- Category: Volume 87 (Fall 2015 - Spring 2016)
- Published: 11 November 2015
- Written by KATHARINE DIX | STAFF WRITER
Native American mascots have been a wildly debated topic for years; the most prominent mascot being the Washington Redskins.
The term ‘red skin’ can be considered a racial slur toward Native Americans. Yet, it is being chanted at football games and being sold as a logo. The use of Native American mascots is a form of cultural appropriation.
According to The Washington Post, cultural appropriation is the practice of one culture taking control over aspects of another culture and using them in an inappropriate manner.
In the case of mascots, the dominant culture in question is making a monetary gain because of the Native American race.
However, Heidi Bludau, lecturer of Anthropology at the University, said, “Not all Native American tribes agree on everything, including the issue of mascots. Some are against it and some are able to capitalize on it.”
Some sports fans believe that the Native American mascots are not mocking the Native American race and culture, but are exemplifying their fighting spirit.
Journalist Naomi Riley wrote an article in The Wall Street Journal and said that they are an, “exciting addition to football games.”
When asked if there are currently any laws against Native American mascots, Professor Gregory Bordelon, professor of Political Science at the University said,“To my knowledge, there are none. But any time that you pass any law that restricts a mascot, to the extent a mascot is an expressive statement (pride, team spirit, etc.) you possibly are treading on first amendment grounds.”
However, some Native Americans believe that teams parading around their mascot is demeaning to them and their culture.
According to The Huffington Post, the National Congress of American Indians released a report expressing how Native American mascots harm the self-esteem of Native American children, so much so that it is linked to suicide.
The American Psychological Association determined that suicide is the second most common cause of death for Native Americans between the ages of fifteen and twenty four.
A University psychology major, Liz Roderick, said, “It’s not them being sensitive, it’s them being attacked and belittled for their identity. We’re still working on fixing the unrealistic beauty standards facing the youth in our country, but we can also start to work on the inherent racism in our culture because that is also an issue that relates to the prevalence of suicide that can and should be reduced.”
Bludau noted that many people may not find names such as ‘Washington Redskins’ offensive because Native Americans have become a forgotten racial group in our society. “Due to the fact that they have so many different political and cultural groups, and their numbers are low, making up less than 1 percent of the U.S. population, they have not necessarily had the same cultural capital or political power that larger minority groups have had. This makes them easier for those in power to exploit and to ignore,” she said.
This issue has even made it to the high school and college levels of athletics. Pascack Valley High School in Hillsdale, NJ has talked of changing their mascot from the “Indians.”
In an article from NorthJersey.com, Erik Gunderson, the Superintendent of the school district said, “We need to be conscious of other people’s responses to images of what the mascot looks like. I think just as a lot of districts, professional teams and collegiate teams, your logo evolves over time to be more reflective of the needs and sensitivities of your community.”
While other alumni from the school think that the logo represents “strength” and “honor.”
Jess Lavitol, who attended Pascack Valley High School, said, “I think that this is a difficult issue and I can see both sides of it. On one hand our mascot is part of our sense of pride and it’s sad to see it change. I don’t think that it was anyone’s intention for it to be offensive towards Native Americans.”
Then continued, “On the other hand, if Native Americans are offended by the mascot, I think the most respectful thing to do is change it.”