Michigan Education Association

The problem with "Indian" mascots and logos

Linda Keway, Ed.D.
MEA Professional Development/Human Rights Consultant

The use of "Indian" mascots and logos in our school athletic events, as well as in other community activities, contributes to many stereotypes and misperceptions of American Indians. According to Barbara Munson, chairperson of the Wisconsin Indian Education Association "Indian" Mascot and Logo Taskforce, "As long as 'Indian' team names, mascots and logos remain a part of school athletic programs, we as educators are tolerating and perpetuating racism and stereotyping." (Spring, 1999, Teaching Tolerance)

So what's wrong with their use?

  • Most communities are proud of their athletic teams, yet school traditions involving Native American imagery typically reflect little pride in or knowledge of Native cultures. These traditions have taken the trappings of Native cultures onto the athletic field where young people have played at being "Indian."

  • Native people do not feel honored by this symbolism. Instead, they experience it as a mockery of their cultures. Sacred objects that are part of their religion, such as the drum, eagle feathers, face painting and traditional dress, are being used in another culture's game. This would be similar to depicting the "cross," for example, at an athletic event.

  • Depictions of mighty warriors of the past emphasize a tragic part of Native history; focusing on wartime survival. They ignore the strength and beauty of Native American cultures during times of peace.

  • Native people state that the logos are harmful to their cultures, and especially to their children. When someone tells you that you are hurting him or her by your action, then the harm becomes intentional if you persist.

  • The depiction of warrior ignores the many roles of Native men, as well as women, in the past and present.

  • In some communities, people begin believing those local myths and folklore. Athletic traditions can be hard to change when much of a community's ceremonial and ritual life becomes tied to athletic activities. In addition, many people find it difficult to grasp a different cultural perspective. Many non-Indian people find it hard to understand that things that are not offensive to them might be offensive or even harmful to a Native American. Respecting a culture different from the one in which you were raised requires some effort, interaction, listening, observing and a willingness to learn.

Constructive ways to address the issue of "Indian" mascots and logos

  1. If your school has an Indian team name or mascot, find out when the image was adopted, who selected it and why. What was the Native American population of your school and community then, and what is it now? What tribes were and are represented?

  2. Inventory and describe the imagery and behaviors associated with your school's

  3. Research stereotypes about your own racial or ethnic group and imagine a sports mascot based on those stereotypes. How would you feel about the public use of such images?

  4. Write letters to school, city and media officials to start a community dialogue on Indian mascots. If this issue does not apply to your local schools, choose a college or professional team as the focus of your letters. (Spring 1999, Teaching Tolerance)

  5. The courage, support and, sometimes, the sacrifice of all who stand with Native people by speaking out against the continued use of "Indian" logos is appreciated. When you advocate for the removal of these logos, you are strengthening the spirit of tolerance and justice in your community. You are modeling thoughtfulness, courage and respect for self and others. Megwetch (thank you).

For more information, contact Linda Keway, MEA headquarters, Professional Development/Human Rights consultant, 800/292-1934, extension 6217, or LKeway@mea.org.



Updated: February 12, 2009 12:33 PM