Native American mascot controversy
The propriety of using Native American names and images in sports has been a topic of public controversy in the United States and Canada since the 1960s, as part of the movement for Native American civil rights. There have been protests and other actions targeting the more visible professional teams such as the Cleveland Indians (in particular their "Chief Wahoo" logo), and the Washington NFL team due to the name "Redskins" being defined in most American English dictionaries as derogatory slang. Over 115 professional organizations representing civil rights, educational, athletic, and scientific experts have published resolutions or policies that state that the use of Native American names and/or symbols by non-native sports teams is a harmful form of ethnic stereotyping that promote misunderstanding and prejudice which contributes to other problems faced by Native Americans.
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, brave, stoic, dedicated, and proud. Supporters also state that the issue is not important being only about sports, and that the opposition is nothing more than "political correctness".Surveys of public opinion consistently find that the majority of people in the United States support retaining the names and images in current use, however there has been a steady decline in the number of teams doing so. Native American images and nicknames nevertheless remain fairly common in American sports, and may be seen in use by teams at all levels from elementary school to professional.
- 2Opposition to the use of Native American mascots
- 3Other issues regarding team names and ethnic groups
- 4Trend toward the elimination of mascots
- 5Other issues
- 6Support for the use of Native American mascots
- 7Public opinion surveys
- 8Financial impact of change
- 9Support for certain teams by individual tribes
- 10Current status
- 11Name/Mascot changes
- 12See also
- 14Further reading
- 15External links
Americans have had a history of drawing inspiration from native peoples and "playing Indian" that dates back at least to the 18th century. This practice led directly to the origins of many nicknames and mascots. Like the Boy Scouts (in particular, the Order of the Arrow) and many summer camps, university students in the late 19th and early 20th centuries adopted Indian names and symbols for their group identities, not from authentic sources but rather as Native American life was imagined by Euro-Americans.
Professional team nicknames had similar origins. 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 success of the Braves in the 1914 World Series may have been the reason for the Cleveland team, which was looking for a new nickname, to become the Indians in 1915. The story that the team is named to honor Louis Sockalexis, the first Native American to play major league baseball, cannot be verified from historical documents. The Redskins in Washington, DC was originally also the Boston Braves when formed in 1932, since it was the custom at the time to have the same team names when baseball and football shared the same stadium. Moving to the home of the Boston Red Sox, the name was changed to the Boston Redskins in 1933 before moving again to Washington. Thus the use of Native American names and imagery by this team began before the hiring of Lone Star Dietz as coach in 1933.
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. The NCAI maintains that teams with mascots such as the Braves and the Redskins perpetuate negative stereotypes of Native American people, and demean their native traditions and rituals. Proponents of Native American mascots, however, believe that Native American mascots pay respect to these people and promote a better understanding of their cultures. Despite this issue gaining prominence during the civil rights movement, it still continues today as many teams continue to possess mascots with controversial names and images.
The stereotyping of Native Americans must be understood in the context of history which includes conquest, forced relocation, and organized efforts to eradicate native cultures, such as the boarding schools of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, which separated young Native Americans from their families in order to educate them as Euro-Americans. As stated in an editorial by Carter Meland (Anishinaabe heritage) and David E. Wilkins (Lumbee) both professors of American Indian Studies at the University of Minnesota: "Since the first Europeans made landfall in North America, native peoples have suffered under a weltering array of stereotypes, misconceptions and caricatures. Whether portrayed as noble savages, ignoble savages, teary-eyed environmentalists or, most recently, simply as casino-rich, native peoples find their efforts to be treated with a measure of respect and integrity undermined by images that flatten complex tribal, historical and personal experience into one-dimensional representations that tells us more about the depicters than about the depicted."
Opposition to the use of Native American mascots
Opponents of Native American names, images, and mascots assert that they breed insensitivity and misunderstanding about native people which does harm to both individuals and society as a whole. Social science research demonstrating this harm has been the basis for civil rights, educational, athletic, and religious organizations calling for the end of these practices.
The harm done by the use of Native American mascots particularly in an academic context was stated by the Society of Indian Psychologists in 1999:
Stereotypical and historically inaccurate images of Indians in general interfere with learning about them by creating, supporting and maintaining oversimplified and inaccurate views of indigenous peoples and their cultures. When stereotypical representations are taken as factual information, they contribute to the development of cultural biases and prejudices, (clearly a contradiction to the educational mission of the University.) In the same vein, we believe that continuation of the use of Indians as symbols and mascots is incongruous with the philosophy espoused by many Americans as promoting inclusivity and diversity.
In 2005, the American Psychological Association issued a resolution "Recommending the Immediate Retirement of American Indian Mascots, Symbols, Images, and Personalities by Schools, Colleges, Universities, Athletic Teams, and Organizations" due to the harm done by creating a hostile environment, the negative impact on the self-esteem of American Indian children, and is discrimination that may violate civil rights. It also impacts non-natives by reinforcing mainstream stereotypes, preventing learning about Native American culture. The APA states that stereotyping is disrespectful of the beliefs, traditions and values of Native Americans. Similar resolutions have been adopted by the American Sociological Association the American Counseling Association and the American Anthropological Association.
Social science research gives weight to the perceptions of those directly affected. In particular studies support the view that sports mascots and images are not trivial. Stereotyping directly affects academic performance and self-esteem, which contribute to all of the other issues faced by Native Americans, including suicide, unemployment, and poverty. Euro-Americans exposed to mascots are more likely to believe not only that stereotypes are true, but that Native Americans have no identity beyond these stereotypes.
Research also demonstrates the harm done to society by stereotyping of any kind. Two studies examined the effect of exposure to an American Indian sports mascot on the tendency to endorse stereotypes of a different minority group. A study was first done at the University of Illinois, and then replicated at The College of New Jersey with the same results. Students were given a paragraph to read about Chief Illiniwek adapted from the University of Illinois' official website; while the control group was given a description of an arts center. In both studies the students exposed to the sports mascot were more likely to express stereotypical views of Asian-Americans. Although Chief Illiniwek was described only in terms of positive characteristics (as a respectful symbol, not a mascot), the stereotyping of Asian-Americans included negative characteristics, such as being "socially inept". This was indicative of a spreading effect; exposure to any stereotypes increased the likelihood of stereotypical thinking.
In 2001, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights released an advisory opinion calling for an end to the use of Native American images and team names by non-Native schools. The opinion made the following points:
- The use of Native American images and nicknames in school is insensitive and should be avoided, and may violate anti-discrimination laws.
- These references.. are particularly inappropriate and insensitive in light of the long history of forced assimilation that American Indian people have endured in this country.
- It is particularly disturbing that Native American references are still to be found in educational institutions ... where diverse groups of people come together to learn not only the "Three Rs," but also how to interact respectfully with people from different cultures.
- The use of stereotypical images may create a hostile environment that may be intimidating to Indian students. American Indians have the lowest high school graduation rates in the nation and even lower college attendance and graduation rates. The perpetuation of harmful stereotypes may exacerbate these problems.
- Schools that continue [these practices] claim that their use stimulates interest in Native American culture and honors Native Americans but have simply failed to listen to the Native groups, religious leaders, and civil rights organizations that oppose this behavior.
- Mascots, symbols and team names are not accurate representations of Native Americans. Even those that purport to be positive are romantic stereotypes that give a distorted view of the past. These false portrayals prevent non-Native Americans from understanding the true historical and cultural experiences of American Indians. Sadly, they also encourage biases and prejudices that have a negative effect on contemporary Indian people. These references may encourage interest in mythical "Indians" created by the dominant culture, but they block genuine understanding of contemporary Native people as fellow Americans.
In February 2013 the State of Michigan Department of Civil Rights (MDCR) filed a complaint with the US Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights (OCR). MDCR's complaint asserts that new research clearly establishes that use of American Indian imagery negatively impacts student learning, creating an unequal learning environment in violation of Article VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In June 2013 the OCR dismissed the case on the basis that the legal standard required not only harm, but the intent to do harm, which was not established. One of the schools named in the MDCR complaint, Saranac Community Schools in Ionia County, MI plans to retain the name Redskins but has replaced the logo on its uniforms with a "Dreamcatcher" and the band will no longer play the "Tomahawk Song" at games.
