The use of Native American names, and mascots that depict their culture has ignited debate, and controversy among athletes, fans, sports analysts, the Native American community, sports owners, politicians, and even academic scholars placing people on either the offensive, or defensive side of this controversial issue. There are people who believe that the use of Native Americans names, or team mascots is racist, demeaning, and disrespectful to the Native American community (National Congress of American Indians, 2013). They believe that the use of the names, and mascots promotes a negative stereotype against the Native American community, undermines their cultural heritage, and also ensures that most Americans overlook the fact that the first people of this nation (USA) continue to be mistreated, and oppressed (National Congress of American Indians, 2013). On the other hand, the defenders of the use of Native American names, and mascots that represent their culture believe that the use of such symbols honors the Native Americans. They hold the notion that they are celebrating the rich traditions, history, and values of the Native Americans. They feel that the 'offense group' is being overly sensitive, and should instead focus on uplifting the livelihood of the Native Americans, instead of focusing on convincing teams especially in the Major leagues to change their names (Wulf, 2014).
It is important to point out that while the NCAA has banned the use of Native American names, and mascots on teams that participate in their tournaments (with the exception of a few schools that have links with the Native American tribes whose names they have used), professional teams such as the Washington Redskins remain adamant that they will not change their names (Wulf, 2014). This may be as a result of the billions of dollars that they receive in revenue from selling their sports merchandise than honoring the Native Americans. The irony of this issue is that; while professional teams continue to profit from the use of Native Americans names, and mascots as part of their team identity, Native Americans are still fighting for their own identity, and recognition (Wulf, 2014). In addition to that, a majority of the people who state that they are not offended are not even Native Americans (how then will they know if it is offensive or not?). The end of the use of Native American mascots will be a positive step towards achieving racial equity, and social justice in a country where American Indians were the first inhabitants, and 'landlords.'
Support for the Removal of Indian Names, and Mascots in Sports Teams
Indian Mascots are Not a Form of Honor to the First Nations
The main argument that is promoted by the supporters of the use of Native American names, and mascots by sport teams is that they are honoring the original occupants of the country. However, critics of this sentiment such as Kevin Gover point out that this cannot be true because the majority population of the USA has refused to confront the historical injustices that were conducted, and still continue to be conducted to the Native Americans community. A majority of the teams that use, or have previously used the Native American names, and mascots adopted them in the early 1900s- Boston Braves-1912, Cleveland Indians- 1915, and Washington Redskins-1933(Brady, 2016). Interestingly, during this period, the Federal Government had enacted regulations that prohibited the Native Americans from speaking their languages, and practicing their cultural traditions. In fact they were not even allowed to leave their Reservations(Michael Martinez, 2013). This means that while fans of the teams that used Native American names, and mascots were allowed to perform what they believed to be Indian war dances, and chants, it was unlawful for the American Indians to conduct their religious practices, and ceremonies on different occasions(Brady, 2016).
Also, the Federal Government had introduced 'special' laws against the Native Americans. There were offenses, and penalties that were only applicable to the First Nations community. For instance, Native Americans were charged with adultery in court, which was (and is still) not illegal for people of other races. It is important to point out that during this period, Native American children were forcibly taken from their families, and sent to boarding schools, a practice associated with cultural genocide(Michael Martinez, 2013). While in these boarding schools they were exposed to practices that were meant to ensure they dissociate from their cultures such as being forbidden to speak their own languages, forced to maintain short hairs (most Native Americans have long hairs), taught to read, and write, and converted to Christianity(Brady, 2016). On one hand, the Federal government was trying to 'kill' the Native American's identity through mass murders, confining them to Reservations, and the assimilation policy, while sports teams (owners, and fans-especially from majority populations) were adapting to this fictionalized Native American character, and identity as they perceived it to be 'cool, and war-like(Michael Martinez, 2013).' It can be interpreted that these team names, and mascots are a mockery to the Native Americans as human beings, and their traditions, and cultural heritage.
