"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.
It is not conscionable that Wisconsin's Public Schools be the
vehicle of 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. The following illustrate the common questions and
statements that I have encountered in trying to provide
education about the "Indian" logo issue.
"We have always been proud of our "Indians"." People are proud
of their high school athletic teams, even in communities where
the team name and symbolism does not stereotype a race of
people. In developing high school athletic traditions, schools
have borrowed from Native American cultures the sacred objects,
ceremonial traditions and components of traditional dress that
were most obvious; without understanding their deep meaning or
appropriate use. High school traditions were created without
in-depth knowledge of Native traditions; they are replete with
inaccurate depictions of Indian people, and promote and
maintain stereotypes of rich and varied cultures. High school
athletic traditions have taken the trappings of Native cultures
onto the playing field where young people have played at being
"Indian". Over time, and with practice, generations of children
in these schools have come to believe that the pretended
"Indian" identity is more than what it is.
"We are honoring Indians; you should feel honored." Native
people are saying that they don't feel honored by this
symbolism. We experience it as no less than a mockery of our
cultures. We see objects sacred to us - such as the drum, eagle
feathers, face painting and traditional dress - being used, not
in sacred ceremony, or in any cultural setting, but in another
We are asking that the public schools stop demeaning, insulting,
harassing and misrepresenting Native peoples, their cultures and
religions, for the sake of school athletics. Why must some
schools insist on using symbols of a race of people? Other
schools are happy with their logos which offend no human being.
Why do some schools insist on categorizing Indian people along
with animals and objects? If your team name were the *Pollacks,
Niggers, Gooks, Spics, Honkies or Krauts, and someone from the
community found the name and symbols associated with it
offensive and asked that it be changed; would you not change the
name? If not, why not?
"Why is the term "Indian" offensive?" The term "Indian" was
given to indigenous people on this continent by an explorer who
was looking for India, a man who was lost and who subsequently
exploited the indigenous people. "Indian", is a designation we
have learned to tolerate, it is not the name we call ourselves.
We are known by the names of our Nations - Oneida
(On^yotea"ka), Hochunk, Stockbridge- Munsee, Menominee
(Omaeqnomenew), Chippewa (Anishanabe), Potawatomi, etc. There
are many different nations with different languages and
different cultural practices among the Native American peoples
as in Europe there are French, Swiss, Italian, German, Polish,
English, Irish, Yugoslavs, Swedes, Portuguese, Latvians etc.
"Why is an attractive depiction of an Indian warrior just as
offensive as an ugly caricature?" Both depictions present and
maintain stereotypes. Both firmly place Indian people in the
past, separate from our contemporary cultural experience. It is
difficult, at best, to be heard in the present when someone is
always suggesting that your real culture only exists in museums.
The logos keep us marginalized and are a barrier to our
contributing here and now. Depictions of mighty warriors of the
past emphasize a tragic part of our history; focusing on
wartime survival, they ignore the strength and beauty of our
cultures during times of peace. Many Indian cultures view life
as a spiritual journey filled with lessons to be learned from
every experience and from every living being. Many cultures put
high value on peace, right action, and sharing.
Indian men are not limited to the role of warrior; in many of
our cultures a good man is learned, gentle, patient, wise and
deeply spiritual. In present time as in the past, our men are
also sons and brothers, husbands, uncles, fathers and
grandfathers. Contemporary Indian men work in a broad spectrum
of occupations, wear contemporary clothes, and live and love
just as men do from other cultural backgrounds.
The depictions of Indian "braves", "warriors" and "chiefs" also
ignore the roles of women and children. Although there are
patrilineal Native cultures, many Indian Nations are both
matrilineal and child centered. Indian cultures identify women
with the Creator because of their ability to bear children, and
with the Earth which is Mother to us all. In most Indian
cultures the highest value is given to children, they are closest
to the Creator and they embody the future. In many Native
traditions, each generation is responsible for the children of
the seventh generation in the future.
"We never intended the logo to cause harm." That no harm was
intended when the logos were adopted, may be true. It is also
true that we Indian people are saying that the logos are harmful
to our cultures, and especially to our children, in the present.
When someone says you are hurting them by your action, if you
persist; then the harm becomes intentional.
"We are paying tribute to Indians." Indian people do not pay
tribute to one another by the use of logos, portraits or
statues. The following are some ways that we exhibit honor:
In most cultures to receive an eagle feather is a great honor,
and often such a feather also carries great responsibility.
An honor song at a Pow-Wow or other ceremony is a way of
honoring a person or a group.
We honor our elders and leaders by asking them to share
knowledge and experience with us or to lead us in prayer. We
defer to elders. They go first in many ways in our cultures.
We honor our young by not doing things to them that would keep
them from becoming who and what they are intended to be.
We honor one another by listening and not interrupting.
We honor those we love by giving them our time and attention.
Sometimes we honor people through gentle joking.
We honor others by giving to them freely what they need or what
belongs to them already because they love it more or could use
it better than we do.
"Aren't you proud of your warriors?" Yes, we are proud of the
warriors who fought to protect our cultures and preserve our
lands. We are proud and we don't want them demeaned by being
"honored" in a sports activity on a playing field. Our people
died tragically in wars motivated by greed for our lands. Our
peoples have experienced forced removal and systematic genocide.
Our warriors gave their sacred lives in often vain attempts to
protect the land and preserve the culture for future
generations. Football is a game.