In a report issued in 2012, a United Nations expert on Human Rights of Indigenous Peoples cited the continued use of Native American references by sports team as a part of the stereotyping that "obscures understanding of the reality of Native Americans today and instead help to keep alive racially discriminatory attitudes.”
Education and school board action
The Seattle-area Issaquah School District adopted a policy banning symbols based on racial stereotypes; resulting in a change of the Issaquah High School team from the "Indians" to the "Eagles" in 2003 over the protest of some students.
In 2010 a law was passed in Wisconsin to eliminate race-based nicknames, logos and mascots in schools; but allowing retention if they have the permission of local Native American tribes. In October 2013 a bill passed the Wisconsin assembly that would make it more difficult to remove Indian mascots by requiring the complainant to collect signatures of 10% of the school district's population and prove discrimination. Under the 2010 law only one petitioner is needed, and the burden of proof is on the school to disprove racism. Wisconsin’s Chippewa tribes have urged the Governor to veto the bill, Although initially stating that he had no interest in the issue, Governor Scott Walker signed the bill into law on December 19, 2013; also sending a letter to tribal leaders in the state citing free speech as a justification for allowing use of names and mascots many find offensive. Professors of Law and Journalism contest this interpretation of free speech, since citizens have the right to free speech but not schools which are government entities. The Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association, which runs state sporting tournaments, already has a policy against spectator behavior or displays that are offensive, including ones based on race and national origin, bans that are similar to but less restrictive than NCAA rules. Although now allowed to do so, some schools that have already made a change have decided not to restore their prior mascots. Addressing the Wisconsin legislature, Laurie Boivin, the Menominee Nation's new chairwoman criticized the new mascot law, saying the changes will damage native children. The school board in Berlin, Wisconsin voted to retain the name of the Berlin High School Indians after a survey of local residents found 92% in favor of keeping the name. A survey of students found 90% in favor of keeping the name. Delivering the State of the Tribes address to the Wisconsin legislature in March, 2015; Mole Lake Sokaogon Chairman Chris McGeshik stated: “We believe the recent decision to override the progress made with the state in regard to the school mascots to be a mockery of the indigenous people in the state and around America.”
On May 17, 2012, the Oregon State Board of Education voted 5-1 to adopt a rule prohibiting Oregon public schools from using Native American names, symbols, or images as school mascots. Schools have until July 1, 2017 to comply. Fifteen schools using the nicknames Indians, Warriors, Braves and Chieftains were affected. However Native American response was not unanimous; out of nine tribes, two voiced opposition to the statewide ban on the basis of tribal sovereignty. Leaders said that there might have been an opportunity for developing an educational program for all students to learn about true native culture. As of March, 2013, the Oregon legislature was considering bills that would modify the Board of Education's decision. One would allow for retention of a mascot or nickname with tribal approval, the other would remove the financial penalty for non-compliance. The bill that was passed was vetoed by Governor John Kitzhaber as being too broad, allowing most schools to retain their names and mascots. In 2014 a revised bill is expected to become law that would allow schools to keep Native American mascots under certain conditions, including the approval of an appropriate tribe and the Board of Education. Individual schools continue to have meetings and draft rules regarding implementation of the law. Some communities continue to work with tribes in order to retain their Native American references in a respectful way. While some Native Americans support such relationships with their local schools, Native American students who compete in athletics with these schools state that they are sometimes uncomfortable with the imagery used. As of March, 2015 schools and tribal groups continue to work out how to implement the law, while some maintain that the use of Native mascots needs to end everywhere.“These mascots undermine the educational experience of all students, particularly those with little or no contact with indigenous or native Alaskan peoples,” said Se-Ah-Dom Edmo, interim president of the Oregon Indian Education Association. In May, 2015 the Oregon State Board of Education unanimously voted down an amendment that would have allowed schools to retain their current names and mascots, maintaining the 2017 deadline for change. The Amity High School Warriors expect to change their name to comply with the law, while the Warriors of Aloha High School have successfully argued that their name does not need to change since it refers to Hawaiians not Native Americans.
On September 26, 2012 the Washington State Board of Education (WSBE) passed a resolution calling for the end of Native American mascots in state schools. The Seattle Human Rights Commission passed a resolution supporting the WSBE in November, 2012.
In December, 2013 the Houston Independent School District by unanimous vote passed a preliminary plan to eliminate all ethnically sensitive names and mascots, one of which is the Lamar High School Redskins. The Washington NFL team issued a statement repeating its position that such names are not offensive to many Native Americans, but rather are a source of pride. In April 2014 the new team names were announced, including Lamar High School which will become the Texans, the Hamilton Middle School Indians will be the Huskies and Welch Middle School Warriors will be the Wolf Pack."The moral cost to our reputation as a diverse district -- where we care about the sensitivities of every single individual -- would be incalculable if we were not to do this," HISD superintendent Terry Grier said.
There has been backlash, however. In response to the Tennessee Commission of Indian affairs seeking a similar ban though the Tennessee Human Rights Commission, the legislature passed a law allowing only elected officials (themselves) to take any action banning school teams using American Indian names and symbols.
Prompted by the concerns of Native Americans, the Madison Metropolitan School District in Wisconsin has implemented a policy banning student clothing having "words, pictures, or caricatures based on negative stereotypes of a specific gender, ethnicity, nationality, religion, sexual orientation or disability", which would ban all sports apparel displaying Native American mascot names, images or logos. However the ban may not pass the legal test that freedom of speech does not allow for a ban on expression unless there is a "substantial disruption of the educational mission".
In 1992, the Central Conference of American Rabbis issued a resolution calling for the end of sports teams names that promote racism, in particular the Atlanta Braves and the Washington Redskins. In 2004, the United Methodist Church also passed a resolution condemning the use of Native American team names and sports mascots, which was highlighted in a meeting of the Black caucus of that organization in 2007.
A child once asked me why Indians were "mean." Where did he get that idea? By schools such as the University of Illinois"honoring" my ancestors? -- Rev. Alvin Deer (Kiowa/Creek), United Methodist Church 
A group of sixty-one religious leaders in Washington, D.C. sent a letter to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and team owner Dan Snyder stating their moral obligation to join the Change the Mascot movement due to the offensive and inappropriate nature of the name which causes pain whether or not that is intended.
In a meeting March 1, 2014, the Board of Directors of the Central Atlantic Conference of the United Church of Christ (UCC) unanimously passed a resolution proposing that its members boycott Washington Redskins games and shun products bearing the team’s logo until the team changes its name and mascot. Team spokesman Tony Wyllie offered a response, saying, “We respect those who disagree with our team’s name, but we wish the United Church of Christ would listen to the voice of the overwhelming majority of Americans, including Native Americans, who support our name and understand it honors the heritage and tradition of the Native American community.” At its annual meeting in June 2014, the membership of the UCC also passed a resolution supporting the boycott.
Other issues regarding team names and ethnic groups
Opponents also highlight the double standard of Native American being the only racial group depicted in sports. The only current exception may be the Coachella Valley High School"Arabs" which has also been the subject of controversy, resulting in the retirement of its more cartoonish representations.
The University of Notre Dame Fighting Irish and the University of Louisiana at Lafayette's "Ragin' Cajuns" are sometimes cited as counterpoints to this argument. These team names are exceptions in that they represent ethnic groups with an active stake in the organization, and the teams employ symbols that Euro-American cultures have historically used to represent themselves. The University of Notre Dame mascot, the UND leprechaun is a mythical being that represents the Irish, which is both an ethnic and a national group. The University of Louisiana at Lafayette mascot is an anthropomorphic cayenne pepper, an ingredient frequently found in Cajun cuisine. Opponents also see this argument as a false equivalency because it ignores systemic inequality and serves to discount the Native American voice by saying that if one group isn't hurt by a particular portrayal, then no group has the right to be hurt, regardless of vastly different backgrounds, treatment, and social positions.
