Indian Mascots, Symbols, and Names in Sports:

A Brief History of the Controversy


Introduction for the Teacher

This 1-3 day lesson introduces students to the complexities of the debate over sports mascots that depict American Indians in a stereotypical or negative manner. It is divided into three parts - each of which can be taught in a day:

  • What is an Indian mascot and why have they generated so much debate?
  • The use of Indian mascots
  • The debate over the use of Indian mascots

Each section may be used independently and each may be condensed so that teachers can structure a one, two, or three day discussion.


Poster "Where is the Honor" of a Native American with respect and an Indian mascot with no respect

Grade Level and Standards: While the lesson is primarily designed for use in the 8-12 grade classroom, it also can be used in the 1-5th grades with appropriate teacher revisions. At the end of the lesson you will find the California standards that this lesson meets for 1-12th grade classes.


Objectives: The student will be able to

    1. Understand what role Indian mascots play in the world of high school, college, and professional sports.
    2. Describe the debate about Indian mascots by focusing on the American Indian community's objections to their use as well as the defense of mascot use within the world of sports.
    3. Understand the various accomplishments of the movement to end the use of Indian mascots, as well as what still remains to be done.
    4. Explain their feelings about the use of Indian mascots in sports.


Academic Language (words or phrases with which students should be familiar will be in bold the first time they appear in the text of the lesson): mascots, perception, stereotypical, derogatory, counterfeit native objects, symbolism, institutional racism, logo.



Day 1 Lesson Content -

"What is an Indian mascot and why have they generated so much debate?"


Introduction: The controversy surrounding the use of Indian mascots, symbols, and names in American sports has origins that run deep throughout the history of Indian and non-Indian relations. Today, the use of Indian mascots is at the center of an argument that touches the emotional hearts and souls of both proponents and opponents.


To understand the controversy, we must first understand the word. According to the Meriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary, a mascot is “a person, animal, or object adopted by a group as a symbolic figure especially to bring them luck.” When associated with a sports team, a mascot also represents team identity, as well as provides its fans with feelings of pride and joy. For decades, Indian mascots, symbols, and names used by high school, college, and professional teams have rallied team spirit and generated widespread support throughout America.


Hook: The teacher will show students examples of six different sports mascots found at /lesson_plans/MascotImages.html. Then engage in the following discussion:

  • Do you find these mascots objectionable? If so, why? If not, why not?
  • Are some more objectionable than others? How and why?
  • Why do you think Indian People object to mascots?
  • Do you think any other people object to Indian mascots? Who? Why?
    • Increasingly, many educators feel that any mascot that negatively represents a group of people should not be permitted in an educational setting.
    • Education, they argue, is designed to promote understanding and instill tolerance for the values and beliefs of others. Indian mascots do neither.
  • What does the cartoon below add to your understanding of why Indian people might object to mascots? (Source: )"You Don't Look Like an Indian" Cartoon


Transition to Content: Please keep your perceptions about Indian mascots, as well as the perceptions of others, in mind as we learn more about how and why American Indian activists have begun a campaign that challenges the use of American Indian mascots in sports.


Lesson Content: It was in 1968 that a formal effort began to persuade college, professional, and high school teams to discontinue the use of Indian-related mascots, names, and logos. Begun by the , activists argued that racism permeated the use of stereotypical and derogatory mascots that depicted Indians as inferior, foolish, and violent and that mocked Natives’ appearances, dress, cultures, and religions.


Such mascots, they further argued, either idealized or emphasized comical facial features and "native" dress ranging from body-length feathered (usually turkey) headdresses to more subtle fake buckskin attire and skimpy loincloths. Some teams and supporters displayed counterfeit native objects that included tomahawks, feathers, facial paints, symbolic drums and pipes, as well as used mock-Indigenous behaviors, such as the "tomahawk chop," dances, chants, drumbeating, war-whooping and symbolic scalping.


