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Team Names and Mascots

Another response to Team Names and Mascots:

Roots of the Problem

It seems time and again that the most vocal protesters against removing American Indian mascots are white, middle aged, educated and arrogant. Perhaps we need to examine how this all happened, how they obtained their superior knowledge about American Indians and how Indians feel or should feel.

Which takes us now to a mythical small American town, one with elementary and high schools using American Indians as mascots. For the purposes of this essay, we will use males as our examples, and to simplify the issue, we will use Indian and Non to keep racial content to a minimum.

Our Indian boy has been exposed to television, a Peter Pan video, and some picture books before entering school. All portray his people as savage, hostile idiots that have a speech impediment. He enters school with some identity problems, which are immediately exacerbated by his next lessons in history. Textbooks tell of how his race fought to retain their land (what a novel idea) and hold back the settlers. If he looks "Indian" he is easily identified by the classmates as different from them; if he does not look as they expect, he is told he is not a "real" Indian. He sees floor mats with images of Indians with feathers, profiles on gym floors, spears and tomahawks painted on walls, hears athletic cheers with calls for scalping and endures comments about Indians from all sides. As he goes into high school, he may be asked to be the mascot (hey, we have the real thing!), while at the same time he may not be white enough to be accepted by his peers that claim to be honoring Indians. He daily lives in an atmosphere of coercion; you either shut up and endure (or participate in demeaning practices to your race) or you speak up and protest, which brings on harassment and discrimination.

If he survives to graduate from this wonderful experience, we can hypothesize several scenarios. Yes, he may well sink into drugs and alcohol, after twelve years of hearing how worthless he is, this is not unexpected. He may decide not to be Indian at all, and blend in with the Nons, if appearances permit this option. He may also decide that it is time to speak up, fight for the future of his children and those of other Indian people. He has experienced the pain of an Indian mascot; he knows what it does to self-esteem and self-identity. He is also well aware of all the other problems facing his people, but maybe, just maybe, starting with what hurts the children can change the future.

On the other side of the spectrum, our Non boy has prepared for school by watching television, looking at picture books, and the racist Peter Pan video. He already knows that Indians are stupid savages, can't speak English, and may well think they are eradicated, he's seen so many killed by the cavalry and settlers. He enters school, where he learns of the European settlement of America and Manifest Destiny. He actually sees an Indian student and realizes that John Wayne didn't finish the job. Since he looks Indian and knows his heritage, the other student would not be acceptable as a friend; maybe he could be the mascot. On the other hand, that honor should go to one of the "in" crowd. As the Indian struggles to establish his place in school, the Non learns about Indian heritage from the Boy Scouts. By virtue of those lessons and his enrollment in a school with an Indian mascot, he is well prepared to speak on Indian issues and knows how Indians think, feel and live. Our Non young man can further his education on Indian issues if he attains the rank of Eagle Scout and/or attends a college with an Indian mascot.

At this point the Non is the final authority on how petty the mascot issue is, knows that Indians should feel honored, and feels totally competent to speak out at any time. He also knows Indians should clean up their problems before attacking "his" mascot, and he is able to honor his Indian mascot while castigating Indian people. He knows that Indian children are not bothered by bullying and harassment, or hindered by low self-esteem. He seems to have no other life than that connected to his childhood mascot and apparently would be devastated should that imagery not continue.

Perhaps it is time for the Nons to grow up and stop playing Indian. My Indian children would welcome a chance to have their identity returned to them. They are living in that mythical small American town, and they are enduring every moment of this school education, and worse. Nons like to do "war whoops" and call Indians "Chief", especially if it makes the Indians cry or fight.

Indians finally were given American citizenship in 1924, when do they get the accompanying civil rights?

Patricia Merzlak

Related links
The harm of Native stereotyping:  facts and evidence
Quotes on Native stereotyping

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