This 1-3 day lesson introduces students to the complexities of the debate over sports mascots that depict American Indians in a stereotypical or negative manner. It is divided into three parts - each of which can be taught in a day:
Each section may be used independently and each may be condensed so that teachers can structure a one, two, or three day discussion.
Grade Level and Standards: While the lesson is primarily designed for use in the 8-12 grade classroom, it also can be used in the 1-5th grades with appropriate teacher revisions. At the end of the lesson you will find the California standards that this lesson meets for 1-12th grade classes.
Objectives: The student will be able to
- Understand what role Indian mascots play in the world of high school, college, and professional sports.
- Describe the debate about Indian mascots by focusing on the American Indian community's objections to their use as well as the defense of mascot use within the world of sports.
- Understand the various accomplishments of the movement to end the use of Indian mascots, as well as what still remains to be done.
- Explain their feelings about the use of Indian mascots in sports.
Academic Language (words or phrases with which students should be familiar will be in bold the first time they appear in the text of the lesson): mascots, perception, stereotypical, derogatory, counterfeit native objects, symbolism, institutional racism, logo.
Introduction: The controversy surrounding the use of Indian mascots, symbols, and names in American sports has origins that run deep throughout the history of Indian and non-Indian relations. Today, the use of Indian mascots is at the center of an argument that touches the emotional hearts and souls of both proponents and opponents.
To understand the controversy, we must first understand the word. According to the Meriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary, a mascot is “a person, animal, or object adopted by a group as a symbolic figure especially to bring them luck.” When associated with a sports team, a mascot also represents team identity, as well as provides its fans with feelings of pride and joy. For decades, Indian mascots, symbols, and names used by high school, college, and professional teams have rallied team spirit and generated widespread support throughout America.
Hook: The teacher will show students examples of six different sports mascots found at http://americanindiantah.com/lesson_plans/MascotImages.html. Then engage in the following discussion:
Transition to Content: Please keep your perceptions about Indian mascots, as well as the perceptions of others, in mind as we learn more about how and why American Indian activists have begun a campaign that challenges the use of American Indian mascots in sports.
Lesson Content: It was in 1968 that a formal effort began to persuade college, professional, and high school teams to discontinue the use of Indian-related mascots, names, and logos. Begun by the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), activists argued that racism permeated the use of stereotypical and derogatory mascots that depicted Indians as inferior, foolish, and violent and that mocked Natives’ appearances, dress, cultures, and religions.
Such mascots, they further argued, either idealized or emphasized comical facial features and "native" dress ranging from body-length feathered (usually turkey) headdresses to more subtle fake buckskin attire and skimpy loincloths. Some teams and supporters displayed counterfeit native objects that included tomahawks, feathers, facial paints, symbolic drums and pipes, as well as used mock-Indigenous behaviors, such as the "tomahawk chop," dances, chants, drumbeating, war-whooping and symbolic scalping.
As the struggle to retire over 3,000 Indian mascots that were used by high school, college, and professional sports team spread through Indian Country, many Indian activists asked the question posed in this cartoon "Can you imagine." (Source of Cartoon: http://www.bluecorncomics.com/mascots.htm)
For the past 40 years, leading national Indian tribal organizations and professional associations of educators, journalists, artists, and youth have been at the forefront of efforts to put an end to using Indian mascots in sports. To provide an overview of the topic before going into details tomorrow, we will examine two sources.
Follow up both the above sources with a series of discussion questions that review student understanding of both what an Indian mascot is and the debate about their use.
Tell students that the next day will involve a detailed discussion the use of Indian mascots at colleges and high schools and in professional sports across the United States.
The formal campaign to retire Indian mascots began in 1970 with colleges that had Indian mascots, continued in the 1980s with the high schools, and moved into professional sports in the 1990s. So let's examine how the use of American Indian mascots has been challenged in each sector.
College Mascots. By the early 1970s, many colleges and universities began responding to the increasing pressure by Native Americans to discontinue the use of Indian mascots. At least five notable success stories occurred between 1970-1975:
By the 1990s, however, some schools remained adamantly opposed to changing their mascots. Most visible among them was the University of Illinois at Champagne-Urbana and its “Chief Illiniwek” mascot. Each year, a white man dressed in “traditional Indian” clothing and performed gymnastics for the fans at half-time. The effort to retire “Chief Illiniwek” - seen in this photograph - began in the early 1989 by an American Indian student, Charlene Teeters. Her work, as well as the work of other activists, culminated in the retirement of "Chief Illiniwek" in 2007.
