Native American mascot controversy
The propriety of using terms and images referring to Native Americans as the name or mascot for a sports team is a topic of public controversy in the United States and in Canada, arising as part of the Native American civil rights movement in the 1960s. Since the 1960s, there have been a number of protests and other actions by Native Americans and others targeting the more prominent use of such names and images by professional franchises such as the Cleveland Indians (in particular their "Chief Wahoo" logo); and the Washington Redskins (the term "redskins" being defined in most American English dictionaries as 'derogatory slang').
The issue is often discussed in the media only in terms of 'offensiveness', which tends to reduce the problem to one of just feelings and opinions, and prevents a fuller understanding of the history and context of the use of Native American names and images, and the reasons why use of such names and images by sports teams should be eliminated. Social science research says that sports mascots and images, rather than being mere entertainment, are important symbols with deeper psychological and social effects. The accumulation of research on the harm done has led to over 115 professional organizations representing civil rights, educational, athletic, and scientific experts adopting resolutions or policies that state that the use of Native American names and/or symbols by non-native sports teams is a form of ethnic stereotyping that promotes misunderstanding and prejudice which contributes to other problems faced by Native Americans.
Native mascots are also part of the larger issues of cultural appropriation and the violation of indigenous intellectual property rights, which includes all instances where non-natives use indigenous music, art, costumes, etc. in entertainment or other performances. It has been argued that harm to Native Americans occurs because the appropriation of Native culture by the majority society continues the systems of dominance and subordination that have been used to colonize, assimilate, and oppress indigenous groups.
Defenders of the current usage often state their intention to honor Native Americans by referring to positive traits, such as fighting spirit and being aggressive, brave, stoic, dedicated, and proud; while opponents see these traits as being based upon stereotypes of Native Americans as savages. Supporters also state that the issue is not important, being only about sports, and that the opposition is nothing more than "political correctness", which critics argue ignores the extensive evidence of harmful effects of stereotypes and bias. Although there has been a steady decline in the number of teams doing so, Native American images and nicknames nevertheless remain fairly common in American sports, and may be found in use at all levels, from elementary school teams to professional sports franchises. However, no new team have adopted such names for decade until 2016 when one of the teams in the National College Prospects Hockey League (NCPHL) was announced as the Lake Erie Warriors with a caricature Mohawk logo. The public outcry resulted in an immediate change to the Lake Erie Eagles.
European Americans have had a history of "playing Indian" that dates back to the colonial period. In the 19th century, fraternal organizations such as the Tammany Societies and the Improved Order of Red Men adopted the words and material culture of Native Americans in part to establish an aboriginal identity, while ignoring the dispossession and conquest of indigenous peoples. This practice spread to youth groups such as the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) (in particular, the Order of the Arrow) and many summer camps. University students in the late 19th and early 20th centuries adopted Indian names and symbols for their group identities, not from authentic sources but rather as Native American life was imagined by European Americans.
Professional team nicknames had similar origins. Founded as the Boston Red Stockings, the team became the Braves for the first time in 1912. Their owner, James Gaffney, was a member of New York City's political machine, Tammany Hall, one of the societies originally formed to honor Tamanend, a chief of the Delaware. The Cleveland Indians' name originated from a request by club owner Charles Somers to baseball writers to choose a new name to replace the "Naps" following the departure of their star player Nap Lajoie after the 1914 season. The name "Indians" was chosen as it was one of the nicknames previously applied to the old Cleveland Spiders baseball club during the time when Louis Sockalexis, a Native American, played in Cleveland. The success of the Braves in the 1914 World Series may have been another reason for adopting an Indian mascot. The story that the team is named to honor Sockalexis, as the first Native American to play Major League Baseball, cannot be verified from historical documents. The news stories published to announce the selection in 1915 make no mention of Sockalexis, but do make many racist and insulting references to Native Americans. The Redskins in Washington, D.C. were originally also known as the Boston Braves when formed in 1932, since it was the custom at the time to have the same team names when baseball and football teams shared the same stadium. After moving to the home of the Boston Red Sox, the team name was changed to Redskins in 1933, before moving again to Washington, D.C. in 1937. Thus, the use of Native American names and imagery by this team began before the hiring of William Henry Dietz as coach in 1933.
The stereotyping of Native Americans must be understood in the context of history which includes conquest, forced relocation, and organized efforts to eradicate native cultures, such as the boarding schools of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, which separated young Native Americans from their families in order to educate them as European Americans. As stated in an editorial by Carter Meland (Anishinaabe heritage) and David E. Wilkins (Lumbee) both professors of American Indian Studies at the University of Minnesota: "Since the first Europeans made landfall in North America, native peoples have suffered under a weltering array of stereotypes, misconceptions and caricatures. Whether portrayed as noble savages, ignoble savages, teary-eyed environmentalists or, most recently, simply as casino-rich, native peoples find their efforts to be treated with a measure of respect and integrity undermined by images that flatten complex tribal, historical and personal experience into one-dimensional representations that tells us more about the depicters than about the depicted."
In the 1940s the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) created a campaign to eliminate negative stereotyping of Native American people in the media. Over time, the campaign began to focus on Indian names and mascots in sports. The NCAI maintains that teams with mascots such as the Braves and the Redskins perpetuate negative stereotypes of Native American people, and demean their native traditions and rituals: "Often citing a long held myth by non-Native people that "Indian" mascots "honor Native people," American sports businesses such as the NFL’s Washington 'Redskins' and Kansas City 'Chiefs', MLB’s Cleveland 'Indians' and Atlanta 'Braves', and the NHL’s Chicago Black Hawks, continue to profit from harmful stereotypes originated during a time when white superiority and segregation were commonplace." On these stereotypes, the NCAI states these mascots, "slander, defame, and vilify Native peoples, Native cultures, and tribal nations, and continue a legacy of racist and prejudiced attitudes. In particular, the ‘savage’ and ‘clownish’ caricatures used by sports teams with "Indian" mascots contribute to the "savage" image of Native peoples and the myth that Native peoples are an ethnic group ‘frozen in history.’ All of which continue to plague this country’s relationships with Native peoples and perpetuate racial and political inequity." Several of the founders of the American Indian Movement, including Clyde Bellecourt, Vernon Bellecourt, and Russel Means, were also the first to protest names and mascots such as the Washington Redskins and Chief Wahoo.
Cornel Pewewardy, Professor and Director of Indigenous Nations Studies at Portland State University, cites indigenous mascots as an example of dysconscious racism which, by placing images of Native American or First Nations people into an invented media context, continues to maintain the superiority of the dominant culture. Such practices can be seen as a form of cultural imperialism or neocolonialism. Pewewardy has collected many statements made by non-natives when attempting to address racial issues, and places them in four categories:
- Avoidance: Statements that prevent discussion by changing the topic
- Disavowal: "But we are honoring you" or other statements that claim a problem does not exist
- Dismissal/Patronizing: Making statements based upon their own assumption of superiority
- Re-Centering: Statements that attempt to redefine the issue as non-existent or trivial, such as calling it "political correctness"
Not all Native Americans are united in total opposition to mascots. Steven Denson, director of diversity for Southern Methodist University and member of the Chickasaw nation, while not issuing a blanket endorsement, has nevertheless stated that there are acceptable ways to use Native American mascots if it is done in a respectful and tasteful manner. He states: "I believe it is acceptable if used in a way that fosters understanding and increased positive awareness of the Native-American culture. And it must also be done with the support of the Native-American community. There is a way to achieve a partnership that works together to achieve mutually beneficial goals." Five of the college teams originally list by the NCAA as possibly "hostile and abusive" (see below) established relationships with specific tribes that allowed them to retain their names.