The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights has called for an end to the use of Native American mascots, but only by non-native schools. In cases where universities were founded to educate Native Americans, such mascots may not be examples of cultural appropriation. Examples include the Fighting Indians of the Haskell Indian Nations University and the University of North Carolina at Pembroke, which continues to have a substantial number of native students, and close ties to the Lumbee tribe. Their nickname is the Braves, but the mascot is a red-tailed hawk. Pembroke Middle School, which also has close ties to the Lumbee tribe, is nicknamed the Warriors.
Trend toward the elimination of mascots
Colleges and universities
Some college teams voluntarily changed their names and mascots. Stanford University had "The Stanford Indian" as its mascot from 1930 to 1972. Today "Stanford Cardinal" honors the university athletic team color. The mascot of the Stanford Band is the "Stanford Tree." Another early change was the "Saltine Warrior" that represented Syracuse University from 1931 until 1978. After a brief attempt to use a Roman warrior, the mascot became Otto the Orange for the school color.
Although the team name of Eastern Michigan University changed from the Hurons to the Eagles in 1991, attachment to the old name persists. In April, 2015 a member of the Omaha Nation encountered a group of party-goers in "redface" and Indian costumes who said they were F-ing Hurons, and responded aggressively when told that they were being racist.
Marquette University changed their team name from the Warriors to the Golden Eagles in 1994. The school’s president stated:"We live in a different era than when the Warriors nickname was selected in 1954. The perspective of time has shown us that our actions, intended or not, can offend others. We must not knowingly act in a way that others will believe, based on their experience, to be an attack on their dignity as fellow human beings." Also in 1994, St. John's University (New York) changed the name of its athletic teams from the Redmen to the Red Storm after the university was pressured by American Indian groups who considered Redmen a slur.
In late 2002, The Strategic Planning Committee of Stonehill College determined that the then-current mascot, the chieftain, was disrespectful to American Indians and decided that it would be changed. After discussion, the mascot was changed to the Skyhawk in 2005. Jim Seavey, associate director of athletics stated: Twelve years ago, the college discarded the logo that depicted the Indian with the headdress and feathers and stuff. We really did not have anything to represent our identity that we were comfortable with. We felt . . . that it wasn't appropriate to have a physical representation of a Native American as our mascot,"
Additionally, teams that are not directly affected by this controversy have issued their opinions. The University of Wisconsin–Madison and the University of Iowa have both refused to schedule non-conference games against schools with Native American mascots. The University of Iowa's own nickname, "Hawkeyes", has Native American origins (Iowa is the "Hawkeye State"), although the team uses a hawk as its symbol rather than an Indian. The University of Oregon, following the example set by The Oregonian newspaper, declined to refer to the University of Illinois team as the "Illini" in a basketball game in 2005.
In 2012, the University of California, Berkeley called for the student-run University of California Marching Band to discontinue performances of "California Indian Song" after complaints from alumni. Currently, the Cal Band is attempting to rename the song and rewrite its lyrics.
National Collegiate Athletic Association
The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), the ruling authority on college athletics, distributed a “self evaluation” to 31 colleges in 2005, for teams to examine the use of potentially offensive imagery with their mascot choice. Subsequently 19 teams were cited as having potentially "hostile or abusive" names, mascots, or images, that would be banned from displaying them during post-season play, and prohibited from hosting tournaments. Since then, all of the colleges previously using the nickname Indians changed them; Arkansas State University to Red Wolves, Indiana University of Pennsylvania to Crimson Hawks, McMurry University to War Hawks, Midwestern State University to Mustangs, Newberry College to Wolves, University of Louisiana at Monroe to Warhawks, and Catawba College to Catawba Indians with approval of that tribe.
California State University, Stanislaus eliminated Native American references to their Warrior nickname, initially using a Warrior Hawk mascot which never caught on; it has been replaced by a Roman Warrior, Titus. The College of William and Mary (W&M) had previously changed from "Indians" to The Tribe, but was cited due to two feathers in its logo, which were removed. After a brief period of having the frog-like character Colonel Ebirt as its unofficial mascot, W&M selected the Griffin in 2010. Both Alcorn State University and Bradley University kept the nickname Braves but change their mascots, while the Chowan University Braves became the Hawks. The Carthage College Redmen became the Red Men, and the Southeastern Oklahoma State University Savages changed to Savage Storm.
The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Fighting Illini kept the nickname as referring to the state, not Native Americans, but officially stopped using the Chief Illiniwek image and mascot in 2007, although an attachment remains among many students and alumni; but not all. The "Honor the Chief Society" filed an application with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in 2009 to register the Chief Illiniwek symbol, which the university opposed. In October, 2013 an agreement was reached that will allow limited private use of the name as long as accompanied by a disclaimer stating that the university is not involved in such use. A new chief cannot be named, and the university retains control of the name.
The University of North Dakota initially challenged the NCAA policy in court, but settled in 2007 when it was given three years to obtain consent from the Sioux tribes in the state. When one tribe refused permission, the state Board of Higher Education proceeded with plans to eliminate the Fighting Sioux name and logo. In 2011 the State Legislature voted that the university should retain the name but in a 2012 referendum the voters decided to proceed with the change, which has been completed but no alternative nickname or logo has been selected. The NCAA has agreed to allow some of the logos to remain in the sports stadiums, while removing the larger and more obvious ones. Additional legal cases have run their course, leaving the Fighting Sioux name and logo officially retired. The 2012 referendum specified that there would be a cooling off period during which a new nickname would not be selected, which ended January 1, 2015. However a bill has been submitted to the legislature to extend this period for another two and a half years, until July 1, 2017. UND President Robert Kelley testified against the bill, stating that it was time to move on and choose a new logo and name.
Four additional colleges originally on the "hostile and abusive" list: Central Michigan University (Chippewas),Florida State University (Seminoles), Mississippi College (Choctaws) and University of Utah (Utes) were granted waivers to retain their nicknames after gaining support from those respective tribes.
See: College Name/Mascots Changes for a full listing.
High schools in both the US and Canada have had histories similar to colleges, some making voluntary changes while others resisting.
In January 2014 the Nez Perce Tribal Executive Committee sent a letter to two northern Idaho school districts with American Indian mascots asking that they be changed. The mascots are the Sacajawea Junior High Braves in Lewiston and the Nezperce High School Indians. The school officials state that they will have meetings and gather public opinions before making a decision.
The students of Belmont High School (New Hampshire) have begun to question the use of Native American imagery in connection to their name, the Red Raiders, saying that while it was never intended to be offensive it is time for a change. At a meeting on the subject there were equal, but respectful comments of both sides.
Turners Falls High School of Turners Falls, MA changed its fight song, known as the tomahawk chop, but did not change its name, the Indians. Blacksburg High School in Blacksburg, VA changed their mascot from the Indians to the Bruins, and the corresponding middle school mascot of the Braves was changed to the Titans.
Savannah High School (Missouri) has been criticized for their mascot, Savannah Savages.
The Dalles High School in The Dalles, Oregon will become the Riverhawks for Fall 2014 after being the "Indian Eagles" since 2000 after the merger of two schools. Although the Oregon legislature has allowed high schools to retain native mascots with the approval of a local tribe, the North Wasco County School District Superintendent Candy Armstrong states that, with 48 tribes in the area, “We thought [working with one] might not cause harmony but create more issues.”.
In 2014 State lawmakers in Colorado began considering a bill that would deny state funding to schools on a case by case basis, depending upon the name, logo, and local Native American support. Names such as "Savages" and cartoon caricature logos would likely be targeted while more respectful usage might not. Getting ahead of any potential law, Loveland High School in Loveland, Colorado, is "looking to a Lakota Sioux tribe for help creating a new mascot and a hands-on lesson in history and culture for the school." The bill introduced in 2015 proposed a subcommittee composed of members of an American Indian tribe which would decide whether a mascot is offensive. Schools with mascots not approved would have two years to comply after which they would be fined. Although approved by one house committee, the bill has been stripped of the funding for its implementation by the appropriations committee. Although passed by the House by one vote, the bill failed in a Colorado Senate committee where the Republican majority voted against it.