As the struggle to retire over 3,000 Indian mascots that were used by high school, college, and professional sports team spread through Indian Country, many Indian activists asked the question posed in this cartoon "Can you imagine."Cartoon "Can you Imagine" showing other racial stereotypes (Source of Cartoon: )



  • How do you think non-Indian people would react if their sports teams used religious symbolism relating to Judaism, Christianity, or Islam?
  • How do you think you would react if your high school had an American Indian mascot for over 30 years, and then the School Board said it must be retired?
  • Why do you think that Indians are the only group of people in the United States that are portrayed as mascots?
  • Do you believe all Indian people disagree with the use of Indian mascots? Why or why not? Should all American Indian people support the anti-mascot movement? Why or why not?
  • If all American Indians do not support the anti-mascot movement, does it take power away from other Indian activists? Why or why not? (Note: To help students address these las two questions, you may want to familarize them with a discussion begun in 2008 at Galt High School in California about retiring the name of their sporting teams, the Warriors. While most students supported the continued use of the mascot, one American Indian student's protest was so eloquent that it attracted the national news. Show them this 2 minute and ask them to think about the most persuasive and least persuasive arguments that the student uses for retiring the name, and then compare it with the argument provided by the former American Indian student who attended Galt High School. Additionally, you could have them read the article in New York Times Upfront, "Insult or Honor" by Monica Davey at )


For the past 40 years, leading national Indian tribal organizations and professional associations of educators, journalists, artists, and youth have been at the forefront of efforts to put an end to using Indian mascots in sports. To provide an overview of the topic before going into details tomorrow, we will examine two sources.

  • Map and partial list of Indian mascots names and logos. While the total number of Indian mascots and logos used within the United States is unknown, a map and partial list is available at . This map allows you to click on each state to find the approximate number of sport team Indian "tokens" as well as a series of "quick mascot facts" for each state.
  • Video, In Whose Honor? This video follows the story of Charlene Teters, a Spokane Indian and mother of two, and her transformation from a graduate student into a leader of a national movement to end the use of Indian mascots. Her commitment earns her enough respect from her community to be called by some "the Rosa Parks of American Indians." The film examines the issues of racism, stereotypes, and the powerful effects of mass-media imagery and eloquently captures the passion and resolve articulated by both sides of this contemporary controversy. It also illustrates the extent to which the communiy of Champaign, Illinois has gone to defend and justify its mascot. The video can be immediately accessed through flash streaming at l for $4.99


Follow up both the above sources with a series of discussion questions that review student understanding of both what an Indian mascot is and the debate about their use.


Tell students that the next day will involve a detailed discussion the use of Indian mascots at colleges and high schools and in professional sports across the United States.


Day 2 Lesson Content -

"The Use of Indian Mascots "


The formal campaign to retire Indian mascots began in 1970 with colleges that had Indian mascots, continued in the 1980s with the high schools, and moved into professional sports in the 1990s. So let's examine how the use of American Indian mascots has been challenged in each sector.


College Mascots. By the early 1970s, many colleges and universities began responding to the increasing pressure by Native Americans to discontinue the use of Indian mascots. At least five notable success stories occurred between 1970-1975:

  • in 1970, the University of Oklahoma in Norman, Oklahoma discontinued the use of its “Little Red” mascot;
  • in 1971, the Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin retired their cartoon logo “Willie Wampum;
  • in 1972, students at Stanford University voted on a resolution to retire the school’s “Indian” mascot;
  • in 1974, Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire retired its “Indians” mascot and returned to its original “Big Green;" and
  • in 1975, Syracuse University in New York discontinued using the “Saltine Warrior” mascot.

By the 1990s, however, some schools remained adamantly opposed to changing their mascots. Most visible among them was the University of Illinois at Champagne-Urbana and its “Chief Illiniwek” mascot. photo of Chief IlliwekEach year, a white man dressed in “traditional Indian” clothing and performed gymnastics for the fans at half-time. The effort to retire “Chief Illiniwek” - seen in this photograph - began in the early 1989 by an American Indian student, Charlene Teeters. Her work, as well as the work of other activists, culminated in the retirement of "Chief Illiniwek" in 2007.


Despite continued protest by American Indians, these schools insist that their mascots honor the Indian nations that originally inhabited the land upon which the universities were built.


  • Why do you think colleges are so opposed to changing Indian mascots, even when requested to make such changes by Indian groups?
  • How does this relate to your understanding about the educational mission of colleges and universities?

In 2005, some change in college sports began when the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) announced that beginning February 2006, any school with a nickname or logo considered racially or ethnically "hostile" or "abusive" by the NCAA would be prohibited from using them in post-season events. Mascots would no longer be allowed to perform at tournament games. Further, beginning in 2008, band members and cheerleaders would also be barred from using American Indians on their uniforms.


