By Ken Reed

There are more than 1,900 schools across the country that still have American Indian-themed mascots according to a database kept by the National Congress of American Indians. That’s 1900 educational institutions that continue to use inaccurate, demeaning and sometimes cruel portrayals of Native Americans, which results in the marginalization of a large group of human beings.

The movement to remove mascots with Native American imagery started during the civil rights movement of the 1960’s, according to the National Congress of American Indians, a nonprofit created in 1944 to protect Native American and Alaska Native rights. While hundreds of schools across the nation have dropped Native American mascots and nicknames since that time, clearly a lot of work remains.

Colorado legislators are considering a proposal that would ban Native American mascots in public schools and colleges. The measure cleared the Senate Education Committee this week. It includes a $25,000 monthly fine on public schools, colleges and universities that use American Indian-themed mascots after June 1, 2022. Maine banned Native American mascots in 2019. Six other states, besides Colorado, are considering legislation that would ban the use of Native American mascots.

The legislation states the mascots create “an unsafe learning environment” for indigenous students.

At the Senate committee hearing, Talon Long, an 18-year-old from a Native American family, recalled his classmates calling him “Chief Talon” and asking if he lived in a cave in the mountains.

Brody SeeWalker, a seventh-grader and Lakota descendant from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, testified:

“I’m not anyone’s mascot, and I’m not an animal, a savage or anyone’s good luck charm. I am a human and a proud Lakota who comes from a long line of ancestors that fought so very hard so that I could be standing here before you today.”

The NCAA directed schools to end the use of “hostile or abusive” mascots and imagery in college sports back in 2005. Last year, the owner of Washington’s NFL franchise, Daniel Snyder, finally dropped the Redskins nickname after years of saying he never would do it. If Snyder can make that move there’s certainly no reason that 1900 schools across the United States can’t do the same.

The position of League of Fans regarding American Indian nicknames and images as sports mascots is that all people deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. Such names and images, no matter their intent or popularity, are inappropriate and insensitive as they mock and trivialize Native American religion and culture, and block genuine understanding of contemporary Native people as fellow Americans. We believe that the elimination of American Indian nicknames and images as sports mascots benefits all of us. The elimination of stereotypes makes room for education about current American Indian issues, and the rich variety of indigenous peoples, cultures and traditions in our country.

For more information on the issue:

American Psychological Association – Resolution Recommending the Immediate Retirement of American Indian Mascots

FAQs about the institutionalized use of “Indian” sports team tokens

National Coalition on Racism in Sports and Media

North American Society for the Sociology of Sport – Native American Imagery Resolution

Statement of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights on the Use of Native American Images and Nicknames as Sports Symbols

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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