Native American Mascots: Tribute or Mockery?

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Native American Mascots: Tribute or Mockery?

A growing controversy in recent years has arisen around the use and abuse of Native American team mascots. Many of the mascots that exist today are named after a number of things – animals, industries, and historical figures, some ethnically linked (Clegg). The Cleveland Indians, Atlanta Braves, Chicago Blackhawks, Kansas City Chiefs, North Dakota Fighting Sioux, and so forth -- these are just a few of the images and names popularly associated with Native Americans that are still used as mascots by professional sports teams, dozens of universities, and countless high schools. This practice, a troubling legacy of Native American and “Western”society relations, has sparked heated debates and intense protests that continue to escalate. Are these mascots showing tribute to the Native Americans or disrespect?

I understand that if someone is being offended then something needs to be resolved because nobody should feel that way. Since sports are so popular today and draw so much attention, I believe that Native Americans and other protesters use these sports venues as battlegrounds for their long, hard fight against racial discrimination. In some cases, Native Americans have won the battle and forced schools to either change their mascot or retire it completely. A March 4, 2002 article in Sports Illustrated entitled “Indian Wars”, states “since 1969, more than 600 schools and minor league pro teams have dropped nicknames deemed offensively by Native American groups (Price). So some schools have recognized the racism and taken the appropriate measures themselves and have changed their mascot. However, many schools have not and have been forced to make changes.  A state law imposed in May 2010 required Kewaunee High School in Wisconsin to retire their 70 year old “Indian” mascot (Keen), and the University of North Dakota is in the process of eliminating their “Fighting Sioux” due to the NCAA blacklisting the school until the name is changed (Johnson).  

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However, when a school wraps itself in tradition, it can be very emotional to change that tradition all of a sudden. In story after story, it is the alumni, not the students, who object most to changing a school’s nickname. Many former students see themselves as a Warrior,or a Chief and they do not want to lose that identity. They often say that changing the nickname is caving in. Additionally, sometimes schools retain Indian-related mascots because they feel these nicknames are actually respectful. To many, the Native American represents bravery, courage and fighting skills rather than anything derogatory. Others claim ...

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