Let’s get this out of the way: I have never claimed North Dakota. I graduated from Bismarck High School in 2001, and my dad’s family still lives on the ranch-type property they bought back in the summer of 1997. But that’s it. Aside from family, I have no connections or feelings for that state just north of South Dakota. Thanks to some rough-and-tumble times during my volatile teen years, I dread driving through the state for any reason. You couldn’t pay me enough to live there.
With THAT said, I am all smiles today. North Dakota voters – those amazing oil-stained dontcha knows (I write that in a loving, Fargo-style accent) – effectively ended a terrible and racist legacy in yesterday’s state primary: The Fighting Sioux nickname and logo at the University of North Dakota. At least, those of us who have struggled and opposed the nickname for years (me) or decades (many brave others) hope this is the end of that hurtful era.
From the Associated Press:
Voters in Tuesday’s North Dakota primary were asked whether to uphold or reject the Legislature’s repeal of a state law requiring the school to use the nickname. The vote sends the matter back to the state’s Board of Higher Education, which is expected to re-retire the nickname and American Indian head logo that seven years ago was deemed hostile and abusive by the NCAA.
That the issue became a political one (who ever heard of a college nickname being placed on a ballot, honestly??) is irrelevant now. The demeaning moniker is on its way out (ding dong!) – FINALLY! I get kinda choked up every time I think about it :*) I can’t tell you how often I have spoken to students, teachers, friends, family, and the general public about the need to retire mascots like the Fighting Sioux. I wrote last semester’s ethics final on the subject (posted for your enjoyment below). I even wrote my first editorial in high school opposing the nickname; I’ll never forget the backlash. How dare I be offended by a stereotypical image and its historically and culturally inaccurate pejorative?!? I mean, really, Taté – you should be proud, because every time a hockey puck hits its mark, a Native gets her wings (or some other “honorary” dismissal of MY feelings).
So, cheers to North Dakotans, who broke state elections primary turnout records to vote overwhelmingly in favor of chucking the nickname and logo overboard into the dirty annals of America, filed right next to Custer, land theft, broken treaties, reservations, boarding schools, and Wounded Knee, among other atrocities.
Onward to Washington’s hateful football team name.
My ethics final, in case you were interested 🙂
USD Masters of Public Administration
Administrative Ethics Final Spring 2012
In which I argue Indian mascots are America’s new-age gas chambers.
NOTE: I CUT TWO BORING INTRO PAGES. YOU’RE WELCOME.
The Fighting Sioux nickname, alongside its logo, an Indian head in profile, has generated both alumni foundation dollars and major athletic and community controversy. Those who study ethics, such as Philip Zimbardo, as well proponents of ethical justice, such as Martin Luther King, Jr., would argue against the use of Indian mascots, which not only dehumanize Native American people, but also contribute to their continued unjust treatment.
MASCOTS, A HISTORY
Beginning in the 1960s, colleges across the country began dumping Indian mascots: in 1969, Dartmouth College swaps “Indians” for “Big Green;” in 1972, Stanford University changes from “Indians” to “Cardinals;” and in 1978, Syracuse University drops its “Saltine Warrior” (Rosenstein, 2008). Dozens of institutions followed suit; some, like the University of Iowa, refused to play teams with Indian mascots, making it difficult for schools with offensive names to play regular season games (Rosenstein, 2008). Then, in 2005, the NCAA “banned the use of American Indian mascots by sports teams during its postseason tournaments, but will not prohibit them otherwise… Nicknames or mascots deemed ‘hostile or abusive’ would not be allowed on team uniforms or other clothing” (ESPN, 2005). While many of the 19 schools targeted by the NCAA ruling complied, UND held out:
North Dakota challenged the NCAA edict in court. In a settlement, the school agreed to begin retiring its nickname if it could not obtain consent to continue its use from North Dakota’s Standing Rock and Spirit Lake Sioux tribes by Nov. 30, 2010.
Spirit Lake tribal members endorsed the name. But the Standing Rock Sioux’s tribal council, which opposed the nickname, has declined to support it or to allow its tribal members to vote.
The law forcing the school to use the name and logo was approved in March , despite opposition from university officials and Grand Forks legislators…
The law was repealed during a special legislative session last November, with many former supporters switching sides and saying it had not accomplished its purpose of influencing the NCAA.
Supporters of the nickname, including some members of the Standing Rock Sioux, said they turned in petitions with more than 17,000 signatures…in support of the law. (CBS News, 2012)
Then, on April 4, 2012, the North Dakota State Supreme Court ruled voters should decide whether to keep the UND nickname before the courts judge whether the 2011 pro-nickname law violates the state constitution (WDAZ Television 8, 2012). Until then, UND’s president, Robert Kelley, said the school and its athletic teams will continue to use the nickname and logo – and comply with NCAA sanctions – until June 12, when North Dakotans have the opportunity to vote to keep the nickname (Kelley, 2012).