However, in August 2005, Florida State University the NCAA granted a waiver that removed it from the NCAA’s list of colleges using imagery “hostile or abusive” towards Native Americans. According to Bernard Franklin, senior vice president of the NCAA, “ The staff review committee noted the unique relationship between the university and the Seminole Tribe of Florida as a significant factor. The decision of a namesake sovereign tribe, regarding when and how its name and imagery can be used, must be respected even when others may not agree.” (USA Today, 8/23/2005)


The Seminole Tribe of Florida continues to sanction the use of the Seminole as Florida State University’s nickname and of Chief Osceola - as seen below - as FSU's mascot. Image Seminole Indian MascotMax Osceola, the chief and general council president of the Seminole Tribe of Florida, has stated that he regards it as an “honor” to be associated with the university. However, some members of the Seminole Tribe of Oklahoma oppose FSU's use of the Seminoles mascot and name.


Vernon Bellecourt, president of the and a member of the Anishinabe-Ojibwe Nation in Minnesota, approved of the ban but had hoped the NCAA would take even stronger action. "We're not so happy about the fact that they didn't make the decision to ban the use of Indian team names and mascots," he said


For a further understanding of this NCAA decision, have students read,



  • Do you think the ban goes too far, or not far enough? How and why?
  • If you do not think the ban goes far enough, what would you suggest? Why?


By 2010, some colleges still maintained their Indian mascots, most notably Florida State University where the "Seminoles" fans continue to adorn themselves with “war paint” and practice the “Tomahawk Chop" as they watch the game and "Chief Osceola” rides around the stadium.


High School mascots. It was not until the late 1980s that many high school districts and individual schools began to address the effects on children in the public schools of stereotyping Indians in sports and in so doing, began to retire some of the Indian mascots. After 1987, when the Minneapolis Board of Education declared that its school athletic team should not have names or mascots that stereotype American Indians, other districts, states, and schools gradually followed suit.


The California Assembly began the first statewide effort to force public schools to ban American Indian sports team names and mascots in 2002. would have forced name changes at elementary, middle and high schools as well as community colleges and the University of California and California State University systems. Under the legislation, a state commission would then add to the banned list any other names it decides are "derogatory or discriminatory against any race, ethnicity, nationality or tribal group," and schools would be forced to comply. The bill was defeated by a vote of 35 to 29 on May 28, 2002.


Like their collegiate counterparts, many high schools have refused to consider retiring their Indian mascots. In 2010, of the 900 schools that had not retired their indian mascots, most were high schools. However, some recent efforts are important to note:

  • In January 2010, a member of Colorado's state legislature introduced a bill that would require 17 schools with Indian mascots to ensure that they did not offend the Native Americans they represented. Once the tribe or tribes are on board, the commission would grant its approval. Sen. Suzanne Williams, D-Aurora, later withdrew the bill stating that she had achieved her goal of starting a community discussion over whether the mascots are appropriate.



    • In Colorado, Loveland High School�s Athletic Director said � we feel we can use [the Indian mascot] to the point of teaching diversity and tolerance." Can an Indian mascot be both a symbol of discrimination and a teaching point for diversity and tolerance? If so, how?
    • Loveland High School claims to have chosen the Indian as their mascot because Indians stand for � bravery, loyalty, patriotism and dauntless pride. � Do good intentions make it okay to have an Indian mascot?
    • How do you decide if something is offensive? Have you ever been in a situation where you were offended by something, but someone else was not? How could a situation or statement offend some people and not others?
  • This report from March 2010, does a good job of explaining why it is so controversial in the state of Wisconsin. Show Fox News Report, March 3, 2010 at . (Note - Oregon teachers may want to use this excellent power point at . When you get into the site, click on "Powerpoint Presentation.) When the video is over, repeat what the video said - that Wisconsin's Department of Public Instruction has been encouraging schools to drop American Indian mascots for years. In 2010, Wisconsin was down from about 70 schools with Indian logos to 36.


  • Discussion:

    • What is the state of Wisconsin proposing? (The legislation would force schools to drop images deemed offensive or face fines of up to $1,000 a day. The bill doesn't ban mascots, but sets up a process to hear complaints.)
    • According to Wisconsin tribal members, how and why are the mascots offensive?
    • Do you think the state should have the power to force high schools to remove mascots that may be discriminatory? Why or why not?
    • Are you aware of any sports teams in your community or state that have decided to terminate their use of Indian mascots? What was their experience?
    • Are you aware of any schools that are being pressured, or have been pressured, to terminate their use of Indian mascots? What have been their reasons for refusing to change?
    • What sort of effect do you think Indian mascots could have on young people in our public schools? What about you? Your friends? Families?
  • Non-native students at Prescott High School in Prescott, Wisconsin demonstrated a new method of challenging the use of American Indian mascots in early 2010. Teacher Jeff Ryan taught his students about the use of Indian mascots, prompting non-Indian students to fight for a bill to end the use of American Indian mascots, to push it through the state legislature, and to get the governor of the state to . Beginning in August, their Indian mascots.

