It is particularly disturbing that Native American references are still to
be found in educational institutions, whether elementary, secondary or
post-secondary. Schools are places where diverse groups of people come
together to learn not only the ?Three Rs,? but also how to interact
respectfully with people from different cultures. The use of stereotypical
images of Native Americans by educational institutions has the potential to
create a racially hostile educational environment that may be intimidating
to Indian students. American Indians have the lowest high school graduation
rates in the nation and even lower college attendance and graduation rates.
The perpetuation of harmful stereotypes may exacerbate these problems.
The stereotyping of any racial, ethnic, religious or other groups when promoted by our public educational institutions, teach all students that stereotyping of minority groups is acceptable, a dangerous lesson in a diverse society. Schools have a responsibility to educate their students; they should not use their influence to perpetuate misrepresentations of any culture or people. Children at the elementary and secondary levels usually have no choice about which school they attend. Further, the assumption that a college student may freely choose another educational institution if she feels uncomfortable around Indian-based imagery is a false one. Many factors, from educational programs to financial aid to proximity to home, limit a college student?s choices. It is particularly onerous if the student must also consider whether or not the institution is maintaining a racially hostile environment for Indian students.
Schools that continue the use of Indian imagery and references claim that
their use stimulates interest in Native American culture and honors Native
Americans. These institutions have simply failed to listen to the Native
groups, religious leaders, and civil rights organizations that oppose these
symbols. These Indian-based symbols and team names are not accurate
representations of Native Americans. Even those that purport to be positive
are romantic stereotypes that give a distorted view of the past. These
false portrayals prevent non-Native Americans from understanding the true
historical and cultural experiences of American Indians. Sadly, they also
encourage biases and prejudices that have a negative effect on contemporary
Indian people. These references may encourage interest in mythical
?Indians? created by the dominant culture, but they block genuine
understanding of contemporary Native people as fellow Americans.
The Commission assumes that when Indian imagery was first adopted for sports mascots it was not to offend Native Americans. However, the use of the imagery and traditions, no matter how popular, should end when they are offensive. We applaud those who have been leading the fight to educate the public and the institutions that have voluntarily discontinued the use of insulting mascots. Dialogue and education are the roads to understanding. The use of American Indian mascots is not a trivial matter. The Commission has a firm understanding of the problems of poverty, education, housing, and health care that face many Native Americans. The fight to eliminate Indian nicknames and images in sports is only one front of the larger battle to eliminate obstacles that confront American Indians. The elimination of Native American nicknames and images as sports mascots will benefit not only Native Americans, but all Americans. The elimination of stereotypes will make room for education about real Indian people, current Native American issues, and the rich variety of American Indians in our country.
The United States Commission on Civil Rights
April 13, 2001