N.C. Mascot Education & Action Group(NCMEAG)
PO Box 18640, Asheville, NC 28814
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org .
Why Educators Can't Ignore "Indian" Sport Mascots:
'Honoring Indians,' Questions for Consideration
Background: In 2000, Dr. Cornel Pewewardy, national Indian Educator of the Year, spoke at UNC-Asheville on the topic "Why Educators Can't Ignore "Indian" Sport Mascots." In raising that question numerous times over the years since then, we have often heard the response, " But, we are honoring Indians with our mascot." Most recently in 2003, we heard this response from the Principal of the South Guilford High School "Indians" in Greensboro, NC. His sincerity was obvious. How to respect his sincerity while getting him to think beyond the box on this issue was the challenge. The following questions were sent to him in hopes that his thoughtful, professional consideration would push him through the boundaries of the one-dimensional "Indian" mascot box in which he and all of us have grown up:
1. Why, if the intention is to "honor," are non-Indian schools themselves not named, more often, after an Indian leader? Why is it just the schools' mascots?
2. If having an "Indian" mascot is a way of "honoring" Indians, why are not other entire racial groups scrambling to be so honored? The Southern Guilford Blacks? The Southern Guilford Whites? The Southern Guilford Chinese? Why do those mascot names sound ridiculous and the Southern Guilford Indians not?
3. Would the suggestion that Southern Guilford be called the "Zulu Warriors" be an acceptable way of honoring Africans or African-Americans? Or would such a suggestion be seen as an insult?
4. If the Notre Dame "fighting Irish" dressed up their leprechaun mascot with a Pope-like hat and waved Crosses after touchdowns, would that be a way of "honoring" Notre Dame's Irish Catholic heritage? How then, is it acceptable to employ sacred Indian religious iconography and imagery like the feather, the drum, the paint, and the flame in a mascot sporting event?
5. Is it possible that there's a subconscious cultural pathology involved in White people who decimated Indian culture turning around and making them and their culture a mascot for sporting events? Is making Indians into one-dimensional mascots a not-so-subtle way of further humiliating Indians while using the language of "honor" to hide that fact, even from ourselves? And have we been doing this so long, we don't even see the big picture of what we are doing?
6. What if a German high school had an Hasidic Jew as its mascot., and the other team had signs saying 'Gas the Jews?' Why is such a suggestion so totally outrageous and impossible to imagine and yet our White high schools do just the equivalent? How are "Wipe out the Warriors," "Relocate the Warriors," "Scalp the Warriors"and other such signs acceptable in an educational institution's sport setting?
7. Why, if the intention is to "honor" Indian heritage is that same heritage put into the position of being dishonored by the opposing team and fans at a sporting event? Do other teams "honor" the Southern Guilford "Indian" mascot with the same sincerity you do? Would you put your family treasures and traditions into a situation where others would want to make fun of them or ridicule them? Would you do it with your neighbor's family treasures and traditions?
8. Why is the term "honor" used with Indian mascots but not with Mustangs, Bears, Rockets, and the myriad of other mascots in NC public schools? Is Myers Park High School in Charlotte, "honoring" the Mustangs? Or is that school counting on the strength and uncontrollable fierceness of the Mustang image to galvanize students and athletes to defeat the other school's team? Isn't the premise upon which a mascot is chosen based more on expressing one's power to defeat the opponent than to 'honor' the mascot itself. (Clearly, because we all identify with our mascots, we develop a school pride surrounding them, whatever they are-but that is different from really deciding to find a way to "honor" someone or someone's culture by making them a mascot.)
9. Is it possible that the use of the term "honoring" is simply a way to delude oneself into thinking that taking someone else's culture and trivializing it at a sporting event is acceptable? Do your students integrate into the school's life and curriculum the study of Indian sovereignty issues, US abrogation of treaty obligations, forced removals, Wounded Knee, or the long trail of suffering we who make them our mascots exacted on American Indians?
10. Is it possible that the fact that "Indians" are used so often as mascots while other racial groups are not, is simply a reflection of modern day White privilege exercising its majority power over a small, relatively powerless minority?
11. If one is truly "honoring" Indians by using their imagery as a sport mascot, why does that "honoring" not extend to hearing the representative Indian organizations express the desire not to be stereotyped as violent and "savage" and not to have their sacred culture used for fun and games? Where is the "honoring" in turning a deaf ear to these concerns?
12. Is not the real purpose of a mascot to put fear in the opponent, provide the fans with a means for smashing the opponent's team? Does placing Indian culture in that position "honor" that culture or perpetuate TV Western's stereotype of American Indians?
13. How is it not paternalistic to say one is "honoring" Indians by using "Indian" mascots when the N.C. Commission of Indian Affairs and the N.C. Advisory Council on Indian Education have stated clearly that such use of Indian imagery and logos in public school mascots is offensive and harmful to Indian students?
14. How can one defend using an "Indian" mascot by pointing to approval by a single Indian student or a single Indian teacher when the Congress of American Indians, the National Indian Education Association, the Society of Indian Psychologists, and many other Tribal organizations have urged educators to re-think and retire these images? Are we not simply using those isolated individuals as an excuse to avoid a change we don't want to make for our own reasons? American Indians are not a monolith of thinking. You can find Indians who aren't bothered by Indian mascots, but as educators should we not be looking at the big picture and giving honor to key state and national representative American Indian organizations?
15. Is there an element of arrogance for non-Indian educators to say they know better than the NC Advisory Council on Indian Education what is "honoring" Indian culture and what is best for making our schools welcoming places for American Indians and healthy places for non-Indians to learn about American Indian culture?
16. Is it not patronizing for us to pretend to be "honoring" Indian culture when, in fact, every aspect of an "Indian" mascot usage insults and trivializes that very culture? Are we not using "honoring" as a fig leaf for appropriating a culture to use for our own ends?
17. If it is truly about "honoring," how can we get ourselves to think out of the box and beyond the cultural woodwork around us in which the media, sports, and commerce stereotype American Indians and their culture?
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Do you have additional questions to add to this list? Please send them to:
N.C. Mascot Education & Action Group(NCMEAG),
PO Box 18640, Asheville, NC 28814
Or email to email@example.com .