The controversy over Indian mascots in high schools became even more complex when a Stilwell High School in eastern Cherokee Nation unveiled its on Jan. 12, 2010. The mascot has a large head, long black hair in braids and exaggerated American Indian facial features such as a scowl, large nose and bushy eyebrows, and is dressed in a fake buckskin shirt and leggings. photo of Stillwell High School in Eastern Cherokee Nation Indian Mascot, 2010.Mary Alice Fletcher, Stilwell Public Schools superintendent, said the students, faculty and administration didn�t intend to offend anyone with the mascot. �It was done strictly to create school spirit because they�re proud of their Indian heritage,� Fletcher said. �Primarily, it was something the kids got after and promoted. Even our Indian heritage club was part of (the) promotion of that and donated funds for that.� She said more than 70 percent of Stilwell High School�s student population is Indian, and a majority of those are Cherokee. The school has always been known as the Indians, but it�s never had a mascot. Stilwell students began implementing the mascot in September. They raised money and voted on what the mascot�s name should be, Fletcher said. (Good Voice, 2010)



    • Is the fight undertaken by the Wisconsin students a fight any of you would be willing to undertake? Why or why not?
    • Why do you think these non-Indian students were successful in this fight?
    • What is your response to the choice of the students at Stilwell High School?
    • Should these Indian students have been more sensitive to the struggle of Indian Rights activists to end the use of Indian mascots? Why or why not?
Professional Sports Mascots. In the 1990s, the Indian mascot controversy began to focus on professional sports. Indeed, the most resistance to retiring Indian references has come from professional teams - especially from Major League Baseball’s Atlanta Braves and the Cleveland Indians, as well as the National Football League’s (NFL) Washington Redskins. Representatives from these teams consistently have argued the following points:
  • professional teams are private entities and, therefore, are entitled to use a name, symbol, or mascot of their own choosing;
  • Indian references in sports are actually used in reverence and honor; and
  • Indian references are an important tradition to the fans, so much so that fans would never accept the change.

An examination of this “tradition” by both the Atlanta Braves and Cleveland Indians provides some interesting insight into the controversy.


The Atlanta Braves have not always held their present name or home. They began as the Boston Braves in 1912 and used the profile of an Indian with a full headdress on the sleeve of their jerseys. This logo was discontinued between 1920 and 1929, but came back in the form of a huge patch that covered the back of the jersey and also adorned the front “between the BRA and the VES.” In 1936, the ownership dropped the Indian name; they became the Bees and their stadium was renamed the Beehive. In 1941, the Braves name returned to the team and the logo of the Indian head was restored in 1945.


Following World War II,the team’s owner released a promotional video entitled, "Take Me Out to the Wigwam." In 1947, “Chief Wildhorse” - a man atop a horse in full Indian regalia - first appeared on the playing field for opening day. Soon, a wigwam was erected in the bleachers near the field so that each time a homerun was hit by the Braves, the newly named “Chief Noc-A-Homa” could rush the field for a commemorative dance. Chief Noc-A-Homa remained with the team throughout its stay in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and through the 1980s to the team’s present home in Atlanta, Georgia.


The Cleveland Indians organization claims that the team’s name originally was intended to honor the first American Indian to play major league baseball, Louis Sockalexis - who also played for the Cleveland Spiders from 1897-1899. (When historians and journalists recently examined this claim, they could find no supportive facts.) Around the turn of the century, the name was changed to the Cleveland Naps in honor of their team manager, Napolean Lajolais. When Lajolais left the team in 1915, the search began for a new name. A Cleveland newspaper held a contest and the Cleveland Indians was chosen, again in honor of Louis Sockalexis. It was not until 1928 that the team began its use of a visual logo of an Indian on the sleeve of their jerseys, much like the Braves. In the 1940s, today’s symbol of “Chief Wahoo” first appeared as a caricature in the local newspaper, the Cleveland Plain Dealer.image of Chief Wahoo, Indian Mascot for Cleveland, Indians

Following World War II, the team’s owner Bill Veeck began to promote the team’s American Indian image as a source of entertainment for the team’s fans. In 1951, the Chief Wahoo caricature was first displayed inside the “C” on the team’s caps. Every year since, the symbol of Chief Wahoo has been on the front of the jersey or on the shirtsleeve. Chief Wahoo is a grinning caricature which one Dakota professor, James Fenelon, described this way:


"...[Chief Wahoo] depicts a Native American "Indian" nearly always painted bright red with overly huge front teeth, shifty eyes, and headband with a feather protruding from behind. While some symbols....bear some resemblance to actual "Native Americans" however generalized, the Wahoo does not even appear human. It is an unambiguous racial icon meant to symbolize stereotypical and usually negative images of Native people as ‘wild’ but ‘friendly’ savages. (Fenelon, 1997.)


