The “Oregon Pioneer” uniforms are being rolled out for the University of Oregon football game against Washington State University October 10. Native people in Oregon and nationwide will have a number of issues with the uniforms. The history that the uniform symbolizes is a wholly colonized history of Oregon, with the Native presence in the history completely erased.
The Oregon Pioneers football uniform features a sublimated, tonal pattern of the Oregon Trail traversed by explorers. Highlighting northeastern and southern Oregon, as well as Eugene and Mt. Hood, the topographic collage covers the entire jersey. Each uniform is unique and showcases a different area of the map, ensuring each player’s uniform features a different pattern, maximizing the fabric and producing less cutting-floor waste.
The story of the state’s history, as shown in the new uniform, omits any mention of the Native peoples of the state. Native peoples were directly affected by the exploration and settlement of Oregon, which have left lasting effects in our cultures. The uniform story simply mentions the people who received the Jeffersonian peace medals as “individuals.” Native people helped Lewis and Clark explore, gave them information, fed them, and hosted them on their two-year trip in 1805-1806. For their help the tribes suffered one of the largest immigrations in the history of the world into their lands.
The back of the helmet is adorned with a 33-star flag. The official United States flag that resulted from Oregon’s acceptance into the union in 1859, it existed for two years before Kansas added a 34th star.
The handshake, the front section of the helmet, symbolizes much in the uniform. The handshake suggests the meeting of equals in a common goal and “peace, friendship, prosperity and trust” according to the UO football program and Nike. Native people were not equal participants in the settlement and colonization of Oregon. Tribes were made war upon, treaties were made and tribes were removed to reservations to make way for settlers. This all came after the tribe had undergone huge epidemics, which caused the decline of populations at a rate of 97 percent for many tribes. These are direct effects of the colonization of Oregon and tribes rarely felt like they were the beneficiaries of “peace, friendship, prosperity and trust.”
Colonization was not all negative, on the positive side Native peoples aided settlement and exploration, and were part of the labor force for the Americans helping build the agricultural economy of Oregon, but this is not represented in the uniform history. This history of collaborative development would have done much to benefit the Nike and UO history but is sadly left out. Despite the aid Native people gave to the building of Oregon, Natives were not allowed to leave reservations, which were run much like prison camps, so that after removal they lost many freedoms within their own lands.
Using the same sublimated pattern of the Lewis and Clark Trail, the uniform’s socks showcase the Lewis and Clark-inspired Duck who, similar to the original trailblazers, is pointing west.
Settlers and missionaries set up mission schools, and Jason Lee’s Willamette Mission began the first university in the west, Willamette University, which was originally an Indian industrial school for tribal children. There they were subject to assimilation as their first experience in American education—generations of Native children took up the educational protocols set by Methodists. In the next generation, histories were written to extol the virtues of this first generation of colonists, the pioneers, for the hardships they endured while subjugating the Native children. Those histories were still being written in the 1950s. By the 1970s that story changed to include the Native story of colonization. The history as written by Nike and the UO is as if it was written in the 1940s, without the rest of the story, and the affects of colonization on Native peoples.
Participants in the Oregon Trail had many hardships. At the end of the trail was the Willamette Valley, the pioneers settled Native lands, joined volunteer militia to exterminate the tribes, and would not tolerate the tribes remaining on their original lands. The reservations were set up in places the pioneers did not want to settle for the first 20 to 40 years. After 1875, the pioneers and their descendants sought to get access to all of the tribes’ reservation lands and caused the loss of thousands of acres on the Coast Reservation. In the immediate aftermath, the environment was heavily affected by clear cut logging in our major forests. The ultimate affect was the destruction of large areas of the natural world, loss of species diversity, and extinction of plants and animals. The University of Oregon Duck model, which tears of the landscape in one of the gallery images, is literally destroying the land in a remarkably similar symbolic fashion.
The front bumper of the helmet presents the handshake found on the Thomas Jefferson Peace Medals that President Jefferson provided Lewis and Clark to give to individuals they encountered as a token of peace, friendship, prosperity and trust. “The handshake signifies both what Nike was built upon with the agreement between Bill Bowerman and Phil Knight) and what Thomas Jefferson wanted to advance as the Corps of Discovery traveled west,” said Paul Sullivan, Nike NCAA football art director and lead University of Oregon designer.
The meanings behind the uniform, the symbolism of Lewis and Clark, their map and the other attributes, ignores and makes invisible the Native peoples of this region in favor of a white washed history of the beginnings of the state. The history of Native peoples during the colonization of Oregon deserves mentioning for their contributions and the well-documented effects of colonization. Without this history being told, only half of the history of the state is represented.
The lines on the helmet represent the principal legs of the 2,200-mile-long Oregon Trail.
The lack of this history and context from the flagship university of higher learning in the state is a slap in the face to Native people and tribes who are at times fanatical fans of the University of Oregon sports programs. It’s unconscionable to think that no one in the UO football program sought advice from the UO History or Anthropology departments, or from Native staff in the university administration. As Native people, alumni and fans of the UO and very long-term citizens of the State of Oregon we expect better from the University of Oregon and Nike.
The words “Salute The State” are embroidered on the inner back neckline of the jersey, a tribute to the state, its inhabitants, its history and its future. The uniform’s gray base is inspired by the achromatic look of a vintage map, accented with black numbering and the Ducks’ trademark tonal shoulder wings.
The Native advisers to the University of Oregon have sent our comments up to administration. The university is now discussing the issues and is working for a solution to the lack of Native representation on the uniform with UO Athletics. The university appreciates the Native alumni’s efforts and may work on the history and include some other graphic representation on the uniform for game day. The Native alumni appreciate the fast response from the university.
David G. Lewis, Ph.D., has three degrees from the University of Oregon (BA, MA, PhD 2009) and is a lifelong fan of the Duck football team. David is Santiam Kalapuya, Takelma, Chinook and Molalla and a member of the Grand Ronde Tribe. David lives in Salem, Oregon with his family and is an adjunct professor at Chemeketa Community College and Willamette University.