THE BANALITY OF EVIL
But the issue here is not a legal one, nor is it a question of tradition or honor. The use of Indian mascots and nicknames is an ethical issue – a question of whether Indians are people to be respected or whether it is acceptable to dehumanize an entire culture. In 2005, the American Psychological Association (APA) “called for the immediate retirement of all American Indian mascots, symbols, images and personalities,” because it found this brand of racial stereotyping to have harmful effects on the “social identity development and self-esteem of American Indian young people” (APA, 2005). Even more harmful is the effect stereotyping and dehumanization have on the ability of seemingly normal citizens to commit evil and horrendous acts against those seen as mere “things,” according to psychologist and researcher Philip Zimbardo (2008):
Dehumanization is the central construct in our understanding of ‘man’s inhumanity to man.’ Dehumanization occurs whenever some human beings consider other human beings to be excluded from the moral order of being a human person. The objects of this psychological process lose their human status in the eyes of their dehumanizers. By identifying certain individuals or groups as being outside the sphere of humanity, dehumanizing agents suspend the morality that might typically govern reasoned actions toward their fellows. (p. 307)
Zimbardo (2008) explains how dehumanizing can trigger an ability in ‘good’ people to commit atrocious acts, i.e. the Jewish Holocaust, Rwandan genocide, and abuse by guards at Abu Ghraib Prison in Iraq. Dehumanization allows people to redefine harmful behavior as honorable, minimizes personal responsibility, maximizes apathy, and “reconstruct(s) our perception of victims as deserving their punishment” (p. 311).
In the case of Indian mascots, the context behind the offensive nicknames and logos is at issue. Many schools adopted Indian mascots and nicknames during the early part of the 20th century, “a time when American Indian people had little political power, rights, and were not very respected as a result of the United States enforcement of federal Indian policies” (LaRocque, McDonald, Ferraro, & Abe, 2012). Along with this are the inaccurate portrayals of Native Americans throughout United States history; according to Chaney, Burke and Burkely (2012):
Perhaps one of the biggest concerns regarding AI [American Indian] mascots is that, because AIs may be largely defined by (and socially represented in terms of) mascot stereotypes, AI people have ceased to be perceived as real. From the time of first contact with European explorers, AIs have been portrayed fictionally as barbaric, wild, and savage––terms that imply AI people are less than human. Thus, it could be argued that AIs have existed as mascots for the 500+ year history of this country, and one consequence of AI sports mascots is that they keep AI people allegorically fixed as a kind of ‘cultural souvenir’ preserved in the American identity. (p. 43)
NOTE FROM ME: Not in the essay, since this was more my opinion than anything else, but I argue the use of Indian mascots exacerbates the issues plaguing Indian Country today (including, but unfortunately not limited to, extreme poverty, youth suicide, diabetes, unemployment…) by making the American public complacent and indifferent to those “Indian-only” problems. Mascots further divide Us and Them, because we Natives are nothing more than ticket sales and sports jerseys. Who cares about the Indians when there are REAL issues to deal with. Dehumanizing Natives through mascot imagery has been the most effective modern means of annihilating the few of us remaining.
AND JUSTICE FOR ALL
Thankfully, this ethical dilemma is easily resolved by doing away with Indian mascots, logos and nicknames altogether, not just among high school and college athletics, but in professional sports, as well. This would not only bring an end to the hurtful and demeaning practices of mascot stereotyping, but also offer Native American people a sense of justice. Martin Luther King, Jr., classified racist and stereotypical acts against minorities as unjust: “An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust,” (King, 1963). King goes to explain how a moral and ethical citizen has the obligation of confronting injustice and demanding redress.
Therefore, while Indian mascots may generate hoots and hollers at athletic events, and perhaps even have been in use for decades, the continued use of these inaccurate depictions of Native Americans is both hurtful and harmful not just to tribal people, but to the society in which they live. For any nation that can take one segment of its society and turn it into a caricature of itself for the purposes of entertainment and capitalism has sunken into Zimbardo’s world of evil. Yet just as King’s message of justice and morality swept across the nation, so too can the knowledge that Indian mascots, logos, and nicknames are wrong and should be brushed away in the dustbin of history.
American Psychological Association. (2005). Summary of the APA resolution recommending retirement of American Indian mascots. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/pi/oema/resources/indian-mascots.aspx
CBS News. (2012). UND to keep contentious Fighting Sioux nickname. Retrieved from http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-400_162-57373510/und-to-keep-contentious-fighting-sioux-nickname/
Chaney, J., Burke, A., & Burkley, E. Do American Indian mascots = American Indian people? Examining implicit bias towards American Indian people and American Indian mascots. Retrieved April 27, 2012 from http://www.ucdenver.edu/academics/colleges/PublicHealth/research/centers/CAIANH/journal/Documents/Volume%2018/18(1)_Chaney_AI_Mascots_People_new.pdf
ESPN. (2005). NCAA American Indian mascot ban will begin Feb. 1. Retrieved from http://sports.espn.go.com/ncaa/news/story?id=2125735
Kelley, R. (2012). Statement from the UND president Robert Kelley for the campus community. Retrieved from http://nickname.und.edu/logo/
King, M.L. Jr. (1963). Letter from Birmingham Jail. Retrieved April 28, 2012, from http://abacus.bates.edu/admin/offices/dos/mlk/letter.html
LaRocque, A., McDonald, J.D., Ferraro, F.R., & Abe, S. Indian sports mascots: Affective difference between American Indian and non‐Indian college students. Retrieved April 30, 2012 from http://www.apa.org/pi/oema/resources/affective-difference.pdf
Rosenstein, J. (2008). Banned mascots: American Indian mascot & nickname changes. Retrieved from http://jayrosenstein.com/pages/honormascots.html
WDAZ Television 8. (2012). ND supreme court won’t block Fighting Sioux election. Retrieved from http://www.wdaz.com/event/article/id/13007/
Zimbardo, P. (2008). The Lucifer effect: Understanding how good people turn evil. New York: Random House Publishing Group.