Native American mascot controversy

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Former Cleveland Indians player Omar Vizquel wearing a baseball cap showing the image of the Cleveland Indians mascot, Chief Wahoo

The propriety of using Native American team nicknames and images as mascots in sports has been a topic of public controversy in the United States and Canada since the 1960s, as part of the movement for Native American civil rights. There have been protests and other actions targeting the more visible professional teams, such as the Cleveland Indians (in particular their "Chief Wahoo" logo), and the Washington Redskins, due to the name "Redskins" being defined in most American English dictionaries as derogatory slang.[1]

The issue is often discussed in the media in terms of offensiveness, which reduces it to feelings and opinions, and prevents full understanding of the history and context of the use of Native American names and images and why their use by sports teams should be eliminated.[2] Social science research says that sports mascots and images, rather than being mere entertainment, are important symbols with deeper psychological and social effects.[3] The accumulation of objective 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.[4][5]

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. 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.[6]

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 recognize these traits as being based upon stereotypes of Native Americans as savages.[1] Supporters also state that the issue is not important, being only about sports, and that the opposition is nothing more than "political correctness", which ignores the extensive evidence of harmful effects of stereotypes and bias.[7] Surveys of public opinion consistently find that the majority of people in the United States support retaining the names and images in current use, however 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 seen in use by teams at all levels from elementary school to professional.


European Americans have had a history of drawing inspiration from native peoples and "playing Indian" that dates back at least to the 18th century.[8] This practice led directly to the origins of many nicknames and mascots. Like 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.[9]

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 success of the Braves in the 1914 World Series may have been the reason for the Cleveland team, which was looking for a new nickname, to become the Indians in 1915. The story that the team is named to honor Louis Sockalexis, the first Native American to play Major League Baseball, cannot be verified from historical documents.[10] 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.[11]

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.[12] 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." [13]


Native Americans[edit]

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.[14] 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 "Redsk*ns" 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 common place."[15] 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."[16] Several of the founders of the American Indian Movement, including Clyde Bellecourt, Vernon Bellecourt,[17] and Russel Means,[18] 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.[19] Such practices can be seen as a form of cultural imperialism or neocolonialism.[20]

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."[21] 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.[citation needed]

Social sciences and education[edit]

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.[22]

Sports mascots are 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.[23]

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.[24] Similar resolutions have been adopted by the American Sociological Association,[25] the American Counseling Association,[26] and the American Anthropological Association.[27]

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.[28]

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.[29] 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.[30] 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.[31]

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.[32][33]

Civil rights[edit]

The NAACP passed a resolution calling for the end of the use of Native American names, images, and mascots in 1999.[34]

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.[35]

Supporters of the use of native imagery reject the term racism, because they associate that word with the experience of African Americans rather than Native Americans; however, racism is a broader term for any discriminatory practice based upon ethnicity. 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 a discriminatory practice that is not understood as such by those that think of assimilation as a positive process.[36]

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.[37] 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.[38] 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.[39]

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."[40]

Religious organizations[edit]

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.[41] 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.[42][43]

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 [44]

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.[45][46]

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".[47] 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.[48]

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."[49] At its annual meeting in June 2014, the membership of the UCC also passed a resolution supporting the boycott.[50][51] The resolution and boycott was passed by the National Synod of the UCC in June, 2015.[52]

Other team names and ethnic groups[edit]

Opponents also highlight the double standard of Native American being the only racial group depicted in sports. The only current exception may be the Coachella Valley High School "Arabs"[53] which has also been the subject of controversy, resulting in the retirement of its more cartoonish representations.[54]

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.[55] 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[56] is a mythical being that represents the Irish, which is both an ethnic and a national group.[57][58] 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.[59]

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.[60] 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.[61][62] Pembroke Middle School, which also has close ties to the Lumbee tribe, is nicknamed the Warriors.[63][64]

Popular opinion[edit]

The Washington Redskins logo at FedEx Field, in Maryland

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."[65]

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."[66] However, it is not the names by themselves that are 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?"[67]

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.[9] 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."[68] In 2006, in response to a widely published column by journalist George Will[69] 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."[70] On March 13, 2007, the University of Illinois board of trustees voted to retire Illiniwek's name, image and regalia.[71]

Native American scholar Cornel Pewewardy has collected many statements made by non-natives when attempting to address racial issues, and places them in four categories:

  1. Avoidance: Statements that prevent discussion by changing the topic
  2. Disavowal: "But we are honoring you" or other statements that claim a problem does not exist
  3. Dismissal/Patronizing: Making statements based upon their own assumption of superiority
  4. Re-Centering: Statements that attempt to redefine the issue as non-existent or trivial, such as calling it "political correctness"[72]

Public opinion surveys[edit]

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." [73]

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."[74] 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.'" [75][76]

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.[77] See: Redskins Public Opinion Polls.

