Reconciliation through Education: Confronting the Harmful Legacy of Native Mascots
Pictured Above: A demonstrator holds a sign outside of Progressive Field in protest of the Cleveland team name on July 24, 2020. Photo credits to David Petkiewicz and Cleveland .com
State legislatures, professional sports teams, and public schools across the country have recently been reckoning with the harm caused by offensive Native mascots. In Colorado, years of advocacy by the Ute, Southern Ute, and Northern Arapaho nations led to the June enactment of SB21-116, a bill banning the use of Native mascots in the state’s public schools. In Ohio, the July 23rd announcement by Cleveland’s Major League Baseball team that they will be changing their name to the Cleveland Guardians was commended by the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) as a step forward in educating the public on this topic. And in the nation’s capital, the Washington Football team recently confirmed that they will not be choosing a mascot with Native-related imagery in the wake of the summer 2020 retirement of their previous offensive mascot. This progress follows years of academic research on the detrimental impact of Native mascots and decades-long efforts from advocacy groups and Indigenous activists like Suzan Harjo (Hodulgee Muscogee and Cheyenne), Crystal Echo Hawk (Pawnee), and Amanda Blackhorse (Diné) to retire such mascots.
Studies have shown that Native mascots have a number of negative effects on Indigenous people and, in particular, on Indigenous youth. These effects include low self-esteem, depression, a decreased sense of community worth, and increased stress levels. The same studies have also shown that the mascots contribute to negative stereotypes of Indigenous populations amongst non-Native people and make it more difficult to build positive cross-cultural relationships. The negative impact of caricatured sports mascots is further magnified by the stark lack of Indigenous representation in other media.
While the NCAI has identified over 1,800 k-12 schools across the country which still have a Native mascot, activists and Native advocacy groups have expressed their hope that the recent mascot bans and name changes are a step in the right direction towards the removal of dehumanizing Native mascots and towards an increase in the visibility of Indigenous people through more accurate and positive representation.
Pictured Above: A graphic from Illuminative’s Change the Story initiative.
Last week, we spoke to Gen7 youth Exodus to hear his thoughts as an Indigenous young person on mascots and the importance of positive Native representation. Exodus expressed support for the Colorado legislature’s recent ban on Native mascots in the state's public schools, as he feels the mascots make fun of how Indigenous people historically lived and dressed. "That's setting a bad view to us and our sacred lands," he said of the mascots. When asked about his thoughts on Indigenous representation, Exodus stated that he would like to see more positivity and respect towards Native people. We offer him our gratitude for sharing his insight on this topic with us!
Additional resources on Native mascots, their harmful effects, and the ongoing movement to retire them listed below.
A Time Magazine interview with Adrienne Keene (Cherokee) on the history and impact of Native mascots: https://time.com/5866481/native-american-mascots/
A documentary which analyzes the derogatory Washington Football Team name and discusses the appropriation of Native cultures. Available on Kanopy with a university login or public library card for participating colleges, universities, and libraries: https://www.kanopy.com/product/more-word
Research on the harmful effects of Native mascots:
A 2008 study on the psychological effects of Native mascots by Stephanie A. Fryberg, Hazel Rose Markus, Daphna Oyserman, and Joseph M. Stone: http://www.indianmascots.com/fryberg--web-psychological_.pdf
A summary, created by Illuminatives, of a recent study on the relationship between Native American identity and attitudes toward Native mascots:
On recent name changes and bans on Native mascots:
“The long road to a reckoning on racist team names” from Vox:
“Indigenous parents explain why Cleveland Guardians name change means so much” from Today:
“Washington NFL Team says no Native-themed mascot” from Indian Country Today:
A summary of Colorado SB21-116: https://leg.colorado.gov/bills/sb21-116
Organizations leading the movement to remove dehumanizing Native Mascots:
The National Congress of American Indians: https://www.ncai.org/proudtobe
No More Native Mascots: http://www.nomorenativemascots.org/
Change the Mascot: https://www.changethemascot.org/
Pictured above: A demonstrator at a 2014 march in Minneapolis in protest of the name of the Washington Football Team. Photo credits to Fibonacci Blue.
