I don't want to hear about how "mascots don't affect you."
Claudia Fox Tree (6/3/17 Facebook Post)
Re: S.291 End Race-Based Mascots in Massachusetts Schools
Self-creation of one's identity is commonly experienced in the United States and other Western societies during the period of adolescence. Though the foundation of identity is laid in the experiences of childhood, younger children lack the physical and cognitive development needed to reflect on the self in this abstract way and ask questions, such as: Who am I now? Who was I before? Who will I become? One problem with stereotypes is that more people see stereotypes instead of actual, real, authentic images. Stereotypes misrepresent Native American history and cultures.
One single image can be assigned to all indigenous people with little regard to individual differences. Images like these affect all children. They model what Native Americans are supposed to look like, act like, and do based on a European ideology. Songs, dances, art, and stories that are “taught” are not our true songs, dances, art, and stories. Stereotypes, by their negative nature, do not focus on contributions, role-models, or resistance.
John Sanchez from Pennsylvania State University did an extensive study between 1990 and 1999 of the “big three” television networks – ABC, CBS, and NBC. During that time frame, the 3 networks produced 175,889 news reports. Of those, a combined total of 98 reports were about Native Americans or Native American issues. The majority of these stories framed by stereotypical 18th century imagery, such as Native Americans in buckskin clothing riding horses and wearing traditional headdresses. The least common type of story was those representing 21st century Native Americans in a positive light. Most Americans believe that Native Americans are either assimilated, or extinct – that we don’t exist anymore.
Sarah Shear (and others) at Pennsylvania State University in Altoona analyzed the U.S. and state history standards from all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Based on results, Shear says, students are graduating from high school without even basic knowledge of contemporary Native American challenges or culture. Across all the states, 87% of references to Natives portray them prior to 1900, with no clear vision of what happened after that. In half of the states, no individual Native Americans or specific nations are named. The most commonly named people are Sacagawea, Squanto, Sequoyah, and Sitting Bull. Only 62 Nations are named in standards (there are 562). One nation, the Iroquois, is mentioned in six states and only 4 states (AZ, WA, OK, and KS) include boarding schools. Washington is the only state to use the word “genocide” in relation to Native People (in the standards for 5th grade U.S. history). Nebraska textbooks portray Natives as lazy, drunk or criminal. 90% of all manuscripts written about Native people are authored by non-Native writers. There is nothing about treaties, land rights, or water rights, nor the fact that tribes are still fighting to be recognized and determine sovereignty. All 50 states lack any content about current Native events or challenges.
If we were represented in all subjects at all grade levels K-12, had a mega movie industry portraying our various histories and cultures, and had best-selling books, then MAYBE a stereotype wouldn't be a "big deal," next to a continuum of accurate, self-representation. But we do not have those things in our own country, or anywhere else in the world, so a stereotype carries much, much more weight for us, our developing indigenous children, and all children who are subjected to the misinformation created by stereotypes.
I need to take a moment to discuss the Native American boarding schools that were established in the United States during the late 19th and early 20th centuries to educate Native American children and youths according to European-American standards. Children were immersed in Euro-American culture through appearance changes with haircuts, were forbidden to speak their native languages, and traditional names were replaced by new Euro-American names to both "civilize" and "Christianize." The experience of the schools was often harsh, especially for the younger children who were separated from their families. In numerous ways, indigenous people were encouraged or forced to abandon their identities and cultures. Investigations of the later 20th century have revealed many documented cases of sexual, physical, and mental abuse occurring at such schools.
Why do I point out boarding schools? Because the, "Kill the Indian and save the man" mentality is the historical treatment we have received. Boarding schools illustrate the problem with mascots and other forms of cultural appropriation. Why has it been okay to mock, mimic, and pretend to be "Indian," but it is not okay to actually BE “Indian”?