by Justin Kollar
War paint, tomohawks, wild dancing—generalizations that do not take into account the civilized citizens that Native Americans are.
For years sports teams, on the high school, collegiate and professional level alike, have used Native Americans as logos and mascots representing their teams.
Native Americans find many of these interpretations to be offensive and misleading to those who are not familiar with their culture and its practices and have requested for their use to be denied and banned.
Natives do not see common mascots and logos, such as the NFL’s own Redskins, as representative of their culture.
In 1968 the National Congress of American Indians first challenged the use of Native American symbols, according to USAToday.com.
Since 1968 when the Native American Civil Rights Act was passed more than two thousand high schools and colleges across the United States have stopped using and have effectively “retired” their Indian mascots and symbols.
After the 1968 lawsuit, many Indian mascots and logos began to fade. Indians, after the lawsuit were given the task of creating a list of teams they believed violated the Civil Rights Act and tarnished their culture.
Florida State University’s own mascot Chief Osceola narrowly escaped the ban. However under further review the Seminole tribe he represents changed their mind regarding this particular school as they now believe that the schools likeness of the chief is very accurate and is honoring them rather than mocking, according to Montrosepress.com.
University of Illinois’ Chief Illiniwek was not so lucky. The school was forced by law to remove the logo and mascot because Indians found this case offensive. The schools slogan now, “The fighting Illini” was formerly “The fighting Indian” but was banned.
“It is not respectful to parade around in war paint and feathers, speaking broken English and dancing barefoot.” John Sanchez, an associate professor at Pennsylvania State University and a member of the Yaqui/Apache tribe told Senior Edition. “This is not honoring, it is making fun”
Native Americans find the use of their heroic figures in sports to be insulting and similar to the racism African Americans endured.
“Oftentimes when a video camera is panning the audience at a football game we see a young person with a painted face… wearing a huge headdress,” Steve Denson, member of the Chickasaw tribe told Senior Edition. “This is not respectful, it is akin to a person painting his or her face black to represent an African American, and we must educate these people.”
Critics say certain names and the rituals, such as the Braves’ “tomahawk chop” perpetuate old stereotypes about American Indians.
“Every time the Atlanta Braves do their tomahawk chop . . . we are no longer successful businessmen, doctors, soldiers, co-workers, or neighbors,” Cynthia Connolly of the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians in Michigan told Scholastic News. “To the fans, we exist only in the 1800s as a warrior culture.”
Teams like the Washington Redskins are also under heavy fire from the Native American community.
Daniel Snyder, owner of the Washington Redskins sent a letter to season ticket holders defending the team name and assuring fans that the name and the team’s traditions would never change. Snyder said in an interview to USA Today, “We’ll never change the name. It’s that simple. NEVER — you can use caps.”
President Barack Obama recently said in a statement directed to Snyder, “If I were the owner of the Washington Redskins I would deeply reconsider that statement and change the name.”
In June, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office agreed: it stripped the Redskins off its trademark registration saying that “this racial designation based on skin color is disparaging to Native Americans.”
“Whenever the white man treats the Indian as they treat each other, then we will have no more wars. We shall all be alike — brothers of one father and one mother, with one sky above us, and one country around us,” Joseph, Nez Perce chief, said during a visit to Washington, D.C., in 1879 according to pbs.org.