The Fighting Sioux Are Back: A Passionate Plea Against Indian Mascots

by | February 15, 2012
filed under Pop Culture, Racism

Fighting SiouxThis is a two-part post by Adrienne K. It was originally posted at her blog, Native Appropriations.

Adrienne K. is a member of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma and a graduate student in Boston, where she studies access to higher education for Native students. In her free time, she blogs about cultural appropriation and use of Indigenous cultures, traditions, languages, and images in popular culture, advertising, and everyday life at Native Appropriations.

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 “<insert stereotype here>”.

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!).

Jump to Part II

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