasive global image of Indians.

"From athletics to tourism," Charlene Teters says, "American Indians are things - things to be examined, sold, entertained by  - thus, never to be full-fledged human beings.  To the Boy's Clubs of America and the YMCA, we are campfire stories and survivalist experts.  To New Agers, we are spiritual giants.  To the states of New Mexico and Oklahoma, we are tourist attractions.  To anthropologists,  objects of study and curiosity.  To the University of Illinois and to Erwin High School, American Indians are slaves for entertainment."

There is a name for the practice of singling out a group of people for ridicule.  There is a name for the actions surrounding the use of humans as mascots.  It's called oppression.

Teters is the founding member of the National Coalition on Racism in Sports and the Media.   She was summoned here from Sante Fe, N.M. by the Buncombe County Intertribal Association, the Center for Diversity Education,  UNCA, the Episcopal Diocese of WNC Racism Task Force,  Mission-St. Joseph's Health System and others.   The county has become one of the hot spots in a national movement against the use of Indian mascots.  There could be educational recruiting and economic ramifications of a tarnished reputation for the school system and the County.

But it doesn't have to be this way.   We needn't be afraid to admit a mistake and to repair the fabric of social justice.  The Dallas Public School System rectified the problem in a few easy steps and in less than one year.   Here's how:   A letter of complaint was filed against the school system.   Strategies and a letter were drafted and sent to the superintendent of schools.   The superintendent sent a letter to all 10 schools with Indian mascots.   Open meetings were held to discuss the issue.   A mascot resolution was completed and adopted.   The schools called elections and began changing mascots.   All the schools reported that the mascots were changed.   And,  in phase 2 of the process,  schools determined the cost of the changes, and budgets were filed with the school system.

It's time to end the mis-education of our youth.

When everything is taught from one point of view, the mind is left to starve.

When children are led on a campaign of mis-information,  the educational process is left wanting.   We must understand that when one of us is targeted for ridicule  - a Christian,  a Jew,  Southerner or an Indian - all of us are at risk.