I’m not anyone’s mascot.
As a citizen of the Muscogee Creek tribe, there are some factors I would like for readers to consider, especially those still arguing that naming sports teams after Native Americans is somehow not demeaning or dehumanizing.
Before addressing these factors, I want readers to know I went to Union High School in Tulsa, Oklahoma (formerly Indian Territory where tribes were brought after the forced march of the Trail of Tears). Union is one of the largest school systems in the state and its mascot is the Redskins.
Even after numerous attempts from local tribal leaders to request a name change, Union still uses this racist slur today.
Every Friday night, under the lights at their football stadium in affluent South Tulsa, a majority-white crowd gathers to watch their beloved football team run through a smoking teepee onto the field as the crowd yells chants based on stereotypes while mimicking a tomahawk chop.
After high school, I played college baseball at Northeastern State University in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. There, I traded my Redskins jersey for a Redmen jersey.
Thankfully, NSU changed their mascot from the Redmen to the Redhawks in response to the 2005 “self-evaluation” conducted by the NCAA concerning potentially demeaning and offensive mascots.
With that background, let’s dive deeper into why these mascots and the antics associated with them are not honoring Native peoples, but perpetuating stereotypes that are both demeaning and dehumanizing.
First, the word mascot derives from the French word “mascotte,” which means “lucky charm” – a talisman, charm or thing that would bring luck to households or people.
The very notion that a person or group of people – especially indigenous peoples who were oppressed, marginalized and killed for their lands and resources – are lucky charms for mainly white people is deeply offensive and demonstrates the depths of white supremacy and privilege in the United States.
Second, the notion that it’s appropriate and acceptable to name a team mascot after a person’s skin tone is remarkably arrogant and racist.
What other race or culture is used for this purpose? We don’t have the Winston Whiteskins, Boston Blackskins and not even the Raleigh Rednecks.
Using skin tone as a basis for a mascot signifies and communicates one reality: White people fear people of color.
From the onset of European expansionism into Africa, Asia and the Americas, the ruling white class has ridiculed and feared darker skin tones.
Fueling this historical scorn and aggression, there is the theological malpractice of connecting divine blessing based upon race and culture.
European and American Christians have, for far too long, held to the ideas of the doctrine of discovery and manifest destiny.
Both ideas were based upon the superiority of white people in their attempts to conquer and convert cultures to their religion and political structures.
In this notion of color contrast, white was righteous, and dark was sinful.
Third, the use of artifacts and symbols to celebrate sports is ignorant at best and racist at worst.
For Native Americans, our artifacts, symbols and cultural expressions are sacred. The devaluing of these sacred objects and actions demeans the whole of the Native culture, associating and aligning them with the trivial.
The culture of Native peoples is not some prop for white people to use as an intimidation tactic for opposing teams.
Nor is it a valid expression of celebration when a team scores a touchdown or hits a home run. These acts are nothing less than the ruling class reminding people of color they are in control.
White people need to have some respect for a proud people with a rich heritage that cultivated and cared for the lands many years before we were “discovered” by you.
Fourth, let’s assess some of the names in question.
There are the Redskins, Indians, Braves and Blackhawks. Now, I am not going to go too far into the Redskins name because if you still think naming a sports team after the color of someone’s skin is acceptable, there is not much hope in changing your mind.
Indians is a name based off the incompetence of Christopher Columbus and his colleagues. After seeking trade routes to India, Columbus thought he landed in India in 1492.
When he encountered the indigenous peoples of the Caribbean islands, he mistook them for the people of India.
Therefore, the very word “Indian” is a misappropriated and misapplied term that extends European supremacy over the indigenous people. Names have power.
So, when we choose to use the name given by the ruling class over the indigenous names, we are signifying who we think is more important and significant.
Thankfully, one Major League Baseball organization did throw out their deeply racist and reprehensible cartoon depiction of an Indian, Chief Wahoo.
The offensive cartoon was a smiling Native man, colored with a bright red face, smiling from ear to ear, with one feather protruding from behind his head. It was the very character of a person whom a ruling class would demean and dehumanize.
The Cleveland Indians finally relented to pressure and got rid of Chief Wahoo, but not until 2018.
The Indians were not the only ones to have their own chief. The Atlanta Braves organization created Chief Noc-A-Homa for their mascot in 1964 while they were still in Milwaukee.
Chief Noc-A-Homa would dance on the pitcher’s mound before each game and reside in a teepee behind the left-field fence where he would set off smoke signals after a Braves home run.
Wanting to be more inclusive, the Braves added Princess Win-A-Lotta in 1983. She only lasted one year, though.
Chief Nok-A-Homa came to an end in 1986, but not because of a change in conscience by the Braves. It was a labor dispute between the organization and Levi Walker, the man playing the chief. Walker was paid $60 per week and received a $5,000 termination settlement.
Fifth, while team names such as Braves, Blackhawks, Seminoles and Chiefs are not as offensive as Redskins and Indians, they perpetuate racial and cultural stereotypes in order to advance a corporate agenda.
The fact remains that mascots were created for corporate marketing purposes.
We must never forget billions of dollars have been generated off Native American stereotypes and offensive team names.
Professional, collegiate and public sports programs have sold billions of dollars in merchandise using racial slurs, offensive imagery and disrespectful use of cultural and sacred rites.
The time for the wrongful use of Native American culture and their people needs to end.
As teams evaluate name changes, I hope they would consider how Jesus treated people from other cultures and races (John 4). He was both respectful and inclusive. He fed, healed and loved them (Matthew 8). He even went to great lengths to show the absurdity of degrading and dehumanizing people from other cultures (Matthew 15 and Luke 10).
As organizations assess the harm these dehumanizing names have caused, let us move forward with reconciliation in our hearts and the hope of creating a more perfect society.
Let’s build an inclusive society, where culture is celebrated and respected. Let’s create communities where all people feel as though they are among equals.
Let’s enjoy our sporting events and celebrate our teams’ achievements, but let’s not do that at the expense of dehumanizing mascots.
We are not your mascots.
CEO of Good Faith Media.