Despite continued protest by American Indians, these schools insist that their mascots honor the Indian nations that originally inhabited the land upon which the universities were built.
In 2005, some change in college sports began when the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) announced that beginning February 2006, any school with a nickname or logo considered racially or ethnically "hostile" or "abusive" by the NCAA would be prohibited from using them in post-season events. Mascots would no longer be allowed to perform at tournament games. Further, beginning in 2008, band members and cheerleaders would also be barred from using American Indians on their uniforms.
However, in August 2005, Florida State University the NCAA granted a waiver that removed it from the NCAA’s list of colleges using imagery “hostile or abusive” towards Native Americans. According to Bernard Franklin, senior vice president of the NCAA, “ The staff review committee noted the unique relationship between the university and the Seminole Tribe of Florida as a significant factor. The decision of a namesake sovereign tribe, regarding when and how its name and imagery can be used, must be respected even when others may not agree.” (USA Today, 8/23/2005)
The Seminole Tribe of Florida continues to sanction the use of the Seminole as Florida State University’s nickname and of Chief Osceola - as seen below - as FSU's mascot. Max Osceola, the chief and general council president of the Seminole Tribe of Florida, has stated that he regards it as an “honor” to be associated with the university. However, some members of the Seminole Tribe of Oklahoma oppose FSU's use of the Seminoles mascot and name.
Vernon Bellecourt, president of the National Coalition on Racism in Sports and Media and a member of the Anishinabe-Ojibwe Nation in Minnesota, approved of the ban but had hoped the NCAA would take even stronger action. "We're not so happy about the fact that they didn't make the decision to ban the use of Indian team names and mascots," he said
For a further understanding of this NCAA decision, have students read, "The debate over Indian mascots: does the NCAA's ban on Indian mascots and nicknames go too far, or not far enough? Fans--and tribes--are divided."
By 2010, some colleges still maintained their Indian mascots, most notably Florida State University where the "Seminoles" fans continue to adorn themselves with “war paint” and practice the “Tomahawk Chop" as they watch the game and "Chief Osceola” rides around the stadium.
High School mascots. It was not until the late 1980s that many high school districts and individual schools began to address the effects on children in the public schools of stereotyping Indians in sports and in so doing, began to retire some of the Indian mascots. After 1987, when the Minneapolis Board of Education declared that its school athletic team should not have names or mascots that stereotype American Indians, other districts, states, and schools gradually followed suit.
The California Assembly began the first statewide effort to force public schools to ban American Indian sports team names and mascots in 2002. AB 2115 would have forced name changes at elementary, middle and high schools as well as community colleges and the University of California and California State University systems. Under the legislation, a state commission would then add to the banned list any other names it decides are "derogatory or discriminatory against any race, ethnicity, nationality or tribal group," and schools would be forced to comply. The bill was defeated by a vote of 35 to 29 on May 28, 2002.
Like their collegiate counterparts, many high schools have refused to consider retiring their Indian mascots. In 2010, of the 900 schools that had not retired their indian mascots, most were high schools. However, some recent efforts are important to note:
The controversy over Indian mascots in high schools became even more complex when a Stilwell High School in eastern Cherokee Nation unveiled its new Indian mascot on Jan. 12, 2010. The mascot has a large head, long black hair in braids and exaggerated American Indian facial features such as a scowl, large nose and bushy eyebrows, and is dressed in a fake buckskin shirt and leggings. Mary Alice Fletcher, Stilwell Public Schools superintendent, said the students, faculty and administration didn’t intend to offend anyone with the mascot. “It was done strictly to create school spirit because they’re proud of their Indian heritage,” Fletcher said. “Primarily, it was something the kids got after and promoted. Even our Indian heritage club was part of (the) promotion of that and donated funds for that.” She said more than 70 percent of Stilwell High School’s student population is Indian, and a majority of those are Cherokee. The school has always been known as the Indians, but it’s never had a mascot. Stilwell students began implementing the mascot in September. They raised money and voted on what the mascot’s name should be, Fletcher said. (Good Voice, 2010)
An examination of this “tradition” by both the Atlanta Braves and Cleveland Indians provides some interesting insight into the controversy.
