No Past, No Respect, and No Power: An Anarchist Evaluation of Native Americans as Sports Nicknames, Logos, and Mascots

By Williams, Dana M. | Anarchist Studies, January 1, 2007 | Go to article overview
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No Past, No Respect, and No Power: An Anarchist Evaluation of Native Americans as Sports Nicknames, Logos, and Mascots


Williams, Dana M., Anarchist Studies


ABSTRACT

Native American imagery is commonly used in American society, particularly as sport team nicknames, logos, and mascots. An anarchist critique sheds light on the multifaceted dimensions of oppression that this practice draws upon. Racism and sexism, capitalism and violent state power not only constitute the targets of many anarchisms; they are also the matrix propping up these Native American sports nicknames. These various oppressions are explored in detail, with an attempt to diagram the major dimensions in which these nicknames are maintained by the dominant US culture. Understanding the ways in which the practice draws power from various oppressive and hierarchical institutions can be useful for overcoming not only Native American repression, but also aiding anarchist struggles against American Empire.

Keywords: Native Americans, mascots, nicknames, culture

INTRODUCTION

The expropriation of Native American1 culture by mainstream America is pervasive (Green 1988; Merskin 2001; Miller 1999), as 'Warriors' and 'Indians' ranked in the top ten most prevalent college sports team names in the mid-1990s (Nuessel 1994). Yet, only in recent years has this practice been increasingly criticized. In 2005, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) decreed that the use of Native American nicknames, logos, and mascots2 by eighteen US college sports teams was detrimental to learning and promoted harmful stereotypes of Native people (NCAA 2005). While this critique is an appropriate vantage point from which to construct an argument against this practice, an anarchist and anti-authoritarian perspective could offer a deeper and more radical understanding. A closer examination of the dense web of domination behind using Native American imagery in sports exposes the more general domination of Native peoples themselves.3

Many critiques have been offered regarding this uniquely American practice. Pewewardy (1991) argues that such imagery distorts society's cultural perception of Native Americans, a distortion which has a detrimental impact upon Native people themselves, particularly children. Merskin (2001) asserts that the usage of Native imagery in consumer products creates a 'consumer blindspot', facilitating the avoidance of important issues regarding Native Americans. Those who are protective of racialized sport imagery feel attacked, according to Davis (1993), due to the challenge of the unique 'American masculinist identity' founded on Western mythology.

More specifically, research has shown that conventional arguments which today revolve predominantly around 'tradition' of the team and claimed 'honour' towards Native Americans - offered to justify the practice of using Native Americans as mascots, logos, and the like, are themselves flawed, both historically and statistically. Staurowsky (1998) has worked to uncover the neglected history of the Cleveland Indians baseball team (represented by a wide-grinning 'Chief Wahoo'), which was not named to honour an early Native team member as claimed, but rather because the athlete represented a marketable commodity that would attract attention and novelty to the Cleveland club. Whites are generally supportive of the Indians' 'Chief Wahoo', while Native Americans are largely opposed to it, with AfricanAmericans falling somewhere between the opinions of the two (Fenelon 1999). Whites, sports fans, and those with a lower level of education were found to have greater hostility to a change of the Washington Redskins football team name than African-Americans, non-sports fans, and the higher-educated (Sigelman 1998). At the University of North Dakota, where there exists a sizable Native student population, Native Americans were in fact not appreciative of the 'honour' extended them by the overwhelmingly White university, and a majority of surveyed Native students were in favour of changing the 'Fighting Sioux' nickname (Williams 2006b).

Both local and national Native organizations have also condemned this practice (AISTM 2006).

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