Sunday, August 07, 2005

Why Indian Mascots Matter

I am sure that by now most people have heard about the semi-ban that the NCAA has passed on Indian Mascots in college sports:

"The presidents and chancellors who serve on the NCAA Executive Committee have adopted a new policy to prohibit NCAA colleges and universities from displaying hostile and abusive racial, ethnic, and national origin mascots, nicknames or imagery at any of the 88 NCAA championships."

Now note that this is a semi-ban, because you don't have to actually get rid of your hostile and abusive mascot, you just can't bring it to the playoffs. Bowl games are fine, 'cause the NCAA doesn't oversee them. And, of course, what would a home game be without a little Native mistrel show and some white alumni whoopin' like savages? It warms the heart.

Now I know most of you who are non-Native are wondering what the big fuss is about. What's the harm? It's only sports.

Unfortunately, the evidence suggests that there is indeed harm and the issue has nothing to do with sports.

Dr. Cornel Pewewardy, in his article Why Educators Can't Ignore Indian Mascots, says:

" [The American Indian Mental Health Association of Minnesota], as a group of mental health providers,[states that] we are in agreement that using images of American Indians as mascots, symbols, caricatures, and namesakes for non-Indian sports teams, businesses, and other organizations is damaging to the self-identity, self-concept, and self-esteem of our people. We should like to join with others who are taking a strong stand against this practice."

You can read more about the psychological aspects here.

Rob Schmidt, over at Blue Corn, says the biggest problem facing Natives today is invisibility. He is seconded by such notables as Vine Deloria. How does this apply to mascots? Well, Rob says:

"If we "honor" Indians by painting them as warriors of the past, we mislead people about their present lives. Millions of Americans think Indians vanished or are vanishing--and therefore don't need social justice--precisely because of stereotypes.
The mascot and stereotype issues have a lot to do with how people perceive Indians, which has a lot to do with how much respect people pay to Indian rights and sovereignty.
If you think of "other" people as less than human, then you feel free to exploit them. So how we perceive them relates directly to how we treat them."

I'm a huge sports fan (expect for pro hockey - the NHL has earned my scorn). I am particularly fond of college ball, both football and basketball. But the issue of Native mascots has nothing to do with sports. It has to do with eliminating racism. A racism so insidious most people think "what's the harm". But imagine having to explain that jumping whooping white guy dressed in turkey feathers to your little son or daughter and why that's OK in our culture. That's what one grad student at the University of Illinois had to do, and it prompted the making of the documentary "In Whose Honor?".

The harsh reality is that Rob at Blue Corn is right. Indians as people in the year 2005 are pretty much invisible in popular culture. Yes, we've got Into the West and yet another Pocahontas movie, but where is a movie about Indians living in the here and now, working, loving, laughing and just being humans? (see: Dancin', Dreamin' Prayin' and Fightin')

My point is that sometimes all people get is mascots. We have a limited and marginalized presence in the mainstream and mascots and the like just reinforce all those negatives. It's about time the NCAA did something, even if it was a little half-assed. Now I'd like to see the Washington Redskins follow suit.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

That's just idiotic. Even the schools who have the support of the ACTUAL TRIBES are now deemed offensive? I guess the NCAA knows more about being an Indian than the Indians do.

Goodbye Utes and Seminoles, now get back to the reservation.

12:29 AM  
Blogger themarigoldtrail said...

That's just idiotic. Even the schools who have the support of the ACTUAL TRIBES are now deemed offensive?

Well, are they? Are you saying that it is possible to have an Indian mascot and not have it be offensive? What would that look like?

You might be interested in this article: Why the FSU Seminoles Arent OK.

Goodbye Utes and Seminoles, now get back to the reservation.

So the only option is mascot or reservation?

Should we be grateful that the White Man allows us to be his mascots cause at least we get that?

9:59 PM  

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