Make it Write

In My Opinion:

When the Symbol of School Pride Becomes a Symbol of Shame
by Teen Editorial Board Member, Kendra Congdon

December 1999

Many schools as well as amateur and professional teams across America use Native American "caricatures" as the symbol of their group. Be they the "Braves" or "Indians" the use of an ethnic group in this way can be insulting for whites as well as people of color. Teen Editorial Board Member, Kendra Congdon, whose own high school mascot is the "Redmen" has very strong feelings about this issues. Here is a reprint of her words from her local newspaper.

"You can't talk about where we are going without talking about where we
have been for 2,000 years. In many respects, we were better off then."

-Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell, Northern Cheyenne*

[*Senator Campbell, was in 1992,the first Native American ever elected to the U.S. Senate.]

The history of the "noble savages" and the white man causes disturbing images and informs us of the crimes against humanity caused over a hundred years ago so that the United States could be "civilized." Broken promises and broken spirits encased this part of history and yet these crimes continue. While the physical killing of Native American's at the hand of the white man has ended, a new murder has been implemented in America's places of education. The mental murder has began in high schools and their sports arenas everywhere. The long outdated, but still existing fad in racism against Native Americans is "Indian" mascots or logos. Meanwhile school boards chose to stay naive and continue to use these mascots to further demean and dehumanize American Indians.

The long outdated, but still existing fad in racism against Native Americans is "Indian" mascots or logos.

My own high school has held the name "Redmen" for at least 70 years. In our newly built gymnasium there is a large depiction of Chief Decorah, an important historical figure for our area, painted on two walls. Unfortunately, this depiction of our own Chief Decorah resembles many other cartoon images of other chiefs or warriors in schools nationwide. Here is what I had to say in an editorial to my community's local newspaper:

I am entering the tenth grade at G-E-T High School and the issue of the Redmen logo is not just that of a sport's team name. It is supposed to be a source of pride. I cannot feel pride in a name that is racist, sexist, demeaning, oppressive, and portrays Native Americans unauthentically.

I am not involved with sports, but I am still embarrassed by this racist logo. I am also not related to Native Americans, but this issue still effects me. When I am in Phys. Ed. I cannot turn my back on the depiction of Chief Decorah upon the gym wall. Likewise, I cannot turn my back on this issue and let the injustice continue against fellow people.

We are not by any means honoring Native Americans with this logo. We never have. We need to stop believing that decorating our sports arenas and misrepresenting a society of people is an "honor." Racism is not an honor.

The term "Redmen" was brought about during the colonial settlers days. During that time, the explorers and settlers believed natives were savage, uncivilized, inhuman, and beast-like creatures. Do you feel honor or pride in calling our athletes "savage creatures?" I'm sure that's not how we want to "honor" Native Americans or our athletes. "Redmen" is a racist slur and I can not see why anyone would wish to hold on to a name that is connected with such un-honorable meanings.

"Redmen" is sexist discrimination too. As a young woman, I believe that being called the "Redmen" belittles and demeans the girls' sports teams and the female population of our school. This issue is important because it effects more than the stereotyping of Native Americans as it degrades women and teaches vulnerable young children that prejudices are okay. Prejudices are not okay and they never will be.

Prejudices are not okay and they never will be.

We will never be able to completely move past this issue until something is really done about it. In my opinion, only after we accomplish a successful change will we fully be able to concentrate on education.

Tradition does not make this issue right. Ignoring this issue will not make it go away either. We have to move on and look towards the future of our school district. Why cling to a logo that manifests racism? We could instead develop a new logo that does not insult the integrity of Native Americans or promote prejudices within the minds of youth.

It is my challenge to the people on both sides of the issue to explore this opportunity before us and honor all the people involved. I feel we need to develop a proposal for what a new logo could be. I want to also challenge our community to enter a new way of thinking for the millennium. A state of mind that refuses racism and being sexist and replaces those negative thoughts with the acceptance of all people for their uniqueness and promotes kindness and progress for our youth.

Indian logos are wrong. They may not be meant to be demeaning or derogatory, but no matter what, they are. By stereotyping and making Native Americans into cartoon images, it "dehumanize[s] the subject." "Mascots 'freeze' indigenous peoples in a historical period that ended over a century ago - and which in truth probably never existed."

Mascots 'freeze' indigenous peoples in a historical period...which probably never existed.

Look at the desired "traits for athletes" who are competing: strength, deception, relentlessness, and aggression. It is wrong to make Indians represent those traits through logos or mascots. When students begin to "develop lifelong attitudes" towards other ethnic groups, they are likely to be subconsciously influenced by the use of racist logos.

Why must some schools insist on using symbols of a race of people? Good question. I believe the answer to that is naiveness. People just don't understand that racist logos are not an honor. We simply chose an Indian as the emblem. We could have just as easily chosen any uncivilized animal.
(Eighth grade student writing about his school's mascot.)

If this eighth grader could understand the realm of disrespect given to American Indians, why can't many communities grasp the concept?

Why must some schools insist on using symbols of a race of people?

In Wisconsin alone, there are currently 45 Indian related mascots. A few common logo names are: Braves, Chiefs, Indians, Warriors, Redmen, Blackhawks, etc. Each culture has its own heroes...folks which seem to embody the traits admired by that society...why is it that high schools, universities, and sports teams seem to have none of their own, but insist upon borrowing from a culture they had all but succeeded in demolishing?

During the genocide of Indians in the Americas, over 95 % of the population was systematically murdered. Why "honor" the fallen victims of our own vicious past? American Indians ARE honorable and an extraordinary society of people. But they ARE people. The Germans didn't plaster cartooned images of Jewish people on their High School gymnasiums. So why do American schools torment and belittle the Native American spirit? Native people are saying that they don't feel honored by this symbolism, "We experience it as no less than a mockery of our cultures. We see objects sacred to us - such as the drum, eagle feathers, face painting, and traditional dress - being used, not in sacred ceremony, or in any cultural setting, but in another culture's game." Why continue the racism? Why further insult these indigenous people?

Why agonize another culture by disrespecting and misrepresenting everything sacred to their society? All I ask is Why? Why not change? Why? Just ask yourself, why should one culture have the right to stereotype and force an "honor" on another society? Who gave them that right? No one. Just like no one can tell you what to believe in, no one should be able to continue an injustice against fellow people. I believe in my beliefs; not because someone else tells me it is right, but because I intuitively and independently know what is right for me.

What do you believe?

If you have an opinion, please let us know at: .

To contact Kendra send email to:

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Resources

Books:

DISCRIMINATION: Opposing Viewpoints
Greenhaven Press, Inc., San Diego, California

US and THEM: A History Of Intolerance In America
by Jim Carnes. Oxford University Press. New York.
(I strongly recommend this book. It is historical, interesting, holds
new aspects, and is easy to understand.)

Savagism & Civilization: A Study of the Indian and the American Mind
by Roy Harvey Pearce

The Long Hope: A Study of American Indian Stereotypes in American Popular Fiction
by Priscilla Shames

Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee
by Dee Alexander Brown

Faces at the Bottom of the Well
by Derrick A. Bell

Multicultural Manners
by Norine Dresser

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Suggested Sites To Visit To Learn More about the use of Native American images as mascots and logos:

www.aics.org/mascot/wisconsin.html

oregonstate.edu/dept/ehe/nu_readings.htm

www.ncai.org/main/pages/issues/other_issues/documents/mastimeline.htm

www.iwchildren.org/genocide/shame3.htm


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