Social sciences and education
The harm done by the use of Native American mascots, particularly in an academic context, was stated by the Society of Indian Psychologists in 1999:
Stereotypical and historically inaccurate images of Indians in general interfere with learning about them by creating, supporting and maintaining oversimplified and inaccurate views of indigenous peoples and their cultures. When stereotypical representations are taken as factual information, they contribute to the development of cultural biases and prejudices, (clearly a contradiction to the educational mission of the University.) In the same vein, we believe that continuation of the use of Indians as symbols and mascots is incongruous with the philosophy espoused by many Americans as promoting inclusivity and diversity.
Sports mascots have been cited as an example of microaggressions, the everyday insults that members of marginalized minority groups are subject to in the comments and actions of other groups in society.
In 2005, the American Psychological Association issued a resolution "Recommending the Immediate Retirement of American Indian Mascots, Symbols, Images, and Personalities by Schools, Colleges, Universities, Athletic Teams, and Organizations" due to the harm done by creating a hostile environment, the negative impact on the self-esteem of American Indian children, and discrimination that may violate civil rights. It also impacts non-natives by reinforcing mainstream stereotypes, preventing learning about Native American culture. The APA states that stereotyping is disrespectful of the beliefs, traditions and values of Native Americans. Similar resolutions have been adopted by the American Sociological Association, the American Counseling Association, and the American Anthropological Association.
In a 2005 report on the status of Native American students, the National Education Association included the elimination of Indian mascots and sports team names as one of its recommendations.
Social science research gives weight to the perceptions of those directly affected. In particular, studies support the view that sports mascots and images are not trivial. Stereotyping directly affects academic performance and self-esteem, which contribute to all of the other issues faced by Native Americans, including suicide, unemployment, and poverty. European Americans exposed to mascots are more likely to believe not only that stereotypes are true, but that Native Americans have no identity beyond these stereotypes. Research also demonstrates the harm done to society by stereotyping of any kind. Two studies examined the effect of exposure to an American Indian sports mascot on the tendency to endorse stereotypes of a different minority group. A study was first done at the University of Illinois, and then replicated at The College of New Jersey with the same results. Students were given a paragraph to read about Chief Illiniwek adapted from the University of Illinois' official website; while the control group was given a description of an arts center. In both studies the students exposed to the sports mascot were more likely to express stereotypical views of Asian Americans. Although Chief Illiniwek was described only in terms of positive characteristics (as a respectful symbol, not a mascot), the stereotyping of Asian Americans included negative characteristics, such as being "socially inept". This was indicative of a spreading effect; exposure to any stereotypes increased the likelihood of stereotypical thinking. Summarizing such studies, writer DaShanne Stokes states that mascots perpetuate "institutionalized racism. Institutionalized racism contributes to high rates of unemployment, poverty, health problems, and inadequate education for many Native Americans. In short, Native team names and mascots contribute to the very problems we should be focused on solving.
The NAACP passed a resolution calling for the end of the use of Native American names, images, and mascots in 1999.
In 2001, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights released an advisory opinion calling for an end to the use of Native American images and team names by non-Native schools. The opinion made the following points:
- The use of Native American images and nicknames in school is insensitive and should be avoided, and may violate anti-discrimination laws.
- These references ... are particularly inappropriate and insensitive in light of the long history of forced assimilation that American Indian people have endured in this country.
- It is particularly disturbing that Native American references are still to be found in educational institutions ... where diverse groups of people come together to learn not only the "Three Rs," but also how to interact respectfully with people from different cultures.
- The use of stereotypical images may create a hostile environment that may be intimidating to Indian students. American Indians have the lowest high school graduation rates in the nation and even lower college attendance and graduation rates. The perpetuation of harmful stereotypes may exacerbate these problems.
- Schools that continue [these practices] claim that their use stimulates interest in Native American culture and honors Native Americans but have simply failed to listen to the Native groups, religious leaders, and civil rights organizations that oppose this behavior.
- Mascots, symbols and team names are not accurate representations of Native Americans. Even those that purport to be positive are romantic stereotypes that give a distorted view of the past. These false portrayals prevent non-Native Americans from understanding the true historical and cultural experiences of American Indians. Sadly, they also encourage biases and prejudices that have a negative effect on contemporary Indian people. These references may encourage interest in mythical "Indians" created by the dominant culture, but they block genuine understanding of contemporary Native people as fellow Americans.
In February 2013, the Michigan Department of Civil Rights (MDCR) filed a complaint with the US Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights (OCR). MDCR's complaint asserts that new research clearly establishes that use of American Indian imagery negatively impacts student learning, creating an unequal learning environment in violation of Article VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In June 2013, the OCR dismissed the case on the basis that the legal standard required not only harm, but the intent to do harm, which was not established. One of the schools named in the MDCR complaint, Saranac Community Schools in Ionia County, MI plans to retain the name Redskins but has replaced the logo on its uniforms with a "Dreamcatcher" and the band will no longer play the "Tomahawk Song" at games.
Civil rights law in the United States reflect the difference between the experience of racism by African Americans and Native Americans. Slavery was a more personal assault and continued after emancipation in the form of discrimination that insured a continued source of cheap labor. What European Americans wanted from Native Americans was not labor but land, and many were willing to have native people themselves assimilate. Continued discrimination came to those who refused to do so, but asserted their separate identity and rights of sovereignty. The appropriation of native cultures is therefore seen as discriminatory practice by some but is not understood as such by those that think of assimilation as a positive process. The difference is reflected in the continued popularity of Native Americans as mascots when similar usage of the names and images of any other ethnic group, in particular African Americans, would be unthinkable, and the continued claim that the stereotype of the "noble savage" honors Native Americans.
In a report issued in 2012, a United Nations expert on Human Rights of Indigenous Peoples cited the continued use of Native American references by sports team as a part of the stereotyping that "obscures understanding of the reality of Native Americans today and instead help to keep alive racially discriminatory attitudes."
In 1992, the Central Conference of American Rabbis issued a resolution calling for the end of sports teams names that promote racism, in particular the Atlanta Braves and the Washington Redskins. In 2004, the United Methodist Church also passed a resolution condemning the use of Native American team names and sports mascots, which was highlighted in a meeting of the Black caucus of that organization in 2007.
