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Sunday, January 24, 2016

Native American Mascots and Logos by CFT: Part 1

In pursuit of cultural awareness and sensitivity, and the flip-side of the coin, reduction of cultural appropriation and outright racism, I share something I wrote about the upcoming discussion on Mascots that will be happening in Tewksbury.  I've included "updates' from follow-up Facebook posts.

Dear Beth,

I don't even know where to begin because there are so many issues at stake. I'll try to lay them out. Some I have written about on my blog and have copied directly into this email, others are my on-the-spot thinking right now.

The Massachusetts Center for Native American Awareness, Inc., (MCNAA) finds the use of mascots and accompanying stereotypical behavior to be an offensive and derogatory practice that belittles the culture and religion of Native Americans. Mascots dehumanize and objectify Native Americans reaffirming the belief that Native people no longer exist or that they exist only in the media or as caricatures. Stereotyping of this nature is harmful on many levels not only to Native people but also to those who allow the stereotype to shape their view.

MCNAA supports the 2001 statement of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights that deemed the use of Native mascots “inappropriate, insensitive, disrespectful and offensive “(insert link to doc) and calls for an immediate cessation of the use of Native American mascots. MCNAA does not condone stereotyping, bias, discrimination or prejudice against any racial, ethnic or religious group.

In June, 2014, the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board canceled the Washington team’s trademarks, pending appeals. The TTAB held that the six trademark licenses issued to Pro Football, Inc. between 1967 and 1990 were “disparaging” to a “substantial composite” of Native American people. That was the second time the TTAB – the expert judges on trademark law – ruled against the team’s name; the first was in 1999 in Harjo et al v. Pro Football, Inc.

A major problem with "mascots" is that they stereotype. While many things stereotype many groups, the fact that First Nations People have so little accurate representation in cinema, textbooks, history, novels, etc. in our own country makes it much more problematic. See here for research: All of those images are stereotypes of Native Americans and they keep us in the past, which is the biggest problem that we face as Native people. We aren't seen as contemporary or professional. Stereotypes miss the positive images. If there was a range, maybe you wouldn't notice it, but given that there's an absence of anything else, this is the wrong image to project for Native people.

Stereotypes not only affect the First Nations People, they affect nonNative people, too, by giving inaccurate information. If the mascots were about communities who are gay, Jewish, or black, it would have already stopped. Each time mascots are used or our dress is taken out of context, we are reminded that we are not equal and we are not respected, at the same time that it teaches the nonNative group (those doing the stereotyping and appropriation) that they are superior.

Sherman Alexie said in an interview that Tony Hillerman sells more copies of ONE book than all Native American authors combined. We have not been able to tell our authentic stories. More people see stereotypical images than they see the real, authentic images. People would rather read, see, and listen to the “white man’s Indian” than an authentic Native American. One single image is assigned to all NA’s with little regard to our individual differences.

In addition, statistics are often cited that mention Native American's "don't care" or "are fine" with the sports images, but that is not the whole story. Here is an article that explains this: “I don’t really worry about it,” said Elaine YellowHorse, a college student and EMT on the reservation, told me. “There are just so many other things that I need to worry about before that.” But YellowHorse gives the lie to the idea that 58% of the survey respondents actively condone the name. While she said she wouldn’t bother to change it, YellowHorse also told me that she found “Redskins” offensive and was upset by the idea that there were non-Native fans running around in headdresses in the nation’s capital. It’s a difficult sentiment to understand — to find something offensive but not worth worrying about — but when the whole world around you is tinged with racism, you have a high bar for what you deem worthy of worrying about.

In her 2011, work for UMass, Carol Huben states, "Thus, as we have seen, mainstream America legitimizes its use of inauthentic representations by recharacterizing them as genuine, using as its proof Hollywood and other media representations. To their minds, the actions that the mascots undertake- threatening to scalp enemies, brandishing spears, war whooping, covering themselves in any kind of paint, playing war drums- are all actions that real Indians do. Because they think that these actions are authentic, they cannot understand the objections to things that make such an accurate portrayal. Only when brought out into the open does this line of thought fall flat, when one realizes that no current-day Indians, nor past ones, have made a practice of doing all these things in the way that mascots represent them."

All these school and sports logos and mascots are racist. If you don't think they are, then you don't understand the issue. At one time, people didn't think slavery or segregated schools were a problem either. If a town wants to be known for their racism, then keep the name. Look at Whitesboro. Is that what Tewksbury wants to be seen as year from now? The time has come to change, be a leader. "Redskins" refers to bloody scalps brought into a trading post for reward money. It is a symbol of genocide and government-sanctioned murder. It is a "blackface" equivalent and should similarly not be tolerated. Dressing up as another group of people (and even thinking that there is only one dress) is cultural appropriation. Racial slurs are not an honor.

