Bill to Ban Native American Mascots in Massachusetts Heads to Statehouse

Courtesy Doug Cope/WBZ / A hearing is held at the Massachusetts statehouse concerning the use of Native American mascots at public schools throughout the state.

Psychologists say Native American mascots harm the mental health of youths; proponents say mascots are meant to honor

The days may be numbered for Native American mascots at public schools in Massachusetts. A bill there would ban the use of Native American-themed logos and language that psychologists say harm the mental health of youths. The legislation was being debated at the statehouse on June 6, the Associated Press reported.

The effort to repeal Native American mascots throughout the state comes from parents in the town of Tewksbury, located an hour north of Boston, who had appealed to elected officials.

Native Americans argue that not only do Indian mascots negatively affect the mental health of youths, they also dehumanize and commodify indigenous peoples. “There is harm,” Linda Thomas, a Tewksbury resident who requested the legislation, told Boston’s NPR affiliate WBUR. “And Native Americans have been saying that since the 1960s. Also language changes over time. I mean there’s a big difference in our culture of the past 20, 30 years in terms of how we talk about minority groups,” she said.

“We’d like to see names in Massachusetts that are not discriminatory,” Thomas told Boston’s CBS affiliate. “Massachusetts public schools have a mandate to have schools free of racial bias.”

Meanwhile, proponents of Indian mascots say they are meant to honor Native Americans and that they are a part of community legacy. “I think the people that want the change are removed from what these names really mean and would be doing greater harm than good,” Michael Colameta, an administrator of a Facebook group called “Redmen . . . Here to Stay,” told The Boston Globe in January. “Never once had Tewksbury done anything to degrade anything that it stood for.”

Mascots such as the “Redskins,” ”Savages,” ”Indians,” ”Chieftains,” ”Braves” and “Redmen” are specifically targeted by the bill, the AP reported. A 2008 study found that Native American youths exposed to Indian-themed mascots and monikers reported low self-esteem and a diminished sense of self-worth.

Culture Editor Simon Moya-Smith contributed to this report.