The above polls share all of the sampling bias issues that effect the survey process in recent years, including the change from land-lines to cellphones and the response rate which is down to 10%.[78] 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".[79] The problem of individuals claiming to be Native American when they are not is well known in academic research, and is a particular problem when non-natives claim Indian identity specifically to gain authority in the debate over sports mascots.[80]

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.[81][82]

Financial impact of change[edit]

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.[65] 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.[83]

Opponents, however, are unconcerned with the cost of changing, and view mascots as caricatures of real Indians that do not honor them, but rather trivialize and demean important Indian dances and traditions. 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."[65]

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.[84]


Legal and administrative action[edit]

Statewide laws or school board decisions have been made in a small number of states with significant Native American populations. Several legislative and administrative actions have been made specifically with regard to schools using the name "Redskins".(See Below)

There has been backlash, however. In response to the Tennessee Commission of Indian Affairs seeking a similar ban though the Tennessee Human Rights Commission, the Tennessee Senate passed a law allowing only elected officials (themselves) to take any action banning school teams using American Indian names and symbols.[85]

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.[86]

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.[87] In October 2013 a bill passed the Wisconsin State Assembly that would make it more difficult to remove Indian mascots by requiring the complainant to collect signatures of 10% of the school district's population and prove discrimination. Under the 2010 law only one petitioner is needed, and the burden of proof is on the school to disprove racism.[88] Wisconsin’s Chippewa tribes urged Governor Scott Walker to veto the bill.[89] Although initially stating that he had no interest in the issue,[90] Walker signed the bill into law on December 19, 2013; also sending a letter to tribal leaders in the state citing free speech as a justification for allowing use of names and mascots many find offensive.[91] Professors of Law and Journalism contest this interpretation of free speech, since citizens have the right to free speech but not schools which are government entities. The Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association, which runs state sporting tournaments, already has a policy against spectator behavior or displays that are offensive, including ones based on race and national origin, bans that are similar to but less restrictive than NCAA rules.[92] Although now allowed to do so, some schools that have already made a change have decided not to restore their prior mascots.[93] Addressing the Wisconsin Legislature, Laurie Boivin, the Menominee Nation's new chairwoman criticized the new mascot law, saying the changes will damage native children.[94] The school board in Berlin, Wisconsin voted to retain the name of the Berlin High School Indians after a survey of local residents found 92% in favor of keeping the name.[95] A survey of students found 90% in favor of keeping the name.[96] 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."[97]

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. Schools have until July 1, 2017 to comply. Fifteen schools using the nicknames Indians, Warriors, Braves and Chieftains were affected.[98] 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.[99] As of March, 2013, the Oregon legislature was considering bills that would modify the Board of Education's decision. One would allow for retention of a mascot or nickname with tribal approval, the other would remove the financial penalty for non-compliance.[100] The bill that was passed was vetoed by Governor John Kitzhaber as being too broad, allowing most schools to retain their names and mascots.[101] In 2014 a revised bill is expected to become law that would allow schools to keep Native American mascots under certain conditions, including the approval of an appropriate tribe and the Board of Education.[102] Individual schools continue to have meetings and draft rules regarding implementation of the law.[103] Some communities continue to work with tribes in order to retain their Native American references in a respectful way. 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.[104] As of March, 2015 schools and tribal groups continue to work out how to implement the law, while some maintain that the use of Native mascots needs to end everywhere.[105] "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.[106] 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.[107] The Amity High School Warriors expect to change their name to comply with the law, while the Warriors of Aloha High School have successfully argued that their name does not need to change since it refers to Hawaiians not Native Americans.[108]

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.[109][110] The Seattle Human Rights Commission passed a resolution supporting the WSBE in November, 2012.[111]

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.[112][113] The Washington NFL team issued a statement repeating its position that such names are not offensive to many Native Americans, but rather are a source of pride.[114] 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.[115] The total cost is estimated to be $250,000.[116] However it was noted that team uniforms are periodically replaced anyway, so the cost is not due only to the name changes.[117] "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.[118]

A member of the Council of the District of Columbia has introduced a bill that would amend the city's Human Rights Act to prohibit any "race-based nickname, logo, mascot or team name" in DC schools.[119]