Huben also says, "Many mainstream Americans truly believe that stereotypes are not harmful, or that mascots are positive, friendly representations of Indianness. However, there is almost no one who thinks that 'it would cost a lot to change' is a good reason to continue doing something racist."

FYI: In regards to the Lowell Sun article. As you know, Billerica also has an "Indian" mascot. While I did meet with the Principal of Billerica High about their mascot and logo, I am misquoted in the article. The Principal said he was using a different symbol for academics (a "B" for Billerica), but that the "Indians" was still the athletic logo (not "phasing out" as stated in the article).

Unlike EVERY ethnic group in this country, First Nations People have no other place in the world where there is a critical mass of our ethnic group. There is no place in the world that has places to worship in our traditional ways located in every town or region. There is no place in the world where the story books and history texts predominantly reflect our authentic voice and facts of our existence. There is no place in the world where movies, news reports, and television shows reflect the range and diversity of our people. There is no place in the world where everyone speaks our language, understands our customs, and “other” folks are the outsiders. Every other ethnic group in the United States has a tether attached to another country (whether they want it, believe it, or not, it is still there) where there is an entire society that is Chinese, German, Jewish, etc. If we aren’t portrayed correctly here, in the U.S.A., we have absolutely no other place or recourse to tell our accurate, authentic story. This is our ONLY land, the place of origination, where our stories were created, and where all of our ancestors are buried.

So, while I have Jan. 27 open, and I'm willing to respond to emails, post blogs, and grant interviews, I have refrained from attending events, especially if it is unlikely that I will get to speak. While we, as First Nations People, are oppressed by racism, nonNative people are hurt by it, too. The outcry needs to come from that community. When only men were allowed to inherit property, vote, and be CEO's and judges, it had to be a man to change the laws, hire a woman, and step aside so that she could vote. There cannot be the expectation that the person being stomped on is the one who has to cry out to be heard. We need allies, like you, or there is little hope for us.

Afterall, it's already been 500 years of "contact" and see where we are? I've attached two readings that are related to my points and my blogs are below my name. You may forward my email, if you think the information would be helpful.

I'm not an expert at debate, and I understand divide and conquer, however, there is academic research that should trump individual voice, as well as looking at students, which doesn't then sound defensive - it's focusing on an inclusive future. 

Claudia A. Fox Tree
Native American Activist (Arawak) -
Educator for Social Justice -

Huben, Carol, "The American Indian Mascot" (2011). Commonwealth Honors College Theses and Projects. Paper 13.

Whether it is called mascot or logo, it is cultural appropriation in a negative way. When cultural appropriation goes both ways, there is respect, exchange, understanding of problems (racism, oppression, stereotypes, etc.) and appreciations (thank you for sharing…). Taken out of context (would anyone ever put a cross with Jesus as a logo for a school or sports team?), and without an understanding of the culture, is cultural appropriation being done in a negative way. Keeping such a thing is an overt symbol of not caring and trying maintain power over another group (who gets to use their own images?). 

When racism is not "named" once observed, then it can't be interrupted and changed, and that's an even bigger problem. Racism is about a SYSTEM (see David Wellman) that is and has been in place to raise one group and put another down, often without the "lifted" group having any conscious awareness that it is happening (privilege - see Peggy McIntosh). One reason NA's don't "stick together" is internalized oppression as Jay says. Another is that there are so many more pressing issues (food, water, etc.) on, say, reservations, that have to be met first. Look how long it took women to get the right to vote!

I also want to note that I mentioned in my "mascot letter" above, that there are more important issues for us, as indigenous people, to consider than the mascots/logos - which are remnants of our past and, often, the country's racism and oppression of Native Americans, that is why we aren't in the "front line" of this issue.

However, I would like to reiterate (in a different way) that any and all stereotypes are damaging to how our indigenous youth see themselves, their culture, their history, and their choices. Because we are boxed into these images, and other things (like casinos) by the dominant society, non Native people see us in only limited/one-dimension, and we see ourselves that way, too.

Right now, the "aware and active Native American community" is one of the only places our youth are following aware and active Native American community" is one of the only places our youth are following the Path of Beauty and learning accurate information about identity, culture, and history. Mascots/logos are an example of how we were seen in the past, and we know that is one of the biggest issues we have… we are not seen as contemporary people or we are all seen as dead.

It's only a matter of time until this becomes an issue in my own town with its use of "Indians." The entire conversation has helped me clarify what points need to be made.