"This is not an important issue." If it is not important, then
why are school boards willing to tie up their time and risk
potential law suits rather than simply change the logos. I, as
an Indian person, have never said it is unimportant. Most
Indian adults have lived through the pain of prejudice and
harassment in schools when they were growing up, and they don't
want their children to experience more of the same. The
National Council of American Indians, the Great Lakes
InterTribal Council, the Oneida Tribe, and the Wisconsin Indian
Education Association have all adopted formal position
statements because this is a very important issue to Indian
people. This issue speaks to our children being able to form a
positive Indian identity and to develop appropriate levels of
self-esteem. In addition, it has legal ramifications in regard
to pupil harassment and equal access to education. If its not
important to people of differing ethnic and racial backgrounds
within the community, then change the logos because they are
hurting the community's Native American population.
"What if we drop derogatory comments and clip art and adopt
pieces of REAL Indian culturally significant ceremony, like
Pow-Wows and sacred songs?" Though well-intended, these
solutions are culturally naive and would exchange one
pseudo-culture for another. Pow-Wows are gatherings of Native
people which give us the opportunity to express our various
cultures and strengthen our sense of Native American community.
Pow-Wows have religious, as well as social, significance. To
parodize such ceremonial gatherings for the purpose of cheering
on the team at homecoming would multiply exponentially the
current pseudo cultural offensiveness. Bringing Native
religions onto the playing field through songs of tribute to the
"Great Spirit" or Mother Earth would increase the mockery of
Native religions even more than the current use of drums and
feathers. High School football games are secular; The Creator
and Mother Earth are sacred.
"We are helping you preserve your culture." The responsibility
for the continuance of our cultures falls to Native people. We
accomplish this by surviving, living and thriving; and, in so
doing, we pass on to our children our stories, traditions,
religions, values, arts, and our languages. We sometimes do this
important work with people from other cultural backgrounds, but
they do not and cannot continue our cultures for us. Our
ancestors did this work for us, and we continue to carry the
culture for the generations to come. Our cultures are living
cultures - they are passed on, not "preserved".
"This logo issue is just about political correctness." Using
the term "political correctness" to describe the attempts of
concerned Native American parents, educators and leaders to
remove stereotypes from the public schools trivializes a
survival issue. A history of systematic genocide has decimated
over 95% of the indigenous population of the Americas. Today,
the average life expectancy of Native American males is age 45,
of women, 46. The teen suicide rate among Native people is 20
times higher than the national average. Stereotypes, ignorance,
silent inaction and even naive innocence damage and destroy
individual lives and whole cultures. Racism kills.
"What do you mean, there is hypocrisy involved in retaining an
"Indian" logo?" Imagine that you are a child in a society where
your people are variously depicted as stoic, brave, honest, a
mighty warrior, fierce, savage, stupid, dirty, drunken, and only
good when dead. Imagine going to a school where many of your
classmates refer to your people as "Dirty Squaws" and "Timber
Niggers". Imagine hearing your peers freely, loudly and
frequently say such things as "Spear an Indian, Save a Walleye",
or more picturesquely proclaim "Spear a Pregnant Squaw, Save a
Walleye". Imagine that the teachers and administration do not
forbid this kind of behavior. Imagine that this same school
holds aloft an attractive depiction of a Plains Indian Chieftain
and cheers on its "Indian" team. Imagine that in homecoming
displays, cheers, and artwork you see your people depicted
inaccurately in ways that demean your cultural and religious
practices. Imagine that when you bring your experiences to the
attention of your school board and request change, they simply
ignore you and decide to continue business as usual. Imagine
that the same school board states publicly that it opposes
discriminatory practices, provides equal educational opportunity
and supports respect for cultural differences.
"Why don't community members understand the need to change,
isn't it a simple matter of respect?" On one level, yes. But
in some communities, people have bought into local myths and
folklore presented as accurate historical facts. Sometimes
these myths are created or preserved by local industry. Also,
over the years, athletic and school traditions grow up around
the logos. These athletic traditions can be hard to change when
much of a community's ceremonial and ritual life, as well as its
pride, becomes tied to high school athletic activities. Finally,
many people find it difficult to grasp a different cultural
perspective. Not being from an Indian culture, they find it
hard to understand that things which are not offensive to
themselves, might be offensive or even harmful to someone who is
from a Native culture. Respecting a culture different from the
one you were raised in requires some effort. Even if a person
lives in a different culture - insight and understanding of
that culture will require interaction, listening, observing and
a willingness to learn.
The Native American population, in most school districts
displaying "Indian" logos, is proportionally very small. When
one of us confronts the logo issue, that person, his or her
children and other family members, and anyone else in the
district who is Native American become targets of insults and
threats; we are shunned and further marginalized - our voices
become even harder to hear from behind barriers of fear and
anger. We appreciate the courage, support, and sometimes the
sacrifice, of all who stand with us by speaking out against the
continued use of "Indian" logos. When you advocate for the
removal of these logos, you are strengthening the spirit of
tolerance and justice in your community; you are modeling for
all our children - thoughtfulness, courage and respect for self
"Is there any common ground on this issue?" All of Wisconsin's
public schools are required to have a non-discrimination
statement and a policy to provide enforcement. Through Act 31,
all schools are required to provide education, (in the
classroom, not on the basketball court), about Wisconsin's
Woodland Indians. Many schools have adopted strategic plans
emphasizing cultural sensitivity and awareness. These measures
should establish considerable common ground between Indian
people requesting the removal of the logos and the public
schools. Until the logos are removed, however, they are no more
than broken promises and hollow, hypocritical rhetoric.
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Compiled by: Glenn Welker
Copyright @ 1993-2016
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