In 2014 State lawmakers in Colorado began considering a bill that would deny state funding to schools on a case by case basis, depending upon the name, logo, and local Native American support. Names such as "Savages" and cartoon caricature logos would likely be targeted while more respectful usage might not.[120] 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."[121] The bill introduced in 2015 proposed a subcommittee composed of members of an American Indian tribe which would decide whether a mascot is offensive. Schools with mascots not approved would have two years to comply after which they would be fined.[122] Although approved by one house committee, the bill has been stripped of the funding for its implementation by the appropriations committee.[123] Although passed by the House by one vote, the bill failed in a Colorado Senate committee where the Republican majority voted against it.[124] The Colorado Commission of Indian Affairs (CCIA) and tribal leaders will now attempt to engage opponents of change in discussions in order to promote understanding of the disrespectful nature of native mascots.[125]

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.[126] 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".[127] Visiting athletic teams will also be asked to leave behind Native American mascots and logos, otherwise the game could be canceled.[128]

Colleges and universities[edit]

1930 Football ticket stub depicting the former Stanford Indian mascot

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.[129]

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.[130][131] In one incident, a Native American man encountered some students wearing face paint and native costume. When asked what they were doing, some responded "We’re the F-ing Hurons!". When told that their behavior was racist, some responded with insults and a thrown beer can.[132]

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."[133] 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.[134]

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.[135] 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," [136]

Additionally, teams that are not directly affected by this controversy have issued their opinions. The University of Wisconsin–Madison[137] 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.

National Collegiate Athletic Association[edit]

The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), the ruling authority on college athletics, distributed a "self evaluation" to 31 colleges in 2005, for teams to examine the use of potentially offensive imagery with their mascot choice.[138] 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.[139] Since then, all of the colleges previously using the nickname Indians changed them; Arkansas State University to Red Wolves, Indiana University of Pennsylvania to Crimson Hawks, McMurry University to War Hawks, Midwestern State University to Mustangs, Newberry College to Wolves, University of Louisiana at Monroe to Warhawks.

California State University, Stanislaus eliminated Native American references to their Warrior nickname, initially using a Warrior Hawk mascot which never caught on;[138] it has been replaced by a Roman Warrior, Titus.[140] The College of William and Mary (W&M) had previously changed from "Indians" to The Tribe, but was cited due to two feathers in its logo, which were removed. After a brief period of having the frog-like character Colonel Ebirt as its unofficial mascot, W&M selected the Griffin in 2010. Both Alcorn State University[141] and Bradley University kept the nickname Braves but changed their mascots, while the Chowan University Braves became the Hawks. The Carthage College Redmen became the Red Men, and the Southeastern Oklahoma State University Savages changed to Savage Storm.

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Fighting Illini kept the nickname as referring to the state, not Native Americans, but officially stopped using the Chief Illiniwek image and mascot in 2007, although an attachment remains among many students and alumni;[142][143][144][145] but not all.[146] The "Honor the Chief Society" filed an application with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in 2009 to register the Chief Illiniwek symbol, which the university opposed. In October, 2013 an agreement was reached that will allow limited private use of the name as long as accompanied by a disclaimer stating that the university is not involved in such use. A new chief cannot be named, and the university retains control of the name.[147] Alex Dozier continues to make appearances as "the Chief", and is the focus of those that continue to advocate for the return of the prior mascot.[148]

The University of North Dakota initially challenged the NCAA policy in court, but settled in 2007 when it was given three years to obtain consent from the Sioux tribes in the state.[149] When one tribe refused permission,[150] the state Board of Higher Education proceeded with plans to eliminate the Fighting Sioux name and logo. In 2011 the State Legislature voted that the university should retain the name but in a 2012 referendum the voters decided to proceed with the change, which has been completed but no alternative nickname or logo has been selected.[151][152] The NCAA has agreed to allow some of the logos to remain in the sports stadiums, while removing the larger and more obvious ones.[153] Additional legal cases have run their course, leaving the Fighting Sioux name and logo officially retired.[154] The 2012 referendum specified that there would be a cooling off period during which a new nickname would not be selected, which ended on January 1, 2015. However a bill has been submitted to the legislature to extend this period for another two and a half years, until July 1, 2017. UND President Robert Kelley testified against the bill, stating that it was time to move on and choose a new logo and name.[155]

The NCAA has granted waivers from their mascot policy to five university teams that have obtained official support from individual tribes for the use of their names and images, which is based upon the principle of Tribal Sovereignty, as stated by the NCAI: "In general, NCAI strongly opposes the use of derogatory Native sports mascots. However, in the case where mascots refer to a particular Native nation or nations, NCAI respects the right of individual tribal nations to work with universities and athletic programs to decide how to protect and celebrate their respective tribal heritage."[15]

