Indian Mascots

The Editorial No Newspaper Would Publish
by Kent Nerburn - May 22nd, 2016

As the Washington Post puts out its utterly bizarre, incomprehensible, and shamelessly self serving poll saying that 9 out of 10 Native people are okay with the term Redskins, I feel compelled to repost an editorial that I sent out to a number of papers a while ago.  It should come as no surprise that none was willing to publish it.  Perhaps you can pass it on, so we can get it seen on social media:

Whooping it up with the Redskins

“It hurts the children,” said my friend, Joe, as we shared a cup of coffee across a restaurant table. “I don’t understand why they don’t see that? Why would anyone want to hurt little kids just to make a dollar?” 

Joe is a Native American – a member of the Ojibwe, or Chippewa people. A Redskin. 

He was talking about the willing embrace of Indian names and mascots, and the cultural blindness that seems to find the Washington Redskins acceptable while we recoil at the thought of the “Washington Coons” or the “Washington Chinks.” 

Such names are unthinkable and very likely unprintable. In fact, you are probably very uncomfortable just reading those terms. 

But, Washington Redskins? No problem printing that; no problem saying that.  “Hey, that’s their name. Just use it.” 

As the lawyer for Daniel Snyder, the owner of the football Redskins, crowed triumphantly after winning a lawsuit brought by Native American plaintiffs, “Millions have been spent on the Redskins brand and the team would have suffered great economic loss if they lost the trademark registrations. It’s a great day for the Redskins and their fans and their owner Dan Snyder.” Mr. Snyder, by the way, is the same man who once demanded that the weekly Washington City Paper apologize for showing a photo of him with kid-scribbled horns and a beard that he felt were anti-Semitic. 

What is this disconnect, and why can’t we overcome it? 

Part of it is economic, of course. As Snyder’s lawyer said, “The team would have suffered great economic loss . . .” They don’t even try to hide it. 

But some of it is because of the strange relationship America has to its original inhabitants. First, we don’t know the real history. We aren’t taught about the dislocations, forced marches, and conscious efforts at cultural annihilation that took place all across this continent. We don’t hear about the hundreds of thousands of children who were ripped from their families, sent off to prison-like boarding schools, shorn of their hair and their language and their culture, and left to cry themselves to sleep every night. We never even ask the simple mathematical question of what happened to the 20 million or so Native American people who were here when our European boats first landed on this shore? And we certainly never broach the word, ”genocide.” 

Instead, we hold up a mythic image of the Native American as something we can exploit and appropriate. It gives us a fantasy tie to a vision of freedom, exoticism, and earth-bound spirituality. Why else would Native Americans have the odd status of being the only minority group that Euro-Americans clamor to get into, desperately searching for a real or imagined Cherokee grandmother in their family tree? 

Sadly, we experience some kind of emotional disconnect between the Native mom and dad going to the grocery store with their children and the mythic Indian riding across the plains or canoeing through pine dotted islands. Because we love that mythic Indian, we think that any reference to the Indian in our popular culture is an honoring, and that Indians, if there are any, are just being too sensitive and ought to get with the program. What we are really doing is using those images to blind ourselves to a past that we would rather ignore than acknowledge, and turning real people into caricatures and cartoons. 

It is time we fixed this, not only for Joe and the little children, but for our own understanding of the peoples who are the heartbeat of our history on this continent. It is time that we understood and honored the gifts of their intellectual and spiritual traditions — an awareness that the earth is a teacher; that we are but a part of nature and not the owners of it; that there is spirit in every rock and leaf and creature that lives on this planet. 

Instead we do tomahawk chops and war whoops and call teams Redskins. It is a sorry commentary on our historical self-understanding as well as an indictment of our cultural sensitivity. And, as Joe says, it hurts the little children. 

It is time that we changed our ways. 


How 'Indian' Mascots Oppress
by John Two-Hawks (excerpt from

What is wrong with "Indian" Mascots and Team Names?

The answer to this question is both complex and simple.  The simple answer is that they are disrespectful and hurtful to First Nations people.  Some of the names and antics seen at games are nothing less than racist.  Not long ago there was a restaurant chain in America called 'Sambos'.  Mainstream America didn't get why the name of that restaurant was so upsetting to African Americans.  They did not understand what the big deal was.  But for African American people, it was a very big deal.  The word 'Sambo' had a long and nasty history, having been used as a racial slur against African American people.  It took a considerable effort, but eventually the "Sambos" name was no more, and not long after, the restaurants were gone.  So here we are, decades later, and names like 'Red***ns' and 'Braves' are still being used by sports teams and by public schools with no thought of how blatantly racist these terms are. And again, mainstream America doesn't 'get it'.  Sports announcers on TV regularly say out loud the word 'red****s' like it is nothing, when in fact that word is every bit as toxic to us as n****r is to African Americans. It astounds me that this could still be new information to anyone, since our people have been publicly protesting the use of the 'R' word since it's inception.  Since the first use of so called "Indian" mascots over 80 years ago, real Indian people have publicly protested against them.  Here, I continue that protest, and ask that finally, after so long, someone will listen. 

Allow me address next some of the common questions and arguments we First Nations people have all heard, and hopefully provide a clearer understanding as to why these "Indian" mascots and team names and all that goes along with them need to be forever removed from sports teams on the public school, university and professional franchise levels . . . 