A child once asked me why Indians were "mean." Where did he get that idea? By schools such as the University of Illinois "honoring" my ancestors? -- Rev. Alvin Deer (Kiowa/Creek), United Methodist Church
A group of sixty-one religious leaders in Washington, D.C. sent a letter to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and team owner Daniel Snyder stating their moral obligation to join the Change the Mascot movement due to the offensive and inappropriate nature of the name which causes pain whether or not that is intended.
Members of the Indian Affairs Committee of the Baltimore Yearly Meeting of the Society of Friends approved a formal statement condemning the name of the Washington football team, stating that "the NFL has violated its core principles for decades by allowing the team playing in Washington, D.C., to carry the name 'redskins,' a racist epithet that insults millions of Native Americans. Continued use of the term encourages and perpetuates persecution, disrespect, and bigotry against Native men, women, and children". The Torch Committee, the student government organization of the Sandy Spring Friends School in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, voted to ban any apparel on the campus which includes the Redskins name, although the logo would continue to be allowed.
In a meeting March 1, 2014, the Board of Directors of the Central Atlantic Conference of the United Church of Christ (UCC) unanimously passed a resolution proposing that its members boycott Washington Redskins games and shun products bearing the team’s logo until the team changes its name and mascot. Team spokesman Tony Wyllie offered a response, saying, "We respect those who disagree with our team’s name, but we wish the United Church of Christ would listen to the voice of the overwhelming majority of Americans, including Native Americans, who support our name and understand it honors the heritage and tradition of the Native American community." At its annual meeting in June 2014, the membership of the UCC also passed a resolution supporting the boycott. The resolution and boycott was passed by the National Synod of the UCC in June, 2015.
Other team names and ethnic groups
Opponents also argue there is a double standard of Native Americans being the only racial group depicted in sports. The only current exception may be the Coachella Valley High School "Arabs" which has also been the subject of controversy, resulting in the retirement of its more cartoonish representations.
The University of Notre Dame Fighting Irish and the University of Louisiana at Lafayette's "Ragin' Cajuns" are sometimes cited as counterpoints to this argument. These team names are exceptions, in that they represent ethnic groups with an active stake in the organization, and the teams employ symbols that European American cultures have historically used to represent themselves. The University of Notre Dame mascot, the UND leprechaun is a mythical being that represents the Irish, which is both an ethnic and a national group. The University of Louisiana at Lafayette mascot is an anthropomorphic cayenne pepper, an ingredient frequently found in Cajun cuisine. Opponents also see this argument as a false equivalency, because it ignores systemic inequality, and serves to discount the Native American voice by saying that if one group isn't hurt by a particular portrayal, then no group has the right to be hurt, regardless of vastly different backgrounds, treatment, and social positions.
The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights has called for an end to the use of Native American mascots, but only by non-native schools. In cases where universities were founded to educate Native Americans, such mascots may not be examples of cultural appropriation. Examples include the Fighting Indians of the Haskell Indian Nations University and the University of North Carolina at Pembroke, which continues to have a substantial number of native students, and close ties to the Lumbee tribe. Their nickname is the Braves, but the mascot is a red-tailed hawk. Pembroke Middle School, which also has close ties to the Lumbee tribe, is nicknamed the Warriors.
Some individuals who support the use of Native American mascots state that they are meant to be respectful, and to pay homage to Native American people. Many have made the argument that Native American mascots focus on bravery, courage and fighting skills rather than anything derogatory. Karl Swanson, vice-president of the Washington Redskins professional football team, declared in the magazine Sports Illustrated that his team's name "symbolizes courage, dignity, and leadership," and that the "Redskins symbolize the greatness and strength of a grand people."
Anil Adyanthaya, an attorney, wrote on June 5, 2005, "The use of Aztec or Seminole as a nickname by itself would not appear to be racist, as such names refer to a particular civilization rather than an entire race of people. In this way, they are no different from other school nicknames such as Trojans and Spartans (like Aztecs, ancient peoples) or Fighting Irish and Flying Dutchmen (like Seminoles, nationalities). Similarly, Warriors and Braves are no different from the fighting men of other cultures, like Vikings, Minutemen, or Musketeers (all current NCAA mascots, the first of which is also an NFL mascot) so it seems hard to argue that their use is uniquely demeaning in some way." However, it is not the names by themselves that are seen as uniquely insulting to Native Americans. Dr. Richard Lapchick, director emeritus of Northeastern University's Center for the Study of Sport in Society, in an article: "Could you imagine people mocking African Americans in black face at a game? Yet go to a game where there is a team with an Indian name and you will see fans with war paint on their faces. Is this not the equivalent to black face?"
Others claim Native American mascots help promote the culture to those who might be unaware of its significance. Chief Illiniwek, the former athletic symbol for the University of Illinois, became the subject of protest in 1988. However, in 1990 the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois called the mascot a dignified symbol: "His ceremonial dance is done with grace and beauty. The Chief keeps the memory of the people of a great Native American tribe alive for thousands of Illinoisans who otherwise would know little or nothing of them. However, the tribal costume was not of the Illinois Confederation, but that of the Lakota tribe. The Peoria Tribe of Indians of Oklahoma is the closest living descendants of the Illiniwek Confederacy; and in 2005, John P. Froman, the new Chief when asked his position by the NCAA, indicated that "Chief (Illiniwek) was not representative of our tribe and culture, mainly because the costume is Sioux." In 2006, in response to a widely published column by journalist George Will in support of the symbol's use, Forman wrote a letter reiterating the Peoria Tribe's opposition to the symbol and decrying that the "University of Illinois has ignored the tribe’s request for nearly five years." On March 13, 2007, the University of Illinois board of trustees voted to retire Illiniwek's name, image and regalia.
Public opinion surveys
In 2001, Indian Country Today conducted a poll of an undisclosed number of readers reporting that "81 percent of respondents indicated use of American Indian names, symbols and mascots are predominantly offensive and deeply disparaging to Native Americans."
A survey conducted in 2002 by The Harris Poll for Sports Illustrated (SI) found that 81 percent of Native Americans who live outside traditional Indian reservations and 53 percent of Indians on reservations did not find the images discriminatory. The authors of the article concluded that "Although most Native American activists and tribal leaders consider Indian team names and mascots offensive, neither Native Americans in general nor a cross section of U.S. sports fans agree. According to the article, There is a near total disconnect between Indian activists and the Native American population on this issue." An Indian activist commented on the results saying "that Native Americans' self-esteem has fallen so low that they don't even know when they're being insulted." Soon after the SI article, a group of five social scientists experienced in researching the mascot issue published a journal article arguing against the validity of this survey and its conclusions. First they state that "The confidence with which the magazine asserts that a 'disconnect' between Native American activists and Native Americans exists on this issue belies the serious errors in logic and accuracy made in the simplistic labeling of Native Americans who oppose mascots as 'activists.'"
More recent surveys, rather than addressing the larger issue, have targeted the controversy over the name of the Washington Redskins, asking if the word is offensive or if it should be changed. By a large majority (71-89 percent), public opinion has maintained that the name should not change, but when additional questions were asked also have found that the same respondents said "redskin" is not an appropriate term for Native Americans. See: Redskins Public Opinion Polls.
