Fighting Back: Schools, Mascots and Offensive Gaffes We Battled in 2016

Indian Country Today looks back at Native appropriation blunders of 2016

In 2016, school and team mascots that disparage Native Americans still exist. That includes five professional teams — the Washington Redskins, based in the nation’s capital, as well as the Cleveland Indians, Chicago Blackhawks, Atlanta Braves and Kansas City Chiefs.

The Washington and Kansas City teams are in contention for the NFL playoffs; Cleveland’s baseball team made it to the World Series and the NHL Chicago Blackhawks have a winning record for the past decade. If you’re behind the #notyourmascot movement, you’re rooting against all of them.

The pro teams, however, are only a tiny fraction of the problem here. From small town America to big cities, harmful acts that disparage Native culture have made it into the spotlight. The research is out there — racist mascots lower self-esteem among Native youth, who have higher suicide rates — but who’s listening?

So without further ado, we are recapping the year that was — hoping, still, for a future free of racism and ridicule.

The F-You Middle Finger T-Shirt


After a mascot ban, an angry parent and Conard Chieftain high school alumni created a t-shirt with an image of a Native American man in a headdress with an emblem of a ‘f*ck you’ middle finger hidden in the medallion

After two Connecticut schools were banned from using their Native mascot school designs on shirts and more, a parent at Conard High School designed a red and silver t-shirt with a Native American chief donning a headdress as covered in our story, After Mascot Ban at CT High School — Parent Designs ‘F*ck You’ Finger Headdress T-Shirt. Hidden in a headdress medallion, a middle-finger graphic firmly stated the parent’s opinion on the matter.

The two schools also had cheering sections and associated Twitter accounts called “The Reservation” and “The Tribe.” After social media exploded in outrage, the cheering sections changed their names and their Twitter accounts, and the headdress t-shirt wearers went underground.

The #NoDAPL Halloween Costumes

Twitter / Facebook

NoDAPL Water Protector Halloween Costumes Hit Social Media. Shortly after posting, the couple on the left deleted their Facebook accounts. The identity of the snapchat account on the right is unknown.

It wouldn’t be Halloween without ignorant people donning token Indian costumes. ICMN covered this in NoDAPL Water Protector Halloween Costumes Hit Social Media when some individuals thought it funny to add #NODAPL to the token Indian costume. Apparently, water isn’t life for some — but mocking other races is.

When photos of these outfits showed up on Facebook, some of the offenders deleted accounts and offered apologies.

Cherokee Trail of Tears High School Sports Game Banner

This banner was displayed November 15 at a McAdory High School football game.

“Hey Indians. Get Ready to Leave in a Trail of Tears (Round 2).”

The fact that a cheer squad in America found a sign mocking the Trail of Tears to be funny is appalling, but that’s what happened at McAdory High School in Alabama.

Coverage of the sign went viral on social media, and as was reported by ICMN, Cherokee Nation Responds to Offensive ‘Trail of Tears’ Banner, the Cherokee Nation objected and the school issued an apology, as well as a statement explaining that the cheer squad would receive cultural sensitivity instruction and make a trip to a Native museum.

Reminder people: 4,000 died in this 19th-century death march.

The Warriors Hockey Logo

Lake Erie Warriors / Eagles website screen capture

After a National College Prospects Hockey League team was blasted on social media for a red-skinned Mohawk logo they released back in May, team owners responded by removing all of their social media accounts and changing their website information from the Lake Erie Warriors to the Lake Erie Eagles.

It was as if Chief Wahoo’s daughter met the 1966 Atlanta Braves logo and spawned a horribly disfigured son: Lake Erie Warriors Change Name to Eagles After Social Media Barrage.

Owners of a Lake Erie hockey team, participating in the National College Prospects League, launched their franchise under the name Warriors, and had a vividly red Indian mascot.

Many voiced their opinions on social media, resulting in the team quickly changing its logo to the Eagles.

‘Lord Jeff’ Loses Nobility

This poster was displayed in a biology classroom at Amherst College.

Amherst College in Massachusetts is a prestigious liberal arts college. But even at a place where bright minds gather, a painful reminder of the murderous mistreatment of American Indians lived on until this year, as covered by ICMN in Amherst College Drops Mascot Associated With Smallpox Blankets.

Lord Jeff, the school’s mascot — a reference to Lord Jeffery Amherst — was retired this year after a poll found that 83 percent of Amherst students wanted it removed. Lord Amherst a British commander during the French-Indian War, pushed to have smallpox-infected blankets given to Native Americans.

The Amherst student newspaper editorial board chimed in with, “We need a mascot that all of the diverse members of this community can rally around, not one that bitterly divides us.”

Stereotypical Headdress Discouraged at FSU

Courtesy Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

Florida State University’s student government has passed a resolution encouraging students not to wear headdresses at athletic events.

One of the few remaining colleges with Native American mascots decided this year it was time to limit headdresses at their football games.

As detailed in ICMN’s Florida State Student Government Says No to Headdresses, the Student Government Association of Florida State University voted 27-5 in April to discourage the regalia at athletic events.

“The Florida State University is responsible for cultivating and maintaining a strong relationship between the Seminole Tribe of Florida and this collegiate institution,” said the resolution.

Winnipeg Hockey Team Bans Fake Headdresses

Jeff Stapleton

Photograph of the fake headdress that was worn to the Winnipeg Jets vs Chicago Blackhawks game on March 29, 2015, at Winnipeg’s MTS Centre.

After a Chicago Blackhawks fan showed up in a headdress to a Winnipeg Jets game, the latter organization issued a ban on the fake regalia pieces as ICMN covered in Winnipeg Jets Ban Fake Native Headdresses.

Jordan Wheeler, a Jets season-ticket holder, filed a complaint last season regarding a fan wearing a headdress, which prompted the team’s owner to meet with First Nation leaders to discuss the matter.

“After gaining probably a better understanding of the significance [of headdresses] we have decided that going forward we will no longer be allowing costume and non-authentic headdresses into [our stadium] for hockey events,” he told the CBC.

This was a win for Indian country.

Cleveland Indians Still Using Chief Wahoo

AP Images / Archives

The Cleveland Indians name and Chief Wahoo logo are alive and well.

The American Indian Movement has been protesting the Chief Wahoo logo and mascot of the Cleveland Indians for decades. The team happened to be the best in the American League this season, advancing to the World Series, which meant that it received even more criticism for the logo, this time nationally.

Although it made an effort to phase out the Wahoo logo in 2014, the Indians brought back Chief Wahoo for the postseason this year, in Chief Wahoo Lives On in Cleveland!

A judge denied a legal challenge against the team regarding the Wahoo in October, but declined to explain his reasoning.

Washington NFL Team Loses Trademark Battle


It will take a lot more than a single, skewed poll about the Washington NFL team’s racist name to shut us up, Diné activist Amanda Blackhorse says.

In October, the Supreme Court rejected an appeal by the Washington pro football team that challenged a ruling barring offensive trademarks.

In 2014, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office canceled six trademarks because the name Redskins was found to be disparaging to Native Americans.

Though the Washington Post published a survey in May of 2016 that showed 90% of 504 self-proclaimed Native American people polled were not offended by the Washington Redskins name, ICMN and social media responded in force: A Single Poll Will Not Shut Us Up and Approx 80% of Natives Offended by Redskins: Per Random Polling of 2,000.

The good news: things appear to be headed in the right direction regarding this team name and logo.

Cary Rosenbaum (Colville) is the Traveling NDN. Follow him on Twitter @caryrosenbaum


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