We are honoring Native Americans

There are so many things I can tell you about the sports team names, mascots and imagery that are anything but an 'honor' that it would take up more time than you have to read.  So let's just hit the basics - the 'R' word is racist, not an honor.  The word 'Braves' is a racial slur, not an honor.  Mascots and fans dressing up like 'Indians' is insulting and highly offensive, not an honor.  Fans performing 'tomahawk chops' at games are insulting and highly offensive, not an honor.  Are we seeing a pattern here?  Let me put it this way, I don't care what it is you think you want to 'honor' someone with, if they tell you it is not an honor, well then guess what?  It's not an honor!  Now listen, I realize there are folks who find this hard to understand, and for those people I have a helpful suggestion.  If you really want to honor First Nations people, go to where we live.  Spend time with our people.  Open your heart to who we really are, and what our stories really are.  Take time to listen, really listen.  Maybe then you will begin to understand the deep, complex reasons why "Indian" team names and mascots are so terribly damaging to our people, especially our children. 

I know Indians who have no problem with

Let me say right here that I am fully aware that some of our reservation schools use names like 'Braves' or 'Warriors'.  This is where the issue gets complex.  You see, often these names were not chosen by our people, but by the non-Indian people who started those reservation schools.  The difference here is that it is actual Indians in these schools and on these teams.  Suffice it to say that you will never see a feathered up, war-painted mascot at these games.  You will also never hear a fake 'war song' or see a 'tomahawk chop'.  Why?  Because REAL Indians don't do that kind of crap.  Now, having said all that, my personal feeling is that names like 'Braves' etc.. should be changed even on our reservations.  And there are reasons I take this position.  One in particular is this:  When non-Indian sports teams compete against these reservation teams, they often use the same kind of offensive imagery in their signage and antics ('scalp the Braves' eg.).  But I am only one indigenous voice, and I know there are those who may disagree.  As I said, this issue can be complex.  Now let me assert here that, when Rosa Parks decided not to give up her seat on that bus in the south back in the 60's, there were some African American people who were not in accord with her, and understandably so.  However, just because some didn't share the same view as Rosa Parks doesn't change the fact that Rosa Parks was right.  So just because some Indian people say they don't share the view that "Indian" mascots are oppressive and racist doesn't change the fact that they are.  And by the way, just because the Seminole Nation of Florida says they have 'no issue' with the Florida State University 'Seminoles' name and mascot, doesn't change the fact that it is wrong.  Let me put it this way, money doesn't make it right either. 

It's our 'tradition'

This one always blows my mind.  Your 'tradition'??  Really?!  80 years?  We have tradition that is countless tens of thousands of years old.  And none of those traditions bear any resemblance whatsoever to the stereotyped, caricatured images and antics associated with so-called "Indian" mascots and team names.  Enough said. 

I wouldn't be offended, so why are you?

The answer to this is obvious, but hard to relate without sounding prejudiced. Suffice it to say that this comment often comes from 'people of privilege', and I have learned over many, many years, that it can be difficult for these folks to comprehend what racial oppression is, and what it feels like to actually suffer from it.  When I say 'people of privilege', I do not mean they are 'rich', but rather so accustomed to the 'hand-me-downs' of privilege that they literally have no concept that oppressed people never get these 'hand-me-down' privileges.  Never.  They also have little to no history of racial oppression.  So, if we were to create an 'offensive' name or mascot for these folks, they really would not be all that offended.  They would, in a sense, 'laugh all the way to the bank.'  They would not be offended.  It's true.  And the reason is they have little to no history of racial oppression. So when they hear that Indian people are offended by oppressive, racist imagery they simply cannot comprehend what that feels like, thus they often see our offense as an over-reaction and wonder to themselves "what's the big deal?" 

This is just 'political correctness' run amok

Let me respond to this first by saying that I loathe and detest the the term 'political correctness'.  What, for crying out loud, is so 'political' about being correct? In my opinion, whining about 'political correctness' is just code for complaining about having to do the right thing and show a little respect and decency.  Nothing is political about that.  "Indian" mascots and team names, and the disgusting antics associated with them are racist, insulting and damaging to our children, and our culture.  Getting rid of them has nothing to do with 'politics', and everything to do with respect and decency.  Anyone who whines about 'political correctness' when being asked to be respectful and do the right thing is, in my estimation, a coward and a crybaby. 

How do these mascots/team names hurt First Nations people?

Well, for starters, they insult.  More importantly, they cause our children to feel embarrassed and ashamed of who they are.  That fact is what makes me angry.  I have watched Indian children from 9 year old girls to 17 year old boys weep as a direct result of the damage caused to them by so-called "Indian" mascots and team names.  This is why some of us get so furious.  These racist images and antics are hurting our children, and that is intolerable and unacceptable.  On a larger scale, "Indian" mascots serve to trivialize us as a people.  This has gone on for centuries, and it served it's purpose then as it does now.  Then, it served to mobilize the 'Manifest Destiny' belief that justified the genocide of our people for the 'progress of civilization'.  In those days we were portrayed as soul-less, war-mongering savage warriors.  And the portrayal worked.  The 'mascot' did its job.  Mainstream America bought the lie the 'mascot' told, and Indian people were assaulted and massacred from sea to shining sea.  Today the "Indian" 'mascot' serves to trivialize and subjugate us, to relegate us to second-class citizens, and reduce us to mythological status.  We are like a fairy tale to most Americans.  And the result is that we are not included in the national conversation.  When presidential candidates talk race, we are rarely mentioned.  When the Academy Awards takes heat for its lack of diversity and not nominating people of color for Oscars, American Indians are not even considered.  In fact, only TWO Native American actors have ever been nominated for an Academy Award, and there has never been a winner.  We are left out at every turn, because America would rather have their 'mascot'. 'White, Black, Hispanic and Asian'... and that's it!  Never a mention of our people. This is how "mascots" hurt First Nations people.  They totally and completely trivialize who we are, and insult our ethnicity, our race, and our culture. 

For further explanation of the derogatory nature of terms, and additional information about this subject,
visit John's website at the URL listed above (you can copy and paste it or see my links pages).


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