Native American Mascots

Oregon is struggling with what to do with the remaining schools that cling to their Native American mascots.  There are fifteen of them and one is my neighborhood school.

One of the first schools to change its mascot was Stanford University.  In 1972, at the urging of Native American students, Stanford's Indian mascot was replaced with the Cardinals. Here's a little history on that, from the perspective of Native American students.

Last year the Oregon legislature voted to force schools to
change their mascots.  Newspaper interviews with locals were overwhelmingly defensive.  People felt the mascots were appreciative of indigenous culture.  It was not welcome to question this common wisdom and some kind of heresy to suggest changing a mascot, as though that were disloyalty to your school.

Those who defend the mascots, who swear that they hold native people in reverence and honor them with this symbol, need to attend a game or two.  Derogatory images don't have to come from the school itself; opponents will dredge them up.  Just as "Swat the Hornets" or "Lance the Knights" appear quite regularly, how many times have I seen "Scalp the Chieftains"?  Don't find that offensive?  Those familiar with history will understand how horrific that is.

As a Jew, I imagine how this might look if my people became mascots.  The Medford Jews or some such. There may be those who would argue that was flattering.  It's far from it. How might Jews be depicted? How long before signs like "Gas the Jews" or "To the Showers" appeared at pep rallies?

Governor Kitzhaber was right to veto the "compromise" bill that would have allowed these offensive mascots to continue.  A people -- particularly a people who have been victims of genocide -- are not mascots. There is nothing respectful about caricatures, slogans or the simple concept that this proud people are to be pitted against Hornets, Cougars or even Knights. That would be the worst perhaps: Jews vs. Knights. I can just see the bloody Crusades reenacted in a gymnasium. (Many times more Jews were slaughtered on the road to Jerusalem than Muslims once they arrived.)

Put mascots in perspective. They aren't anything real, they're symbolic. I can't for the life of me understand how even the most ardent high school sports fans could elevate mascot tradition over the actual experiences of the people they represent.

I'm not a Native American, but since my people's experience must not be cheapened this way, how can I approve of the same treatment for others?

Good on you, Governor. I'm sure you've taken plenty of flack. Doing right is as unpopular as ever.

Here are the 15 schools:

  • Amity Warriors
  • Banks Braves
  • Lebanon Warriors
  • Mohawk (Marcola) Indians
  • Molalla Indians
  • North Douglas Warriors
  • Oakridge Warriors
  • Philomath Warriors
  • Reedsport Braves
  • Rogue River Chieftains
  • Roseburg Indians
  • Scappoose Indians
  • Siletz Warriors
  • North Wasco County Eagle Indians
  • Warrenton Warriors 
See also:  The Non-Curriculum