Native American Mascots: Keep Them for the Win or Throw Them in the Bin? When imaging a mascot, the first image to appear in my head is my high school mascot which is a tiger. In addition, I think of the attributes it represents, such as pride, honor, power, and determination; however, alongside these thoughts come the memories of the ridiculous mascot in the tiger costume messing around at pep rallies and of the stripes painted on the bodies of tailgaters who would go out and “roar” at the football games. Now instead of a tiger, I want you to imagine those scenarios, except with people.
Of course you would feel proud of being a “chief,” but alongside the pride would come the person in the stereotypical Indian costume humiliating themselves in front of the crowd and the students dressed with head feathers imitating cultural cries when their team scores. Although mascots are seen as honorable and good luck charms, sports teams should not be allowed to use Native American mascots, for they are disrespectful to the native’s culture, harmful to all people in disregard to their age or race, and spread a racist, stereotypical image of the Native Americans.
Native American mascots do not respect the Native American race and culture. ESPN writer Steven Wulf, writes how many of the teams that claim a Native American mascot play on the very lands the Indians were forced to leave behind (Wulf 2). As said by the president of the Morning Star Institute, this act only adds “insult to injury” (qtd. in Wulf 2). Using the lands which housed the tribes of their mascots is derogatory towards the Native Americans, for instead of returning the lands to the natives, the teams now use them to make a profit for their own benefit. In addition, Leanne Hilton points out that Native
Americans are the only racial-based mascot (Hilton 37). She writes, “Indians are the only racial designation that serves in this symbolic form; there are no teams called the Whities or the Asians or the Arabs” (Hilton 37). Including Native Americans as mascots while excluding all other races leaves only the native’s race to be compared to animals and inanimate objects. Furthermore, Dr. Rider, a professor at the University of Louisiana, found that out of the top ten college mascots, the majority were predators that were “hunted to the brink of extinction” (Rider 1).
This shows that Indian mascots are included with predators and compared to animals that were and still are hunted. In many ways, Native American mascots disrespect the native’s race and culture and therefore, should not be permitted. In addition to being disrespectful, Native American mascots are found to be harmful to all people alike. The Michigan civil rights department found that “the use of American Indian imagery [… ] negatively impacts the potential for achievement [for] students with American Indian ancestry” (qtd. in Toporek 23).
The use of Native American mascots in schools harm students by limiting their abilities and denying their potential to succeed. It is also found that when shown images of a stereotypical Native American, the selfesteem, belief in achievement, and mood all go down in a Native American adolescent, while on the other hand, when a person of a non-Native American background sees a stereotypical image, “their associations with their thoughts about the Native American community [become] worse” (Martin 2). Native American mascots portray stereotypical and harmful images in schools which negatively affect adolescents and belittle natives.
Furthermore, it is said that Native American mascots influence African Americans in a negative way, for the “romanticized Indian’ image [… ] offers ‘a damning contrast to the African captive, who according to white authors, loved bondage” (Williams 1). As well as being harmful to Native Americans, Native American mascots negatively impress upon the lives of other races, too. These mascots create long-lasting imprints which harm the lives of many and thus should not be tolerated. Native American mascots spread negative and racist imagery of American Indians.
These “respected” characters are portrayed as eccentric and follow stereotypical patterns which would be seen as racist from any other perspective. For instance, take the political cartoon in figure 1. It asks “Can You Imagine? ” followed by four versions of the Cleveland Indians emblem; one is the original and the other three are redrawn versions all in different races. They are labeled “the Cleveland Africans,” “the Cleveland Asians,” and “the Cleveland Hispanics,” and their mascots are all drawn with the same over-sized smile and caricature feel as Chief Wahoo in the original trademark (Figure 1).
In his cartoon, the artist is trying to emphasize how if the Cleveland Indians mascot were another race and portrayed in this exact same manner including the stereotypical accessories and the over-exaggerated smile, it would seem racist to any person observing the logo. This cartoon helps to show the negative and racist imagery spread by Native American mascots and further supports that sports teams should not be allowed to use Native American mascots. Figure 1 Many people argue that sports teams should be allowed to use Native American mascots because American Indians do not find them offensive.
In a poll by Sports Illustrated, it was found that 83 percent of Indians interviewed, “said that professional teams should not stop using Indian nicknames, mascots or symbols” (Woo 69). In addition, one student with Seminole ancestry at Florida State said she is “proud” of the “use of Seminole imagery for the university’s sports” (Lapointe 1). Furthermore, the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe of central Michigan “announced that it had no problem with a local high school whose teams are called the Warriors” (Lukas 1).
In each of these circumstances, Native American mascots were not berated but rather supported by the local tribes. Despite these situations, sports teams should not be able to use Native American mascots, for these mascots portray false imagery which can be harmful to school age children. According to Dr. Cornel Pewewardy from the University of Kansas, “These negative images, symbols, and behaviors play a crucial role in distorting and warping Native American childrens’ cultural perceptions of themselves as well as non-Indian childrens’ attitudes toward American Indians” (2).
He explains that the ideas perceived from the Native American mascots have negative effects toward children’s perspectives of themselves and others. In addition, it is found that “the conception of Native Americans gained from such early exposure is both inaccurate and potentially damaging [… ]” (Reese 1). This shows that exposing children to the negative stereotypes portrayed by the Native American mascots at such a young age can spread false imagery which could be harmful later in life.
Finally, when discussing the harm of not including truthful facts about populations, this author includes “other indigenous populations” which is inferred as the Native American race. He writes: Like other indigenous populations in the United States, Native Hawaiians have experienced a disintegration of their traditional social systems. The loss of these systems and cultural practices has had a huge impact on Native Hawaiian [… ] boys. They have lost key elements of their connectedness to their communities and families.
The breakdown of intergenerational traditions [… contributes to sociocultural disconnectedness and increased health risks, including high rates of suicide. (Robinson 3) The negative, false stereotypes spread by Native American mascots disconnects the imagery of an American Indian from the reality, and this quote shows how when a population loses the connection to their ancestry, it can have damaging effects on the young men both physically and mentally. Although some Native American mascots are supported by their local tribes, sports teams should not be allowed to use Native American mascots, for they can be harmful to future generations.
Although mascots are presumably honorable and respectable, sports teams should not be allowed to use Native American mascots, for in reality they are disrespectful to the native’s culture, harmful to all people in disregard to their age or race, and spread a racist, stereotypical image of the Native Americans. Allowing a continued use of these mascots is disrespectful and continually causes controversy in society. We should work together as a community to support the elimination of Native American mascots in addition to other repugnant topics, for example the Confederate flag, for they are all seen as offensive.
Although these objects may not seem offensive from one person’s point of view, it is important to consider that they may be seen as hurtful to another. As Anna Sewell once said, “[… ] if we see cruelty or wrong that we have the power to stop, and do nothing, we make ourselves sharers in the guilt” (qtd. in “Anna Sewell”). In order to make our community accepting to all people, we have to work together. We can make our society the most accepting and inviting it can be, but it is all up to us to make a change for the better.