A flaw unique to polls of Native Americans is they rely upon self-identification to select the target population. In an editorial in the Bloomington Herald Times, Steve Russell (an enrolled Cherokee citizen and associate professor of criminal justice at Indiana University), states that both SI and Annenberg's samples of "self-identified Native Americans... includes plenty of people who have nothing to do with Indians". Individuals claiming to be Native American when they are not is well known in academic research, and people claiming Indian identity specifically to gain authority in the debate over sports mascots has been criticised.
At the Center for Indigenous Peoples Studies at California State University, San Bernardino a survey has conducted of 400 individuals whose identity as Native American was verified, finding that 67% agreed with the statement that "Redskins" is offensive and racist. The response from non-natives was almost the opposite, with 68% responding that the name is not offensive.
Financial impact of change
Many supporters of Native American mascots feel that the financial cost of changing mascots would far outweigh the benefits. Sales of merchandise with team mascots and nicknames ranging from T-shirts to beer cozies generate millions of dollars in sales each year, and teams contend that a change in team mascots would render this merchandise useless. The cost of removing images from uniforms and all other items, which must be paid out of local school funds, is a greater factor for secondary schools. Opponents feel that despite the cost of a change in team mascots, it should be done to prevent what they believe is racial stereotyping. Clyde Bellecourt, when director of the American Indian Movement stated: "It's the behavior that accompanies all of this that's offensive. The rubber tomahawks, the chicken feather headdresses, people wearing war paint and making these ridiculous war whoops with a tomahawk in one hand and a beer in the other; all of these have significant meaning for us. And the psychological impact it has, especially on our youth, is devastating."
One attempt to affect the use of mascots financially is the case brought against the Washington Redskins to revoke their trademarks.(See: Washington Redskins below.)
A study done by the Emory University Goizueta Business School indicates that the growing unpopularity of Native American mascots is a financial drain for professional teams, losing money compared to more popular animal mascots.
Legal and administrative action
Statewide laws or school board decisions have been passed in a small number of states with significant Native American populations. However, in response to the Tennessee Commission of Indian Affairs seeking a ban though the Tennessee Human Rights Commission, the Tennessee Senate passed a law allowing only elected officials to take any action banning school teams using American Indian names and symbols. Several actions have been made specifically with regard to schools using the name "Redskins" (See Below).
While targeting only the name "Redskins" used by four high schools (see below), the California Racial Mascot Act, which became law in 2015, states "The use of racially derogatory or discriminatory school or athletic team names, mascots, or nicknames in California public schools is antithetical to the California school mission of providing an equal education to all." In response, the Bakersfield City School District has opened discussion regarding the use of Native American imagery at two of its elementary schools.
In 2014 State lawmakers in Colorado began considering a bill that rather than a complete ban, would deny state funding to schools on a case by case basis, depending upon the name, logo, and local Native American support. Getting ahead of any potential law, Loveland High School in Loveland, Colorado, is "looking to a Lakota Sioux tribe for help creating a new mascot and a hands-on lesson in history and culture for the school." Although passed by the House by one vote, the bill failed in a Colorado Senate committee. Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper has created by executive order a commission that will hold meetings where local community members, state agencies and Native Americans can seek to find common ground on the mascot issue. An example of local action is at Cheyenne Mountain High School, Colorado Springs, Colorado; which has taken action to eliminate stereotyping, including doing the tomahawk chop, or wearing warpaint and headdresses at games.
On May 17, 2012, the Oregon State Board of Education voted 5-1 to adopt a rule prohibiting Oregon public schools from using Native American names, symbols, or images as school mascots; giving schools have until July 1, 2017 to comply. Fifteen schools using the nicknames Indians, Warriors, Braves and Chieftains were affected. However, Native American response was not unanimous; out of nine tribes, two voiced opposition to the statewide ban on the basis of tribal sovereignty. Leaders said that there might have been an opportunity for developing an educational program for all students to learn about true native culture. In 2014 a state law was passed allowing schools to consult with nearby Native American tribes on acceptable names and imagery. While some Native Americans support such relationships with their local schools, Native American students who compete in athletics with these schools state that they are sometimes uncomfortable with the imagery used, and some groups maintain that the use of Native mascots needs to end everywhere. "These mascots undermine the educational experience of all students, particularly those with little or no contact with indigenous or native Alaskan peoples," said Se-Ah-Dom Edmo, interim president of the Oregon Indian Education Association.
In May, 2015 the Oregon State Board of Education unanimously voted down an amendment that would have allowed schools to retain their current names and mascots, maintaining the 2017 deadline for change. However, in January 2016 the board decided to grant exemptions to schools if they work out agreements with local tribes. Two schools have decided not to seek the approval of any tribe, citing the difficulty of doing so. The Fort Vannoy Elementary "Indians" (now the "Nobles") and Fleming Middle School "Rogues" (now the "Cavaliers"), both in the Three Rivers School District have changed their mascots.
The Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde have entered into agreements with schools to allow them to retain the name "Indians" on the conditions of removing some imagery and implementing a native history curriculum.
- Mohawk High School, Marcola, Oregon
- Molalla High School, Molalla, Oregon
- Scappoose High School, Scappoose, Oregon
Three Douglas County, Oregon school districts have decided to take the necessary steps to move forward with keeping their Native American mascots. Roseburg High School would remain the Indians with the agreement of the Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribe of Indians; the Reedsport Community Charter School Braves and the North Douglas High School Warriors in Drain, Oregon are also seeking tribal approval.
Reedsport Community Charter School has until July, 2017 to change its names from the "Braves". Three local tribes; the Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw, the Coquille, and the Siletz do not agree that being a mascot is honorable way to represent their tribes. In an effort to retain part of their tradition, some in the community are thinking of changing to "Brave" and eliminating all Native American imagry. At a meeting of the residents and the school's Native American Name and Image Committee, one of the committee members asked how many preferred no change, with an overwhelming majority of those present agreeing. However, it was stated that was not an option.
In January, 2016 the South Dakota High School Activities Association passed a resolution asking all schools in the state to drop Native American nicknames and mascots. A bill was introduced in the South Dakota Legislature "to prohibit school districts from using school or athletic team names, mascots, or nicknames that are determined to be racially derogatory or discriminatory"
In December, 2013 the Houston Independent School District by unanimous vote passed a preliminary plan to eliminate all ethnically sensitive names and mascots, one of which is the Lamar High School Redskins. The Washington Redskins issued a statement repeating its position that such names are not offensive to many Native Americans, but rather are a source of pride. In April, 2014 the schools affected by the policy announced new names: the Lamar High School Redskins will become the Texans, both the Hamilton Middle School Indians and Westbury High School Rebels will be the Huskies and the Welch Middle School Warriors will be the Wolf Pack. The initial cost of the change was $50,000 for new fall uniforms, and there will be additional costs such as changing names and logos on facilities. The total cost is estimated to be $250,000. However it was noted that team uniforms are periodically replaced anyway, so the cost is not due only to the name changes. "The moral cost to our reputation as a diverse district -- where we care about the sensitivities of every single individual -- would be incalculable if we were not to do this," HISD superintendent Terry Grier said.