Sources for this blog post include: Coverage of this topic from Indian Country Today, The Denver Post, The Casper Star-Tribune, the Associated Press, Vox, Today, the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) National School Mascot Tracking Database, a 2020 study from Laurel R. Davis-Delano, Joseph P. Gone & Stephanie A. Fryberg, 2008 academic journal article from Stephanie A. Fryberg, Hazel Rose Markus, Daphna Oyserman, and Joseph M. Stone, and resources from the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI)
Reconciliation through Education: The LakotaRide, the Horse Nation, and the Road to Reconciliation
Pictured Above: The Spirit of the Tsunka Wakan is the heart of the LakotaRide
In a typical year, the dust from the LakotaRide would now be settling. Riders would be gently easing back into the rhythms of their daily lives, processing the lessons learned on horseback and around the sacred circle, and taking time to reflect. But even amidst the postponement of the LakotaRide, the Spirit of the Tsunka Wakan Oyate (Horse Nation) and the commitment to reconciliation central to the Ride have continued to inspire us. Recently, Keeper of the Firewood Norbert "Nobby" Bell generously shared his experiences and knowledge of horses with us in honor of the LakotaRide:
“The Tsunka Wakan is a holy animal. It’s sacred,” said Bell of horses within the cultures of Plains tribes. The Horse, he explained, is sacred for its presence in the everyday lives of Indigenous people on the Plains. Horses originated millions of years ago in North America before spreading to Asia and Europe. After several millennia of extinction on their native continent, they quickly readapted to the land upon their reintroduction by the Spanish. Whether carrying riders and heavy loads across long distances, making hunting more efficient, participating in ceremonies, or guiding warriors in battle, horses played a crucial role in the history of tribes across the continent. Bell expressed that the role of the horse as a companion is still key to the Plains tribes, stating “Once you make that connection [with a horse], they’re your best friend for life.”
Nobby is a Northern Arapaho tribal elder living on Pine Ridge and has been working with horses his entire life. We offer him our gratitude for sharing this knowledge!
Pictured Above: The LakotaRide is first and foremost a Ride of Reconciliation
While the LakotaRide is rooted in horse medicine, it is also characterized by a dedication to the sacred work of reconciliation. On the LakotaRide - and during Tipi Raisers gatherings throughout the year - reconciliation takes many forms. It reveals itself in nightly circles as Native and non-Native people engage in honest dialogue, in warm meals eaten together after a long day riding through the Front Range, in the faces of Lakota elders who graciously share their wisdom and of volunteers who return year after year. Often, reconciliation hurts. It is a deep-seated and Spirit-fed obligation to one another, fulfilled through laughter, struggle, teaching, and learning, through speaking bravely and listening earnestly. It requires an unlearning of the whitewashed history so many of us have been taught, and calls us to learn the truth of our shared history from the Indigenous perspective.
While reconciliation in the Tipi Raisers context is centered on relationship-building, a nationwide conversation has recently been emerging around what a US government-led reconciliation initiative with Indigenous communities should look like.
Truth and reconciliation commissions have been implemented by over 40 countries since the mid-20th century with the purpose of addressing, documenting, and healing traumatic and unjust histories. The June announcement of an investigation into Native boarding schools by the US Department of the Interior has prompted some to compare the initiative with Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). The TRC, formed by the Canadian government in 2008, was tasked with investigating the history and ongoing effects of abuses committed against Indigenous children at the country's state and church-run residential schools. Some residential school survivors stated that the TRC’s 2015 presentation of its findings contributed to their journey towards healing, while other individuals and groups have since criticized the TRC’s efficacy and its failure to fully investigate mass graves at school sites.
A bill to establish a truth and reconciliation commission on Native boarding schools similar to Canada's TRC was introduced into the US House of Representatives in 2020 by then-congresswoman Deb Haaland (Laguna Pueblo), but has yet to move out of committee. Despite this delay on a congressional effort towards reconciliation, activists have expressed hope that the Department of the Interior’s investigation under now-Secretary Haaland’s leadership will begin to address the injustices of Native boarding schools in the US.
Additional resources on the role of horses in Indigenous cultures, reconciliation and more listed below.
Archives from a 2009-2013 exhibit at the National Museum of the American Indian on the history and significance of the Horse in Native cultures:
An article from The Conversation discussing restorative justice and the efficacy of truth commissions in over 40 countries worldwide:
On Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the criticisms it has faced:
The archived official website of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, including links to its official report and findings, exhibitions, and additional resources:
“'Cultural Genocide,' Truth and Reconciliation Commission Calls Residential Schools” from Indian Country Today
“Much work remains on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's 94 Calls to Action” from the National Post https://nationalpost.com/news/much-work-remains-on-the-truth-and-reconciliation-commissions-94-calls-to-action
On US-government led reconciliation initiatives in regards to Native Boarding Schools:
“Canada, US differ on boarding schools” from Indian Country Today
Full text of HR. 8420, the Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policy Act
On local reconciliation efforts in Colorado and beyond:
“Search for remains at Colorado’s Native American boarding schools to proceed slowly, respectfully” from the Denver Post https://www.denverpost.com/2021/07/25/colorado-indian-boarding-schools-remains-graves/
“Dawnland” - A documentary which follows Native and non-Native officials across Maine as they investigate the impact of harmful child welfare practices against Native children and engage in the first government-sanctioned truth and reconciliation commission (TRC) in the United States. Available with a PBS passport subscription here: https://www.pbs.org/video/dawnland-t0dsij/#
Pictured above: Reconciliation, one relationship at a time
Sources for this blog post include: the WoLakota Project, the National Museum of the American Indian, a recent statement from the Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition, the official Truth & Reconciliation Commission of Canada website, & coverage of truth and reconciliation efforts by Indian Country Today, the New York Times, The World, the Star Tribune, and NPR
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