Mascots feed cultural violence


Supporters of the University of North Dakota's ''Fighting Sioux'' logo claim it honors American Indians and insist that it's not offensive. Opponents say such logos give life to racial stereotyping and revive historical patterns of appropriation and oppression. The exploitation of Indians through logos, mascots and nicknames in schools is an issue of educational unfairness to American Indians.

I say these racist activities are forms of cultural violence in schools. The U.S. Department of Justice statistics state that an American Indian is four times more likely to be a victim of a violent crime by a person not of their race than any other racial or ethnic group. For example, the first instance of an ''Indian'' nickname for a sports team was in 1894 at Carlisle Indian School, an off-reservation U.S. government boarding school for American Indian students located in Carlisle, Pa. Many young Indians never made it out of Carlisle alive, let alone returned home after school was over.

While most American Indians always have opposed the use of ''Indian'' logos, mascots and nicknames, most European Americans have eagerly supported them. Many European Americans rely on these man-made images to anchor them to the land and verify a false account of a shared history. These ''Indians'' exist only in the imagination; they provide a self-serving historical connection that leaves actual American Indians erased from the historical accounts of European Americans.

American Indians have the inherent right to call themselves whatever they want. The real issue is all about how names are used and who has the right to use them.

The U.S. Commission of Civil Rights issued a strong statement in 2001 condemning Indian sports logos' use and recommending that schools eliminate them.

American Indian educators have shown that the images play a critical role in warping American Indian children's cultural perception of themselves, as well as non-Indian children's attitude toward American Indian culture.

Indian logos are one cause of low self-esteem among American Indian children, according to a study done by psychologist Stephanie Fryberg at the University of Arizona. Negative Indian logos, images and mascots hurt both Indian and non-Indian students. American Indian students endure the psychological damage and dehumanizing effects of seeing these cartoons of themselves. It is no coincidence that American Indians have the highest suicide, alcoholism, drug addiction, unemployment and school dropout rates of any ethnic group in the U.S.

Educators have a professional responsibility to eliminate racism in all aspects of school life. Education is supposed to be a tool for liberation from bigotry, not a facilitator of racism.

- Michael Eshkibok

Grand Forks, N.D.