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‘Big-Nosed Heads on Jerseys’: Native Mascots Harm Native Youth Every Day

The Center for American Progress released a report highlighting the impact of Native mascots and team names on Native youth and giving solutions.

Last week the Center for American Progress released a report highlighting the impact of Native mascots and team names on American Indian and Alaska Native youth and proposed key steps that federal, state, and local governments can take to address these effects.

In addition to releasing the report entitled “Missing the Point, The Real Impact of Native Mascots and Team Names on American Indian and Alaska Native Youth,” the CAP held a press conference with key tribal representatives and Native youth to include Erik Stegman, Associate Director of Half in Ten at the Center for American Progress and 15 year old Dahkota Brown to discuss the impacts of Native Mascots and team names.

RELATED: Put Native Youth Back in Mascots Debate

In a release Stegman discussed the need for the public to know the impact of Native mascots outlined in the report and discussed at the press conference.

“It’s time to address the real issues in the debate about derogatory nicknames and mascots, and local, state, and federal education agencies have a role to play,” said Stegman. “Racist representations in schools undermine the understanding of Native people, contribute to hostile learning environments, and make a challenging situation worse for Native students who live in communities where poverty is at nearly double the national rate, high school graduation rates are some of the lowest in the country, and extreme health disparities persist.”

In the report, written by Stegman and Victoria Philips, four key steps are outlined in terms of steps government agencies, nonprofit organizations and grant making bodies can make to improve the current climate of public non-awareness to offensive mascots.

The federal government should take action to ensure civil rights protections.

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights should use its full authority to enforce civil rights protections for American Indian and Alaska Native students and promote a safe and welcoming learning environment.

State governments should hold local institutions accountable.

State-level boards of education and education agencies should identify schools in their state with American Indian and Alaska Native representations, examine their impact, and develop recommendations to remove harmful representations.

Nonprofit organizations should support students who take legal action.

Nonprofit legal assistance organizations and law school clinics should develop programs to support American Indian and Alaska Native students who want to file complaints.

Grant-making bodies should continue research on student impacts.

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The federal government and foundation community should identify and fund new research on the impact of derogatory American Indian and Alaska Native representations in schools.

After the press conference, Stegman and 15-year-old Dahkota Brown (a 2013 Champion for Change) told ICTMN their thoughts about the success of the event and how efforts to foster awareness could be implemented.

RELATED: Champion for Change Chosen for Helping Fellow Native Students

Stegman said that though he is glad to see awareness to this issue gaining traction every day, there still is room to grow at a national level.

“Too much of the national debate about mascots has been missing the point, because this really is an issue that harms Native students every day,” he said. In schools across the country, K-12 and post-secondary, Native students have to see their culture boiled down to a logo or team name. Research shows that these representations lead to lower self-esteem for Native youth, misunderstandings of Native people by non-Native people, and contributes to an unwelcome and often times hostile learning environment.”

Stegman also applauded Brown’s sharing at the conference. “Dahkota’s remarks helped put a real Native voice to this issue. Too much of this debate has centered on non-Native people talking to other non-Native people about what they think these mascots and team names mean. Dahkota spoke from the heart as a Native high school student and football player, and shared an important personal story that represents what Native youth face across the country.”

Brown says the event, was a complete success. “The event had a great turn out with a packed room. I think people were excited or curious to hear about the real effects of this issue from not only a youth like myself, but also from tribal leaders like Jacqueline Pata and Mark Macarro. An amazing amount of knowledge about the issue and its harmful effects was spread. There were knowledgeable speakers for the panel discussion and Erik Stegman did a great job moderating. Congresswoman Betty McCollum also had some great remarks and is a great advocate for Indian country.”

Brown then told ICTMN what the public could do to support today’s Native youth.

“I encourage everybody to read the report published by the Center for American Progress on how these racist mascots effect our youth. There’s great research and remarks from Native youth about why these mascots really do hurt. They dehumanize our Native peoples and take away our cultural identity among non-Natives. They have given non-Natives a false sense of what Native people really look or act like,” said Brown.

“When people think of our American Indian and Alaska Native people, they don’t think of 566 federally recognized tribes across the country or 2.1 million youth that are falsely represented by the mascots and caricatures used by teams with race based mascots. All they see are football helmets and big-nosed heads on baseball jerseys.”

Brown also said people should not be afraid to take a stand and speak out, boycott major sponsors and if the Washington team has to change their name, all teams that use Native mascots will follow.

“School is hard enough as it is,” says Stegman. “For Native youth, they face some of the highest rates of violence, suicide, substance abuse and health disparities in the country. When we allow their heritage, culture, and community to be defined by a logo, mascot, or team name, we’re only making it worse for them. That’s why our report lays out recommendations for local, state, and federal education agencies to take action and transform these unwelcome and hostile learning environments into supportive ones for Native students.”

This Friday you can listen to a live episode of Native Trailblazers with guest Erik Stegman and Dahkota Brown. Friday’s episode, entitled “Native Mascots and Team Names Are Hurting Our Native Youth” will air live at 7 p.m. est here. Native Trailblazers is a Native themed online radio program. After episodes air live, they are always available to listen to anytime in archives at