Insensitive Mascot Conversation Gets Closer to Home
Last week, the Washington Redskins announced the team would retire its name and logo, after a thorough review prompted by a formal request to take action from FedEx, which has naming rights to the Washington team’s stadium.
The Cleveland Indians have been called to the plate, but so far have only given a statement regarding the conversations, saying the team plans to “determine the best path forward” with their community and stakeholders.
This isn’t a new conversation, however. The recent Black Lives Matter protests have influenced a resurged awareness and forced corporations to confront discrimination and racial injustice in their own businesses.
This also isn’t a conversation exclusively for professional sports organizations, either. School districts and high school sports teams have been challenged on their use of Native American names and symbols, and appropriation of Native American culture during school-sanctioned events as well.
Locally, the Braves at Whetstone High School are also getting a few side-eyes.
Lydia Green, an alumna of Whetstone, says she tried to petition to get the mascot changed during her time there. However, her concerns often went ignored. Eventually, she stopped bringing it up for fear of backlash.
“These [were] other students telling me I was being sensitive or that I should just shut up and let it be. And that I wasn’t a full Indian anyway,” says Green, who is a recognized tribal member of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians of Northern Michigan. “Nobody in that school understood why I had a problem with it. Nobody understood why I felt the way I did. And they basically would tell me to get over it.”
She says she refused to be a part of sports at the high school, even going as far as to drive two hours outside of Columbus every day after school to play volleyball.
“Kids can wear fake headdresses and wear war paint, basically war-whoop around, pretty much stereotype my heritage right in front of me,” says Green. “Being in those halls, walking through those halls every single day of the week for two years showed me the real privilege people have by not having to look these issues in the face, by not having to experience these issues firsthand.”
In a provided statement, Columbus City Schools said it is aware of the conversations around Native American mascots happening in Ohio and around the country, however next steps have not been determined “at this time.”
“The changing of a high school’s team name or mascot needs to be part of a bigger conversation with the school administration, students, staff, alumni and community stakeholders,” read the statement. “It will be a topic of discussion for administration as we prepare for the upcoming school year.”
But for the members of the Native American Indian Center of Central Ohio, there’s a bigger mission at hand.
The center, which has a mission to make a difference in the lives of American Indian and Alaska Native youth and families in Central Ohio, says it has “taken full notice” of the conversation that is once again taking place, though now with a renewed urgency.
“In looking around, we see the unrest and tension that’s looming in the air. We see the strong influence that the Black Nation has had on this country, and the newfound consciousness they have awakened,” said Ty and Masami Smith, on behalf of the center, in a statement.
The group points to the profound impact that hundreds of years of Western colonialization has had on Native peoples, “a reality we must live with on a daily basis.”
“We also see the strong stances that have been brought forth concerning indifference, injustice, and the need for basic societal change,” they said. “All we need to do is take a look around to be instantly reminded of what has happened to our people and ancestral homelands over this time period.”
And while the center is in support of the fight to remove and replace insensitive monikers, symbols and names, they say their priority is much larger, including efforts to ensure future cultural programming for Native people and acquiring its own land base.
“For us, this is not an area we can afford to prioritize at this time,” they said. “In order to make a real difference in our Native people’s lives we must continue forward with our mission work, and with our sights set on accomplishing bigger and better results than those we have already come to realize at NAICCO.”
No matter how small the issue, Green explains that — for her — it doesn’t matter how long it takes. She plans to continue standing on the frontlines, calling for change.
“I’m hoping that if we bring this up to the school board or to the school itself, hopefully they will be open to talking about it, open to listening to why this is a problem and not just saying, ‘Well, we’ve had it for so long, so just leave it. It shouldn’t be that big of a deal,'” says Green.
Moving past the judgment she faced in high school, she believes things could change if students were taught the historical atrocities waged against Native Americans and why appropriating their culture is an issue.
“They’re not taught by the school the symbolism behind the mascot and what that could possibly mean for a person like myself. They’re very insensitive about it,” she says. “I think people need to be taught what really happened, and the truth. And maybe then they will open their eyes to see it differently.”