In 1983, Chief Wahoo appeared on the front of the jersey, and in 1986, the symbol completely replaced the “C” on the team’s cap. For decades, the fans of both these teams have smeared their face with “war paint,” dressed in “traditional” Indian garb, pounded on tom-toms, sung “war songs” and practiced the “tomahawk chop.”


The most dramatic and offensive use of these “traditions” occurred during the 1995 World Series games, pitting the Atlanta Braves against the Cleveland Indians. In response, many “real” Cleveland Indians increased their protest activities with support from outside Ohio. As the World Series progressed, conflict between the fans of the two sports teams and American Indian protesters was so inflamed that Native activists dubbed this nationally televised set of games as "The World Series of Racism."


To gain a clearer understanding of just what the “traditional” Indian symbols meant to the fans of the Cleveland Indians, Sociologist James Fenelon at John Carroll University in Cleveland conducted a detailed survey with local students during the 1995 World Series games. He found seven important “sociological impacts from this particular form of symbolic racism”:

    1. Native American children (and adults) face direct prejudice and discrimination because of the Wahoo and association with the name "Indians."
    2. Native American adolescents and adults experience prejudice and discrimination in the forms of intimidation and suppression by local "officials."
    3. Non-Indian racial minorities are forced to make hard choices on participation in racial rituals, or rejection by one's peers and/or associates.
    4. Blacks, Latinos and Whites, when displaying, supporting or denying racial symbols and language, are perpetuating racism across the spectrum.
    5. Whites, along with some racial minorities, are flaunting highly racialized rituals, racial symbols, and language against and directly in the face of protest, reifying racist discourse, actions, and ideologies.
    6. The media, especially on television news, reproduces and displays all the above, directly approving of racial imagery through all sectors of society, including its defense and denial.
    7. Therefore, and finally, there is both direct and indirect suppression of all criticism, from young kids to university professors, and their free speech, in all sectors and the social institutions of the Cleveland metropolitan area. Even my research results have been suppressed. (Fenelon, 1997.)



  • Which of Mr. Fenlon's findings do you find most persuasive? Why?
  • Which of Mr. Fenlon's findings do you find least persuasive? Why?
  • Despite Mr. Fenlon's findings, at this point in the discussion, little has changed. Do you think the Cleveland Indians should change their mascot? How and why?
  • How do you think the American Indian people who object to the use of the Cleveland Indian mascots should go about continuing their struggle?

As of 2010, a still had Indian names and mascots.


Tomorrow, we will examine the to major debates about Indian mascots - the anti-mascot viewpoint and the pro-mascot viewpoint.


Day 3 Lesson Content -

"The Debate over the use of Indian Mascots "


The anti-mascot debate. The anti-mascot debate focuses on the belief that mascots are derogatory and not only harm Indian self images, but also negatively influence the non-Indian perception of Indian peoples. In his article, “Why Educators Can’t Ignore Indian Mascots,” Dr. Cornel Pewewardy explains how the use of racist stereotypes dramatically effects such perceptions:


"So-called Indian mascots reduce hundreds of Indigenous tribes to generic cartoons. These "Wild West" figments of the white imagination distort both Indigenous and non-Indigenous children's attitudes toward an oppressed -- and diverse -- minority. Schools should be places where students come to unlearn the stereotypes such mascots represent. The Indigenous portrait of the moment may be bellicose or ludicrous or romantic, but almost never is the portrait we see of Indian mascots a real person. Most children in America do not have the faintest idea that "Indigenous Peoples" are real human beings.


