All Native American Mascots Reinforce Stereotypes, Activist Says
By KP Whaley
There was little controversy this week when the Washington, D.C. Redskins football team kicked off its regular season. The team has been the focal point of criticism in recent years because some Native Americans consider the team’s mascot racist.
In May, a Washington Post survey found nine out of 10 Native Americans aren’t offended by the team’s name. John Two-Hawks said the survey doesn’t matter, noting he is skeptical of the results.
“There was a time in this country, when African-American people were not allowed to sit forward of a line in buses, and the majority of Americans thought that was OK,” said Two-Hawks, writer and editor for The Native Circle website.
Two-Hawks said he believes at the time when Rosa Parks refused to sit at the back of the bus, there were members of the African-American community who may not have been ready to challenge the majority opinion of the time.
“But what she did was right,” Two-Hawks said.
Two-Hawks believes the mascot is offensive and is rooted in an ugly part of American history when native people were hunted like animals by bounty hunters. The term “redskin” refers to the bloody scalps of those Indian men, women and children sold for bounties aside animal skins, Two-Hawks said.
Washington’s team owner, Dan Snyder, wrote a letter to fans in 2013 defending his refusal to change the team’s name.
“We are proud of our team and the passion of our loyal fans,” Snyder wrote. “Our fans sing ‘Hail to the Redskins’ in celebration at every Redskins game. They speak proudly of ‘Redskins Nation’ in honor of a sports team they love.”
Aside from the term, Two-Hawks said the use of Indian mascots are damaging to native people because they allow for the erasure of the entire community from the mainstream public discourse.
“The stereotype causes people to believe that Native Americans either are all dead and gone, a relic of the past, or sort of locked away from the mainstream world on reservations,” he said.
Research supports Two-Hawks’ belief. A study by Justin W. Angle at the University of Montana shows Native American mascots reinforce stereotypes, specifically that Native American mascots were more likely to form an implicit bias that associated “warlike qualities” with Native Americans.
Two-Hawks hopes those reasons are enough to do away with the Washington mascot and native mascots in general.