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Michigan Department of Civil Rights Wants a Ban on Native Mascots

Michigan Department of Civil Rights is asking the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights for a ban on the use of American Indian mascots

The Michigan Department of Civil Rights is asking the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights for a ban on the use of American Indian mascots, nicknames and logos.

“A growing and unrebutted body of evidence now establishes that the use of American Indian imagery reinforces stereotypes in a way that negatively impacts the potential for achievement by students with American Indian ancestry,” the filing argues. “Continued use of American Indian mascots, names, nicknames, logos, slogans, chants and/or other imagery creates a hostile environment and denies equal rights to all current and future American Indian students and must therefore cease.”

The complaint, filed February 8, highlights studies that show decreased achievement, self-esteem and self-identity among American Indian students.

“The research empirically demonstrates, for the first time, that the negative stereotypes promoted by American Indian mascots reveal negative consequences for the targeted minority group and positive consequences for the mainstream majority group,” says a statement made by Stephanie Fryberg, an assistant professor of social and cultural psychology at the University of Arizona, to the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs in 2011.

A doctoral dissertation sited in the complaint titled “Psychological Distress Between American Indian and Majority Culture College Students Regarding the Use of the Fighting Sioux Nickname and Logo” found that after viewing the Fighting Sioux logo American Indian students reported higher psychological distress levels than non-Indian students.

The complaint names 35 Michigan schools that currently use Native mascots, among the mascots are the Warriors, Redskins, Indians, Mohawks, Braves, Chieftains, Big Reds and Chiefs.

One Michigan school was already way ahead of this ban, Ottawa Hills High School in Grand Rapids changed its mascot from the Indians to the Bengals about 10 years ago.

“There was a rumor at that time that it could one day become a mandate so we just took a proactive approach,” Kurt Johnson, executive director of athletics for Grand Rapids Public Schools, told WZZM 13. He was part of the team responsible for the mascot change.

“Understanding the concern of the Native American Council we wanted to make sure that we were not being offensive to any group,” he said, adding that the change has positively affected the school environment.

“Look at making sure the school environment is inclusive and is supportive and is representative of all, then it should be an easy decision for them to make,” Johnson told WZZM in giving advice to the 35 other schools in Michigan that still have Native mascots.

Some don’t agree with changing the names. A community Facebook page called Bay City Western Warriors Forever We Stand As One has been created asking the Department of Civil Rights to drop its complaint. The Bay City Western Warriors is one of the 35 schools listed in the department's complaint. The page was created February 10 and in just two days has more than 1,000 likes.

One commenter named Stefanie says “Why do they have to take it as a negative..... That is their and our history and they were warriors, strong and brave. I don't feel it's disrespectful to use our history.”

This complaint does not name any of Michigan’s universities, one of which—Central Michigan University—does have an American Indian mascot. The university calls itself the Chippewas with the consent of the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe, but does not have any Native imagery in its flying C logo.