  • Catawba College Indians became the Catawba Indians with approval of that tribe.[156]
  • Central Michigan University (Chippewas) - The Saginaw Chippewa Tribal Nation of Michigan gave its support to the nickname.[157]
  • Florida State University (Seminoles): The name Seminoles was selected by student vote in the 1940s, and for the first two decades the athletic teams mostly used images based on stereotypes such as in Hollywood Westerns. Leaders of the Seminole Tribe of Florida who attended a basketball game on the campus in 1972 expressed their concerns to university officials regarding the antics of such mascots as Sammy Seminole and Chief Fullabull which were retired that year.[158] 1978 marked the first appearance of Osceola and Renegade, in which a student portrays the 19th-century Seminole leader Osceola, riding Renegade, an Appaloosa horse. The student, chosen for his horsemanship, wears clothing provided by the Seminole tribe but is not necessarily of native American descent himself. The Seminole Tribe of Florida officially sanctions the use of the Seminole as Florida State University’s nickname and of Osceola as FSU's symbol. Max Osceola, the chief and general council president of the Seminole Tribe of Florida, has stated that he regards it as an "honor" to be associated with the university. However, the Seminole Tribe of Florida is only one of the tribal authorities representing Seminoles. Some members of the much larger Seminole Nation of Oklahoma objected to the use of the name and imagery, leading to the NCAA originally placed FSU on the list of colleges using imagery "hostile or abusive" towards Native Americans.[159] However, in July 2005, the Seminole Nation General Council, the legislative body for the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma, voted 18-2 not to oppose the use of Native American names and mascots by college sports teams.[160] However the relationship between the Florida tribe and the university has been maintained to the present, with few voices in opposition.[161][162] In addition to Osceola, there are the FSU traditions of the "tomahawk chop" and "war chant", which have more controversial associations.[163][164]
  • Mississippi College (Choctaws) received the support of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians to keep their name.[165]
  • University of Utah (Utes) - For many decades, the school did not have an official Western Athletic Conference mascot. As early as the 1950s, the University of Utah created a Ute Indian boy, named "Hoyo", as its mascot. The University of Utah club organizations, such as the Associated Students of the University of Utah, the University of Utah Alumni Association, the Daily Chronicle, and many other social organizations highly celebrated "Hoyo" at homecoming events, before and after football games events, and at other social events for many years.[166] Prior to 1972, teams used both "Utes" and "Redskins" as nicknames, but dropped the latter in response to tribal concerns. In 1996 Swoop, a red tailed hawk, became the official mascot.[167] Even though Swoop is now the University of Utah's official mascot, Utah fans and its clubs alike still use "Utes" as their nickname at sporting events. This is done with permission from the Ute Tribal Council.[168][169]

Secondary schools[edit]

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.


Brebeuf College School, a Catholic all-boys school in North York, Ontario changed its nickname to "Bulls" in 2004 after being called "Redmen" since 1963.

David and Mary Thomson Collegiate Institute in Scarborough, Ontario had been the "Redmen" since 1959, which was changed to the "Titans" in 2005.

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.[170] 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.[171] In March 2014, the Saskatoon public school board passed a motion to have the school drop the name "Redmen" and use a new name by the beginning of the new school year in September.[172] The new name is the RedHawks.

In Ontario, there is debate over the Thorold Blackhawks junior hockey team and the Denis Morris Catholic High School "Redmen".[173]

The Department of Educational Foundations at the University of Saskatchewan passed a resolution calling for the retirement of all school mascots and logos that depict First Nations people.[174]

A grade 12 student has started a petition to change the Mohawks mascot used by Medicine Hat High School, Medicine Hat, Alberta.[175] 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.[176]

United States[edit]

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.[177]

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.".[178]

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.[179]

Students of Belmont High School (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.[180] The Shaker Regional School Board voted down the student council request to change the logo.[181]

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.[182] At a previous meeting of a school subcommittee, tribal representatives called for a change in the name.[183] Subsequently, the school board voted 11-9 to keep the name.[184] However local Native Americans, including representatives of Maine's four Wabanaki tribes, continue to protest the name.[185]

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.[186] 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.[187] The school team is now the Redhawks,[188] however some continue to favor returning to the previous name.[189] In contrast, the Western Canada High School in Calgary, Canada has decided to change its "Redmen" nickname and logo with strong support from the school's administration, students and parents for the decision.[190][191]

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.[192][193] 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.[194]

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.[195] Pascack Valley High School in New Jersey has also decided to retire its "Indian Head" logo while retaining its Indians nickname.[196]


High Schools with the name Redskins have received particular attention due to the media coverage of the Washington NFL team, in particular 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.[197] 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."[198]

As of early 2013, the Capitol News Service in 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.[199] Since that list was compiled, an additional six high school teams (cited below) have changed their name, reducing current usage to 56 high schools.