The Atlanta Braves have not always held their present name or home. They began as the Boston Braves in 1912 and used the profile of an Indian with a full headdress on the sleeve of their jerseys. This logo was discontinued between 1920 and 1929, but came back in the form of a huge patch that covered the back of the jersey and also adorned the front “between the BRA and the VES.” In 1936, the ownership dropped the Indian name; they became the Bees and their stadium was renamed the Beehive. In 1941, the Braves name returned to the team and the logo of the Indian head was restored in 1945.
Following World War II,the team’s owner released a promotional video entitled, "Take Me Out to the Wigwam." In 1947, “Chief Wildhorse” - a man atop a horse in full Indian regalia - first appeared on the playing field for opening day. Soon, a wigwam was erected in the bleachers near the field so that each time a homerun was hit by the Braves, the newly named “Chief Noc-A-Homa” could rush the field for a commemorative dance. Chief Noc-A-Homa remained with the team throughout its stay in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and through the 1980s to the team’s present home in Atlanta, Georgia.
The Cleveland Indians organization claims that the team’s name originally was intended to honor the first American Indian to play major league baseball, Louis Sockalexis - who also played for the Cleveland Spiders from 1897-1899. (When historians and journalists recently examined this claim, they could find no supportive facts.) Around the turn of the century, the name was changed to the Cleveland Naps in honor of their team manager, Napolean Lajolais. When Lajolais left the team in 1915, the search began for a new name. A Cleveland newspaper held a contest and the Cleveland Indians was chosen, again in honor of Louis Sockalexis. It was not until 1928 that the team began its use of a visual logo of an Indian on the sleeve of their jerseys, much like the Braves. In the 1940s, today’s symbol of “Chief Wahoo” first appeared as a caricature in the local newspaper, the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
Following World War II, the team’s owner Bill Veeck began to promote the team’s American Indian image as a source of entertainment for the team’s fans. In 1951, the Chief Wahoo caricature was first displayed inside the “C” on the team’s caps. Every year since, the symbol of Chief Wahoo has been on the front of the jersey or on the shirtsleeve. Chief Wahoo is a grinning caricature which one Dakota professor, James Fenelon, described this way:
"...[Chief Wahoo] depicts a Native American "Indian" nearly always painted bright red with overly huge front teeth, shifty eyes, and headband with a feather protruding from behind. While some symbols....bear some resemblance to actual "Native Americans" however generalized, the Wahoo does not even appear human. It is an unambiguous racial icon meant to symbolize stereotypical and usually negative images of Native people as ‘wild’ but ‘friendly’ savages. (Fenelon, 1997.)
In 1983, Chief Wahoo appeared on the front of the jersey, and in 1986, the symbol completely replaced the “C” on the team’s cap. For decades, the fans of both these teams have smeared their face with “war paint,” dressed in “traditional” Indian garb, pounded on tom-toms, sung “war songs” and practiced the “tomahawk chop.”
The most dramatic and offensive use of these “traditions” occurred during the 1995 World Series games, pitting the Atlanta Braves against the Cleveland Indians. In response, many “real” Cleveland Indians increased their protest activities with support from outside Ohio. As the World Series progressed, conflict between the fans of the two sports teams and American Indian protesters was so inflamed that Native activists dubbed this nationally televised set of games as "The World Series of Racism."
To gain a clearer understanding of just what the “traditional” Indian symbols meant to the fans of the Cleveland Indians, Sociologist James Fenelon at John Carroll University in Cleveland conducted a detailed survey with local students during the 1995 World Series games. He found seven important “sociological impacts from this particular form of symbolic racism”:
As of 2010, a significant number of professional sports teams still had Indian names and mascots.
Tomorrow, we will examine the to major debates about Indian mascots - the anti-mascot viewpoint and the pro-mascot viewpoint.
