As part of Indigenous Peoples Week, the Native American Cultural Programs (NACP) hosted a panel entitled “#NotYourMascot: CT Indian Mascots and Why They Must Go” to discuss the controversy surrounding schools continuing to use Indian mascots and how this action negatively impacts Native culture.
“It’s so easy for people to say that it’s just a mascot,” Stephanie Fryberg, a psychology professor at the University of Michigan, said.
A common argument that is made in favor of continuing to use these mascots is that they are a token of honor, but Fryberg said that this argument does not hold up to research.
School boards are quick to defend themselves by arguing that the original intention was in good light. Many times people don’t originally intend to inflict harm, but this doesn’t mean that harm cannot be created later on.
“We have to get away from a hyper focus on intentions … and focus instead on the impacts and the consequences for a variety of people,” Glenn Mitoma, an assistant professor of human rights and education at UConn, said.
The images that these mascots portray are harmful and often misrepresentative of native culture and traditions. Mascots and logos hold a powerful narrative and can perpetuate harmful stereotypes about Native people, such as the warrior stereotype, which can lead to negative consequences for Native individuals, especially children.
“While these images lower self-esteem for native youth, they increase self-esteem for White children,” Fryberg said.
This problem has become increasingly prevalent across Connecticut, and state lawmakers are currently considering legislation to ban Native American nicknames and logos at public high schools.
Recently, there has been a lot of controversy in Killingly where the high school’s mascot, the “Redmen,” was replaced in October and then restored a few months later after public backlash to the decision. Mitoma referred to this as a “tragic reinstatement” and said how this decision has led to a deterioration of the political culture and the community in the town.
The panelists stressed that one of the best ways to solve this issue is to take it upon yourself to become more educated about the harmful side effects that Indian mascots have and encourage others to do the same.
People are often resistant to change, but by becoming aware of how hurtful and troubling these mascots are to Native people, you can turn this fear into an opportunity to enact meaningful change.
Fryberg recommends that people check out IllumiNative, a nonprofit initiative created by Natives to challenge the negative narrative that surrounds their communities. This website is dedicated to increasing visibility for Natives through encouraging important institutions, like schools, to have important conversations about the history and culture of Native peoples.
Whether or not you attended a school that had an Indian mascot, it is likely that you are aware of another school, a team or an institution that does have one. By understanding how these mascots promote negative and hurtful stereotypes and taking it upon yourself to become more educated about Native culture, you are on the path to becoming a more culturally aware individual.
“It was a problem created by non-natives and it’s up to non-natives to clean up the mess that has been made,” Mitoma said.
If you are interested in learning more about Native culture and other events that will be taking place during Indigenous Peoples’ Week at UConn, visit the NACP website for more information.