In December, 2013 the Houston, TX school district approved, in a preliminary vote, a new policy against any ethic mascots which would require a change for several schools. In April, 2014 the schools affected by the policy announced new names: the Lamar High School Redskins will become the Texans, both the Hamilton Middle School Indians and Westbury High School Rebels will be the Huskies and the Welch Middle School Warriors will be the Wolf Pack. The initial cost of the change was $50,000 for new fall uniforms, and there will be additional costs such as changing names and logos on facilities. The total cost is estimated to be $250,000. However it was noted that team uniforms are periodically replaced anyway, so the cost is not due only to the name changes.
A member of the Council of the District of Columbia has introduced a bill that would amend the city's Human Rights Act to prohibit any "race-based nickname, logo, mascot or team name" in DC schools.
John Swett High School in Crockett, California dropped its Indians mascot by a unanimous vote of the School Board in February, 2015 in response to the group Sacred Sites Protection and Rights of Indigenous Tribes which lobbied for the change.
The last high school in Maine using a Native American name, the Skowhegan Area High School Indians, held a forum to discuss the issue in May, 2015. Only residents of the school district and elected officials were allowed to speak. Individuals spoke both for and against retiring the name. At a previous meeting of a school subcommittee, tribal representatives called for a change in the name. Subsequently, the school board voted 11-9 to keep the name.
High Schools with the name Redskins have received particular attention due to the media coverage of the Washington NFL team, in particular three which have a majority of Native American students. As of early 2013 the Capitol News Service in Maryland listed twenty-eight high schools in 18 states that had dropped the "redskins" name during the prior 25 years as a result of a combination of state legal action, protests from Native American groups, or voluntarily; while 62 continue to use the redskins name. Since that list was compiled, an additional five high school teams have changed their name. In addition of the Lamar HS in Houston, Texas cited above, there were:
The Cooperstown Central School Board of Education (NY) voted 6-1 on March 6, 2013 to remove the Redskins mascot from its interscholastic athletic, extracurricular and academic programs. The move was prompted by a vote by the student body, asking that the mascot be changed. The Oneida Indian Nation was so moved by the actions of the Cooperstown students, that a letter by Oneida Nation Representative Ray Halbritter was written to the students, commending their decision and offering to make a contribution to help offset the cost of changing mascots.
In June 2013 the school superintendent in Driggs, Idaho announced that Teton High School would drop its longtime "Redskins" nickname, logo and mascot to show respect for Native Americans. However, the decision was not immediately implemented due to the costs, and the school board has not taken any further action.
In June 24, 2013 school board members of the Port Townsend High School in Port Townsend, Washington voted to replace its "Redskins" nickname, logo, and mascot (used since 1926) due to its divisive nature. In April 2014 the students selected Red Hawks as their new team name. The next step will be to select new graphics to replace the old.
Prior changes include:
- Naperville Central High School in Illinois became the Redhawks in 1992 after being the Redskins since 1939. Twenty years later alumni retained an attachment to the old name, but most think the change was a good one.
- Frontier Regional School, in Deerfield, MA removed its Redskin mascot in 2000. The school now goes by the moniker of the Redhawks.
- Mountain Empire High School in Pine Valley, CA changed their mascot from the Redskins to the Red Hawks in 1998.
- Brebeuf College School in North York changed its nickname to "Bulls" in 2004 after being called "Redmen" since 1963.
- David and Mary Thomson Collegiate Institute in Scarborough, Ontario had been the "Redmen" since 1959, which was changed to the "Titans" in 2005.
- The Regional School Unit 12 board of directors voted in 2011 that Wiscasset High School in Maine would no longer be the "Redskins", later becoming the Wolverines. In August, 2014 selectmen of the town of Wiscasset voted to name a private road "Redskins Drive" as an indication of their continued attachment to the name of the school. However following weeks of criticism by members of Maine’s Indian tribes and others, the Wiscasset Board of Selectmen changed the name again, to Micmac Drive.
On the other hand, Union High School in Tulsa, Oklahoma, a high-profile high school athletic program, has consistently opposed protests and proposed legislation intended to change its "Redskins" nickname.
Controversy over the name and logo of the Bedford Road Collegiate"Redmen" in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan began in the 1990s, with a vote by students in 1996 choosing to keep things as they are. One alumni of the school is using social media to advocate for a change. In 2013, a group of protestors of the name and logo where blocked from entering a high school basketball tournament at Bedford Road, the school and police citing safety concerns. In March 2014, the Saskatoon public school board passed a motion to have the school drop the name "Redmen" and use a new name by the beginning of the new school year in September. In Ontario, there is debate over the Thorold Blackhawks junior hockey team and the Denis Morris Catholic High School"Redmen".
Natick High School in Natick, Massachusetts was also the Redmen. An initial vote by the school committee to change the name was in 2007, prompting the formation of a "Redmen Forever" committee by alumni of the school. In spite of their activity, including a nonbinding town referendum in which 65% of the voters supported asking the school committee to reconsider the change, the name was dropped in 2008. The school team is now the Redhawks, however some continue to favor returning to the previous name. In contrast, the Western Canada High School in Calgary, Canada has decided to change its "Redmen" nickname and logo with strong support from the school's administration, students and parents for the decision.
After failing in her appeals directly to Neshaminy High School, a parent filed a complaint with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (PHRC) alleging the "Redskins" name is a form of harassment offensive to Native Americans and her 13-year-old son who attends the school. The school board unanimously voted to ask the commission to dismiss the complaint, but the editors of the student newspaper, the Playwickian, voted to stop using the name. However, the principal and the school board president have decided that the student newspaper's editorial board does not have the right to refuse to use the name. The school board reached a compromise policy in which the name would not be entirely banned, but allowed in editorials and letters to the editor; however the editors of the paper and their attorney maintain that this policy is contrary to state law and the US Constitution. Both the student editor and the faculty adviser for the paper were suspended for two days by the school district supervisor for not printing the name. The faculty adviser, Tara Huber was recently named Journalism Teacher of the Year by the Pennsylvania School Press Association. The Playwickian journalists were honored by the ACLU on October 8, 2014, receiving be one of four Civil Libertarian Awards, and in December, 2014 by the Philadelphia City Council with a resolution commending their actions. As of November, 2014 the Neshaminy School District has incurred $26,000 in legal fees defending the mascot. The PHRC has made a preliminary finding that the name Redskins is “racially derogatory” and creates a “hostile educational environment.” The case will now proceed to a hearing by the full commission unless the school district takes steps to remedy the situation, which thus far they have refused to do.
In 2014 a bill has been introduced to ban the Redskins name currently used by four high schools in the state of California. Assemblyman Luis Alejo stated that there is ""no reason why we can't ... phase out that particular derogatory term from our public high schools". The students and staff of Tulare Union High School strongly defend the name, which they have used for 100 years. On March 25, 2015 the bill passed out of the Assembly Committee on Education with unanimous, bipartisan support.
On December 8, 2014 the Oklahoma City School Board voted unanimously to remove Redskins as the nickname for Capitol Hill High School. The vote came in response to pleas from students and teachers who found the term offensive. The following day some students of the high school upset by the change protested the school board decision. On January 6, 2015 the school board held an information forum at which a panel of Native American community leaders presented the reasons for the decision, including the derogatory nature of the term. Some members of the audience walked out during the presentation, and one alumni called the presentation "propaganda" and asserted his opposition to changing the name. Another alumni stated that if any Native Americans did not like the name Redskins they should go to a native school. A committee has selected four possible replacements, including Red Hawks, Red Wolves, War Eagles and Nations, with the final decision to be made by a vote of Capitol Hill Students. Names such as Chieftains and Warriors, although favored by alumni on the committee, were not selected as continuing the linkage to Native Americans. In a vote by students in May, 2015, Red Wolves was selected as the new mascot.
