Skip to main content

A coalition for the replacement of the controversial Washington NFL team’s mascot and other stereotypical Native imagery mascots is demanding change after a new scientific study found Native people are opposed to the team and Native mascots.

The coalition, which includes activists, scientists, organizations and tribal leaders, has also asked the general public to stand by their side in this effort.

“Today, we stand united to end the use of offensive and racist Native mascots, behaviors and caricatures in sports,” according to a news release  that included statements from Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community Chairman Keith Anderson, longtime advocate and 2014 Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient Suzan Shown Harjo, Cheyenne and Hodulgee Muscogee, Crystal Echo Hawk, Pawnee, executive director of IllumiNative, a non profit focus on increasing the visibility of Native peoples and the academics behind the study.

The study was conducted by Stephanie Fryberg, Tulalip Tribes, faculty at the University of Michigan, and a team at the University of California, Berkley led by Arianna Eason. Both Fryberg and Eason released a statement in the same news release, along with social worker and Indigenous identity advocate Amanda Blackhorse.

“This new research is critical to understanding what actual Native people think about sports mascoting and how we are harmed when our identities and cultures are exploited by the NFL and other profiteers,” Harjo said. “... The time has come for the NFL to stop mocking, start listening and end this public bigotry.”

Also released was a three-page IllumiNative study analysis that says the study takes the debate of Native mascot imagery of offensive and not offensive “head-on with a fresh perspective.” It also dismisses past polls, specifically the Washington Post poll in 2016 and 2019 that said the majority of Native people were not offended.

(Related story: Clear data: Native people are ‘deeply insulted’ by NFL team name)

The study surveyed more than 1,000 Native people and called it a “first of its kind” study. Almost 70 percent of Native people who frequently engage in tribal cultural practices said they were “deeply insulted by caricatures of Native American culture,” and 65 percent of Native youth ages 18-24 are “highly offended” by the Washington NFL team’s name.

Other results highlighted by the analysis included 65 percent of respondents engaged in their Native American culture are bothered when sports fans chant the tomahawk chop, which was on display by Kansas City NFL fans at the most recent Super Bowl.

Credit to IllumiNative.

Credit to IllumiNative.

Scroll to Continue

Read More

More than 70 percent of respondents were affected by the following:

  • When the Washington NFL team’s rivals use insults about Native American culture (74 percent).
  • When sports fans imitate Native American language/speech (71 percent).
  • When sports fans imitate Native American dances (73 percent)
  • When the rival of a team with a Native imagery mascot uses insults about Native American culture (74 percent).
  • When sports fans wear headdresses at sporting events (70 percent).

“The psychological evidence reveals that mascots are harmful to Native people and children, that they lead non-Natives to stereotypes and discriminate against Natives, and, as our recent research reveals, offend native people who engage in Native cultural practices and are highly identified with being Native,” Fryberg said. “Yet, widely cited opinion polls would have Americans believe that Native people cannot see the negative psychological effects or recognize the discimary nature of these mascots. If you look beyond simple opinion polls, the evidence is clear: There is no acceptable reason or excuse for continuing the use of Native people as mascots.”

(Related Story: Super Bowl’s chops, chants and cringes)

Illuminative also announced a new grant program to support Native American education in public schools. Illuminative and the Wend Collective are targeting its Native American Education for All grant to Native-led organizations in at least three states with maximum awards of $160,000, according to a news release. Grant winners will be provided technical assistance and training.

Echo Hawk cites multiple reports that say change is needed in public education and one report said that 78 percent of U.S. citizens want to learn more about Native peoples.

In a statement, Echo Hawk said the public education system often fails in teaching accurate Native history and contemporary contributions.

“The invisibility and the false narratives and toxic stereotypes often perpetuated in K-12 classrooms creates hostile learning environments for Native students and fuels bias and discrimination against Native peoples,” Echo Hawk said.

The deadline to apply for the grant is March 31 and grants will be awarded in the summer. A webinar scheduled for March 3 will have more information.

Dalton Walker, Red Lake Anishinaabe, is a national correspondent at Indian Country Today. Follow him on Twitter: @daltonwalker or email him at