Con: Derogatory mascots harm Native American identity

Melissa Crowe By Melissa Crowe

Oct. 20, 2013 at 5:20 a.m.

For almost 50 years, the National Congress of American Indians has pushed back against American Indian mascots, logos and symbols it considers racist and derogatory.

In a report issued this month, the group said its efforts to end the mascots "are rooted in an attempt to achieve social justice and racial equity across all parts of American society."

President Barack Obama and the pro football commissioner have weighed in on the controversy, and now, the Oneida Indian Nation hopes a "Change the Mascot" campaign against the Washington Redskins will provide the momentum to bring change.

Macarena Hernandez, a humanities professor at the University of Houston-Victoria, said if the majority of Redskins fans were Native Americans, the team's owners would have changed the name long ago.

"At the end of the day, it's all about the color green, not much else," Hernandez said.

The term "redskin," which was first recorded in the late 17th century, referred not to the natural color of a tribe's skin but their use of face and body paint. Later, the term distinguished Indians of India from the Americas and grew into a label assigned by settlers, not Native Americans.

"I think even though Native Americans don't all agree on how offensive this racial slur is, the truth is some people are deeply offended, and they're entitled to their opinion," Hernandez said.

The issue has taken on support from several organizations, including the American Psychological Association, the American Sociological Association and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

"The people from those ethnic groups have every right to demand the labels they want to be associated with or find appropriate," Hernandez said. "I hope the general public doesn't dismiss this as the PC police gone mad."

Since the National Congress of American Indians began its campaign, more than 2,000 "Indian" references in sports have been eliminated, according to the report.

During the past 25 years, 28 high schools have changed their "Redskins" name.

A namesake exception allows universities to keep their Native American nicknames and imagery if it is based on a particular tribe and they have the permission to do so by the respective tribe. The national congress supports individual tribes, universities and sports teams working together in ways that are respectful of tribal culture and ensure that Indian imagery is used in an honorable manner, according to the report.

Shiner Superintendent Trey Lawrence said the school, which goes by the Comanches, is not about to drop its mascot.

However, he said there is a difference between the team names Washington Redskins and Shiner Comanches.

"Redskins is kind of a slang word," Lawrence said. "I can see why people would be offended by it."

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