The Fighting Sioux are back: My passionate plea against Indian mascots

February 13, 2012 — 15 Comments

As of last Wednesday, University of North Dakota (UND) has reinstated their use of the “Fighting Sioux” mascot, which was banned last year. Residents of the state gathered over 17,000 signatures to put the issue on the ballot in the upcoming elections, and the UND administration says that they wanted to show that they “honor the refrendum process” by reinstating the mascot.

I, of course, think this is messed up beyond belief. Not only does this put UND in risk of violating NCAA rules that won’t allow post-season games at schools with Indian mascots, it sends a huge “eff you” to everyone in the Native (and ally) community who worked their butts off to get the mascot removed in the first place.

So, because my mascot posts tend to draw mascot defenders from the dregs of the internets, let me refute your claims right off the bat (excuse me as I plagiarize my own hipster headdress manifesto):

But mascots are HONORING the bravery and fierceness of Indians! 
No. They’re not. Honoring someone does not consist of taking their culture, reducing it to a one-dimensional racist stereotype, and representing them however you see fit. It’s about power and who has the right to represent whom. Also, this cartoon helps. I don’t consider a dude in warpaint and feathers making a mockery of my culture honoring. At all. Also, not all Indians are “fierce” and “brave,” just like not all white (or Black or Latino) people are ““.

I’m Irish (Norwegian, Catholic) and don’t get offended by the Fighting Irish (Vikings, Padres)!
That’s because there is not an active system of colonialism and oppression marginalizing the Irish, “Vikings”, or Catholics in our country. Native peoples are still living under colonial rule–take a look at stats from any area of society, and you’ll see Native people at the bottom. I’m sorry if you feel “oppressed” as a catholic or a viking–but you still have a helluva lot of white privilege that kinda negates it. Sorry.

What’s next, animal rights activists telling us we can’t use ANIMALS as mascots?! Where does it end?!
Yeah, cause Native people (PEOPLE) are on the same level as animals? Thanks buddy. Thanks a lot.

What about the Wizards? Pirates? Cowboys? 
Um, mythical beings or occupations are not the same as an entire race of people.

But tribal members support the mascot! So it’s ok!
No. It isn’t. Hitler was a white guy. Can I then deduce that all white men think it’s ok to murder millions of people? And don’t cite that stupid Sports Illustrated poll that says 90% of Indians support mascots. That thing has so many issues with sampling and validity it’s not even funny. Yeah, a few tribal members might support the mascot. But it’s a sad commentary on how invisible we are in society, because most of them cite the fact that they feel “proud” to be “recognized” and “remembered”. If the only way Native peoples are viewed in the US are as racist stereotypical mascots, (or in movies, tv, and advertising) is it better to be invisible, or seen as a stereotype?

Don’t you have BIGGER issues to worry about? Like poverty and alcoholism?!
Yeah, we do. But most people, because they’re so inundated with these images all. the. time. don’t have the wherewithal to realize that Native peoples exist in contemporary society. The collective American consciousness has reduced us to a easily-digestible stereotype, and in that act, erased our ongoing struggles. In order for us to move forward as a people, we need to acknowledge and interrogate these stereotypes, so we can move past them. The two go hand-in-hand.

 But the Fighting Sioux image is a “good” image. It’s not blatantly racist like the Cleveland Indians!
Well thank you for that transition, it’s almost like you planned it! Get ready for some science (SCIENCE!). 

It got too long, so read Part 2 (the scientific proof) here: Fighting Sioux Part II: The Science

Earlier:
Thanks for the severed head, you proved my point

A Reminder of why this blog exists: One reader’s story

Stilwell High School’s New Mascot: Tommy Tomahawk

Adrienne K.

Posts

  • Terrie_S

    The difference between “good” and “bad” mascots is like the difference between a baseball bat or a gun shot to the head. Neither is something anyone would want.

  • http://twitter.com/KittyBroadway Kitty Broadway

    Love this. My hometown’s high school changed the name of their boy’s basketball team from “Woodstock Warriers” to “Woodstock Wolverines,” and the blacklash was horrible and embarrassing, yet predictable. I wish I had this to share with them five years ago!

  • http://twitter.com/Cluisanna Cluisanna

    I’m Irish (Norwegian, Catholic) and don’t get offended by the Fighting Irish (Vikings, Padres)!

    Just because you personally don’t feel offended doesn’t mean something isn’t offensive. Also, Vikings, like Ancient Romans or Ancient Greek, were not almost entirely killed off and had their culture destroyed because they weren’t “civilized”.

  • Guest

    I would add to the “Fighting Irish” argument that a large proportion of the Notre Dame fan base is, in fact, Irish-American and/or Irish Catholic. I don’t have numbers and statistics in front of me, but I did grow up in the culture. I believe that the “Fighting Irish,” and their little leprechaun, is a mascot largely owned and claimed, often with enormous pride, by Irish-Americans (while allowing, of course, for plenty of Irish-Americans who choose not to claim it or identify with it). That’s not appropriation! And I seriously doubt the same can be said for most (if not all) Native American mascots.

  • http://kristincashore.blogspot.com/ kristin cashore

    Sorry, I’m having DISQUS problems — that last comment about the Fighting Irish not being appropriation was by me.

  • http://www.facebook.com/courtney.wooten Courtney Lynn

    When people say “other Indians are okay with it” it’s like saying that because Al Sharpton thinks X all black people think X!

  • Kristina

    I’m curious what you think of the FSU Seminoles who have some kind of relationship with the tribe.

    • Rachel

      Similarly, I’m curious about what you think of the Utah Utes, whose mascot is now a hawk, but who use the name (with permission from the tribe) and have a drum-and-feather logo.

    • Bronwyn Mroz

      I’m also curious about this. Central Michigan has a long standing, good relationship with the Chippewa in and around Mt. Pleasant. CMU uses the Chippewa name but does not use anything Native American related. When students show up to football games (and other events) dressed in headdresses and beads, Indian facepaint, etc. they are expelled from the game. CMU is working with the Chippewa in a number of ways to promote a positive relationship.

      • Bronwyn Mroz

        I do understand that one group of people being okay with something does not make it okay for everyone, but since Native American is not a culture in itself but rather a multitude of different groups, if one of those groups does come to an understanding and have a positive relationship with a school, does that make their partnership wrong? I really don’t want to sound rude or ignorant, I just would like clarification I guess.

  • Sioux Nation

    The ignorance of this post knows no bounds. The University of North Dakota does not have a mascot.

  • Maggy

    My alma mater changed its mascot from the Redskins to the Redhawks in 1994. I was a graduate student at the time and I was proud that this unpopular decision was made. There is a bookstore that is not owned by the University in town that still sells Redskins items, even after the University decreed last year that these items should not be sold anymore. It frustrates me that a large number of alumni talk about the school being concerned about political correctness and being very dismissive of how hurtful mascots can be.

  • Jon sorensen

    Fighting Irish, Cleveland Indians, Cleveland redskins, fighting Sioux, could all be “offensive” to people. Even Minnesota vikings could be offensive to people with Scandinavian decent. People need to stop being so pathetic. You don’t have anything else to do but get offended over names that have been applied to sports teams for half a century? Political correctness is dumb in of its self. So why do people care? The term “white” could be offensive if i wanted it to be. I’m a European american, I’m not white.

  • Hey

    hey

  • Sophia

    One of my friends was actually part of the student government group that met in a special session of the state legislature to reverse the law that forced UND to keep using the Fighting Sioux mascot. He’s incredibly frustrated that this petition went through, because he thought it was a done issue.