Children's self images are very pliable and susceptible to external forces, especially if they are steeped in violent and negative images. Unfortunately, for Indigenous Peoples many false images of ethnicity still dominate the consciousness of the American psyche. I have found that many ethnic images have been manufactured and created in the image of other racial groups. The manufactured 'savage,' 'pagan,' 'retarded,' 'culturally deprived,' non-European is the flipside of the European Civilization myth. Many ethnic images distort reality while creating new and seductive realities of their own. Students in schools cannot understand the realities of modern American life and the prospect for the next generations without understanding the popular images of the past and the present." (Pewewardy, 1999)

  • Discussion:
    • How would you describe a "Wild West" figment of the white imagination?
    • Dr. Pewewardy is describing a racial stereotype. How do Indian mascots reinforce racial stereotypes?
    • Why does Pewewardy feel such a stereotype is dangerous for both Indian and non-Indian children? Do you agree? Why or why not?

A citizen of the Oneida Nation and a representative of the Wisconsin Indian Education Association also decries mascots for stereotyping Indian people:


"'Indian' logos and nicknames create, support and maintain stereotypes of a race of people. When such cultural abuse is supported by one or many of society's institutions, it constitutes institutional racism.... The logos, along with other societal abuses and stereotypes separate, marginalize, confuse, intimidate and harm Native American children and create barriers to their learning throughout their school experience. Additionally, the logos teach non-Indian children that its all right to participate in culturally abusive behavior. Children spend a great deal of their time in school, and schools have a very significant impact on their emotional, spiritual, physical and intellectual development. As long as such logos remain, both Native American and non-Indian children are learning to tolerate racism in our schools. (Munson, 1999.)


  • Discussion:
      • What is institutionalized racism? Do you think Indian mascots contribute to this problem?
      • Do you agree with the author's conclusions? Why or why not?
      • Do you think that discussing Indian stereotypes is an appropriate classroom activity? Why or why not?
      • How do these two viewpoints compare and contrast? Which do you find more convincing and why?

The Pro-Mascot Debate. Some of the most common reasons for retaining mascots, symbols, and names in collegiate, high school, and professional sports have been carefully articulated by the Wisconsin Indian Education Association (WIEA). (See their website for a detailed discussion of each statement at


  • "We have always been proud of our ‘Indians’." When developing athletic traditions, most schools borrowed the sacred objects, ceremonial traditions and components of traditional dress that were most obvious, without understanding their origins, context, deep meaning, or appropriate use. Thus, these high school traditions are replete with inaccurate depictions of Indian people, which, in turn, promote and maintain stereotypes and encourage young people to play at “being Indian.”
  • "We are honoring Indians; you should feel honored." But Native people say that they don't feel honored by the symbolism implied in Indian mascots and that, instead, they experience it as a mockery. They see sacred objects - such as the drum, eagle feathers, face paint and ceremonial dress - being used, not in sacred ceremony, or in any cultural setting, but in for another culture's sport. Cartoon of an Indian mascot with the heading, "But I'm honoring you, Dude."(Source of Cartoon at )
  • "Why is an attractive depiction of an Indian warrior just as offensive as an ugly caricature?" Both depictions present and maintain stereotypes. Both firmly place Indian people in the past, separate from their contemporary life or cultural experience. It is difficult, at best, to be heard in the present when societal messages suggest that your real culture only exists in museums. The logos keep Indians marginalized and stand in the way of their contributions to the here and now.
  • "This is not an important issue." If it is not important, then why are schools willing to tie up their time and risk potential law suits rather than simply change the logos. Most Indian adults have lived through the pain of prejudice and harassment in schools when they were growing up, and they don't want their children to experience the same attitudes and treatment. This issue speaks to Indian children being able to form a positive Indian identity and to develop appropriate levels of self-esteem. In addition, it has legal ramifications with respect to pupil harassment and equal access to education.
  • "What if we drop derogatory comments and clip art and adopt pieces of REAL Indian culturally significant ceremony, like Pow-Wows and sacred songs?" Though well-intended, these solutions are culturally naive and would exchange one pseudo-culture for another. Pow-wows are gatherings of Indian people which provide the opportunity for cultural expression and a sense of American Indian community. Pow-wows have religious, as well as social, significance. To parody such ceremonial gatherings for the purpose of cheering on the team would be even more culturally offensive.
  • "We are helping you preserve your culture." Indian cultures are living cultures - they are passed on by Indian Peoples themselves, not "preserved" by non-Indians. They accomplish this by surviving, living and thriving; and, in so doing, passing on to their children their histories, traditions, religions, values, arts, and languages.
  • "This logo issue is just about political correctness." Using the term "political correctness" to describe the attempts of concerned American Indian parents, educators and leaders to remove stereotypes from the public schools trivializes a survival issue. A history of systematic genocide has obliterated over 95% of the indigenous people of the Americas. Today, the average life expectancy of Native American males is age 45. The teen suicide rate among Native people is four times higher than the national average. Stereotypes, ignorance, silent inaction and even naive innocence damage and destroy individual lives and whole cultures.
  • "What do you mean, there is hypocrisy involved in retaining an "Indian" logo?" Imagine that you are a child in a society where your people are variously depicted as stoic, brave, honest, a mighty warrior, fierce, savage, stupid, dirty, drunken, and only good when dead. Imagine going to a school where many of your classmates refer to your people as "Dirty Squaws" and "Timber Niggers". Imagine hearing your peers freely, loudly and frequently say such things as "Spear an Indian, Save a Walleye", or more picturesquely proclaim "Spear a Pregnant Squaw, Save a Walleye". Imagine that the teachers and administration do not forbid this kind of behavior. Imagine that this same school holds aloft an attractive depiction of a Plains Indian Chieftain and cheers on its "Indian" team. Imagine that in homecoming displays, cheers, and artwork you see your people depicted inaccurately in ways that demean your cultural and religious practices. Imagine that when you bring your experiences to the attention of your school board and request change, they simply ignore you and decide to continue business as usual. Imagine that the same school board states publicly that it opposes discriminatory practices, provides equal educational opportunity and supports respect for cultural differences.
  • Discussion:
    • Which of these arguments are most persuasive and why?
    • Which are least persuasive and why?