Yesterday, I was at Pow Wow with other Native Americans, some of whom have already responded to the Tewksbury issue. Two points they tried to argue (there's actually no arguing with me), is that "everyone is entitled to their opinion" and "if we remove the mascot/logo, then there will be no representation of Native Americans at all."

I'd rather start with nothing and build a correct image with nonNative allies, than live under the oppression of the wrong ones. While African Americans are also bound by current stereotypes, the worst "Mammies," "Coons," "Blackface," "Uncles," and "Pickininis" are gone and seen in the offensive light they shed, just look at “Aunt Jemima’s” syrup and how the image has changed over time.  Every racial and ethnic group has its specific demons created by the majority population, and this trivialization of our image and culture is one of ours.

If there is “honor,” then show me how and where our story is told accurately at every grade level in the curriculum and teaching strategies.  If a school’s goal/mission is to respect all people, including our indigenous culture and history, then do it.  This is our land and country, we have no other, we were present at every historical event, and continue to have the HIGHEST representation per our population of warriors going into battles to protect this land (that means “military” and war for those who aren’t clear).

And, all “opinions” are not created equal.  Someone who says, “In my opinion, the holocaust did not happen,” has no experience with reality, facts, history, or understanding of racism and oppression.  This is the same issue, and eventually, the majority will realize that it is out of ignorance that people kept these mascots, logos, etc.  It will be looked upon like the “scalping” that it is, for that is the meaning of “redskin” and “redmen.” It will be seen the same light as “lynching” and “segregation” are now an embarrassment and a sad horrible reminder of the United States’ past.

When France gifted the Statue of Liberty, they were representing a world that was observing the United States and witnessing the way the USA was treating human beings.  France’s gift was acknowledging this country’s victory over oppression, for Lady Liberty stands on the chains representing the end of bondage and slavery.

Native American mascots are a "slippery slope."  “What’s the real issue here? One thing is very clear, empathy seems to be lacking in this battle and that’s the most disturbing thing to me. I’ve actually heard kids mutter the following points: 'I don’t care what other people think'; 'If they don’t like it they can move'; and 'It’s not racist because, it just isn’t.'. The adults leading the charge to keep the logo are very much on a slippery slope. Defend their tradition versus show by example empathy for what others think and feel.

I agree, the "who is being educated by this discussion" component is invaluable. The "colonization" model and perspective is heavily integrated into schools - Even though most folks in the states trace descendancy to Germany, that is not reflected in the curriculum, it is instead primarily British, but also Spanish, with some French, depending on which part of the country is being discussed. If we go back further, students are taught about Greece and Rome, with their influences from Egypt being underplayed, as is China and India, not to mention Maya and Aztec civilizations. 

While I agree that "whiteness" is not an ethnicity, it is a "race," which is socially constructed within a time and context and if it isn't acknowledged, then the conversation about oppression cannot be successfully furthered. In this country, race and racism, are important parts of the history. While descendants are not responsible for what ancestors did, they have benefited, particularly in land acquisition and ability to be educated through college, but also in many other things - looking around, in terms of curriculum, those benefits would be who writes and publishes most textbooks, who writes most novels that are being read, whose history is being remembered, whose successful battles are retold (and from what perspective), and whose stories and perspectives are missing.

If you are keeping track of arguments, as I am, having just read the Letters to the Editor that were posted, there are a few things you might want to be ready for.

First, “Order of the Redmen” related to “founding fathers” and “sons of liberty” doesn’t make it okay, it is just as racist and problematic.  People think they know their “history,” but they don’t.  They know it up until a certain point (“a century of the same logo”).  Read Playing Indian by Philip J. Deloria to get the real history of the “borrowing” and exploitation of indigenous culture.  The argument, “when we start erasing and failing to acknowledge our past” is useless if the past isn’t remembered! 

Second, the Wamesits aren’t the original people, they are a “subgroup” that was converted to Christianity and concentrated (read “concentration camp”) for their own “safety” in this local area.  That’s not a history to be proud of.

Next, “political correctness” is an excuse used by those in power.  It’s like saying, “I’ve always done it this way and I don’t have to listen to you, even if my way of doing something affects you.”  Back in the day, what abolitionists were doing would have been called the same thing, or even suffragists.

And finally, if not now, then when?  These terms are going to go, might as well do it now and be a leader, modeling a respectful future for our children and communities.

It's not really an issue of Native against nonNative (or whether or not there is Native support or not), it's about the future and how we ALL want our children to view and understand Native American culture and history.

