Native American Mascots: The Fight to Reclaim a Name

Living in North Dakota for four years, and having members of Native American tribes who have married into my extended family, gave me a firsthand experience in discussing contemporary Native American issues with members of North Dakota tribe. Contemporary Native American people are experiencing issues that have continued from early racism and disregard for Native American feelings.

One issue that I find particularly interesting, and relevant to many people in American society, is the controversy surrounding Native American mascots for sports teams and universities. It seems to me, or has become more apparent to me, that more and more people are turning a critical eye towards the stereotypical and racist depictions of Native Americans in popular culture, and how these negative stereotypes are promoting racism by utilizing Native American imagery in an almost cartoonish fashion [1].  While in undergraduate at North Dakota State University rooting for our team the “Bison”, our main rivals were the University of North Dakota “Fighting Sioux”, a mascot that has since been removed after conflicts with the NCAA regulations regarding Native American mascots. The “Fighting Sioux” nickname was noted by a student as being perfect for a mascot as “Sioux are a good exterminating agent for Bison” (North Dakota State’s mascot) and “They are warlike, of fine physique and bearing” [2].

Though the name was officially retired in 2012, and the University of North Dakota is currently working on creating a new mascot for the 2012, logos and depictions of the “Fighting Sioux” remain throughout the state of North Dakota. I’m curious if these logos and continual praise of the logos is damaging to the Native American students who are attending the universities that love them.

  1. Elizabeth A. Locklear, Native American Mascot Controversy and Mass Media Involvement: How the Media Play a Role in Promoting Racism through Native American Athletic Imagery, 2012. http://uncw.edu/csurf/Explorations/documents/ElizabethLocklear.pdf
  2. Holly Anis, Thirty years of telling us to be honored, High Plains Reader, March 4, 1999

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