The name of the Lancaster, New York High School team was discussed at a school board meeting in January, 2015. "Of all the words that could be used to describe us, ‘Redskin’ is the worst, said John Kane, talk show host for the First Voices Indigenous Radio Network". The school has de-emphasized the Redskins name in recent years, eliminating the name and logo from the scoreboard and uniforms. However, two former school board members defend the name, citing it as "a source of community identity, pride and spirit". Kane characterized the defense of the name as having an "Archie Bunker" mentality. “In this day and age, it’s not a celebratory term,” said Hilary N. Weaver, associate dean for academic affairs at the University at Buffalo and co-director of the Immigrant and Refugee Research Institute. “You’re a school district, and it’s important to look at what you’re teaching. … I don’t think racism has a place in an educational institution.”
The name was debated at the Lancaster school on March 3, 2015, and was defended by many, but not all current and former students. One pro-Redskins supporter paid for the flights of two individuals to attend a rally and state that as Native Americans they are not offended by the name. One of the individuals speaking for Native American Redskins fans was Mark One Wolf Yancey, who had been previously investigated and found not to be Native American. The President of the Seneca Nation of New York, Maurice John Sr., wrote a letter stating: “Let’s be clear — the term “redskin” is a racial slur... I strongly disagree with those who argue that it is a term of honor and respect. It has no place in today’s society.” The letter was also addressed to President Barack Obama, Governor Andrew Cuomo and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell with reference to the Washington NFL team. Two high schools, in Akron and Lake Shore, have cancelled Lacrosse games with Lancaster in support of the Native American opposition to the Redskins name. The student population in the Lake Shore school district is 15% Native American, and 11% in Akron, while there are only a dozen Native Americans out of 6,000 students at Lancaster. On March 16, the Lancaster school board voted to retire the Redskin mascot. Two days after the decision, about 300 students in favor of keeping the mascot protested, out of 2,000 total in the school district. The Lancaster School Board has been given a service award by the Western New York Educational Service Council for the courage and wisdom it displayed in determining that the current mascot was harmful to the Native American population.
A group of Native American female basketball players from the Tiospa Zina Tribal School hosted a rally during a game with Sisseton High School in Sisseton, South Dakota, asking the Sisseton School District to change the name of its team and logo from Redmen. The grandparents of four of the students protested the name in the 1990s. The school district superintendent said there was support for the name. There was a report of a fight between the brother of one of the protestors and a Sisseton student over the sale of "Not Your Mascot" t-shirts.
The California Assembly has passed a bill banning the name Redskins, which would effect the four remaining high schools in the state using the name: Tulare Union High School, Gustine High School, Calaveras High School, and Chowchilla Union High School.
In addition to schools, there are many teams for young players using Native American names that participate in Little league baseball and Pop Warner Little Scholars football as well as other youth leagues.
Ian Champeau, an Ojibway man in Ottawa, Ontario filed a human rights complaint against the Nepean Redskins Football Club on behalf of his five-year-old daughter in an effort to get the team to change its name. “How are they going to differentiate the playing field from the school yard? What’s going to stop them from calling my daughter a redskin in the school yard? That’s as offensive as using the n-word.” Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo said he supports the move because the word Redskin is “offensive and hurtful and completely inappropriate. Niigaan Sinclair (Anishinaabe), a writer and assistant professor at the University of Manitoba applauds the decision and contrasts it to the decision of Dan Snyder, the Washington team owner. Citing the combination of the stereotype of the Indian with sports in the early twentieth century: "The marriage of the Sioux-like warrior name and image to sports was complete, celebrating and re-telling American violence against indigenous communities every time one appears on sports highlights. It's tough to change abusive relationships." The team was changed to the "Nepean Eagles", chosen from 70 suggestions submitted.
A name of a team in a youth football league in Brooklyn, New York was changed from the Redskins to the Bears after some parents made complaints. Other youth leagues contacted by the media to comment about the use of the Redskins name did not respond officially, however one parent of a player on a team in Leesburg, Virginia stated "...the name is a part of football history and tradition. I don't believe it is meant to be derogatory."
None of the National Basketball Association (NBA) teams that previously used Native American mascots continue to do so. The Atlanta Hawks were originally the Buffalo Bison, then the Tri-City Blackhawks (using an "Indian" logo) before becoming the Hawks in Milwaukee and St. Louis. The former Buffalo Braves relocated to San Diego, and are now the Los Angeles Clippers.
The Golden State Warriors, originally Philadelphia Warriors, then San Francisco Warriors, eliminated Native American imagery in 1971. Since that time, their logos have emphasized the state of California, with their current primary logo depicting the new eastern span of the San Francisco–Oakland Bay Bridge. The warrior depicted on secondary logos of the team is a generic, lightning-wielding figure.
The NHL's Chicago Blackhawks was named in honor of the U.S. 86th Infantry Division, which was nicknamed the "Blackhawk Division" after Black Hawk, a Native American chief (the team's founder, Frederic McLaughlin, previously served in that division).
The team's primary logo is a Native American's profile. In 2008, the staff of The Hockey News voted the team's logo to be the best in the NHL. In 2010, sports columnist Damien Cox called on the franchise to retire the "racially insensitive" logo, saying that: "Clearly, no right-thinking person would name a team after an aboriginal figure these days any more than they would use Muslims or Africans or Chinese or any ethnic group to depict a specific sporting notion." The Blackhawks have worked with the American Indian Center to help educate their community and fan base by sharing Native American culture and history. Scott Sypolt, Executive Counsel for the American Indian Center weighed in on the logo and name controversy by stating, "There is a consensus among us that there’s a huge distinction between a sports team called the Redskins depicting native people as red, screaming, ignorant savages and a group like the Blackhawks honoring Black Hawk, a true Illinois historical figure.”
The Blackhawks also use an anthropomorphic hawk as their mascot character. The idea of using a hawk mascot originates from the period when the team's name was spelled in two words as the "Black Hawks", which resulted in their shortened nickname, the "Hawks".
The Chief Wahoo logo of the Cleveland Indians was replaced with a block letter "C" or script "I" in many situations, such as on their caps and batting helmets. At the beginning of 2014, a decision was made to make the block "C" the team's primary logo—although Chief Wahoo will not disappear entirely—and some see this as a first step toward inevitable elimination. A variety of responses to the issue has emerged from the Cleveland fanbase. Some fans have removed Chief Wahoo logos from purchased apparel, an outcome that is being termed "de-chiefing".
Blogger Peter Pattakos captured a photograph on April 4, 2014 outside a Cleveland Indians game which depicts a discussion between activist Robert Roche of the American Indian Movement and a sports fan costumed as the team mascot Chief Wahoo. One reader's comments on press reports of the event led to a comparison with an "But I'm honoring you, dude!" editorial cartoon from 2001. An advocate for replacing Chief Wahoo makes the connection between the logo and fans wearing redface, beating a tom-tom, and other stereotypical "Indian" behavior that would not be acceptable toward any other ethnic group.
One Native American group asked Nike, Inc. to cease production of any items displaying the Chief Wahoo logo. Nike responded to the request by issuing a statement that it is bound by a contractual agreement with Major League Baseball (MLB) to manufacture apparel, and each MLB team is responsible for the logos they choose. MLB Commissioner Bud Selig says that he has never received a complaint about the logo. He has heard that there are some protesting mascots, but individual teams such as the Indians and Braves should make their own decisions. Native Americans protested Chief Wahoo on opening day 2015, as they have for many years, making note that this is the 100th anniversary of the team becoming the Indians. Owner Paul Dolan, while stating he is respectful of critics, says he mainly hears from fans who want to keep Chief Wahoo, and has no plans to change. While claiming to honor Native Americans, fans confronted by the Native American protestors gave them the finger and made disparaging remarks about scalping.
