The history of misappropriation of Native American culture dates back to Colonial days. Whether for reasons of romanticism or mischief, European Americans have from the earliest days chosen to “dress up and play Indian” either metaphorically or literally. The impact of these choices on Native American people have ranged from annoying to down right deadly and all points in between.
Sports, both intercollegiate and professional, is a primary arena for this sort of racist speech. I encourage anyone who is interested in learning more about this issue to avail themselves of any of the following:
In Whose Honor (documentary by Jay Rosenstein)
Racist Stereotypes and Cultural Appropriation in Sports (pt 1) (seminar organized by the National Museum of the American Indian)
Racist Stereotypes and Cultural Appropriation in Sports (pt 2)
The Native American Mascot Controversy: A Handbook (book edited by C. Richard King)
Over the years many voices, both Native and non-Native have been raised in an effort to address this problem. Groups as disparate as the Central Conference of American Rabbis, National Congress of American Indians, National College Athletic Association, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Office of Civil Rights, the United Church of Christ, and many others have called for an end to the use of Native American nicknames or logos for athletic teams. Some of these statements have noted exceptions where specific tribes, acting on their sovereign status, approve of the use of their names and for teams which are located at tribally-controlled colleges.
In recent years there has been some progress of note, all in the realm of intercollegiate athletics. There has also been progress in that Native American people have taken to social media and broad media to bring authentic and powerful voices to the forefront for all to hear. Two excellent examples are the #NotYourMascot discussion on Twiter and the recent decision by the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation to purchase time during the airing of the NBA finals to air their Proud to Be commerical.
Sometimes some things can be so obvious that it is difficult to imagine how they cannot be seen for what they are. And yet there are inevitably some people who can not or will not have clarity of vision. Such is the case for the use of words and images in sports (both intercollegiate and professional) which are disrespectful, hurtful, and harmful to Native American people. The time has long come and gone for us to continue to permit these behaviors.
While not the first to the conversation and not the most important voice, I believe it is my responsibility and the responsibility of every person who values human dignity to stand up and say this must come to and end. Count me among those who believe Redskin=Racism and Native Americans are Not Your Mascot.