Indian mascots, teaching moments

In July, the National Football League’s Washington, D.C., team said it would retire its mascot name, the Redskins. A new name will be announced at a later date.

This week, Cleveland’s Major League Baseball team made a similar announcement about the Indians.

Cover to a 100-question guide about Native AmericansThis, despite the teams having said they would fight to keep them. But what seems to be missing in this heat of viral coverage is an explanation. A little transparency and education would help achieve what should be the goal. This should not be about appeasing sponsors or public pressure, but doing what the owners and leagues believe is right and then explaining.

Ostensibly, the pressure for these changes came from Indigenous people and others who were trying to act as allies. But little of the news coverage has had anything to do with the reasoning. Indigenous people are seldom quoted this week and, as they are on both sides of the issue, quoting one or a couple would not tell the full story. Let’s hear from the position that the mascot names should be dumped.

This is from the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), a 76-year-old association. It cannot speak for all, but it speaks for many.

The group supported the decision:

“Today’s announcement represents a monumental step forward in Indian Country’s decades-long effort to educate America about what respect for tribal nations, cultures, and communities entails, and how sports mascots like the ‘Indians’ prevent our fellow Americans from understanding and valuing who Native people are today, what makes us unique, and the many contributions we make to this country,’ said NCAI President Fawn Sharp. ‘The genuine commitment the team has made to listen to and learn from Indian Country over the past several months is to be applauded, and the process the team used should serve as a blueprint for sports teams and schools across the nation as this movement for racial justice and inclusion continues to grow.'”

Dr. Aaron Payment, the group’s vice president, wrote, “This decision and the team’s ensuing transition to a new name offer us an unprecedented teaching moment, as our work is far from done. We must continue to teach all who will listen the fact that Native people are still here, that we belong to sovereign tribal nations, and that a racially just society must center and celebrate Native people, welcome our perspectives, and value the rich cultural diversity we bring to America’s table.”

That is just how this should be treated: as a teaching moment.

So, make this a teachable moment by reading the Native American Journalists Association guide, updated and reissued with the Michigan State University School of Journalism.

“100 Questions, 500 Nations: A Guide to Native America” is available from Amazon or the Front Edge Publishing bookstore.

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