The Edmonton Eskimos is an exceptional case, given that the only stereotypical element appears to be the name of one of their mascots, Nanook, a polar bear. The name Eskimo originated as a word used by the Cree to refer to the Inuit, who are few in the Edmonton area, and are ambivalent or supportive of the team name. A notable Inuk who openly supported the team name was former Edmonton Eskimo player Dave Ward.
Kansas City Chiefs
In 1963 the Kansas City Chiefs adopted a name referring to Native Americans, when the Dallas Texans (AFL) relocated. While adopting Native American imagery, the team was named in honor of Kansas City mayor Harold Roe Bartle who was instrumental in bringing the Texans to Kansas City. Bartel earned his nickname as founder of a Boy Scouts honor camping society Tribe of Mic-O-Say in which he was "Chief" Lone Bear. In 1989 the Chiefs switched from Warpaint, a Pinto horse ridden by a man in a feathered headdress, to their current mascot K. C. Wolf. Warpaint returned in 2009, but is ridden by a cheerleader.
Following the appearance of photographs of fans attending an October 2013 game wearing feathers and warpaint—and doing the tomahawk chop—in the Kansas City Star, numerous Native Americans submitted complaints to the publication. One caller, who was especially upset that the photographs were published on Columbus Day, described the images as a "mockery" and "racist". Writing for the Star's "Public Editor" column, Derek Donovan explained that he found the complaints "reasonable" and suggested that the newspaper depict "other colorful, interesting people in the crowds."
The Kansas City Star reported in early August 2014 that the team's management is planning discussions with some Native American groups to find a non-confrontational way to eliminate, or at least reduce, offensive behavior. Amanda Blackhorse, the lead plaintiff in the trademark case against the Washington Redskins, thinks the real solution is a name change for the Chiefs. Native Americans in Phoenix, Arizona picketed at the game between the Chiefs and the Arizona Cardinals, and have asked the Cardinal's management to bar "Redface", the wearing of headdresses and face paint, protesting what they perceive to be a mockery of Native American culture.
The name and logo of the Washington Redskins is part of the larger controversy but receives the most public attention due to the prominence of the team being located in the nation's capital and the name itself being defined in current dictionaries of American English as "usually offensive","disparaging","insulting", and "taboo". Those officially censuring and/or demanding the name be changed include more than 80 organizations that represent various groups of Native Americans.
The team's unofficial mascot is Zema Williams (Chief Zee), an African-American man who began attending games in 1978, wearing an Indian costume consisting of a feathered headdress and rubber tomahawk. Other fans also attend games in costume and are celebrated by the team.
Native American opposition to the name began in the early 1970s with letters to the owner of the team and the editors of the Washington Post. National protests began in 1988, after the team's Super Bowl XXII victory, and again when 1992 Super Bowl between the Redskins and the Buffalo Bills was held in Minnesota. Before and during the game over 2,000 Chippewa, Sioux, Winnebago, Choctaw, other Native Americans and members of the local population, protested.
In 1992, a group of American Indians led by Suzan Harjo filed Harjo et al v. Pro Football, Inc. to have the United States trademarks associated with the Redskins name canceled under statutes which prevent registration of disparaging terms. The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB) in 1999 ruled in favor of the petition and canceled the trademarks. Following appeals, in 2005, the D.C. Court of Appeals in Pro-Football, Inc. v. Harjo reversed the cancellation, ruling that there was insufficient evidence to support the finding of disparagement and holding that the majority of the petitioners were barred by laches from maintaining the suit. A second case was filed, Blackhorse v. Pro-Football, Inc., with younger plaintiffs whose standing might not be hindered by laches. On June 18, 2014, the TTAB again voted to cancel the six trademarks held by the team in a two to one decision that held that the term "redskins" is disparaging to a "substantial composite of Native Americans", and this is demonstrated "by the near complete drop-off in usage of 'redskins' as a reference to Native Americans beginning in the 1960s." The TTAB majority held that the NCAI represented about 30 percent of Native Americans during the time in question, which the Board found satisfied the substantial composite test. In a press release the trademark attorney for the team stated that they were confident that they would once again prevail on appeal, and that today's decision will make no difference in the continued use of the Redskins name. Plaintiff Amanda Blackhorse, a social worker and member of the Navajo Nation, said in an interview, "We’ve been through this process for eight years now. We will continue to fight. And, you know, this is not the end for us." The Washington Redskins filed its appeal of the case on August 14, 2014; stating their belief "that the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB) ignored both federal case law and the weight of the evidence". They also cite infringement of their First Amendment right to free expression.
Evidence of disparagement submitted by the petitioners in the TTAB case include the frequent references to "scalping" made by sportswriters for sixty years when reporting the Redskins loss of a game, and passages from movies made from the 1940s to the 1960s using "redskin" to refer to Native Americans as a savage enemy. A linguistics expert for the team unsuccessfully argued that the name is merely a descriptive term no different than other uses of color to differentiate people by race. The linguistic expert for the petitioners, Dr. Geoffrey Nunberg, argued that whatever its origins, "redskins" was a slur at the time of the trademark registrations, based upon the passages from books and newspapers and the movie clips in which the word is inevitably associated with contempt, derision, condescension, or sentimental paeans to the noble savage.
A symposium in February 2013 at the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C. , followed by a media campaign sponsored by the Oneida Indian Nation of New York led to a broader range of persons speaking out in favor of change or open discussion, including 50 U.S. Senators and President Barack Obama. Statements in support of a name change have been made religious leaders in Washington, D.C.; and The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.
In response to the continued controversy, the team owner Dan Snyder sent an open letter to fans that was published in The Washington Post on October 9, 2013. In the letter Snyder states that the most important meaning of the name Redskins is the association that fans have to memories of their personal history with the team. Snyder also states that the name was chosen in 1933 to honor Native Americans in general and the coach and four players at that time who were Native American; and that in 1971 the then coach George Allen consulted with the Red Cloud Indian Fund on the Pine Ridge reservation when designing the logo. Supporters also assert that a majority of Native Americans themselves are not offended, based upon a public opinion poll in 2004 in which 90% of those who identified as American Indians answered that they were "not bothered" by the name "Redskins" being used for the Washington football team. However in a commentary published soon after that poll, fifteen Native American scholars collaborated on a critique that stated that there were so many flaws in the Annenberg study that rather than being a measure of Native American opinion, it was an expression of white privilege and colonialism.
The team continues to cite current polls showing general public opinion in opposition to changing the name. One poll was part the 2014 poll of issues regarding the NFL, which included one question indicating 71% of the general public are in favor of keeping the name, with 18% in favor of a change. On their website the team states: “This poll, along with the poll taken among Native Americans by the Annenberg Institute, demonstrates continued, widespread and deep opposition to the Redskins changing our name. The results of this poll are solidly in line with the message we have heard from fans and Native Americans for months – our name represents a tradition, passion and heritage that honors Native Americans. We respect the point of view of the small number of people who seek a name change, but it is important to recognize very few people agree with the case they are making.” The Onieda Indian Nation "believes more Americans would favor changing the team name of the Washington NFL club if they understood the full context of what the Oneidas and others consider a racial slur."
A large protest march and rally with thousands of Native American participants was held before the game between Washington and the Minnesota Vikings on November 2, 2014. Police estimates of the number of protestors was between 3,500 and 4,000, while organizers put the number at 5,000. Fans were confronted by the protestors at the stadium with some tension and verbal exchanges, but no violence. Some fans hid or covered Redskins attire as they entered.
