Not Your Mascot

By David Chen, Staff Writer

Courtesy of Sports Illustrated

Native American citizens have their own set of traditions and culture, unique to the entire world, and their protests are a result of the discrimination, disenfranchisement, and disgusting cultural misrepresentation they have faced. 

These protests do not originate from arbitrary causes; in America itself, their culture is often the subject of copious amounts of appropriation and mockery. The Native American mascot imagery originates almost centuries ago when the European colonists began a tradition of “playing Indian.” This practice spread to sports brands that adopted Native American names and symbols based off of how they imagined Aboriginal life, but what many forget is that such adaptations were never consensual to begin with and still aren’t.

A prominent example of such imagery is the logo of National Football League’s Washington Redskins, described as an “Indian-head logo.” The Washington Redskins franchise is valued at over $3.1 billion US dollars by Forbes.

To understand the history of stereotyping Native American traditions, it is essential to acknowledge historical efforts to assimilate Native Americans into European-American culture, including American Indian boarding schools and Canadian residential schools. These schools forcefully removed children from their Native American families and punished them for speaking their native language, forced them to learn English and French, and caused them to be chained by malnourishment, physical and mental abuse, and poorly maintained water quality.

After finally being allowed to leave, they could not return home simply because they didn’t have one – their culture was erased from their identity. At the same time, they were unable to find their place in society due to their label: “Indian.” As a result, many stereotypes were created of Native American identity, which are overwhelming inaccurate or oversimplified.

The Washington Redskins is only one of many examples of how “Indian” sports brands, symbols, logos, and mascots are still present in our society. Rather than honoring Native American culture, these caricatures perpetuate harmful stereotypes and while degrading their identity. While supporters of the Washington Redskins have argued that any negative connotations were not its intent, the implicit perpetuation of stereotypes and imagery nevertheless fosters resentment and restricts Native Americans’ ability to live autonomously and safely in society.

Protests have been occurring for decades to remove the use of similar appropriations. Some progress has been made as a result of the protests: recently, the Native American Heritage Fund awarded $350,000 to the Belding School District in Michigan to remove red skin imagery.

However, the progress made is incomparable to the centuries of damage inflicted on Native Americans. Colonialism may have been in the past, but its impacts still haunt our society today. It is time to address our past mistakes and to truly begin respecting their identity.