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TEACHERS.NET GAZETTE
FEBRUARY 2001
Volume 2 Number 2

COVER STORY
Cheryl Ristow never thought her life would change so much with one click. This month's cover story tracks our own Aggie/CA from net newbie to published author!
COLUMNS
Effective Teaching by Harry & Rosemary Wong
Promoting Learning by Marv Marshall
Alfie Kohn Article
4 Blocks by Cheryl Sigmon
School Psychologist by Beth Bruno
Jan Fisher Column
BCL Classroom by Kim Tracy
ARTICLES
Read Across America
How to Excel as a Reading Specialist
Independent Learning
ADD and the Structured Environment
How Do I Manage a Class?
6 Traits of Writing
Indians for Mascots
Child Violence
The Unsinkable Sub
Visually Impaired and EC
Magic Slippers Poem
Becoming a Tech Savvy Administrator
The Killing of a Spirit
Bullying in Schools
Student Photo of Mars
REGULAR FEATURES
Web News & Events
Upcoming Ed Conferences
Poll: Weirdest Thing?
Letters to the Editor
New in the Lesson Bank
Humor from the Classroom
Help Wanted - Teaching Jobs
Gazette Back Issues
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About Christine Rose & STAR...
Christine Rose is the founder of STAR, (Students and Teachers Against Racism/Students and Teachers Advocating Respect). STAR is an organization that was created to help the general public understand issues that affect the Native American people.
Teacher Feature...
Whatís Wrong With Using Indians for Mascots Anyway?
by Christine Rose

All across the country, schools are wrestling with the issue of whether or not to keep their Indian mascots. Some of these schools have had these mascots in place for half a century or more. It seems odd that after all of these years, people are sitting up and taking notice. Why is it that now, suddenly, these mascots are a problem? Is it just a matter of political correctness or is there something else at stake?

The elimination of school mascots began late in the 1970ís and is now gathering steam. Over 500 Native American organizations have announced their support for the removal of the mascots. As of now, over 1200 hundred schools across the United States have changed the names of their sports teams and some schools have even refused to play schools that maintain an Indian mascot. However, many schools are reluctant to part with the image they say has not only represented their school but pays homage to the Native people as well. They suppose that perhaps itís just another group claiming to be offended at the political incorrectness of the whole thing. It is hard for many of them to understand how a proud portrait of an Indian, wearing perhaps a feather or two or even a headdress could possibly be offensive or racist. In their eyes, the portrayal is not meant to offend so whatís the big deal?

But when one doesnít know the facts of Native history or understand the Native culture, it is hard to understand why using Indians or tribal names as mascots is perceived as racist. However, if Native people say they are offended and schools want to keep the mascot are we not bound to at least investigate the issue?

To begin with, it is important to view our history from Native eyes. This is not something we have ever done in our country. But in order to understand the problems with the mascot it is important that we step away from what we perceive to be unimportant and have a look through new eyes, eyes that see the history of this country from an entirely different perspective. We need to develop a sensitivity to their culture, which is a culture we have never bothered to learn to understand, yet one which has impacted us greatly. This alone will constitute a step forward.

Our schools have only taught from the perspective of the victors of hundreds of years of war against Native people. Although this war and overt genocide appear to be over, any Native person or anyone involved with Native issues will tell you that war is far from over.

As educated Native Americans begin to take their places in society where they can effect change, the war silently rages on. From the current removal and relocation of thousands of Navahos from their homeland, to the desolation and despair of the many Indian reservations out west, to the lack of health care for Native people whoís health issues differ from any other non-native group, to the perpetuation of the mascot, we as a nation continue to be unaware of the problems Native people face. While the mascot mocks the problems of the present it also serves to keep the Native people oppressed by a stereotypical image of the past. If we continue to see them as only mythical people long gone we can easily ignore the problems of the present. But, it is important to understand the history of how our country has dealt with the Native people in order for us to fully understand the mascot issue.

