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Dear Gov. Hamilton, How Can You Publicly Endorse Indian Mascot?

Governor Hamilton, your public endorsement of the Indian mascot for the El Reno Indian Spirit Charter leaves me with multiple questions.

My name is Alison Black and I am a tribal member living in Northern Oklahoma. My mother is the late Freda Ann Roman Nose (Primeaux), a full blood Cheyenne woman who was a descendant of Chief Henry Caruthers Roman Nose and the Sand Creek massacre. This is a lineage I carry proudly as I raise my own children and serve Native youth in Northern Oklahoma as an educator.

I am writing regarding your public endorsement of the Indian mascot for the El Reno Indian Spirit Charter. I cannot stress enough the detriment of your involvement in supporting a name linked with so much unresolved historical trauma. Native mascots have been deemed harmful by academia through extensive research and studies resulting in conclusive and empirical data. Also, most mainstream media recognize the harm in Native mascots. Popular sports journalist Dan Costas took a public stance against that football team from Washington D.C.

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The facts (just a few and many more can be provided):

  • Derogatory "Indian" sports mascots have serious psychological, social and cultural consequences for Native Americans, especially Native youth. - National Congress of American Indians (NCAI 2016)
  • According to Department of Justice analysis, “American Indians are more likely than people of other races to experience violence at the hands of someone of a different race.” - National Congress of American Indians (NCAI 2016)

To understand the detriment is to understand the power struggle we as Cheyenne & Arapaho (C&A) people face from a micro and macro level perspective. I have no doubts of your pride in your Indigenous heritage and your people, which is why I hope you consider what I am sharing with you.

On a micro level, you must strive to look past the support from a select few who were methodically invited to the table. Native alumni who had great experiences as athletes in the El Reno school program were invited to provide input. As a former High School athlete and mother of two current varsity Native athletes, I am certain the alumni would have had the same pride had their mascot been any other name. Furthermore, even though some alumni had great experiences, that does not mean the mascot does not cause harm. Did you involve the Department of Education to advise your decision to openly support the charter mascot?

In the video presented, you and the Lt. Governor spoke of working together with the charter to provide the best experience of a "diverse" population. I can assure you there are other ways to be diplomatic and considering the C&A people's contribution to the local economy and at the state level, we should be exercising our sovereignty to the fullest and not settling. NCIA also reports that "At the local community level, 28 high schools in 18 states that have dropped the “R” word as their mascot’s name in the last 25 years." We do not have to surrender to the status quo in the name of diplomacy.

On a macro level, every time our Native athletes step on that court or field, they are often subjected to mockery of their Native identity alone. Indian mascots add to that significantly. No matter how much you and this charter may strive to control this image with "morale" videos or diplomatic handshakes, you absolutely have no control over those individuals who are willfully ignorant to the people we are. You should be striving to make sure that we are educating our neighbors and working to rid our C&A people of the stigma and assault Indian mascots ingrain in our youth's psyche, not endorsing them. We should also refrain from being the poster child for acceptance of these harmful Indian mascots in a public forum. Technology has made your words instantly accessible to the global community at large. Overall, Indigenous Peoples are largely misrepresented, so please understand the detriment of your endorsement.

And for what? What did we as C&A people gain? Has curriculum at the charter been inclusive of C&A tribal history and culture, both consistently and effectively? Has El Reno’s educational pedagogy been updated to include cultural sensitivity and awareness? How many Native or C&A faculty and staff work in this charter that are not funded through Title VII or Impact funds? Have you advocated for these issues on the same level you did for the harmful mascot? Even if you were promised all these things, is it enough to endorse something so harmful to your tribal youth?

What can Mr. Roblyer the Diversity Officer, who visibly lacks diversity, possibly tell you or others about Native or C&A identity or honoring our people?

The battle today is not of the mascot itself but rather your endorsement. I worry for your tribal youth who attend these schools and the development of their identities. I worry for my Native students here in Northern Oklahoma because society at large tends to take one "Indian's" word for it. Will they be subjected to taunts by other students because their peers (and administration) can only connect their identities to a caricature? Will they be subjected to being discriminated against because their administrations can only connect their identities to a political ideology? Will their history be stifled because this is the best example of an "Indian" partnership? Will their curriculum continue to be filled with rhetoric instead of meaningful conversation about their identity?

Why endorse this mascot, but instead make an institutional change? I ask that you answer these questions to those of us whom you have left out of the conversation. I ask you to also answer those questions to your tribal youth when they travel to play sports and are subjected to ugly taunts from the crowd. Perhaps they will endure the same racial assault as our 6th grade girls team this fall when a parent from a school with an Indian mascot called them dirty little Indians after we beat them.

There is too much empirical data that shows the harm on our Native youth to sit idly by in the name of skewed diplomacy. Please take the time to read the American Psychological Association Resolution Recommending the Immediate Retirement of American Indian Mascots, Symbols, Images and Personalities by Schools, Colleges, Universities, Athletic Teams, and Organizations.

Please consider in the future to properly inform your people and include their input in making public statements in support of Native mascots. I will be speaking with the legislators as well. I look forward to your response here and publicly.

Alison Black (Cheyenne & Arapaho)