Since the 1940s, Native Americans in increasing numbers have consistently challenged the use of Indian references in collegiate, high school, and professional athletics.


The challenges have been met with some success: a growing number of federal, state, and local entities have found Indian mascots and logos to be disparaging, degrading, and detrimental. By 2010, more than 1,000 academic and professional sports institutions have responded to these challenges by changing or eliminating their use of American Indian imageryt.


At the college level, Dartmouth, Marquette, Miami University of Ohio, San Jose State, St. John’s, Stanford, and Syracuse have all elected to adopt new mascots. Within the past five years, high school boards in California, Wisconsin, and Kansas have followed suit. In addition, some schools have implemented policies to not compete against others who use Indian nicknames. Nonetheless, approximately 2,000 American Indian mascots are still in uses - about 900 of which are high schools


Consequently, the struggle to end the use of Indian mascots continues. In April 2001, the United States Commission on Civil Rights examined the issue and encouraged non-Native American schools to cease using Native American symbols and imagery. Also during the spring, New York State Education Commissioner Richard Mills urged superintendents of the 136 schools in New York that have American Indian mascots to immediately begin the process of change. In 2005, the NCAA took a big step by announcing that any school with a nickname or logo considered racially or ethnically "hostile" or "abusive" by the NCAA would be prohibited from using them in post-season events. And in 2010, students at Prescott High School in Prescott, Wisconsin demonstrated a new method of challenging he use of American Indian mascots when they fought for a bill to end the use of American Indian mascots, helped push it through the state legislature, and to g0t the governor of the state to sign it into law. .


But these efforts have been countered by natural apprehensions about instituting such dramatic change and the impact it could have on a program and community. To help athletic departments that may be considering changing their mascot, five steps have been offered by Ellen J. Staurowsky, EdD, an Associate Professor of Sport Studies and Coordinator of the Sports Information and Communication Program at Ithaca College:

  • Be leaders.
  • Model behavior for athletes and other students.
  • Understand that the cost of replacing logos and refurbishing facilities should not be an impediment to change.
  • Think of changing a logo as a beginning and not an ending - a new beginning for the way in which issues relating to American Indians are taught within the school's curriculum.
  • Avoid polls to determine if a mascot should be retained.



Briggs, Kara. "Trademark Board Considering 'Redskins' Suit," Indian Country Today. August 1998:1A,5A.


Brady, Eric. "Term of Non-Endearment?" USA Today Sports, May 21, 1999:1C.


Burghart, Tara. "Illinois University Senate: Retire Chief Illiniwek." News From Indian Country: The Nation's Native Journal, April 1999.


Davey, Monica. "Insult or Honor?" New York Times Upfront, February 8, 2010 at


Dolley, Jeff. "The four R's: Use of Indian mascots in educational facilities," Journal of Law and Education,January 1, 2003 at


Fenelon, James V. "Symbolic Racism: Chief Wahoo and the Cleveland Indians." June 1997 at


Good Voice, Christina. "High School's Indian mascot causes stir," Cherokee Phoenix, January 21, 2010 at


Harjo, Suzan. Press Release from The Morning Star Institute, April 1999.