Stereotyping by rival fans
In addition to the behavior of the teams that have Native American names or mascots, their rivals often invoke racist stereotypes. In Alabama, at a game between the Pinson Valley High School"Indians" and McAdory High School, the latter team displayed a banner using a disparaging reference to the Trail of Tears for which the principal of the school apologized to Native Americans, stating that the cheerleader squad responsible would be disciplined, and that all students would be given a lesson on the actual history of the Trail of Tears. Native Americans responded that it was an example of the continuing insensitivity and stereotyping of Indians in America. A similar sign was displayed in Tennessee by the Dyersburg Trojans when they played the Jackson Northside Indians. In December 2013 when the Washington NFL team played the Kansas City Chiefs an employee of a Sonic Drive-In in Missouri placed a message outside that used scalping, reservations and whiskey to disparage the "Redskins". It was quickly removed with the owner's apologies. A rubber severed "Indian" head impaled on a knife is used by a sports fan in Philadelphia to taunt rival teams with Native American mascots. Another "Trail of Tears" sign was displayed by Oklahoma State University fans at their game with the Florida State Seminoles (shown on ESPN's College GameDay), which was quickly condemned by OSU officials who asked for its removal.
Although the Central Michigan Chippewas have the support of the Saginaw Chippewa Tribal Nation of Michigan, a student at rival Western Michigan University designed a t-shirt showing a Native American behind bars with the legend "Caught a Chippewa about a week ago". It was quickly condemned by both university presidents, who agreed that anyone wearing the shirt at a game would be ejected.
Varying degrees of offensiveness
To further complicate this controversy, many feel that there are varying levels of offensiveness with team names and mascots. The nature and degree of stereotyping varies depending upon the name of the team, the logo, the mascot, and the behavior of fans. The greatest offense is taken when the logo and mascot are caricatures viewed as insulting, such as the Cleveland Indians' Chief Wahoo; the name of the team is often regarded as a racial slur, such as redskins; or the behavior of the mascot or fans is based upon popular images of Indians which trivialize authentic native cultures; such as the tomahawk chop.
Support for the use of Native American mascots
Some individuals who support the use of Native American mascots state that they are meant to be respectful, and to pay homage to Native American people. Many have made the argument that Native American mascots focus on bravery, courage and fighting skills rather than anything derogatory. Karl Swanson, vice-president of the Washington Redskins professional football team, declared in the magazine Sports Illustrated that his team's name "symbolizes courage, dignity, and leadership," and that the "Redskins symbolize the greatness and strength of a grand people."
Anil Adyanthaya, an attorney, wrote on June 5, 2005, "The use of Aztec or Seminole as a nickname by itself would not appear to be racist, as such names refer to a particular civilization rather than an entire race of people. In this way, they are no different from other school nicknames such as Trojans and Spartans (like Aztecs, ancient peoples) or Fighting Irish and Flying Dutchmen (like Seminoles, nationalities). Similarly, Warriors and Braves are no different from the fighting men of other cultures, like Vikings, Minutemen, or Musketeers (all current NCAA mascots, the first of which is also an NFL mascot) so it seems hard to argue that their use is uniquely demeaning in some way." However, it is not the names by themselves that are uniquely insulting to Native Americans. Dr. Richard Lapchick, director emeritus of Northeastern University's Center for the Study of Sport in Society, in an article: "Could you imagine people mocking African Americans in black face at a game? Yet go to a game where there is a team with an Indian name and you will see fans with war paint on their faces. Is this not the equivalent to black face?"
Supporters of the use of native imagery reject the term racism because they associate that word with the experience of African-Americans rather than Native Americans; however, racism is a broader term for any discriminatory practice based upon ethnicity. Slavery was a more personal assault and continued after emancipation in the form of discrimination that insured a continued source of cheap labor. What Euro-Americans wanted from Native Americans was not labor but land, and many were willing to have native people themselves assimilate. Continued discrimination came to those who refused to do so, but asserted their separate identity and rights of sovereignty. The appropriation of native cultures is therefore a discriminatory practice that is not understood as such by those that think of assimilation as a positive process.
Others claim Native American mascots help promote the culture to those who might be unaware of its significance. Chief Illiniwek, the former athletic symbol for the University of Illinois, became the subject of protest in 1988. However, in 1990 the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois called the mascot a dignified symbol: "His ceremonial dance is done with grace and beauty. The Chief keeps the memory of the people of a great Native American tribe alive for thousands of Illinoisans who otherwise would know little or nothing of them. However, the tribal costume was not of the Illini confederacy, but that of the Lakota tribe. The Peoria Tribe of Indians of Oklahoma is the closest living descendants of the Illiniwek Confederacy; and in 2005, John P. Froman, the new Chief when asked his position by the NCAA, indicated that "Chief (Illiniwek) was not representative of our tribe and culture, mainly because the costume is Sioux." In 2006, in response to a widely published column by journalist George Will in support of the symbol's use, he wrote a letter reiterating the Peoria Tribe's opposition to the symbol and decrying that the "University of Illinois has ignored the tribe’s request for nearly five years." On March 13, 2007, the University of Illinois board of trustees voted to retire Illiniwek's name, image and regalia.
Steven Denson, director of diversity for Southern Methodist University and member of the Chickasaw nation, while not issuing a blanket endorsement, has nevertheless stated that there are acceptable ways to use Native American mascots if it is done in a respectful and tasteful manner. He states: "I believe it is acceptable if used in a way that fosters understanding and increased positive awareness of the Native-American culture. And it must also be done with the support of the Native-American community. There is a way to achieve a partnership that works together to achieve mutually beneficial goals."
Public opinion surveys
In 2001, Indian Country Today conducted a poll of an undisclosed number of readers reporting that "81 percent of respondents indicated use of American Indian names, symbols and mascots are predominantly offensive and deeply disparaging to Native Americans."
A survey conducted in 2002 by Sports Illustrated (SI) found that 81 percent of Native Americans who live outside traditional Indian reservations and 53 percent of Indians on reservations did not find the images discriminatory. The authors of the article concluded that "Although most Native American activists and tribal leaders consider Indian team names and mascots offensive, neither Native Americans in general nor a cross section of U.S. sports fans agree. According to the article, There is a near total disconnect between Indian activists and the Native American population on this issue." An Indian activist commented on the results saying "that Native Americans' self-esteem has fallen so low that they don't even know when they're being insulted." Soon after the SI article, a group of five researchers published an article in an academic journal, arguing against the validity of this survey and its conclusions. First they state that "The confidence with which the magazine asserts that a 'disconnect' between Native American activists and Native Americans exists on this issue belies the serious errors in logic and accuracy made in the simplistic labeling of Native Americans who oppose mascots as 'activists.'"
More recent surveys, rather than addressing the larger issue, have targeted the controversy over the name of the Washington Redskins, asking if the word is offensive or if it should be changed. By a large majority (71-89 percent), public opinion has maintained that the name should not change, but when additional questions were asked also have found that the same respondents said "redskin" is not an appropriate term for Native Americans. See: Redskins Public Opinion Polls.
At the Center for Indigenous Peoples Studies at California State University, San Bernardino a survey has conducted of 400 individuals whose identity as Native American was verified, finding that 67% agreed with the statement that "Redskins" is offensive and racist. The response from non-natives was almost the opposite, with 68% responding that the name is not offensive.
There are basic issues with the reliability of public opinion polls that overshadow their value in many cases. There has been a decline in the willingness of people to participate, now down to about 10%, so there is no way of knowing whether there is any systematic bias in the results. Survey methods also influence the results, with those done by traditional mail over-sampling the elderly, and those done using land-lines under-sampling the young, who only have cell phones. The flaw in random and anonymous polls of Native American's opinion is that they must rely upon self-identification to select the target group. In an editorial in the Bloomington Herald Times, Steve Russell (an enrolled Cherokee citizen and associate professor of criminal justice at Indiana University), states that both SI and Annenberg's samples of "self-identified Native Americans... includes plenty of people who have nothing to do with Indians". The problem of individuals claiming to be Native American when they are not is well known in academic research, and is a particular problem when non-natives claim Indian identity specifically to gain authority in the debate over sports mascots.
Financial impact of change
Many supporters of Native American mascots feel that the financial cost of changing mascots would far outweigh the benefits. Sales of merchandise with team mascots and nicknames ranging from t-shirts to beer cozies generate millions of dollars in sales each year, and teams contend that a change in team mascots would render this merchandise useless. The cost of removing images from uniforms and all other items, which must be paid out of local school funds, is a greater factor for secondary schools.