The Seattle-area Issaquah School District adopted a policy banning symbols based on racial stereotypes; resulting in a change of the Issaquah High School team from the "Indians" to the "Eagles" in 2003 over the protest of some students.
On September 26, 2012 the Washington State Board of Education (WSBE) passed a resolution calling for the end of Native American mascots in state schools. The Seattle Human Rights Commission passed a resolution supporting the WSBE in November, 2012.
In 2010 a law was passed in Wisconsin to eliminate race-based nicknames, logos and mascots in schools; but allowing retention if they have the permission of local Native American tribes. Many mascots were changed either voluntarily or in response to complaints. However, in October 2013 the law was changed to make it more difficult by requiring the complainant to collect signatures of 10% of the school district's population and prove discrimination, while under the 2010 law only one petitioner is needed, and the burden of proof is on the school to disprove racism. Although now allowed to do so, some schools that have already made a change have decided not to restore their prior mascots. Native American groups opposed the change in the law. Delivering the State of the Tribes address to the Wisconsin legislature in March, 2015; Mole Lake Sokaogon Chairman Chris McGeshik stated: "We believe the recent decision to override the progress made with the state in regard to the school mascots to be a mockery of the indigenous people in the state and around America."
Prompted by the concerns of Native Americans, the Madison Metropolitan School District in Wisconsin has implemented a policy banning student clothing having "words, pictures, or caricatures based on negative stereotypes of a specific gender, ethnicity, nationality, religion, sexual orientation or disability", which would ban all sports apparel displaying Native American mascot names, images or logos. However the ban may not pass the legal test that freedom of speech does not allow for a ban on expression unless there is a "substantial disruption of the educational mission". Visiting athletic teams will also be asked to leave behind Native American mascots and logos, otherwise the game could be canceled.
Colleges and universities
Some college teams voluntarily changed their names and mascots. Stanford University had "The Stanford Indian" as its mascot from 1930 to 1972. Today "Stanford Cardinal" honors the university athletic team color. The symbol of the Stanford Band is the "Stanford Tree." Another early change was the "Saltine Warrior" that represented Syracuse University from 1931 until 1978. After a brief attempt to use a Roman warrior, the mascot became Otto the Orange for the school color. Miami University began discussion regarding the propriety of the Redskins name and images in 1972, and changed its team nickname to RedHawks in 1996.
Although the team name of Eastern Michigan University changed from the Hurons to the Eagles in 1991, the change remained controversial with some students and alumni who sought to restore it. In 2012 the university president brought back the Hurons logo, which was placed inside flap a of the band uniforms, along with another historic logo, with the stated intent of recognizing the past. However the return of the Hurons logo has prompted protests from Native Americans both students at the university and in the local community, who state that the old mascot promotes stereotypes and hostility.
Marquette University changed their team name from the Warriors to the Golden Eagles in 1994. The school’s president stated:"We live in a different era than when the Warriors nickname was selected in 1954. The perspective of time has shown us that our actions, intended or not, can offend others. We must not knowingly act in a way that others will believe, based on their experience, to be an attack on their dignity as fellow human beings." Also in 1994, St. John's University (New York) changed the name of its athletic teams from the Redmen to the Red Storm after the university was pressured by American Indian groups who considered Redmen a slur.
In late 2002, The Strategic Planning Committee of Stonehill College determined that the then-current mascot, the chieftain, was disrespectful to American Indians and decided that it would be changed. After discussion, the mascot was changed to the Skyhawk in 2005. Jim Seavey, associate director of athletics stated: "Twelve years ago, the college discarded the logo that depicted the Indian with the headdress and feathers and stuff. We really did not have anything to represent our identity that we were comfortable with. We felt . . . that it wasn't appropriate to have a physical representation of a Native American as our mascot,"
Additionally, teams that are not directly affected by this controversy have issued their opinions. The University of Wisconsin–Madison and the University of Iowa have both refused to schedule non-conference games against schools with Native American mascots. The University of Iowa's own nickname, "Hawkeyes", has Native American origins (Iowa is the "Hawkeye State"), although the team uses a hawk as its symbol rather than an Indian.
Although Dartmouth University had not used an Indian mascot for many years, Yale University printed a program for the 2016 game commemorating its 100th game against Dartmouth showing historical program covers featuring depictions of Native Americans that are now viewed as racist.
National Collegiate Athletic Association
The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) distributed a "self evaluation" to 31 colleges in 2005, for teams to examine the use of potentially offensive imagery with their mascot choice. Subsequently, 19 teams were cited as having potentially "hostile or abusive" names, mascots, or images, that would be banned from displaying them during post-season play, and prohibited from hosting tournaments. All of the colleges previously using Native American imagery changed except for those granted waivers when they obtained official support from individual tribes based upon the principle of Tribal Sovereignty.
San Diego State University was not cited by the NCAA in 2005 due to a decision that the Aztecs were not a Native American tribe with any living descendants. However, the Aztec Warrior whose performance including human sacrifice, has drawn criticism. A SDSU professor of American Indian Studies states that among other problems the mascot teaches the mistaken idea that Aztecs were a local tribe rather than living in Mexico 1,000 miles away.
Secondary schools in both the United States and Canada have had histories similar to colleges, some making voluntary changes while others maintain their current mascots.
Relationships with tribes have been established at the high school level. Arapahoe High School (Centennial, Colorado) now uses a logo provided by the Arapaho Tribe of Wyoming, which initially included an agreement that the image would not be placed on the gym floor or any article of clothing. The latter provision has not always been observed, but the logo does not appear on the team uniforms. The agreement also includes tribal participation in school events.
Justice Murray Sinclair, the head of Canada's Truth and Reconciliation Commission says "sports teams with offensive names, such as Redskins and cartoonish aboriginal-looking mascots have no place in a country trying to come to grips with racism in its past".
Controversy over the name and logo of the Bedford Road Collegiate "Redmen" in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan began in the 1990s, with a vote by students in 1996 choosing to keep things as they are. In 2011 one alumnus of the school used social media to advocate for a change. In 2013, a group of protestors of the name and logo where blocked from entering a high school basketball tournament at Bedford Road, the school and police citing safety concerns. In 2014 three schools in Canada dropped the "Redmen" name: Bedford Road became the RedHawks, Balfour Collegiate became the Bears, and Western Canada High School in Calgary also became the Redhawks.
A grade 12 student has started a petition to change the Mohawks mascot used by Medicine Hat High School, Medicine Hat, Alberta. While the petition to change the name has not yet been submitted to the school board, a counter-petition to keep the name with 1,500 signatures has been submitted. The board has asked the Canadian Mohawk Nations of Kahnawà:ke and Akwesasne for their position on the use of the name.
In addition to moving to change their own mascots, school boards in Ontario are moving towards a ban on students wearing any articles bearing offensive names or logos, be they professional or local teams.
