Magazine article Radical Teacher

Pushing Some Buttons: Helping Students Understand the American Indian Mascot Issue

Magazine article Radical Teacher

Pushing Some Buttons: Helping Students Understand the American Indian Mascot Issue

Article excerpt

The exercise described below is available at the American Indian Movement website at www.aimovement.org/ncrsm/index.html through the generous support of Vernon Bellecourt.

The American Indian mascot issue has taken center stage in the fight for Indigenous rights and respect for cultural and historical identity since August of 2005, when the National Collegiate Athletic Association announced its new policy regarding American Indian mascots, logos, and nicknames. The NCAA named 18 member institutions that would be banned from hosting post-season play because the schools have "hostile or abusive" American Indian nicknames or mascots. St. Cloud State University president Roy Saigo, in his presentation on the inherent racism in the use of American Indian mascots before the NCAA's Division II chief executive officers meeting on January 13, 2002, asked for a policy addressing the use of these mascots.

The NCAA could not have been surprised by Saigo's request in 2002, in that the National Congress of American Indians, U.S. Civil Rights Commission, Native American Journalists' Association, National Indian Education Association, NAACP, and Southern Poverty Law Center, among others, have condemned the use of Indigenous mascots. Their critique has been consistent, clear, and impassioned. The use of American Indians as mascots, they argue, reinforces cultural stereotypes, perpetuates violent war-like icons, and denigrates Native spirituality. Schools have fought back with every alumni and corporate dollar they can find to counter these arguments with claims of "honoring" Indigenous people through the use of mascots and nicknames.

A more accurate account of why schools use American Indian mascots is that the they chose Indians, Chiefs, or Savages as school nicknames decades ago when Bears, Wolves, or Bisons just weren't quite exciting or aggressive enough for the school community. Objections were not heard at the time, or they were not loud enough to force schools to find another name, and thus a tradition was begun. In attempts to hold on to these traditions in the face of strong opposition, many strategies are currently being used to address the critics. At the collegiate level, financial incentives are given to Native students in the form of scholarships, and American Indian history courses are being quickly added to curricular offerings.

The NCAA, in response to Saigo's 2002 presentation, directed its Minority Opportunities and Interests Committee (MOIC) to conduct a three-year study on the mascot issue that ultimately resulted in the 2005 policy. …

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