Notes from Indian Country
By Tim Giago (Nanwica Kciji - Stands Up For Them)
I suppose that it still is not a very popular thing to write about using Native Americans as mascots, and it is particularly unnerving for anyone to write about the Washington professional football team mascot.
But I have been doing it since my first article on mascots was written in 1982, 34 years ago, for my then newspaper the Lakota Times.
Ten years later an article I wrote for Newsweek Magazine a couple of weeks before the Super Bowl game in Minneapolis on January 26, 1992 when the Buffalo Bills played against the Washington Redskins, drew the most hate filled mail I have ever received for any article I have ever written. A short time later I wrote a similar article on mascots for the New York Times that fans of the Redskins found equally repulsive.
What did I write that upset the Redskin fans (abbreviated version of fanatic) so much? I wrote that at the halftime of one game some Redskin fans painted a small pig red; pasted feathers on its head, and chased it around the football field. My analogy was what would have been the reaction of the Black community if the same pig had been painted black and an Afro-wig placed upon its head? I found it hard to understand why the white community would not react to a red pig, but would probably be upset over a black pig.
I spoke to an all-black student body at Florida A&M many years ago and when I told this story about the pigs they were as incensed as I suspected they would be. And why wouldn't they be because the actions of the Redskin fans that day was pure racist.
I covered the Super Bowl in Minneapolis for my newspaper and saw Native American protestors knocked to the ground with nightsticks. I had my camera ripped from my hands and the film destroyed by the Minneapolis police.
I walked with Indian protestors at a football game at the University of Illinois where they stood strong against the Chief Illiniwek mascot and had the degrading experience of being spit on and dodging lighted cigarettes thrown at us by passengers in passing cars.
There is no choir to preach to when it comes to using Indians as mascots because it is a topic that is too divisive. A recent national survey among Native Americans hardly reflected the opinions of the majority, but it was put out there as an example of how many Native Americans loved to be treated as mascots. In other words the survey answered the questions of mascots the way the surveyors wanted it to be answered. They certainly never came out to the Indian reservations looking for an answer.
Like I said at the beginning, 34 years have passed since I first wrote about mascots. It landed me on the Oprah Winfrey show in 1992 to speak about the issue to a national audience for the first time. We opened some minds that day.
Chief Illiniwek is gone from the campus of the Fighting Illini and the symbols of Indians as mascots have been eliminated or softened all across America so we have seen progress.
Watch the World Series this week and let the image of the hideous, racist logo of the Cleveland Indians dance before your eyes. Does that make anyone feel honored? Yes, in many ways we have come a long way, baby, but we still have a long way to go.
(Tim Giago, Oglala Lakota, was born, raised and educated on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. He is currently Editor Emeritus of Native Sun News Today and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)