Hirshfelder, Arlene B. American Indian Stereotypes in the World of Children. Metuchen, New Jersey: Scarecrow Press, Inc., 1993.


Hinkle, Jeff. "Proud Heritage or Institutional Racism." American Indian Report. April 1998:24.


Martin, Phillip W.D. "Bench This Team: The Offensive Anahronisms." Boston Globe. April 19, 1998:G2.


Melmer, David. "Chief Wahoo Hits the Road." Indian Country Today. January 1999:A2.


Mihesuah, Devon A. American Indians: Stereotypes and Realities. Clarity Press, Inc., 1996.


Moreno, Sylvia. "'Redskins' Name Assailed at Hearing." May 28, 1998 at


Munson, Barbara. “Common Themes and Questions about the use of ‘Indian’ Logos,” 1998. Website of the Wisconsin Indian Education Association at


Pewewardy, Cornel. “Why Educators Can’t Ignore Indian Mascots,” 1999 at


Staurowsky, Ellen J. "Much Ado About Mascots." Athletic Management, 13.5 (August/September 2001) at


USA Today, "NCAA allowing Florida State to use its Seminole mascot," August 23, 2005 at


Wilkins, David E. "Of 'Tigers', 'Redskins,' 'Braves,' Ad Nauseum." News from Indian Country: The Nation's Native Journal, May 1997.



Video Resources


How Hollywood Has Stereotyped Native Americans


In Whose Honor? describes the efforts of Charlene Teters to end the use of mascots, an effort she began in 1989 and continues through today. The film can be downloaded for a fee at . A 2.37 minute segment of the film is available online at


MLK Symposium: Interview with Charlene Teters in 2006


Native American Stereotypes and Truths


Racism: The Way We See It


Savage Country: American Indian Sports Mascots explains the controversy in Oklahoma


Sesame Street on Indians


California Social Science Standards addressed in this lesson

First Grade
  • 1.4.3 Students... Recognize similarities and differences of earlier generations in such areas as work (inside and outside the home), dress, manners, stories, games, and festivals, drawing from biographies, oral histories, and folklore.
Second Grade
  • 2.3.2 Students...Describe the ways in which groups and nations interact with one another to try too resolve problems in such areas as trade, cultural contacts, treaties, diplomacy, and military force.
Third Grade
  • 3.2.1 Students...Describe national identities, religious beliefs, customs, and various folklore traditions.
Fourth Grade
  • 4.2.1 Students...Discuss the major nations of California Indians, including their geographic distribution, economic activities, legends, and religious beliefs; and describe how they depended on, adapted to, and modified the physical environment by cultivation of land and use of sea resources.
Fifth Grade
  • 5.3.4 Students...Discuss the role of broken treaties and massacres and the factors that led to the Indians' defeat, including the resistance of Indian nations to encroachments and assimilation.
Eighth Grade
  • 8.3.6 Students... Describe the basic law-making process and how the Constitution provides numerous opportunities for citizens to participate in the political process and to monitor and influence government.
Eleventh Grade
  • 11.10 Students analyze the development of federal civil rights and voting rights, in terms of ... (4) the role of civil rights advocates ... (5) the diffusion of the civil rights movement ... and effectiveness of the quest of American Indians, Asian Americans, and Hispanic Americans for civil rights and equal opportunities.
  • 11.11 Students analyze the major social problems and domestic policy issues in contemporary American society
Twelfth Grade
  • 12.2 Students evaluate, and take and defend positions on the scope and limits of rights and obligations as democratic citizens, the relationships among them, and how they are secured, in terms of ... (5) the reciprocity between rights and obligations, i.e., why enjoyment of one's rights entails respect for the rights of others ...
  • 12.3 Students evaluate, take and defend positions on what the fundamental values and principles of civil society are (i.e., the autonomous sphere of voluntary personal, social, and economic relations not part of government), their interdependence, and meaning and importance for a free society, in terms of ... (2) how civil society makes it possible for people, individually or in association with others, to bring their influence to bear on government in ways other than voting and elections...
  • 12.10 Students formulate questions about and defend their analyses of tensions within our constitutional democracy and the importance of maintaining a balance between the following concepts: majority rule and individual rights; liberty and equality; state and national authority in a federal system; civil disobedience and the rule of law; freedom of the press and the right to a fair trial; the relationship of religion and government.