Recent changes[edit]

The Cooperstown Central School Board of Education (NY) voted 6-1 on March 6, 2013 to remove the Redskins mascot from its interscholastic athletic, extracurricular and academic programs. The move was prompted by a vote by the student body, asking that the mascot be changed. The Oneida Indian Nation was so moved by the actions of the Cooperstown students, that a letter by Oneida Nation Representative Ray Halbritter was written to the students, commending their decision and offering to make a contribution to help offset the cost of changing mascots.[200]

In June 24, 2013 school board members of the Port Townsend High School in Port Townsend, Washington voted to replace its "Redskins" nickname, logo, and mascot (used since 1926) due to its divisive nature.[201] In April 2014 the students selected Red Hawks as their new team name. The next step will be to select new graphics to replace the old.[202]

Lamar High School in Houston, Texas[114] became the Texans in April, 2014.[116][118]

On December 8, 2014 the Oklahoma City School Board voted unanimously to remove Redskins as the nickname for Capitol Hill High School. The vote came in response to pleas from students and teachers who found the term offensive.[203] The following day some students of the high school upset by the change protested the school board decision.[204] On January 6, 2015 the school board held an information forum at which a panel of Native American community leaders presented the reasons for the decision, including the derogatory nature of the term. Some members of the audience walked out during the presentation, and one alumni called the presentation "propaganda" and asserted his opposition to changing the name. Another alumni stated that if any Native Americans did not like the name Redskins they should go to a native school.[205][206] A committee has selected four possible replacements, including Red Hawks, Red Wolves, War Eagles and Nations, with the final decision to be made by a vote of Capitol Hill Students. Names such as Chieftains and Warriors, although favored by alumni on the committee, were not selected as continuing the linkage to Native Americans.[207] In a vote by students in May, 2015, Red Wolves was selected as the new mascot.[208]

The name of the Lancaster, New York High School team was discussed at a school board meeting in January, 2015. "Of all the words that could be used to describe us, ‘Redskin’ is the worst, said John Kane, talk show host for the First Voices Indigenous Radio Network". The school has de-emphasized the Redskins name in recent years, eliminating the name and logo from the scoreboard and uniforms. However, two former school board members defend the name, citing it as "a source of community identity, pride and spirit". Kane characterized the defense of the name as having an "Archie Bunker" mentality. "In this day and age, it’s not a celebratory term," said Hilary N. Weaver, associate dean for academic affairs at the University at Buffalo and co-director of the Immigrant and Refugee Research Institute. "You’re a school district, and it’s important to look at what you’re teaching. … I don’t think racism has a place in an educational institution."[209]

The name was debated at the Lancaster school on March 3, 2015, and was defended by many, but not all current and former students. One pro-Redskins supporter paid for the flights of two individuals to attend a rally and state that as Native Americans they are not offended by the name.[210] One of the individuals speaking for Native American Redskins fans was Mark One Wolf Yancey,[211] who had been previously investigated and found not to be Native American.[212] The President of the Seneca Nation of New York, Maurice John Sr., wrote a letter stating: "Let’s be clear — the term "redskin" is a racial slur... I strongly disagree with those who argue that it is a term of honor and respect. It has no place in today’s society." The letter was also addressed to President Barack Obama, Governor Andrew Cuomo and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell with reference to the Washington NFL team.[213] Two high schools, in Akron and Lake Shore, have cancelled Lacrosse games with Lancaster in support of the Native American opposition to the Redskins name. The student population in the Lake Shore school district is 15% Native American, and 11% in Akron, while there are only a dozen Native Americans out of 6,000 students at Lancaster.[214][215] On March 16, the Lancaster school board voted unanimously to retire the Redskin mascot.[216] Two days after the decision, about 300 students in favor of keeping the mascot protested, out of 2,000 total in the school district.[217] The Lancaster School Board has been given a service award by the Western New York Educational Service Council for the courage and wisdom it displayed in determining that the current mascot was harmful to the Native American population.[218] In June, 2015 a student vote selected Legends as the new name with a knight in armor as the new logo.[219] The July 6, 2015 meeting of the board included two newly elected members who favor changing the name back, which led to some heated exchanges.[220]

