Native American Mascots
Native American Mascots
Many people are offended by the use of native American mascots in sports, both at the high school, college, and pro levels. Using terms and images referring to Native Americans as the name or mascot for a sports team is a topic of public controversy in the United States and in Canada.
The Cleveland Indians (in particular their “Chief Wahoo” logo); and the Washington Redskins (the term “redskins” being defined in most American English dictionaries as ‘derogatory slang’) are perceived as particulary offensive.
The issue is often discussed in the media only in terms of ‘offensiveness’, which tends to reduce the problem to one of just feelings and opinions, and prevents a fuller understanding of the history and context of the use of Native American names and images, and the reasons why use of such names and images by sports teams should be eliminated.
Social science research says that sports mascots and images, rather than being mere entertainment, are important symbols with deeper psychological and social effects. The accumulation of research on the harm done has led to over 115 professional organizations representing civil rights, educational, athletic, and scientific experts adopting resolutions or policies that state that the use of Native American names and/or symbols by non-native sports teams is a form of ethnic stereotyping that promotes misunderstanding and prejudice which contributes to other problems faced by Native Americans.
Native mascots are also part of the larger issues of cultural appropriation and the violation of indigenous intellectual property rights.
Defenders of the current usage often state their intention to honor Native Americans by referring to positive traits, such as fighting spirit and being aggressive and brave, while opponents see these traits as being based upon stereotypes of Native Americans as savages.
Founded as the Boston Red Stockings, the team became the Braves for the first time in 1912. Their owner, James Gaffney, was a member of New York City’s political machine, Tammany Hall, one of the societies originally formed to honor Tamanend, a chief of the Delaware.
The Cleveland Indians’ name originated from a request by club owner Charles Somers to baseball writers to choose a new name to replace the “Naps” following the departure of their star player Nap Lajoie after the 1914 season. The name “Indians” was chosen as it was one of the nicknames previously applied to the old Cleveland Spiders baseball club during the time when Louis Sockalexis, a Native American, played in Cleveland. The story that the team is named to honor Sockalexis, as the first Native American to play Major League Baseball, cannot be verified from historical documents.
In the 1940s the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) created a campaign to eliminate negative stereotyping of Native American people in the media. Over time, the campaign began to focus on Indian names and mascots in sports.
Not all Native Americans are united in total opposition to mascots.
One issue creating tension is the use of Native American team names and mascots. This is especially true in college communities with Native team names and images where Native Americans are the largest minority group.
Since at least the early1970s, questions have been raised about the appropriateness of the University of North Dakota’s use of the “Fighting Sioux” nickname and related graphic symbols to promote its athletic teams. This report, prepared by an individual who has worked closely with UND’s presidents during most of this period, attempts to provide an historical and contextual perspective.
In nations with histories where ethnic minorities were victims of persecution, oppression, slavery, or genocide, the dominant culture typically creates prejudicial attitudes toward the minority group as a justification for the actions of the oppressor group.