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Native American Mascots

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Austin Chambers

Unity and Diversity

Term Paper

Native American Mascot use

Native Americans have been on this land for hundreds, if not thousands of years. Their way of life is very different from the socially accepted way of the Europeans. The traditional symbols of their people and the ceremonial dress that they wore are considered sacred. Many different college universities, professional sports teams and public businesses use these sacred symbols, images and traditional dress as a logo or mascot for their team or business.

As our country grows larger and more diverse, there is much popular debate from both Native Indians and Non-Indians about the use of these logos and symbols, and its moral appropriateness in today's society. There are some that feel those who use of these symbols "are complacent with and supportive of the actions of our nation's predecessors who engaged in what amounts to genocide and theft on an epic scale" ( Wisniewski, 2005 ) and there are others who feel that the use of these logos and symbols "honor American Indian history and values" (Wegner, 2005 ).

The only way to discuss this topic fairly is to look at both sides of the debate and evaluate for yourself the validity of points made for and against the use of these logos and symbols. In order to do this I am going to break this paper into two parts. Part 1 will be entirely against the use of Native American symbols in this way and part two will be entirely for the continued use of the Symbols.

Part I

Native Americans are raised with a set of values that are different from the values instilled in Caucasians. They are taught to respect nature and preserve its natural beauty. They are also taught to respect certain figures of their community that have obtained a status of great honor and responsibility. The figure I am referring to is the chief of the tribe. The chief can be spotted easily by the traditional dress, usually consisting of fine quality buckskin, decorated with buffalo horns and an eagle feather headdress. Young children are taught to respect this dress and respect the eagle feather because eagles are thought to be the messenger between earth and the creator. An eagle feather is presented to someone by the other members of the tribe if they feel that individual has earned the feather by his actions. The more feathers in a chief's headdress, the more respect the tribe has for him.

The University of Illinois currently call themselves the fighting Illini and are represented by their mascot Chief Illiniwek. The mascot wears the traditional clothing of a chief and has an eagle feather headdress that goes almost to the ground. As I mentioned before, these feathers are viewed as an honor to posses and there are many Native Americans that feel this mascot should not be wearing these things, merely as a costume, for the sole purpose of halftime entertainment. This is viewed as a slap in the face to many, and is very disrespectful to those who understand the values that are being demoralized.

The plea of the Native Americans if finally being heard publicly and many things are happening to prohibit the use of these mascots. The NCAA said last year that some mascots modeled after Native Americans were "hostile and abusive" (King, 2005) and that it would prohibit the use of some in NCAA championships. In the college basketball's final four tournament last April, Chief Illiniwek was a no show when Illinois made their appearance. Many feel that this was a positive step and hope to see more progress in the future.

In New Hampshire, along with many other states, the National Education Association voted to discourage the use of Native American symbols and Mascots and in August of 2002, following that vote, the state Board of Education endorsed eliminating their use. The rulings however were "non-binding, meaning the decision is in the hands of each individual school" (Poletta, 2006).

Another reason that many Native Americans are against the use of Indian mascots is because many schools play so-called "Indian fight songs" and have a cartoon character-like costume. Along with these inauthentic costumes, hand gestures like the "tomahawk chop" and items like foam tomahawks and had drums are being carried by the fans that attend these games. This is disrespectful to them as well. Some view any and all "inauthentic representations of American Indian cultures as forms of cultural violence" (Pewewardy, 2004, P 183).

We all know that racism still exists in today's society, despite our best efforts to believe otherwise. This is evident in the stereotyping of Native Americans. Florida State University is home of the Seminoles. Their mascot, and school for that matter, help perpetuate these stereotypes by using drum beating, war-whooping and symbolic scalping as part of the celebration rituals displayed by the mascot at halftime and on the sidelines. The band also partakes in this during the game. The "Indians" being portrayed here exist on in the imagination and in Hollywood. Nothing about it is historically true.

Racial awareness is something that is developed at a very early age. Some children can develop this awareness as early as three or four years. When an image such as Florida State's Seminole mascot is seen, an unspoken stereotype is developed in the mind of the child who witnesses it. In non-Indian children this can lead to them growing up, and without knowing or intentionally meaning to do so, discriminating against Native Americans. When young Native American children see this they tend to grow into adults who feel inferior to other people and have a lowered since of self-worth old (Pewewardy, 2004, P 183).

Racial Equality would be the final reason I have found to stop the use of Native Americans mascots. The number of Native Americans is far less than any other minority group we have in this country and that may be why things are not equal for them. When African Americans wanted to have the same rights as whites, there were enough of them voicing their opinion, the changes were made and conditions for them got better. Native Americans lack the ability to be heard as quickly because of their smaller numbers. The million-man march that was possible for the blacks would be more like a thousand man march for the Indians respectively.

Today the racial treatment of African Americans is a very tender subject. Words are chosen carefully when referring to them. Efforts are made to insure they feel



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