The name was again discussed in Goshen, Indiana where the majority of the school board is in favor of changing the mascot of Goshen High School[221] while others, including athletic staff favor maintaining what they view as part of a tradition of leadership and sportsmanship.[222] The board decided in a 5-2 vote to retire the name, proponents citing the reevaluation spurred by the Washington NFL controversy. The Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians is among those advocating the change, saying in a written statement, "The R-word crosses a line for us. It's offensive, derogatory, and demeaning. ... Using the R-word perpetuates harmful stereotypes of Native Americans, and continues the damaging practice of relegating Native Americans to the past and portraying us as a caricature." [223]

Current activity[edit]

Upon introducing a bill[224] to ban, as of January 2017, the Redskins name used by high schools in the state of California, Assemblyman Luis Alejo stated that there is ""no reason why we can't ... phase out that particular derogatory term from our public high schools".[225] The four affected high schools are Tulare Union High School, Gustine High School, Calaveras High School, and Chowchilla Union High School.[226] The superintendent of Calaveras High defends the name, and states that the change would cost the school $60,000 that it does not have.[227] The students and staff of Tulare Union High School strongly defend the name, which they have used for 100 years.[228] The bill passed the California State Assembly in May, 2015,[226][229] was amended and passed by the California State Senate [230] and received final passage in September.[231] The Tule River Tribal Council wrote a letter to California Gov. Jerry Brown urging him to allow Tulare Union High School to continue using the “Redskins” mascot. The letter states that while "the history surrounding the name ‘Redskin’ is negative", rather than dwell on the past they support the school's continued use of the name to express “tremendous pride and honor” felt by “students and alumni.”[232]

The Conrad Schools of Science in Wilmington, Delaware has formed a "Retire the Mascot" committee to begin the process of changing the mascot that has been used for 80 years, but which many students and staff now agree is offensive to Native Americans.[233] However the president of the alumni association states that "He and other Conrad alumni wear their Redskins pins and clothing with pride."[234]

Fort Wayne Community Schools officials have begun discussions to change the Redskins name used by North Side High School for its athletic teams, marching band and school nickname.[235]

Opposition to change[edit]

On the other hand, Union High School in Tulsa, Oklahoma, a high-profile high school athletic program,[236] has consistently opposed protests and proposed legislation intended to change its "Redskins" nickname.[237]

In June 2013 the school superintendent in Driggs, Idaho announced that Teton High School would drop its longtime "Redskins" nickname, logo and mascot to show respect for Native Americans.[238] However, the decision was not immediately implemented due to the costs, and the school board has not taken any further action.[239]

The Canisteo-Greenwood School Board in New York also voted in 2013 to remove the mascot of their high school[240] but reversed the decision due to public opposition.

After failing in her appeals directly to Neshaminy High School, a parent filed a complaint with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (PHRC) alleging the "Redskins" name is a form of harassment offensive to Native Americans and her 13-year-old son who attends the school. The school board unanimously voted to ask the commission to dismiss the complaint,[241] but the editors of the student newspaper, the Playwickian, voted to stop using the name.[242] However, the principal and the school board president have decided that the student newspaper's editorial board does not have the right to refuse to use the name.[243] The school board reached a compromise policy in which the name would not be entirely banned, but allowed in editorials and letters to the editor; however the editors of the paper and their attorney maintain that this policy is contrary to state law and the US Constitution.[244] Both the student editor and the faculty adviser for the paper were suspended for two days by the school district supervisor for not printing the name.[245] The faculty adviser, Tara Huber was recently named Journalism Teacher of the Year by the Pennsylvania School Press Association. The Playwickian journalists were honored by the ACLU on October 8, 2014, receiving one of four Civil Libertarian Awards,[246] and in December, 2014 by the Philadelphia City Council with a resolution commending their actions.[247] As of November, 2014 the Neshaminy School District has incurred $26,000 in legal fees defending the mascot.[248] The PHRC has made a preliminary finding that the name Redskins is "racially derogatory" and creates a "hostile educational environment." The case will now proceed to a hearing by the full commission unless the school district takes steps to remedy the situation, which thus far they have refused to do.[249]

Youth leagues[edit]

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.[250]

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.[251] 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." [252] The team was changed to the "Nepean Eagles", chosen from 70 suggestions submitted.[253]

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.[254] 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."[255]

Professional teams[edit]

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)[256] 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.[257] 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.