In January 2014 the Nez Perce Tribal Executive Committee sent a letter to two northern Idaho school districts with American Indian mascots asking that they be changed. The mascots are the Sacajawea Junior High Braves in Lewiston and the Nezperce High School Indians. The school officials state that they will have meetings and gather public opinions before making a decision.
Turners Falls High School of Turners Falls, Massachusetts changed its fight song, known as the tomahawk chop, but did not change its name, the Indians. Blacksburg High School in Blacksburg, Virginia changed their mascot from the Indians to the Bruins, and the corresponding middle school mascot of the Braves was changed to the Titans.
The Dalles High School in The Dalles, Oregon will become the Riverhawks for Fall 2014 after being the "Indian Eagles" since 2000 after the merger of two schools. Although the Oregon legislature has allowed high schools to retain native mascots with the approval of a local tribe, the North Wasco County School District Superintendent Candy Armstrong states that, with 48 tribes in the area, "We thought [working with one] might not cause harmony but create more issues.".
John Swett High School in Crockett, California dropped its Indians mascot by a unanimous vote of the School Board in February, 2015 in response to the group Sacred Sites Protection and Rights of Indigenous Tribes which lobbied for the change. However, citing the Golden State Warriors as an example, this Bay Area school changed from Indians to Warriors in February, 2016. Unlike the NBA team the high school has not eliminated Native American references.
Students of Belmont High School in Belmont, New Hampshire questioned the use of Native American imagery in connection to their name, the Red Raiders, saying that while it was never intended to be offensive it is time for a change. At a meeting on the subject there were equal, but respectful comments of both sides. The Shaker Regional School Board voted down the student council request to change the logo.
The last high school in Maine using a Native American name, the Skowhegan Area High School Indians, held a forum to discuss the issue in May, 2015. Only residents of the school district and elected officials were allowed to speak. Individuals spoke both for and against retiring the name. At a previous meeting of a school subcommittee, tribal representatives called for a change in the name. Subsequently, the school board voted 11-9 to keep the name. However local Native Americans, including representatives of Maine's four Wabanaki tribes, continue to protest the name.
Natick High School in Natick, Massachusetts was also the Redmen. An initial vote by the school committee to change the name was in 2007, prompting the formation of a "Redmen Forever" committee by alumni of the school. In spite of their activity, including a nonbinding town referendum in which 65% of the voters supported asking the school committee to reconsider the change, the name was dropped in 2008. The school team is now the Redhawks, however some continue to favor returning to the previous name.
A group of Native American female basketball players from the Tiospa Zina Tribal School hosted a rally during a game with Sisseton High School in Sisseton, South Dakota, asking the Sisseton School District to change the name of its team and logo from Redmen. The grandparents of four of the students protested the name in the 1990s. The school district superintendent said there was support for the name. There was a report of a fight between the brother of one of the protestors and a Sisseton student over the sale of "Not Your Mascot" T-shirts.
Two high schools in West Hartford, Connecticut have replaced their Native American logos, but retain the names: the Conard High School Chieftains and Hall High Warriors. Pascack Valley High School in New Jersey has also decided to retire its "Indian Head" logo while retaining its Indians nickname.
Bellevue East High School in Nebraska will remain the Chieftains, but headdresses and war-paint have been banned at games. In 2015, 92% of the community and 90% of the students voted to keep the "Indians" mascot of Belin High School in Wisconsin.
Onteora High School, located in Boiceville, New York was scheduled to drop its "Indian" mascot in 2000, but the decision was overturned by a town vote. The current plan to select a new mascot comes from students, the Student Government Association holding a contest to come up with new names, which will be given to the school board to make the final decision.
While retaining its team name, the "Arrows", the school district for Watertown High School in Watertown, South Dakota has voted to remove Native American references from its homecoming pageant, which featured white students dressed as Indians.
- See also: Non-NFL Redskins sports teams
Due to the media coverage of the Washington Redskins, high schools with the name Redskins have received particular attention, including three which have a majority of Native American students. Advocates for the name conclude that because some Native Americans use the name to refer to themselves, it is not insulting. However, the principal of one of these, Red Mesa High School in Teec Nos Pos, Arizona, said that use of the word outside American Indian communities should be avoided because it could perpetuate "the legacy of negativity that the term has created."
As of early 2013, the Capitol News Service affiliated with the Philip Merrill College of Journalism of the University of Maryland listed twenty-eight high schools in 18 states that had dropped the "Redskins" name during the prior 25 years as a result of a combination of state legal action, protests from Native American groups, or voluntarily; while 62 were listed as continuing to use the "Redskins" name. Since that list was compiled, an additional seven high school teams have changed their name: Cooperstown, New York High School, Port Townsend High School, Lamar High School in Houston, Texas, Capitol Hill High School, Oklahoma City, Lancaster High School (Lancaster, New York), Goshen High School (Indiana), and North Side High School (Fort Wayne, Indiana). A law signed on October 11, 2015 required the four high schools in California to change their name by January 1, 2017.
In addition to schools, there are many teams for young players using Native American names that participate in Little league baseball and Pop Warner Little Scholars football as well as other youth leagues, some of which are sponsored by professional teams.
Ian Champeau, an Ojibway man in Ottawa, Ontario filed a human rights complaint against the Nepean Redskins Football Club on behalf of his five-year-old daughter in an effort to get the team to change its name. "How are they going to differentiate the playing field from the school yard? What’s going to stop them from calling my daughter a redskin in the school yard? That’s as offensive as using the n-word." Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo said he supports the move because the word Redskin is "offensive and hurtful and completely inappropriate. Niigaan Sinclair (Anishinaabe), a writer and assistant professor at the University of Manitoba applauds the decision and contrasts it to the decision of Daniel Snyder, the Washington team owner. Citing the combination of the stereotype of the Indian with sports in the early 20th century: "The marriage of the Sioux-like warrior name and image to sports was complete, celebrating and re-telling American violence against indigenous communities every time one appears on sports highlights. It's tough to change abusive relationships." The team was changed to the "Nepean Eagles", chosen from 70 suggestions submitted.
A name of a team in a youth football league in Brooklyn, New York was changed from the Redskins to the Bears after some parents made complaints. Other youth leagues contacted by the media to comment about the use of the Redskins name did not respond officially, however one parent of a player on a team in Leesburg, Virginia stated "...the name is a part of football history and tradition. I don't believe it is meant to be derogatory."
None of the National Basketball Association (NBA) teams that previously used Native American mascots continue to do so. The Atlanta Hawks were originally the Tri-Cities Blackhawks (using an "Indian" logo) before moving to Milwaukee, Wisconsin and changing its name to Hawks in 1951. The former Buffalo Braves relocated to San Diego in 1978, and are now known as the Los Angeles Clippers.
The Golden State Warriors, originally known as the Philadelphia Warriors before moving to San Francisco in 1962, eliminated Native American imagery in 1971. Since that time, their logos have emphasized the state of California, with their current primary logo depicting the new eastern span of the San Francisco–Oakland Bay Bridge. The warrior depicted on logos used from 1997-2010 was a generic lightning-wielding figure.
