Archive for Thursday, September 7, 2006

Time to end Indian mascots

September 7, 2006

Andy Marso

The history of the United States is stained by the oppression and abuse of numerous ethnic groups, from pre-Civil War slavery to the exploitation of Chinese railroad workers to the internment of Japanese citizens during World War II. But no ethnic group has been battered and marginalized quite as much as the American Indian.

America's indigenous tribes were cheated out of their land, forced to convert to Christianity and, in some cases, brutally slaughtered. Today the violence against American Indians has ended and they are free to practice their native customs as they please. But they remain on the margins in the United States, with their culture reduced to cartoonish stereotypes. Sports mascots have played a part in that.

It is somewhat mind-boggling that the professional football team that represents the nation's capital is called the "Redskins." Even the American Heritage Dictionary defines "redskin" as offensive, a word "used as a disparaging term for a Native American." No wonder the needs of American Indians are so rarely taken seriously by our representatives in Washington.

Right here in the Kaw Valley League we have a number of teams who, while not as obviously offensive as the Redskins, aren't giving American Indians the respect they deserve. Immaculata uses an Indian logo to represent the "Raiders." Whether they're supposed to be raiding other Indian tribes or white settlers, this is not a fair depiction. It reinforces the tired stereotype that American Indians were brutal savages.

Bonner Springs' mascot, the "Braves," seems a neutral or even honorable depiction of American Indians, lauding their courage and nobility. It might be fine if the school left it at that, but over the years it has also been turned into a silly caricature that has little to do with the actual culture of local tribes. At football games, Braves fans do the ridiculous "Tomahawk chop," while banging out a cheesy rhythm on a bass drum. Nevermind that the drum was sacred to many American Indian tribes. Bonner has also named its school broadcast network "Tee Pee Talk," probably not to teach people about the traditional dwellings of local tribes, but rather because it's a cute use of alliteration.

Tonganoxie may be one KVL school that is the exception to the rule of disrespectful Indian mascots. The town's history is deeply entwined with Chief Tonganoxie, so perhaps "Chieftains" is appropriate. And THS doesn't seem to extend its name or logo into a parody.

I know how hard it would be to break tradition and change these mascots. I went to a Catholic high school where our mascot was the "Crusaders." At the time most of what I'd learned about the Crusades came from the movie "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves," which is to say, I was woefully ignorant of how brutal and senseless those wars were. Now that I know more, I think the Crusades aren't something to celebrate. But I also find it hard to imagine my school's mascot being anything else.

I realize that folks in the Kaw Valley League might be reluctant to go to a new mascot for similar reasons of tradition and nostalgia. But, with a few million perfectly good animal species out there, there's really no reason to stick with a mascot that might be demeaning. And, yes, I think the Bonner Springs Chieftain newspaper also would be better off with a new name.

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