"So-called Indian mascots reduce hundreds of Indigenous tribes to generic cartoons. These "Wild West" figments of the white imagination distort both Indigenous and non-Indigenous children's attitudes toward an oppressed -- and diverse -- minority. Schools should be places where students come to unlearn the stereotypes such mascots represent. The Indigenous portrait of the moment may be bellicose or ludicrous or romantic, but almost never is the portrait we see of Indian mascots a real person. Most children in America do not have the faintest idea that "Indigenous Peoples" are real human beings.
Children's self images are very pliable and susceptible to external forces, especially if they are steeped in violent and negative images. Unfortunately, for Indigenous Peoples many false images of ethnicity still dominate the consciousness of the American psyche. I have found that many ethnic images have been manufactured and created in the image of other racial groups. The manufactured 'savage,' 'pagan,' 'retarded,' 'culturally deprived,' non-European is the flipside of the European Civilization myth. Many ethnic images distort reality while creating new and seductive realities of their own. Students in schools cannot understand the realities of modern American life and the prospect for the next generations without understanding the popular images of the past and the present." (Pewewardy, 1999)
- How would you describe a "Wild West" figment of the white imagination?
- Dr. Pewewardy is describing a racial stereotype. How do Indian mascots reinforce racial stereotypes?
- Why does Pewewardy feel such a stereotype is dangerous for both Indian and non-Indian children? Do you agree? Why or why not?
A citizen of the Oneida Nation and a representative of the Wisconsin Indian Education Association also decries mascots for stereotyping Indian people:
"'Indian' logos and nicknames create, support and maintain stereotypes of a race of people. When such cultural abuse is supported by one or many of society's institutions, it constitutes institutional racism.... The logos, along with other societal abuses and stereotypes separate, marginalize, confuse, intimidate and harm Native American children and create barriers to their learning throughout their school experience. Additionally, the logos teach non-Indian children that its all right to participate in culturally abusive behavior. Children spend a great deal of their time in school, and schools have a very significant impact on their emotional, spiritual, physical and intellectual development. As long as such logos remain, both Native American and non-Indian children are learning to tolerate racism in our schools. (Munson, 1999.)
- What is institutionalized racism? Do you think Indian mascots contribute to this problem?
- Do you agree with the author's conclusions? Why or why not?
- Do you think that discussing Indian stereotypes is an appropriate classroom activity? Why or why not?
- How do these two viewpoints compare and contrast? Which do you find more convincing and why?
The Pro-Mascot Debate. Some of the most common reasons for retaining mascots, symbols, and names in collegiate, high school, and professional sports have been carefully articulated by the Wisconsin Indian Education Association (WIEA). (See their website for a detailed discussion of each statement at http://www.indianmascots.com/common_themes/common_themes.htm
- Which of these arguments are most persuasive and why?
- Which are least persuasive and why?
Since the 1940s, Native Americans in increasing numbers have consistently challenged the use of Indian references in collegiate, high school, and professional athletics.
The challenges have been met with some success: a growing number of federal, state, and local entities have found Indian mascots and logos to be disparaging, degrading, and detrimental. By 2010, more than 1,000 academic and professional sports institutions have responded to these challenges by changing or eliminating their use of American Indian imageryt.
At the college level, Dartmouth, Marquette, Miami University of Ohio, San Jose State, St. John’s, Stanford, and Syracuse have all elected to adopt new mascots. Within the past five years, high school boards in California, Wisconsin, and Kansas have followed suit. In addition, some schools have implemented policies to not compete against others who use Indian nicknames. Nonetheless, approximately 2,000 American Indian mascots are still in uses - about 900 of which are high schools
Consequently, the struggle to end the use of Indian mascots continues. In April 2001, the United States Commission on Civil Rights examined the issue and encouraged non-Native American schools to cease using Native American symbols and imagery. Also during the spring, New York State Education Commissioner Richard Mills urged superintendents of the 136 schools in New York that have American Indian mascots to immediately begin the process of change. In 2005, the NCAA took a big step by announcing that any school with a nickname or logo considered racially or ethnically "hostile" or "abusive" by the NCAA would be prohibited from using them in post-season events. And in 2010, students at Prescott High School in Prescott, Wisconsin demonstrated a new method of challenging he use of American Indian mascots when they fought for a bill to end the use of American Indian mascots, helped push it through the state legislature, and to g0t the governor of the state to sign it into law. .