For over a hundred years we have been programmed to believe that this is our country, fair and square, and we have the rights to all that it includes. There was a war with the Indians and we won. Some people believe that this war began in 1637, in Mystic, Ct. A secure fort of Pequot Indians that had been involved in trade with the Massachusetts Bay Company was burned to the ground killing approximately 700 men, women and children as they slept. About 200 Pequots were able to escape and several of them arrived in the town of Fairfield, Connecticut. They hid in a swamp for several months but were hunted down and the men were killed when they refused to come out. (On the site of this swamp now stands the Pequot Liquor Store, and the Pequot Motor Inn. This is extremely common and there are stories such as this throughout our country.) Across the country, from the 1700s to the beginning of the 1900s, bounties were placed on the heads of Indians and they were hunted, warriors and the peaceful alike, women and children not excluded. By 1900, over one million dollars had been paid for Indian scalps.

Can stories such as these possibly be related to the mascot issue? Well, our culture has a macabre way of memorializing those we have hunted. We hang the moose head on the wall, we place a liquor store on the graves of the murdered and we come up with our idea of an amusing fictional character based on those that were eliminated and we use it as a mascot. We want to feel in some way that we are honoring them, because it is after all a way of remembering. But in fact, we are creating trophies. This is mine, I have killed it, therefore I now own it. But you can not claim a person as you might a beast that you have hunted.

In the past, Native people had no need of prisons. Instead, one of the most severe punishments that could be inflicted on a tribal member was to pretend they werenít there. They were told to leave the tribe, they were banished from their society. Ironically, they are now living with their ultimate punishment. Because Native people were so persecuted many of them now keep the culture very close to themselves, rarely sharing much of it with outsiders. Because of this we donít see them. We choose to assume they have either assimilated and are now just like us or they are all dead and forgotten, only living in our minds in the way we choose to remember them. They have become the invisible race. This has been due partly to the way our society wanted it but it has also been a way that Native People protected themselves. The less we saw them the less they had to lose. We may have known they were there, but they kept to themselves. Now finally, after all of these years, they are speaking out. But because we like our life the way it is we donít want to hear them. We like our cowboy and Indian games, we like our legends of the old west. To give up the mascot is almost the feeling of having our very culture taken from us. But this is exactly the point. This is what we have been doing to them for so long. The early settlers took the land from the Indians, we took their culture and their religion from them and then we attempted to redefine them according to our own ideas of entertainment.

Charles Yow, Cherokee, and attorney for Massachusetts AIM (American Indian Movement) has worked with almost 50 schools in resolving their mascot issues. He writes about the origins of the wild west myths that for many of us have come to symbolize the whole of Native American culture, "The start of Western mythology and the fascination with Western Indians is attributed to early Western novel authors and traveling shows. The greatest of these shows was Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show which included noted Indians such as Sitting Bull. The novels and traveling Wild West Show had a considerable impact promoting what has become the "fierce Indian" mythology. With the heyday of both radio and TV came the greatest increase in interest in western mythology.

With the advent of organized team sports came the desire to adopt mascots to promote a teamís athletic prowess. In instances where Native American based mascots were chosen, the choice was made from lists that often included various Indian descriptive and slang terms as well as "vicious" animals from American, and often Western American folklore including wolves, lions, eagles, hawks and other similarly situated creatures. The largest group of mascot models are based on Plains Indians such as Sioux, Cheyenne and Arapaho (frequently portrayed in TV programs and popular Western mythology with eagle feather war bonnets). Almost all of the mascots are modeled after examples of Plains Indian regalia in locations outside the aboriginal areas of Plains Indians. Second to the Plains Indians are tribes from the Southwest such as the Apache, and Navajo. Southwest Indians are most often seen with colorful blankets, one or two feathers tucked in the wearerís hair in a manner that does not extend above the profile of the wearerís head.

The use of geographically incorrect depictions of Native People is common. Once it is determined the depiction of the mascot is geographically incorrect the "heart felt desire to honor Native Americans" argument becomes meaningless. If the original intent was to honor Native Americans the depiction would more than likely have been accurate."

We have shrouded their people, their history, and their culture with the history we want to see. In the stereotypical portrayal of Native People, the Wild West image that mascots perpetuate continues to distort the reality of our history. Stereotypes, such as Little Black Sambo, have become unacceptable with groups from every race, religion, or sex. Why is it still acceptable to stereotype Native people? Could we name a team the New York Jews or the New Jersey Italians? Of course not! But for some reason our culture continues to hold tightly to an image of Native people that we have actually created and is not based on any understanding or respect for the truth. When a school allows a mascot based on a group of people to continue to exist that school is promoting racism. Because schools in their depiction of Indians as mascots draw on the most obvious elements of their culture, those elements have become our sole image of the Native person. We do not picture them in suits or in nice homes with the kids playing in the backyard. It is imperative that the mascot be eliminated so that a new image of the Native person can emerge.

