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Native American inspired mascots offensive?

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NickAround this time of year, it seems that the great Native American mascot controversy begins to surface once again. It’s a topic that many are uncomfortable with, and understandably so.

After all, it isn’t very easy to wear your favorite team’s jersey when some consider it to be offensive. The controversy has roots that go back hundreds of years, to a time when terms like “Redskin” were not used to refer to a football team, making it immensely complicated.

Whether it is mascots or team names, there are often two sides that strongly support or oppose their existence. Some believe that the logos pay tribute to the fighting spirit of the Native American, and portray them in a positive light. Others believe that these logos reinforce stereotypes that are offensive, and therefore inaccurately displays the true culture and complexity of Native Americans.

It is a touchy subject to write about. I know that I find myself cringing when I hear the word “Redskins” on SportsCenter, or when I see the Cleveland Indians’ logo “Chief Wahoo,” who might actually be the worst of all.

As someone with a very small amount of Native American heritage, I have been taught to respect Native Americans and not support these types of mascots. Initially, I was going to write this piece supporting the change of these mascots. However, I have found that there are actually studies that indicate that many Native Americans don’t seem to mind these mascots, or even support them. After all, some Native American mascots are more respectful than others, which makes the controversy all the more complex.

Take the University of Illinois, for example. Chief Illiniwek, their previous mascot, represented the worst of Native American mascots. It was stereotypical and offensive, and I was glad that it was changed. However, Florida State’s mascot, the Seminoles, is a completely different story. The Seminole tribe is not only a real tribe, but they completely support the usage of their name as the mascot for Florida State. It is done respectfully, and it doesn’t seem to generate the same amount of controversy as the others.

In 2004, the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center found that 91 percent of Native Americans were not offended by the term “Redskins.” Similarly, in 2002 Sports Illustrated found that 81 percent of the Native Americans they interviewed that lived off of a reservation were not offended by Native American mascots, and that 53 percent that did live on reservations were also not offended. While these polls could possibly be outdated, and there are certainly potential flaws with the polling population, they do have some interesting implications.

With a country as diverse as ours, with as many different groups and cultures, there are a variety of causes for people to be offended. It is unfortunate, but perhaps unpreventable. A strong case would have to be made to change the names of sports teams such as the New Orleans Saints or the Los Angeles Angels, even if it was potentially offensive to the non-religious.

However, we still need to be culturally sensitive and aware of the implications of such mascots. If the majority of Native Americans made a strong enough protest to get rid of these mascots, I would completely support this effort. As of now, however, this doesn’t seem to be the case.

I believe the only people who can truly decide if these mascots should be changed are the ones affected by it. Perhaps a majority of Native Americans really don’t care, or even support these mascots.  The term “Native American” itself is complex, given the number of different tribes and different cultures of these tribes. These mascots represent all of them, however, and it should be up to them to decide if they should be continued or not. For people such as myself, who aren’t affected at all by these mascots, we should just support whatever they decide, if that time ever comes.

Nick Ulferts is a junior english education major and columnist for The Vidette. Any questions or comments regarding his column can be sent to nlferts@gmail.com.

5 Responses

  1. Mike primeau

    you need to educate yourself better…first off..the annenberg poll was a huge fail because only white folks were polled…second..the Florida Seminoles are NOT the Oklahoma Seminoles who dislike the selling out of the wealth casino Indians? of Florida.. check out some native blogs before you show you’re short educated wisdoms
    here’s a start.
    NATIVE APPROPRIATION.
    BEYOND BUCKSKINS
    NEWSPAPER ROCK BLUE CORN COMICS.
    CENSOR NEWS.

    Reply
    • Shoshone Spirit

      Tell him Mike Primeau, do some research Nicholas before you post crap like this.

      Reply
  2. Rev. Irvin Porter

    I appreciate your article acknowledging this controversial topic. I am the Associate for Native American Congregational Support for the Presbyterian Church, USA. I am descended from the Pima, T’hono O’odham and Nez Perce tribes enrolled in the Pima. I have heard comments from Native Christians taking both sides of this issue. Just as you mentioned the usage of even the term Native American is controversial, it’s important that the American public understand that there is a wide range of opinions among Native people on most issues. Having said that, it is my opinion that these “mascots” are outdated aspects of time when Americans were coming to terms with their collective guilt over this country’s treatment of Native American people. Native people have had to pick our battles over the years and now we are in the midst of this one. I have family members for whom the Washington Redskins is a cherished representation of their favorite NFL team. The name Oklahoma is actually from the Choctaw words “okla” and “humma,” meaning “red people”. But my skin is not red. My skin is brown. And though noble logos do exist in American sports depicting Native cultures, this description for Native American people needs to go. Plastic beads, painted chicken feathers and face paint may seem like innocent representations of Native culture but to those for whom beadwork, eagle feather headdresses and warrior traditions of painting their faces and bodies based on their warrior ethos, that symbolism is a mockery. Cheerleaders wearing faux buckskin-type of skirts and blouses leading mock “Indian chants” does not “honor Native Americans” but continues stereotypic notions about who Native people are both in the past and today not to mention the mockery they represent. That’s all. If schools and athletic teams are okay with such mockery of this nation’s aboriginal inhabitants who still exist, then nothing will change. I respect those schools and teams who have decided that the continued mockery of Native American culture is not the spirit they represent and have changed their mascots. Vandals, Sun Devils, Trojans, Sooners, Buccaneers and Vikings don’t exist. Making fun of them or “honoring” them in today’s American culture won’t get much resistance. But racists names such as “Savages” and “Redskins” are just as unacceptable today as a Senator glorifying the KKK or a journalist referring to an African-American woman as “nappy headed.” The Bible reminds us that “…there is a time to everything under heaven…” It’s time for Native American mascots to go.

    Reply
  3. Kait

    I disagree with the comment about Chief Illiniwek mascot…the representation from students honored the tribe with traditional dance.

    Also, as you continue in that paragraph and go on to talk about Florida, you wrote, “The Seminole tribe is not only a real tribe…”
    It seems that you are implying that the Illiniwek are real, where in fact, Illiniwek refers to a group of Native American tribes in what is now the Illinois area.

    I agree, you should probably do some more research before you write an article such as this and start stating facts that need more evidence and facts behind them.

    Reply
    • Kait

      Sorry, I meant to say, “It seems that you are implying that the Illiniwek are not real…”

      Reply

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