But these efforts have been countered by natural apprehensions about instituting such dramatic change and the impact it could have on a program and community. To help athletic departments that may be considering changing their mascot, five steps have been offered by Ellen J. Staurowsky, EdD, an Associate Professor of Sport Studies and Coordinator of the Sports Information and Communication Program at Ithaca College:
Briggs, Kara. "Trademark Board Considering 'Redskins' Suit," Indian Country Today. August 1998:1A,5A.
Brady, Eric. "Term of Non-Endearment?" USA Today Sports, May 21, 1999:1C.
Burghart, Tara. "Illinois University Senate: Retire Chief Illiniwek." News From Indian Country: The Nation's Native Journal, April 1999.
Davey, Monica. "Insult or Honor?" New York Times Upfront, February 8, 2010 at http://teacher.scholastic.com/scholasticnews/indepth/upfront/features/index.asp?article=f020810_mascots
Dolley, Jeff. "The four R's: Use of Indian mascots in educational facilities," Journal of Law and Education,January 1, 2003 at http://www.allbusiness.com/legal/1018908-1.html
Fenelon, James V. "Symbolic Racism: Chief Wahoo and the Cleveland Indians." June 1997 at http://www1.jcu.edu/SOCIO/fenelon/WAHOO.htm
Good Voice, Christina. "High School's Indian mascot causes stir," Cherokee Phoenix, January 21, 2010 at http://www.cherokeephoenix.org/21050/Article.aspx
Harjo, Suzan. Press Release from The Morning Star Institute, April 1999.
Hirshfelder, Arlene B. American Indian Stereotypes in the World of Children. Metuchen, New Jersey: Scarecrow Press, Inc., 1993.
Hinkle, Jeff. "Proud Heritage or Institutional Racism." American Indian Report. April 1998:24.
Martin, Phillip W.D. "Bench This Team: The Offensive Anahronisms." Boston Globe. April 19, 1998:G2.
Melmer, David. "Chief Wahoo Hits the Road." Indian Country Today. January 1999:A2.
Mihesuah, Devon A. American Indians: Stereotypes and Realities. Clarity Press, Inc., 1996.
Moreno, Sylvia. "'Redskins' Name Assailed at Hearing." Washingtonpost.com. May 28, 1998 at http://wp4.washingtonpost.com/wps-rv/sports/redskhins/daily/may98/28.htm
Munson, Barbara. “Common Themes and Questions about the use of ‘Indian’ Logos,” 1998. Website of the Wisconsin Indian Education Association at http://pages.prodigy.net/munson/common_themes.htm
Pewewardy, Cornel. “Why Educators Can’t Ignore Indian Mascots,” 1999 at http://www.racismagainstindians.org/STARArticle/WhyEducatorsCan%27tIgnoreIndianMascots.htm
Staurowsky, Ellen J. "Much Ado About Mascots." Athletic Management, 13.5 (August/September 2001) at http://www.momentummedia.com/articles/am/am1305/mascots.htm
USA Today, "NCAA allowing Florida State to use its Seminole mascot," August 23, 2005 at http://www.usatoday.com/sports/college/2005-08-23-fsu-mascot-approved_x.htm
Wilkins, David E. "Of 'Tigers', 'Redskins,' 'Braves,' Ad Nauseum." News from Indian Country: The Nation's Native Journal, May 1997.
How Hollywood Has Stereotyped Native Americans http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_hJFi7SRH7Q&feature=related
In Whose Honor? describes the efforts of Charlene Teters to end the use of mascots, an effort she began in 1989 and continues through today. The film can be downloaded for a fee at New Day Films. A 2.37 minute segment of the film is available online at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lEUl2keJK-w&feature=related
MLK Symposium: Interview with Charlene Teters in 2006 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W53fnenKX4g&feature=related
Native American Stereotypes and Truths http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e15YDqt9n9M&feature=related
Racism: The Way We See It http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ySSpLhM4-ls&feature=related
Savage Country: American Indian Sports Mascots explains the controversy in Oklahoma http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cVDyldTV9OA&feature=related
Sesame Street on Indians http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PuJzKVF_gxQ&feature=related