On Monday, the Goshen Community Schools Board in northern Indiana joined a steadily growing list of educational institutions that have dropped the ‘Redsk*ns’ moniker. In a 5-2 vote, the school elected to officially retire the name on January 1, 2016.
For Goshen alumni, the name represents a nearly 90-year long tradition, having first come into use in 1926. A community forum preceded the vote, nearly 200 residents turned up for the event. One alumnus described the mascot and name as her autistic son’s “entire world”, and stated that “taking the mascot away” would leave him heartbroken.
But for Native Americans in attendance, history and sentimental attachment to a racial caricature and slur are not enough. As a Native audience member pointed out, “I am not your mascot.”
Tradition, history, and honor are among the most oft-cited reasons to keep Native American mascots in use. “Why would we choose a mascot we don’t respect?” is a common response. But that overlooks what a mascot is – a character meant to be torn apart by an opposing team.
Last August, when playing the Florida State Seminoles, Oklahoma State University students proudly held up a banner stating, “Send ‘em home! #Trail_of_Tears”.
They aren’t alone – Alabama’s McDory High School held up a similar banner that many students refused to apologize for, while Tennessee’s Dyersburg Trojans “Trail of Tears” banner resulted in the Dyersburg principal stating, “I guess you could make the logical connection that if [the opposing team] weren’t called the Indians, then you couldn’t have this particular situation…I suppose there’s some truth to that.”
Study after study has been published demonstrating the harm of Native American mascots on Native and non-Native children alike. According to the University of Buffalo, viewing Native American caricatures increases the likelihood that children will associate other races with other stereotypes. Back in 2005, the American Psychological Association called for an end to Native mascots, due to empirical evidence that mascots harm the self-esteem of Native American children.
For Goshen Community Schools, the name they formerly stood by has been debated on a national level for decades. Over 60 years of protesting and 22 years of lawsuits brought by Native Americans most recently resulted in U.S. District Court Judge Bruce Lee affirming, yet again, that the term ‘Redsk*ns’ may disparage Native Americans and upholding cancelation of the Washington team’s trademarks. The Washington team has vowed to appeal.
But change is hard. Throughout the battle to end the dehumanization of Native Americans via sports mascots, everything from “it’s about context” to “well ok, you’re offended, but this [questionable] Annenberg poll says…” has been thrown in our faces.
As noted by Stephen A. Smith on Monday’s ESPN “First Take”, “You look at Dan Snyder and he wants to hold onto the name … you see a lot of people in D.C., the nation’s capitol, they swear by the name [Redsk*ns] … the problem is the Native Americans have stood up and said, ‘It’s offensive to us,’ and you essentially said you don’t care … our studies show otherwise.”