The Atlanta Braves remain the home of the tomahawk chop (although it began at Florida State University). The logo has changed through the years from an Indian in full headdress to an Indian with a Mohawk hairstyle and single feather (described as either laughing or shouting), then to the Braves name in script over a tomahawk. The mascot Chief Noc-A-Homa was replaced in 1986. The current mascot is "Homer the Brave".
The National Hockey League (NHL)'s Chicago Blackhawks was named in honor of the U.S. 86th Infantry Division, which was nicknamed the "Blackhawk Division" after Black Hawk, a Native American chief; the team's founder, Frederic McLaughlin, having served in that division. The team's primary logo is a Native American's profile. In 2008, the staff of The Hockey News voted the team's logo to be the best in the NHL. An alternate logo is a block "C" with crossed tomahawks. The Blackhawks mascot is "Tommy Hawk", an anthropomorphic bird who also wears the four feathers worn by the logo figure.
Suzan Shown Harjo of the Morning Star Institute, a Washington-based advocacy group, has said that the typical Native American logo, "relegates native people to a certain time in history that's not today, and it's intended to do so. It's not something that reflects anything that's current. It kind of keeps us in the backwater of history." Harjo says the Blackhawks have escaped the scrutiny given to other teams using Native imagery because hockey is not a cultural force on the level of football. But she says national American Indian organizations have called for an end to all Indian-related mascots and that she found the hockey team's name and Indian head symbol to be offensive. "It lacks dignity," she said. "There's dignity in a school being named after a person or a people. There's dignity in a health clinic or hospital. There's nothing dignified in something being so named (that is used for) recreation or entertainment or fun." The National Congress of American Indians also opposes the Blackhawks' logo, as it does all Native American mascots. In 2010, sports columnist Damien Cox called on the franchise to retire the "racially insensitive" logo, saying that: "Clearly, no right-thinking person would name a team after an aboriginal figure these days any more than they would use Muslims or Africans or Chinese or any ethnic group to depict a specific sporting notion."
The Blackhawks have worked with the American Indian Center to help educate their community and fan base by sharing Native American culture and history. Scott Sypolt, Executive Counsel for the American Indian Center weighed in on the logo and name controversy by stating, "There is a consensus among us that there’s a huge distinction between a sports team called the Redskins depicting native people as red, screaming, ignorant savages and a group like the Blackhawks honoring Black Hawk, a true Illinois historical figure."
However, this stance is markedly different from the one previously taken by the American Indian Center, with the shift coming only in the past few years. In 2010, for instance, Joe Podlasek stated that, "The stance is very clear. We want the Chicago Blackhawks logo to change. For us, that's one of our grandfathers. Would you do that with your grandfather's picture? Take it and throw it on a rug? Walk on it and dance on it?" John Blackhawk, Chairman of the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska, has suggested that the change in position for the American Indian Center may be connected to contributions the Blackhawks organization has recently begun making to the center: "We all do contributions, but we don't do it for the sake of wanting to be forgiven for something we've done that's offensive."
The owner of the NHL Winnipeg Jets has decided to ban fake Native headdresses at games after meeting with First Nations leaders. The meeting took place in response to a complaint by a Jets fan after seeing a Blackhawks fan in a headdress last season.
In 1997 and 1998, protesters were arrested after effigies were burned. Charges were dismissed in the 1997 case, and were not filed in the 1998 case. Protesters arrested in the 1998 incident subsequently fought and lost a lawsuit alleging that their First Amendment rights had been violated.
The Chief Wahoo logo was replaced with a block letter "C" or script "I" in many situations, such as on their caps and batting helmets. At the beginning of 2014, a decision was made to make the block "C" the team's primary logo—although Chief Wahoo will not disappear entirely—and some see this as a first step toward inevitable elimination. A variety of responses to the issue has emerged from the Cleveland fanbase. Some fans have removed Chief Wahoo logos from purchased apparel, an outcome that is being termed "de-chiefing".
Blogger Peter Pattakos captured a photograph on April 4, 2014 outside a Cleveland Indians game which depicts a discussion between activist Robert Roche of the American Indian Movement and a sports fan costumed as the team mascot Chief Wahoo. One reader's comments on press reports of the event led to a comparison with a "But I'm honoring you, dude!" editorial cartoon from 2002. An advocate for replacing Chief Wahoo makes the connection between the logo and fans wearing redface, beating a tom-tom, and other stereotypical "Indian" behavior that would not be acceptable toward any other ethnic group.
Former MLB Commissioner Bud Selig said in 2014 that he had never received a complaint about the Wahoo logo, and that individual teams such as the Indians and Braves should make their own decisions. Native Americans protested Chief Wahoo on Opening Day 2015, as they have for many years, making note that this is the 100th anniversary of the team becoming the Indians. Owner Paul Dolan, while stating he is respectful of critics, says he mainly hears from fans who want to keep Chief Wahoo, and has no plans to change. While claiming to honor Native Americans, fans confronted by the Native American protesters gave them the finger and made disparaging remarks about scalping. The success of the team in the 2016 season led to renewed attention, first during the playoffs with the Toronto Blue Jays, then during the World Series games in Cleveland.
The Edmonton Eskimos had little controversy over the years, in part because they do not use any native imagery. The name Eskimo originated as a word used by the Cree to refer to the Inuit, who are few in the Edmonton area, and are ambivalent or supportive of the team name. A notable Inuk who openly supported the team name was former Edmonton Inuit player Dave Ward, now better known as Kiviaq. However Natan Obed, the President of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, Canada's national Inuit organization, has stated that "Eskimo" "is not only outdated, it is now largely considered a derogatory term" and is a "relic of colonial power". Former Eskimos player Andre Talbot stated: "Sports organizations need to be community building organizations. And if we're isolating and offending part of that community, then our particular organization or league is not doing its job."
Kansas City Chiefs
In 1963 the Kansas City Chiefs adopted a name referring to Native Americans, when the Dallas Texans (AFL) relocated. While adopting Native American imagery, the team was named in honor of Kansas City mayor Harold Roe Bartle who was instrumental in bringing the Texans to Kansas City, Missouri. Bartel earned his nickname as founder of a Boy Scouts honor camping society Tribe of Mic-O-Say in which he was "Chief" Lone Bear. In 1989 the Chiefs switched from Warpaint, a Pinto horse ridden by a man in a feathered headdress, to their current mascot K. C. Wolf. Warpaint returned in 2009, but is ridden by a cheerleader.
Following the appearance of photographs of fans attending an October 2013 game wearing feathers and warpaint—and doing the tomahawk chop—in the Kansas City Star, numerous Native Americans submitted complaints to the publication. One caller, who was especially upset that the photographs were published on Columbus Day, described the images as a "mockery" and "racist". Writing for the Star's "Public Editor" column, Derek Donovan explained that he found the complaints "reasonable" and suggested that the newspaper depict "other colorful, interesting people in the crowds."
