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Stereotype of the Month Entry

Another Stereotype of the Month entry:

Activists want ban on schools' Indian mascots

Katie Allison Granju, Producer
Last Updated: 1/22/2007 12:27:07 PM


Teams at Riverdale High School in Murfreesboro are nicknamed the Warriors.

The school's sports mascot is Chief Win-Em-All. And the basketball gym's student bleacher section is called "The Reservation," its name painted in big letters.

Riverdale is one of at least two dozen high schools along with about 80 middle and elementary schools in Tennessee that have some reference to Indians in their team name, according to a group of Native American activists who want the names changed.

In Middle Tennessee several high schools have such names, including the Montgomery Central High Indians in Cunningham and the Harpeth High Indians in Kingston Springs. Metro Nashville has the Hunters Lane High Warriors.

The activist group plans to approach the state's Human Rights Commission on Friday about joining its cause to ask the schools to change their sports team names.

"There's racism going on when you have a school mascot called the Redskins," said Tom Kunesh, an Indian activist in Chattanooga who plans to go to the rights commission.

"That's Native American imagery used and controlled by non-native Americans and often used in satirical and non-flattering ways."

Riverdale takes pride

The resolution he and others will be carrying to the commission was adopted in late 2005 by the Tennessee Commission of Indian Affairs, an unfunded state body that represents Native American interests.

The resolution, which Kunesh helped draft, calls for the end to "Indian mascots and symbols in the state public schools." Kunesh said the team name practice is opposed by almost every Indian group in the country and by a host of national civil rights and education groups.

At Riverdale, Principal Tom Nolan said the school takes pride in its sports name and the 35-year tradition of the Warriors. To take that away would hurt the school, which so identifies with its Indian name, he said.

That tradition is on display throughout the school. The student newspaper is called Smoke Signal, and the signs above the classroom doors are shaped like arrowheads. Nolan said none of it is done in a comic book or caricaturing manner.

"We take a lot of pride in being the Warriors," Nolan said. "This whole community would go crazy if somebody tried to change our name from the Warriors."

He said the school promotes Native American culture. One year it had Indian dancers come to teach students about this past.

Down a hallway near the school entrance, a large mural was painted in 2004 by an art teacher who is part Cherokee. The mural depicts an Indian trader who lived and worked near the Stones River, where the school sits today, according to Carrie Perkins, the teacher who painted it.

"It's history," Perkins said of the school's identity with Indians. "There's something behind it. If you take that away you've erased it."

TSSAA takes no position

The battle over Indian sports mascots dates to at least the 1970s, according to the National Congress of American Indians. The University of Oklahoma changed its mascot Little Red in 1972, according to the NCAI, which has come out with resolutions opposing using Indian names for sports mascots.

In the 1990s, a Native American activist group sued the Washington Redskins football team for trademark infringement. And in 2005 the NCAA banned the use of Indian mascots in postseason tournaments.

"People are finally paying attention and taking time to understand this is offensive and why it's offensive," said Adam McMullin, a spokesman with NCAI.

In Tennessee, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga stopped using Chief Moccanooga as its mascot in the mid-1990s when Kunesh and others asked the school to change.

But there's been little noise on the issue at the high school level, according to Matthew Gillespie of the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association.

He said the TSSAA, which includes about 380 member schools, doesn't have anything in its bylaws on the matter and doesn't have any plans to take a position.

"That's something we would leave up to the school and the concerned group," he said.

The Human Rights Commission also hasn't heard much on the issue, said Executive Director Amber Gooding. The commission is willing to hear the concerns, although the issue may be out of its area, which primarily deals with discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations, Gooding said.

Melba Checote-Eads, a Native American who lives in Mt. Juliet, hopes something is done on the issue. She helped draft the 2005 resolution as a member of the advisory board for the Commission of Indian Affairs.

She hopes this will be a first step toward helping end the negative stereotypes of Indians she believes the sports mascots perpetuate. She said for schools such as Riverdale to use something like "The Reservation" in its sports program is hurtful and demeaning.

"This is a human rights issue," Checote-Eads said. "It stereotypes our people. It's harmful to our youth and to other youth."

Rob's comment
Chief Win-Em-All, The Reservation, Smoke Signal, arrowheads...everything about Riverdale's team name and mascot is stereotypical.

Related links
The big chief
Team names and mascots

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Original text and pictures © copyright 2007 by Robert Schmidt.

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