It is also important to begin to investigate the cultural symbolism associated with the objects used in depicting mascots. Inevitably, these items are displayed without any relevance to their true meanings. Therefore, they are represented without respect, without understanding their cultural significance and especially their sacredness. It is time for us to broaden our views and see our history from the other side of the coin. There are two sides to every story and so far only one side has been told. While many schools are now attempting to do this, it is imperative that teachers also begin to study the culture in order to accurately portray that other side. It can be extremely difficult for students to make the leap into trying to understand another culture. It is hard for anyone to truly accept, on a profound level, that for other people, there are other ways, and that those ways are not only valid but just as good and perhaps, for them, even better than our ways. When we view another culture through our own eyes and experiences only, misunderstandings inevitably arise. It is important to realize that a feather in their hair is much more than just a feather in their hair. And in a successful multicultural experience, children will learn to accept the differences rather than point their fingers and say, "You are different and therefore I am better." This happens to Native people across the country far more than with any other group of people as will be seen later. For now, let us try to understand where the misunderstandings stem from.

Our acceptance of the abuse of Native people can be traced as far back as the Puritans. Because of their different belief system, different social mores and different approach to life in general, Native people were perceived as inferior. The Puritans, in their absolute certainty of the righteousness of their religion allowed themselves to view the Native people as primitive savages, almost on a par with wild animals. There are writings that state that if they considered the Native people human, the treatment of them would have been inhumane. Native people were dehumanized and reduced to a sub-human level on a par with animals.

Native Americans were able to make their way through this world with only what nature had provided them. This was not possible for our European ancestors. They were much more dependent on what they had developed and were already far removed from a life that lived in harmony with nature. Five hundred years ago, almost all Native people could easily sustain themselves on the nuts, acorns, berries, plants and herbs that grew wild. Their medicine people were well acquainted with the healing properties of all of these plants. The apothecaries of the settlers were equally at ease with the different herbs, but it was their specialty. The average person was not able to survive on what they found in the woods. Yet, for some reason, the Nativeís ability to live a life harmoniously with nature was regarded by the Puritans as primitive. But from the Native point of view, the ability to survive with only what nature had provided was much more civilized than the way of life of the Puritans, who feared nature and sought control over the uncontrollable.

The first British, French and Dutch settlers and traders had lived peaceably enough with the Indians with some degree of respect for their ability to live so well within their surroundings. But the Puritans could not contain their distaste for the lifestyle of the Native people, their nakedness without shame, their communion with nature and with spirits, all of this was not only strange to the Puritans, but very frightening. They were the people that instigated the Pequot massacre and although they recognized the horror of what they had done, it didnít stop them from hunting the few that had escaped and eliminating them as well.

As time passed more and more settlers arrived, the hunger for land became insatiable and the Indians turned from the peaceful Natives that the original settlers had found and began to defend themselves and their land. But as history shows, the new American citizens saw the land as theirs and for every attack by the Indians, a much more massive attack was launched upon them by the settlers.

The settlers justified their reactions by declaring the Native people uncivilized savage heathens. At the time there was no recognition of the many benefits they had reaped as a result of being taught how to live comfortably in this country by the Native people. In their eyes, the Native people were seen as little better than the animals. They demonstrated their lack of respect for them as people by the revolting but prevalent use of Native skin as leather. In the early 1800ís, after raids on Indian settlements, the skin was removed from the back and the legs and treated as leather to be used as boots, purses, reins and belts. Their bones were used as buttons. If our society was able to produce goods from the hides of humans without guilt, it is clear to see that they were also easily able to eliminate entire tribes without guilt.

Although much less horrifying, our acceptance of mascots continues this tradition of seeing Native people as unworthy of the same rights accorded every other group of people in our country. And with the underlying attitude that they were inferior beings that have long since disappeared, it becomes easy to see how we rationalize the serious crimes that continue to be committed

 

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