The Kansas City Star reported in early August 2014 that the team's management is planning discussions with some Native American groups to find a non-confrontational way to eliminate, or at least reduce, offensive behavior. Amanda Blackhorse, the lead plaintiff in the trademark case against the Washington Redskins, thinks the real solution is a name change for the Chiefs. Native Americans in Phoenix, Arizona picketed at the game between the Chiefs and the Arizona Cardinals, and have asked the Cardinals' management to bar "Redface", the wearing of headdresses and face paint, protesting what they perceive to be a mockery of Native American culture. A protest is planned in Minnesota when the Chiefs play the Vikings on October 18, 2015. "The Kansas City Chiefs have flown under the radar," said Norma Renville, the executive director of Women of Nations Community Advocacy Program and Shelter. "They are contributing to our cultural genocide." Achieving greater visibility by reaching the playoffs in 2016, Native Americans at Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, Kansas are asking the Chiefs to stop behavior that invokes stereotypes, such as wearing headdresses and doing the "tomahawk chop".
The Washington Redskins receives the most public attention due to the prominence of the team being located in the nation's capital, and the name itself being defined in current dictionaries of American English as "usually offensive", "disparaging", "insulting", and "taboo". Those officially censuring and/or demanding the name be changed include more than 80 organizations that represent various groups of Native Americans. On June 18, 2014, the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB) cancelled the six trademarks held by the team in a two to one decision that held that the term "redskins" is disparaging to a "substantial composite of Native Americans", and this is demonstrated "by the near complete drop-off in usage of 'redskins' as a reference to Native Americans beginning in the 1960s." On July 8, 2015 a Federal judge issued a summary opinion affirming the TTAB decision.
Native American opposition to the name began in the early 1970s with letters to the owner of the team and the editors of the Washington Post. National protests began in 1988, after the team's Super Bowl XXII victory, and again when 1992 Super Bowl between the Redskins and the Buffalo Bills was held in Minnesota.
A symposium in February 2013 at the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C., followed by a media campaign sponsored by the Oneida Indian Nation of New York, led to a broader range of persons speaking out in favor of change or open discussion, including 50 U.S. Senators and President Barack Obama. Statements in support of a name change have been made by religious leaders in Washington, D.C., and the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.
Team owner Daniel Snyder sent an open letter to fans that was published in The Washington Post on October 9, 2013. In the letter Snyder states that the most important meaning of the name Redskins is the association that fans have to memories of their personal history with the team. Snyder also states that the name was chosen to honor Native Americans in general and the coach and four players at that time who were Native American. The team continues to cite current polls showing general public opinion in opposition to changing the name. In May 2016, a poll by the Washington Post (WaPo) found that 90% of respondents who identified themselves as Native Americans were not offended by the name. The Native American Journalists Association (NAJA) issued a statement calling the publication of the poll, and the reporting of its significance, as not only inaccurate and misleading but unethical. "The reporters and editors behind this story must have known that it would be used as justification for the continued use of these harmful, racist mascots. They were either willfully malicious or dangerously naïve in the process and reporting used in this story, and neither is acceptable from any journalistic institution." While not addressing the NAJA criticism, the WaPo editorial board continues to maintain its prior position that the name is a slur and that they will avoid its use as much as possible.
The United States national rugby league team was marketed as the Tomahawks until 2015, when the team was rebranded to simply the "Hawks".
Stereotyping by rival fans
In addition to the behavior of the teams that have Native American names or mascots, their rivals often invoke racist stereotypes.
In December 2013 when the Washington Redskins played the Kansas City Chiefs an employee of a Sonic Drive-In in Missouri placed a message outside that used scalping, reservations and whiskey to disparage the "Redskins". It was quickly removed with the owner's apologies. A rubber severed "Indian" head impaled on a knife was used by a sports fan in Philadelphia to taunt rival teams with Native American mascots.
There have been a number of incidents of rival teams displaying banners or signs referencing the Trail of Tears, which have been criticized for both insensitivity and ignorance of history:
- In Alabama, at a November 2013 game between the Pinson Valley High School Indians and McAdory High School, for which the principal of the school apologized to Native Americans, stating that the cheerleader squad responsible would be disciplined, and that all students would be given a lesson on the actual history of the Trail of Tears. Native Americans responded that it was an example of the continuing insensitivity and stereotyping of Indians in America.
- A week later in Tennessee a similar banner was used by the Dyersburg Trojans when they played the Jackson Northside Indians.
- In 2014, Oklahoma State University fans at their game with the Florida State Seminoles (shown on ESPN's College GameDay), which was quickly condemned by OSU officials who asked for its removal.
- In October, 2016 at a game between Greenfield-McClain High School Tigers and Hillsboro High School for which an apology was made.
Although the Central Michigan Chippewas have the support of the Saginaw Chippewa Tribal Nation of Michigan, a student at rival Western Michigan University designed a T-shirt showing a Native American behind bars with the legend "Caught a Chippewa about a week ago". It was quickly condemned by both university presidents, who agreed that anyone wearing the shirt at a game would be ejected.
Varying degrees of offensiveness
To further complicate this controversy, many feel that there are varying levels of offensiveness with team names and mascots. The nature and degree of stereotyping varies depending upon the name of the team, the logo, the mascot, and the behavior of fans. The greatest offense is taken when the logo and mascot are caricatures viewed as insulting, such as the Cleveland Indians' Chief Wahoo; the name of the team is often regarded as a racial slur, such as redskins; or the behavior of the mascot or fans is based upon popular images of Indians which trivialize authentic native cultures; such as the tomahawk chop.
The practices of individual schools and teams have changed in response to the controversy. A local example is Washington High School in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Many Native American images have been removed, and the "Warriors" nickname is now claimed to be generic. The school now has a "circle of courage" logo with eagle feathers and has also "updated" the murals of Chief Hollow Horn Bear in the gym. Duane Hollow Horn Bear, the chief's great-grandson, who teaches Lakota language and history at Sinte Gleska University in Mission, stated: "We had no objection to their utilizing those pictures as long as my great-grandfather was represented with honor and dignity." However, not all Native Americans are happy with the presence of any such images.
A database from 2013 shows that there are currently almost 2,000 high schools with mascots that reference Native American culture. This is down from around 3,000. Though changes have been made at the high school and college levels, at the professional level there has been virtually no change. The topic remains an issue on a national level, with a hearing before the US Senate Committee on Indian Affairs in 2011, and a symposium at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian in 2013. In November, 2015 President Obama, speaking at the White House Tribal Nations Conference, stated "Names and mascots of sports teams like the Washington Redskins perpetuate negative stereotypes of Native Americans" and praised Adidas for a new initiative to help schools change names and mascots by designing new logos and paying for part of the cost of new uniforms.
- List of sports team names and mascots derived from Indigenous peoples
- List of ethnic sports team and mascot names (all ethnicities)
- Religious symbolism in U.S. sports team names and mascots
- Vernon Bellecourt
- Charlene Teters
- Russell Means
- Chief Zee
- Robert Roche
- Fighting Whites
- Pekin High School Chinks
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n. Offensive Slang Used as a disparaging term for a Native American.
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