Opponents, however, are unconcerned with the cost of changing, and view mascots as caricatures of real Indians that do not honor them, but rather trivialize and demean important Indian dances and traditions. Opponents feel that despite the cost of a change in team mascots, it should be done to prevent what they believe is racial stereotyping. Clyde Bellecourt, director of the American Indian Movement stated: "It's the behavior that accompanies all of this that's offensive. The rubber tomahawks, the chicken feather headdresses, people wearing war paint and making these ridiculous war whoops with a tomahawk in one hand and a beer in the other; all of these have significant meaning for us. And the psychological impact it has, especially on our youth, is devastating."
One attempt to affect the use of mascots financially is the case brought against the Washington Redskins to revoke their trademarks. (See: Washington Redskins above.)
A study done by the Emory University Goizueta Business School indicates that the growing unpopularity of Native American mascots is a financial drain for professional teams, losing money compared to more popular animal mascots.
Support for certain teams by individual tribes
The NCAA has granted waivers from their mascot policy to five university teams that have obtained official support from individual tribes for the use of their names and images, which is based upon the principle of Tribal Sovereignty, as stated by the NCAI: "In general, NCAI strongly opposes the use of derogatory Native sports mascots. However, in the case where mascots refer to a particular Native nation or nations, NCAI respects the right of individual tribal nations to work with universities and athletic programs to decide how to protect and celebrate their respective tribal heritage."
Florida State Seminoles
The Florida State University's use of Seminole imagery for its Florida State Seminoles athletic teams represents a case of an evolution of its relationship with the Seminole Tribe of Florida. The university has worn the nickname "Seminoles" since 1947 and annually crowns a Chief and Princess at Homecoming with Seminole tribe leaders participating as celebrants. Since 1978 home football games have been opened with the entrance of Osceola and Renegade. Florida State University officials disapprove of referring to human figures as 'mascots' and have asked sports writers to cease doing so. Official university statements speak only of using 'symbols', 'nicknames', and 'images' inspired by Seminole tradition.
The question of a nickname for athletic teams arose in 1947 as the Florida State College for Women became Florida State University. The name Seminoles was selected by student vote, and for the first two decades the athletic teams mostly used images based on stereotypes such as in Hollywood Westerns. Leaders of the Seminole Tribe of Florida who attended a basketball game on the campus in 1972 expressed their concerns to university officials regarding the antics of such mascots. Seminole leaders and university officials agreed on the need for something dignified and more representative of authentic Seminole traditions. Both Sammy Seminole and Chief Fullabull were retired that year.
1978 marked the first appearance of Osceola and Renegade, in which a student portrays the 19th-century Seminole leader Osceola, riding Renegade, an Appaloosa horse. The student, chosen for his horsemanship, wears clothing provided by the Seminole tribe but is not necessarily of native American descent himself. The Seminole Tribe of Florida officially sanctions the use of the Seminole as Florida State University’s nickname and of Osceola as FSU's symbol. Max Osceola, the chief and general council president of the Seminole Tribe of Florida, has stated that he regards it as an “honor” to be associated with the university. However, the Seminole Tribe of Florida is only one of the tribal authorities representing Seminoles. Some members of the much larger Seminole Nation of Oklahoma objected to the use of the name and imagery, leading to the NCAA originally placed FSU on the list of colleges using imagery “hostile or abusive” towards Native Americans. However in July 2005, the Seminole Nation General Council, the legislative body for the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma, voted 18-2 not to oppose the use of Native American names and mascots by college sports teams.
In addition to Osceola, there are the FSU traditions of the "tomahawk chop" and "war chant", which have more controversial associations. In August 2005 the NCAA granted a waiver to the Florida State University which removed it from the “hostile or abusive” list. According to Bernard Franklin, senior vice president of the NCAA: "The staff review committee noted the unique relationship between the university and the Seminole Tribe of Florida as a significant factor. The decision of a namesake sovereign tribe, regarding when and how its name and imagery can be used, must be respected even when others may not agree." The relationship between the tribe and the university has been maintained to the present, with few voices in opposition.
Other exceptions: granted or denied
Other Indian tribes have also supported the use of their tribal names as a tribute to their heritage.
The Ute tribe approved the use of the name "Utes" for the University of Utah and the NCAA granted a waiver to allow the name to remain. For many decades, the school did not have an official Western Athletic Conference mascot. As early as the 1950s, the University of Utah created a Ute Indian boy, named "Hoyo", as its mascot. The University of Utah club organizations, such as the Associated Students of the University of Utah, the University of Utah Alumni Association, the Daily Chronicle, and many other social organizations highly celebrated "Hoyo" at homecoming events, before and after football games events, and at other social events for many years. Prior to 1972, teams used both "Utes" and "Redskins" as nicknames, but dropped the latter in response to tribal concerns. In 1996 Swoop, a red tailed hawk, became the official mascot. Even though Swoop is now the University of Utah's official mascot, Utah fans and its clubs alike still use "Utes" as their nickname at sporting events. This is done with permission from the Ute Tribal Council.
The Central Michigan University nickname, the Chippewas, was originally placed on the “hostile or abusive” list but was removed when the Saginaw Chippewa Tribal Nation of Michigan gave its support to the nickname.
The University of North Dakota's former athletic logo, a Native American figure, was recently dropped. Due to the NCAA's perception that the term "Fighting Sioux" and the accompanying logo are offensive to native Americans, the NCAA pressured the university to discontinue use of the logo. When UND moved in the fall of 2009 to change its nickname, one of the three Sioux tribal councils in the state sued to have the name retained.
The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, however, is permitted to use the name "Illini" owing to the NCAA ruling that the name "is closely related to the name of the state and not directly associated with Native Americans." The term Fighting Illini is a reference to veterans from Illinois who fought during World War I. The symbol Chief Illiniwek was ruled "hostile and abusive" and was retired in 2007 to comply with the NCAA's ruling, and the following year, in compliance with a related NCAA ruling, both U of I and Northwestern University retired their then-current rivalry trophy, the Sweet Sioux Tomahawk.
The College of William & Mary, founded in 1693 with a charter to, among other things, educate and evangelize the native population, voluntarily changed its sports nickname from "Indians" to the "Tribe" in the late 1970s. However, the NCAA forced the school to remove the two tribal feathers stemming from their logo in 2006 due to "insensitivity" towards Native Americans. The fact that the local Pamunkey and Mattaponi tribes supported the College's use of the feathers was not enough for the NCAA.
Relationships have also been established at the high school level. Arapahoe High School (Centennial, Colorado) now uses a logo provided by the Arapaho Tribe of Wyoming, which initially included an agreement that the image would not be placed on the gym floor or any article of clothing. The latter provision has not always been observed, but the logo does not appear on the team uniforms. The agreement also includes tribal participation in school events.
After decades of decline from over 3,000, there remain fewer than 1,000 high school, university and professional teams that continue to have Native American mascots. Though changes have been made at the high school and college levels, at the professional level there has been virtually no change. The topic remains an issue on a national level, with a hearing before the US Senate Committee on Indian Affairs in 2011, and a symposium at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian in 2013.
Colleges and universities
Note: Leagues and conferences are current, not necessarily those applicable at the time of the nickname change.
- Stanford changed its nickname to the current Cardinal (the color, not the bird) in 1981.
- List of sports team names and mascots derived from Indigenous peoples
- List of ethnic sports team and mascot names (all ethnicities)
- Religious symbolism in U.S. sports team names and mascots
- Vernon Bellecourt
- Charlene Teters
- Russell Means
- Chief Zee
- Robert Roche
- Fighting Whites
- Pekin High School Chinks
- United States national rugby league team, aka Tomahawks.
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Definition of REDSKIN (usually offensive): american indian
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n. Offensive Slang Used as a disparaging term for a Native American.
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noun, Slang: Often Disparaging and Offensive. 1. a North American Indian.
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