Atlanta Braves[edit]

The Atlanta Braves remain the home of the tomahawk chop (although it began at Florida State University).[258] The logo has changed through the years from an Indian in full headdress to a 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".[259]

Chicago Blackhawks[edit]

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.[260] 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.[261] An alternate logo is a block "C" with crossed tomahawks.[262] The Blackhawks mascot is "Tommy Hawk", an anthropomorphic bird who also wears the four feathers worn by the logo figure.[263]

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. [264] 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."[265]

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."[266]

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?" [267] 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."[264]

Cleveland Indians[edit]

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.[268][269][270][271]

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.[272] 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.[273] 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".[274]

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.[275][276] One reader's comments on press reports of the event led to a comparison with an "But I'm honoring you, dude!" editorial cartoon from 2001.[277] 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.[278]

One Native American group asked Nike, Inc. to cease production of any items displaying the Chief Wahoo logo.[279] Nike responded to the request by issuing a statement that it is bound by a contractual agreement with Major League Baseball (MLB) to manufacture apparel, and each MLB team is responsible for the logos they choose.[280] MLB Commissioner Bud Selig says that he has never received a complaint about the logo. He has heard that there are some protesting mascots, but individual teams such as the Indians and Braves should make their own decisions.[281] 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.[282] While claiming to honor Native Americans, fans confronted by the Native American protestors gave them the finger and made disparaging remarks about scalping.[283]

Edmonton Eskimos[edit]

The Edmonton Eskimos is an exceptional case, given that the only stereotypical element appears to be the name of one of their mascots, Nanook, a polar bear. 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 Eskimo player Dave Ward, now better known as Kiviaq.[284][285]

Kansas City Chiefs[edit]

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.[286]

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."[287]

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.[288] Amanda Blackhorse, the lead plaintiff in the trademark case against the Washington Redskins, thinks the real solution is a name change for the Chiefs.[289] 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.[290]

Washington Redskins[edit]

Further information: Redskin (slang)

The name and logo of the Washington Redskins is part of the larger controversy, but 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",[291] "disparaging",[292][293] "insulting",[294] and "taboo".[295] Those officially censuring and/or demanding the name be changed include more than 80 organizations that represent various groups of Native Americans.[296]

The team's unofficial mascot is Zema Williams (Chief Zee), an African American man who began attending games in 1978, wearing an Indian costume consisting of a feathered headdress and rubber tomahawk. Other fans also attend games in costume and are celebrated by the team.[297]

Chief Zee with fans

Native American opposition to the name began in the early 1970s with letters to the owner of the team[298] and the editors of the Washington Post.[299] 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. Before and during the game, over 2,000 Chippewa, Sioux, Winnebago, Choctaw, other Native Americans and members of the local population, protested.[300]

In 1992, a group of American Indians led by Suzan Harjo filed Harjo et al v. Pro Football, Inc. to have the United States trademarks associated with the Redskins name canceled under statutes which prevent registration of disparaging terms. The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB) in 1999 ruled in favor of the petition and canceled the trademarks. Following appeals, in 2005, the D.C. Court of Appeals in Pro-Football, Inc. v. Harjo reversed the cancellation, ruling that there was insufficient evidence to support the finding of disparagement and holding that the majority of the petitioners were barred by laches from maintaining the suit.[301] A second case was filed, Blackhorse v. Pro-Football, Inc.,[302] with younger plaintiffs whose standing might not be hindered by laches.[303] On June 18, 2014, the TTAB again voted to cancel 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." [304][305] The TTAB majority held that the NCAI represented about 30 percent of Native Americans during the time in question, which the Board found satisfied the substantial composite test.[306] In a press release the trademark attorney for the team stated that they were confident that they would once again prevail on appeal, and that today's decision will make no difference in the continued use of the Redskins name.[307] Plaintiff Amanda Blackhorse, a social worker and member of the Navajo Nation, said in an interview, "We’ve been through this process for eight years now. We will continue to fight. And, you know, this is not the end for us."[308] The Washington Redskins filed its appeal of the case on August 14, 2014; stating their belief "that the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB) ignored both federal case law and the weight of the evidence". They also cite infringement of their First Amendment right to free expression.[309]

Evidence of disparagement submitted by the petitioners in the TTAB case include the frequent references to "scalping" made by sportswriters for sixty years when reporting the Redskins loss of a game,[310] and passages from movies made from the 1940s to the 1960s using "redskin" to refer to Native Americans as a savage enemy.[311] A linguistics expert for the team unsuccessfully argued that the name is merely a descriptive term no different than other uses of color to differentiate people by race.[312] The linguistic expert for the petitioners, Dr. Geoffrey Nunberg, argued that whatever its origins, "redskins" was a slur at the time of the trademark registrations, based upon the passages from books and newspapers and the movie clips in which the word is inevitably associated with contempt, derision, condescension, or sentimental paeans to the noble savage.[313]