Misrepresentation of Native Americans Society
The mascots represent an inaccurate, and unfavorable depiction of the Native Americans. Most Americans have had little, or no interaction with Native Americans. The mascots in sports team, and Hollywood films that features Cowboys, and American Indians are the main source of information about the Native American culture to them. They therefore perceive the Native Americans to be 'cool' because of their horse-riding abilities, and war-like mentality(Morris, 2014). They expect all Native Americans to behave as they have watched them in movies, or in sports arenas as mascots. It is highly unlikely to meet AI who will meet these expectations, and therefore they are considered to be inauthentic because they fail to 'meet the standards' of their ancestors, which in reality is how European Americans view them.
The limited exposure, non-Native Americans may form implicit bias towards Native Americans based on this perception(Morris, 2014. The American Psychological Association (2005) has for years pushed for the discontinuation of the use of American Indian mascots. They state that despite the belief by team owners, and fans that they are honoring the First Nations community, it is erroneous, and promotes a negative representation of the Native Americans. They point out that when non-American Indian population rely on the stereotypical representations of a community that they have little, or no understanding of, it leads to discriminatory treatment of the affected community (Native Americans). It also generalizes them as a single tribe, while Native Americans are from diverse ethnic communities such as the Apache, Cherokee, Comanche, Navajo, Choctaw, and Sioux(ACPA, 2013). As has been stated before, most Americans, especially fans of teams such as Washington Redskins have a fictionalized perception of the Native Americans.
The continued use of the 'savage' and 'warriorlike' caricatures by sports teams perpetuate that the Native Americans are a savage society that has refused, or failed to adapt their culture to the modern times. Native American youths are the ones who are highly affected by the continued use of these images, and names. It has a negative effect on their self-esteem, confidence level, and sense of identity(National Congress of American Indians, 2013). The continued use of these mascots is a constant reminder of how non-Native Americans view them. It also shows them that they have low expectations for them, and this in turn affects how most Native American youths view themselves, and their role in the society. The low self-esteem, and confidence levels are considered to be contributing factors to the high suicide rates among the Native American youth in comparison to the other youth in the country(ACPA, 2013). The rate of suicide among the Native American youths is 18 percent, while that of non-Hispanic whites is 8.4 percent. In addition to that, suicide rates among young Native American men is five times higher than that of the Native American women. Substance abuse is also disproportionately high among the American Indians in comparison to youths from other races. In a study that was conducted by National Survey on Drug Use and Health (2013) showed that 27.8% of Native Americans of ages 12 to 17 are involved in illicit drug use. This is in comparison to 20% of African Americans, 17% of Whites, 17.2% of Hispanics, and 9.1% of Asian adolescents of the same age. The disparity of the substance use by the AI adolescents in comparison to the youth of other races can be blamed on their low self-esteem, and confidence levels that are promoted by the perceptions other communities have on them. The graph below shows a visual representation of the illicit drug use by adolescents of different races in the country.
Illicit Drug Use Rate Among American Adolescents (12 to 17) by Race
In a study that was conducted by Dr. Stephanie Fryberg (2004) showed that the continued use of American Indian sport mascots, and names in sports has a negative impact on the Indigenous population, while it has a positive effect on other groups especially the European Americans, and therefore affects race relations in the country. The effect of this is that it leads to intolerance or an unwelcoming, and a hostile learning environment for the Native Americans. They are vulnerable to violent hate crimes, and constant bullying in schools that have diverse populations(Wolburg, 2006). This is especially detrimental to AI students as it affects their academic performance, and overall learning ability. This has led to the AI youth having the worst high school graduation rate in relation to the other racial groups.
Use of Indian Names, and Mascots is Present Day Racism
Names such as 'Redskins' and 'Braves' are considered to be a racial slur by most Native Americans, and therefore when used to refer to them as a community then it is considered to be an act of racism. Activists such as Suzan Shown Harjo feel that the term 'redskins' is similar to 'negro,' such words are offensive, and are meant to dehumanize an individual(Brady, 2016). Therefore, sports teams, and even the supporters of the use of Native American names, and mascots cannot state that they are honoring a community, which finds these things to be offensive, and demeaning to them as individuals, and also their cultural values (Brady, 2016). To put this into perspective, in the 1950s, there was a restaurant chain known as Sambo, and it used a cartoon slave as its mascot in it decor. The term 'sambo' is considered to be pejorative towards the Africa...
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