May 24, 2012 • Huddle Up

Banning Native American Nicknames

Two students out of the 348 who attend Rogue River High School (home of the Chieftains) in Oregon classify themselves as “American Indian/Alaska Native.” Ten students use this classification out of the 827 who attend Oregon’s Molalla High (home of the Indians). And, only 35 students use this classification within Roseburg High’s (home of the Indians) total enrollment of 1,824.

With hardly any representation in these schools (as well as 12 others in Oregon), the state Board of Education voted last week to stand up for Native Americans by banning all nicknames, mascots and logos at public schools. As an Oregon resident and someone who goes out of his way not to refer to the Washington NFL team by its mascot name (the Oregonian newspaper agrees and hasn’t used Redskins, Redmen, Indians or Braves in reference to a team since 1992), I applaud the move.

Taking a group of people who have been persecuted, disenfranchised and uprooted throughout their history in this country and making them a mascot for a white-dominated student population isn’t the way to honor Native Americans. In fact, the American Psychological Association called for the immediate retirement of all American Indian mascots and images from schools in 2005 after research showed these nicknames create an unwelcome and sometimes hostile learning environment for American Indian students, as well as promoting stereotyping against Native American spirituality and culture.

Think about it—when you see a Native American mascot, what is that person wearing or doing? Is that an accurate, 2012 depiction of Native Americans or is it a throwback to the early 1900s when caricatures of minorities were the norm?

This isn’t an issue about teams still using names like Scots, Fighting Irish, Vikings or to the even lazier, sarcastic arguments about standing up for animal rights and banning Ducks, Beavers, Bears, etc. This is a Native American issue. This is about how they feel and how these stereotypes cause psychological harm to their ethnic group. For the vast majority of people against banning these nicknames, it’s not about why you think it’s an honor to have your school nickname be Redskins or Indians. It’s about respected groups such as the National Congress of American Indians and National Indian Education Association both against these mascots.

Yes, it’s going to cost some money to make these changes and school districts are not in the position right now to spend extra funds, which is why the Oregon Department of Education advisory committee made a recommendation in 2006 to do away with Native American mascots. Plus, the affected schools now have an additional five years (until July 2017) to get this done. If the schools took the initial message to heart in 2006, that gives them 11 years to buy new jerseys, redo floors, buy new letterhead and paint walls, which all are things done in the scope of a normal athletic department during that timeframe.

While washing away names and imagery helps move the conversation forward past stereotypes, it doesn’t solve the problem. I hope this ban serves as a springboard to institute more learning about cultures in our schools and not just idle chatter about honoring Native Americans while painting misrepresented, stereotypical heads on gymnasium walls.

For more information on the Oregon ban on Native American mascots, read the full Report to the State Board of Education on this topic by clicking on the PDF on this link: http://www.ode.state.or.us/news/announcements/announcement.aspx?id=8131&typeid=4.

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