Maureen Kelly Jonason High Plains Reader, Thursday, March 11, 1999
It's a no-brainer, if you ask me. The use of Native American images as sports mascots is offensive to an entire classification of persons, as well as residual supporters. Therefore, stop it!
While discussing with some acquaintances recently an article on the use of animals and vegetables as team mascots, I brought up the idea that the use of living peoples as sports logos is offensive to some. We discussed the UND team, the Atlanta team, and some of their home teams. Some rolled their eyes. Others expressed the outrage of having to change, in the middle of their high school careers, from some ferocious-generic-indigenous-person team to some rabid animal or killer insect. Oh, the honor.
Of all the social ills in the world, this one can at least be resolved quickly and painlessly. Just stop it. Of course, there will be a few administrative wrinkles to work out: there's all that letterhead that will have to be changed, and some more practical-minded folks worry that the alumni will turn against their alma mater and refuse to fork over the big bucks just because it finally came to its senses and decided to cease its last but strongest blatantly racist practice (the subtly racist practices are "a whole 'nother Oprah"). I must retort that if the alumni give a rip about the quality of education at their school, then the mascot issue is virtually irrelevant. If all they want is to support some illusion of greatness by proxy perpetuated by the athletic achievements of others, then their money belongs elsewhere.
One pro-derogatory-image-of-living-persons-mascots asked, "If the Sioux objected so much to having their image used as a mascot, why didn't they put a stop to it at the beginning?" Such logic is, of course, the result of ignorance.
Pardon me, but what exactly what was the power base of North Dakota Native Americans in 1930? How many were consulted on this decision? Nil and none.
"But why are the bringing this up now?" someone else lamented, as though this issue were brand new fodder for their personal annoyance. As Holy Annis, UND student and guest essayist in last week's HPR explained, there have always been objections. She provided a timeline of the controversy that spans 70 years. It's only new to youngsters who enter the university historically under-aware.
The power of a white administration and student body always outweighs the power of civility, the power of conscience, the power of integrity. We-want-what-we-want-when-we-want-it is not a new perspective; it is, some argue, the human condition, an innate selfishness, which we all must work diligently to overcome, whether by prayer or politics or both. It's why we have laws, values, ethics. Remember those?
To those who argue that it really doesn't matter, it's really no bid deal, it's really a way of honoring people, I generally provide this analogy. Suppose the New Orleans Saints decide to start using rosary beads as cheering props, twirling the strands overhead like lassos and chanting, "Je-sus! JE-sus! JE-SUS! Crucify them! Crucify them!" And support fans, all in the name of honoring Christians, mind you, took to raising Bibles and thumping them against the bleachers in that typical rhythm of impending doom. Suppose "Our Father" was turned into a chant roared from the masses, swaying in drunken reverie. The mascot could come out in an altar boy outfit or dressed as the saint du jour. Just imagine the possibilities the team's opponents would come up with to honor the Saints. Do you suppose anyone would voice any objections to such practices? But why? It's all in good fun, isn't it?
If a North Dakota team wanted a marauding mascot, why didn't they use Custer? Oh yea, he lost. Besides, he's not currently politically favored. And what would fans use for props? Styrofoam muskets? Little arrow-through-the-head crowns? The female athletes could be called Libbies, after Mrs. Custer (Well, it's better than the Lady Custers, isn't it?) What? You think such practices would not really honor Custer but mock him? And regardless which way the socio-historical-political winds may blow, somebody would take offense? Then it is probably a good choice not to choose that image for a mascot, isn't it?
A runner-up solution was offered recently in The Forum-- cartoonist Steve Stark depicted the image of a little girl, calling her UND Sue. My favorite, however, is both the politically and historically correct-- the Fighting Sioux could become the Fighting Soo with the image of a nasty, grimacing cartoon train rearing up on its little locomotive legs, ready to mow down the grazing Bison. The fans' props and cheers are easy to imagine. And who would it hurt?
Perhaps no one intended to offend the Lakota/Nakota/Dakota people when UND switched its mascot from a tough prairie bird to the stereotypical warrior in war bonnet, not a half century after said warrior's nation was subdued and nearly decimated by the active extermination efforts of its enemy's government.
Whether the decision-makers' intentions are racist or not is not the point. The effect of their actions is the point. The effect, it has been made clear over and over again for decades and decades, is degradation of the worst kind, the kind that attacks the heart and dignity of an entire people. IF the alleged recipients of the honor do not see it as an honor, then no honor shall it be.