Camanche Schools: No More "Indians" Mascot

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“Indian” mascots are inaccurate, insulting, and harmful to Native people. Mascots do not honor Native people or their culture. Camanche Schools must retire the mascot and all Native American imagery from representations of the schools. Around two-thirds of Native people who strongly identify as Native find Native mascots and the behaviors associated with them (such as the “tomahawk chop”) offensive.

The National Congress of American Indians states that,

From time immemorial, the greatness of tribal nations and Native people has been the foundation of America’s story. From tribes’ role as America’s first governments, to modern day actors, athletes, and political leaders, Native people contribute to American greatness every single day. Negative Indian stereotypes – especially those perpetuated by sports mascots – affect the reputation and self-image of every single Native person and foster ongoing discrimination against tribal citizens. Indian mascots and stereotypes present a misleading image of Indian people and feed the historic myths that have been used to whitewash a history of oppression.

The fact of these mascots being harmful has been recognized for a long time. Nearly 20 years ago, the US Commission on Civil Rights issued a statement calling on all schools and sports organizations to remove all Native mascots (nicknames and images) due to how harmful these mascots are to Native People and to the greater culture’s accurate understanding of Native cultures.

While respecting the right to freedom of expression, the Commission believes that the use of Native American images and nicknames in school is insensitive and should be avoided. In addition, these mascots may violate anti-discrimination laws. Since the 1960s, many overtly derogatory symbols and images offensive to African Americans have been eliminated. However, many secondary schools, postsecondary institutions, and professional sports teams continue to use Native American nicknames and imagery despite the vigorous opposition of American Indian leaders and organizations. It is particularly disturbing that Native American references are still found in educational institutions, where they may create a racially hostile educational environment intimidating to Indian students. American Indians have the lowest high school graduation, college attendance, and college graduation rates. These problems may be exacerbated by the perpetuation of harmful stereotypes. While some schools maintain that Indian imagery stimulates interest in American Indian culture, stereotypes encourage interest only in mythical "Indians" and block genuine understanding of contemporary Native people as fellow Americans. The elimination of stereotypes will make room for education about real Indian people, current Native issues, and the rich variety of American Indian cultures in our country.

What’s more, the harm that the prevalence of Native mascots does to both Native and non-Native people has been demonstrated by experts in the field of mental health.

In 2005, the APA called for the immediate retirement of all American Indian mascots, symbols, images and personalities by schools, colleges, universities, athletic teams and organizations. APA's position is based on a growing body of social science literature that shows the harmful effects of racial stereotyping and inaccurate racial portrayals, including the particularly harmful effects of American Indian sports mascots on the social identity development and self-esteem of American Indian young people.

Research has shown that the continued use of American Indian mascots, symbols, images and personalities has a negative effect on not only American Indian students but all students by:

·         Undermining the educational experiences of members of all communities-especially those who have had little or no contact with indigenous peoples. The symbols, images and mascots teach non-Indian children that it's acceptable to participate in culturally abusive behavior and perpetuate inaccurate misconceptions about American Indian culture.

·         Establishes an unwelcome and often times hostile learning environment for American Indian students that affirms negative images/stereotypes that are promoted in mainstream society.

According to Stephanie Fryberg, PhD, University of Arizona, this appears to have a negative impact on the self-esteem of American Indian children, "American Indian mascots are harmful not only because they are often negative, but because they remind American Indians of the limited ways in which others see them. This in turn restricts the number of ways American Indians can see themselves."

·         Undermines the ability of American Indian Nations to portray accurate and respectful images of their culture, spirituality and traditions. Many American Indians report that they find today's typical portrayal of American Indian culture disrespectful and offensive to their spiritual beliefs.

·         Presents stereotypical images of American Indians. Such mascots are a contemporary example of prejudice by the dominant culture against racial and ethnic minority groups.

·         Is a form of discrimination against American Indian Nations that can lead to negative relations between groups.

"We know from the literature that oppression, covert and overt racism, and perceived racism can have serious negative consequences for the mental health of American Indian and Alaska native people. The discontinued use of American Indian mascots is a gesture to show that this kind of racism toward and the disrespect of, all people in our country and in the larger global context, will not be tolerated," said Lisa Thomas, PhD, APA Committee on Ethnic and Minority Affairs.

To eradicate the hurtful presence of stereotypical imaging of American Indians, the APA encourages continued research on the psychological effects that these mascots, symbols, images and personalities have on American Indian communities and others.

The APA is calling upon all psychologists to speak out against racism, and take proactive steps to prevent the occurrence of intolerant or racist acts and recommends the immediate retirement of American Indian mascots, symbols, images and personalities by schools, colleges, universities, athletic teams and organizations.

The children of the Camanche community deserve better than this. Camanche schools should commit themselves to being a positive force for good in the community and the wider world, and remove this harmful mascot.