A symposium in February 2013 at the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C.,[314] followed by a media campaign sponsored by the Oneida Indian Nation of New York,[315] led to a broader range of persons speaking out in favor of change or open discussion, including 50 U.S. Senators[316] and President Barack Obama.[317] Statements in support of a name change have been made by religious leaders in Washington, D.C.,[45] and the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.[318]

In response to the continued controversy, 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 in 1933 to honor Native Americans in general and the coach and four players at that time who were Native American; and that in 1971 the then coach George Allen consulted with the Red Cloud Indian Fund on the Pine Ridge reservation when designing the logo.[319] Supporters also assert that a majority of Native Americans themselves are not offended, based on a public opinion poll in 2004, in which 90% of those who identified as American Indians answered that they were "not bothered" by the name "Redskins" being used for the Washington football team.[320] However, in a commentary published soon after that poll, fifteen Native American scholars collaborated on a critique that stated that there were so many flaws in the Annenberg study that, rather than being a measure of Native American opinion, it was an expression of white privilege and colonialism.[321] In August 2015 the designers of the Annenberg survey stated that the question regarding the team name was added by a journalist at the last minute, and the data collection methods in fact do not support any conclusions regarding Native American opinions.[322]

The team continues to cite current polls showing general public opinion in opposition to changing the name. One poll was part the 2014 poll of issues regarding the NFL, which included one question indicating 71% of the general public are in favor of keeping the name, with 18% in favor of a change.[323] On their website the team states: "This poll, along with the poll taken among Native Americans by the Annenberg Institute, demonstrates continued, widespread and deep opposition to the Redskins changing our name. The results of this poll are solidly in line with the message we have heard from fans and Native Americans for months – our name represents a tradition, passion and heritage that honors Native Americans. We respect the point of view of the small number of people who seek a name change, but it is important to recognize very few people agree with the case they are making."[324] The Oneida Indian Nation "believes more Americans would favor changing the team name of the Washington NFL club if they understood the full context of what the Oneidas and others consider a racial slur."[325]

A large protest march and rally with thousands of Native American participants was held before the game between Washington and the Minnesota Vikings on November 2, 2014.[326] Police estimates of the number of protesters was between 3,500 and 4,000, while organizers put the number at 5,000. Fans were confronted by the protesters at the stadium with some tension and verbal exchanges, but no violence. Some fans hid or covered Redskins attire as they entered.[327]

International teams[edit]

The United States national rugby league team was marketed as the Tomahawks until 2015, when the team was rebranded to simply 'Hawks'.[328]

Other issues[edit]

Stereotyping by rival fans[edit]

In addition to the behavior of the teams that have Native American names or mascots, their rivals often invoke racist stereotypes. In Alabama, at a game between the Pinson Valley High School "Indians" and McAdory High School, the latter team displayed a banner using a disparaging reference to the Trail of Tears 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.[329][330] A similar sign was displayed in Tennessee by the Dyersburg Trojans when they played the Jackson Northside Indians.[331] In December 2013 when the Washington NFL team 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.[332] A rubber severed "Indian" head impaled on a knife is used by a sports fan in Philadelphia to taunt rival teams with Native American mascots.[333] Another "Trail of Tears" sign was displayed by 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.[334]

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.[335]

Varying degrees of offensiveness[edit]

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;[336] 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.[337]

Current status[edit]

After decades of decline from over 3,000 there remain fewer than 1,000 high school, university and professional teams that continue to have Native American mascots.[15] 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,[338] and a symposium at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian in 2013.[314]

See also[edit]


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Further reading[edit]

  • King, C. Richard, guest editor. "Re/claiming Indianness: Critical Perspectives on Native American Mascots." Journal of Sport and Social Issues 28, no. 1 (February 2004).
  • King, C. Richard, and Charles Fruehling Springwood (2001). Beyond the Cheers: Race as Spectacle in College Sport. SUNY Series on Sport, Culture, and Social Relations. State University of New York Press. ISBN 0-7914-5005-8.
  • King, C. Richard, and Charles Fruehling Springwood, eds. (2001). Team Spirits: The Native American Mascots Controversy. Foreword by Vine Deloria Jr. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.
  • Remillard, Arthur. "Holy War on the Football Field: Religion and the Florida State University Mascot Controversy." Horsehide, Pigskin, Oval Tracks, and Apple Pie: Essays on Sports and American Culture. Edited by James Vlasich. McFarland, 2005.
  • Schaumann-Beltan, Karen, "Representing Native Americans in Sports" in Ross, Jeffrey Ian, American Indians at Risk ABC-CLIO (2013) Google eBook

External links[edit]