I don't love Adidas, because of their use of sweatshops, however, after my house burned down two years ago and I didn't have a toothbrush or tampon the next day for my kids. Clothes started showing up at the police station and school and all my social justice work in boycotting certain stores took a back burner to needing food, clothes, and shelter. When you have nothing, anything is a gift. Some of the shoes we received were from Adidas, brand new, bought for my kids (I have five). I couldn't say, "No." I didn't have that privilege.

Now that I'm back on my feet, I have the power/privilege to put certain products on my "no buy list" list. Even so, I constantly re-evaluate… so they made a mistake (maybe still do), we all have "both sides" in ourselves.  The point is what are they doing to make the world a better place: to create balance?

So, if they were once connected to Nazi’s, I see it this way – It’s a good thing we don’t hold the descendants of those who owned slaves responsible for what their ancestors did, even if we all need to remember that the benefits of that heritage still exist today.  Real estate, companies/corporations, fortunes, etc., made on the backs of African Americans, been passed down through the generations making such things, as education (which was denied to many) possible for some families and not others.  So, Adidias is replacing mascot clothing to promote change is a good thing.  They took up the challenge issued by the NFL, “If you want us to change, then what about all those high schools?”

That's a really good point, Donna!  Bedford didn't have a racist mascot/logo, but all the recreation dept. teams mimicked the national teams and I always requested my kids be placed on a team that didn't have "Indians" or "Redskins" or any such name.  When they were little, it made it so I had to have "the conversation" way earlier than the typical kid of WHY there weren't on a certain team.  Their response, in hushed tones to me, as the faced off against the "other" teams, was, "Why are there wearing that weird picture of an Indian?" 

You need to also think about other towns (and probably not in the way you are thinking). When towns with racist names play OTHER towns, the OTHER town sometimes does racist things against the one with the name, for example, do they play the stereotypical Hollywood beat? Do THEY dress up?

I've posted this before, but I'm doing it again, because these are the statistics that are telling.  Is Tewksbury going to be part of the problem (perpetuating stereotypes) or part of the solution?  Our children's future is at stake - growing up knowing they are just a valuable as another group, or growing up to know they are "better" in that it's okay to mimic, put down, and only know stereotypes instead of a complete history?

"Fruitcake" has two meanings, and one IS disparaging. "Gay" and "girl" can also have two meanings, depending on the context in which they are used. In no way is "Indian" or "Redmen" or "Redskin" not associated with the indigenous people of the western hemisphere before 1492, also known as Native Americans. it's true that language and its meanings change over time, that's why women don't want to be called "wench" anymore and the "n-word" can get you fired. Not because it's illegal, but because it is socially unacceptable, particularly in a society trying to make amends for oppressing particular groups. It's gonna change, now or later, might as well be now.

BTW culturally appropriated word "pow wow" is used incorrectly, denying the ACTUAL connection and meaning to Native Americans, which matters more because of the LIMITED societal knowledge and understanding of anything Native.

This post about "running around naked" is a good example of how our history is distorted. We lived on this land for centuries and certainly knew the weather conditions a heck of a lot better than any Europeans who arrived! All those paintings and statues that Europeans made perpetuated a myth!

Now you can add, "You may or may not think it's racist, but it certainly brings out the racist, sexist, etc. in the arguments!"

One of the hallmarks of "racism" is not knowing you have "privilege." It isn't "arbitrary," as the student said in her letter below. It's "not noticing" that what you've been doing, whether you knew it or not, has been supporting a SYSTEM of oppression. The system works all around us and we are part of it and either benefiting from it or being oppressed by it. Pick a system - racism sexism, heterosexism, ableism, religion, etc. Not noticing that white history has been part of the curriculum, but Native American is an elective, is an example of racism - it's not an "individual act of meanness," it's a systemic and systematic issue - that curriculum happened because of publishing houses, legislature, teachers, etc. all worked together to make it happen and did not notice what was missing. It benefits one group and not the other.

This article is a big deal, many Native American across the nation will see it and Tewksbury will get a lot of publicity in a bad way. It's a great article and notes that the issue is beyond the town - it includes all the people it comes in contact with at games, as well as obviously all Native Americans. I agree with Nicole, you need to capture a history of how people are acting about the logo/symbol/mascot because true colors are coming out alongside racism is the sexism and homophobia. That's another real impact.

Some Native people do not understanding the difference between racism, a stereotype, cultural appropriation, and cultural respect. Yesterday, one person posted on my facebook page that these conversations are "divisive." When I challenged him, he deleted his posts. I think in his deleted posts he implied that we, Native People, have caused the racism by complaining!

Yeah, the some "tribes" - it's sort of like Harriet Tubman's quote, "I freed a lot of people… I would have freed more, if they had known they were slaves."
When you are oppressed, sometimes you just think that's the way it is and wonder what everyone is complaining about.  Change takes effort.