Tim Giago: How Native people feel about mascots

On Saturday the NFL held its annual draft. As the images bounced around my television screen, especially that of the Washington, D. C. team, my mind conjured a couple of scenarios about mascots.

Scenario #1: Every football fan knows there is no professional team in Los Angeles. The Raiders returned home to Oakland and the Rams waltzed across the continent to St. Louis. Well, LA has just been awarded another pro-football franchise. In the new war room the executives are seated at a round table discussing the possibilities.

The new general manager, a balding man in a grey suit, sporting a very red tie speaks. “We have come up with answers and ideas about everything from the stadium to the concession stands and so on, and now we must select a team mascot.” All of the executives rub their hands together in anticipation.

“I like the idea of the color of a person’s skin as a mascot. But the Washington team already laid claim to the skin of the Native Americans so that leaves whiteskins, blackskins, yellowskins and brownskins. That’s a pretty wide choice, but we must take into account the marketability of that skin. Now the Redskins can market tomahawks, war bonnets, painted faces and ponies. That’s a big market. What could you use to market say whiteskins? Not a damned thing that I can think of. I mean what makes a whiteskin unique? See what I mean boys,” the GM says.

Every executive in the room scratches his head. “I can see possibilities with brownskins. Like we could have the fans dress in sombreros and serapes and bring on a mariachi band to play Mexican music. Yellowskins would also present some good ideas. I can see fans dressed in silk robes and sporting those conical hats the Chinese peasants wear and maybe have our version of Oriental music chiming around the field,” the GM continues.

“But the most promising of all skin mascots has got to be the blackskins. Now just think of the many ways we can market and honor the black people. I can see it now. Our fans will be painted in blackface and wearing Afro-wigs. They could wear dashiki robes and instead of a tomahawk, they could be waving spears in the air,” the GM said with a satisfied grin. “Wouldn’t black people all across America consider this one of the finest honors that we could bestow upon their race?” Chimed in the other executives clapping their hands together, “I am so sure that this would be such an honor to them. We vote in favor of ‘Blackskins’ as our mascot. And just think of the many possibilities the music presents; war chants, drums, a choir, it gives us chills just thinking about it. We could make the Redskins look like pikers.”

The GM slammed his gavel down. “Done,” he said. “This could be a huge market. We can sell spears, Afro-wigs, dashiki robes, black-face make-up, and fake nose-bones.” End of discussion.

Scenario #2: The late Vernon Bellecourt and Michael Haney are seated at a campfire in The Happy Hunting Grounds. They are former officers of the American Indians Against Racism in Sports. “Mike, I think we converted a few hardheads when you were on the Oprah Show to talk about mascots, but she never gave us a chance at a follow-up show,” Bellecourt says. “Do you think Oprah will feel honored by the new ‘Blackskins’ football team?”

Mike puffs on his cigar and says, “I think we did change a lot of minds, Vern, but the one thing that always stuck in my craw was those Indians that prostituted the name of their tribes or even allowed the colleges using those once honored names to cut them in half, you know like the ‘Noles,” for Seminoles, and never once considered what they were doing to hurt the majority of the Indian nations that abhorred this kind of sellout.”

Bellecourt nods his head and says, “In my life nothing bothered and hurt me more than to see uninformed, a euphemism for stupid, Indians wearing Redskin ball caps, jackets or sweat shirts. Don’t they know how ridiculous they look?”

May these two warriors against the use of Indians as mascots rest in peace. A warrior lady names Charlene Teters will carry on the Eagle Staff.

I used these two scenarios to show how the majority of Native Americans feel about their use as mascots for America’s fun and games. I know there will always be happy campers on the plantation, so to speak, that do not get it and never will get it.

However, Kimberly Lyman and I have put together a petition we would like you to look at and sign. We are hoping to get 20,000 signatures. Just go to: www.thepetitionsite.com/3/american-indians-are-not-mascots and check out the petition. I have been writing about how Native Americans feel about this topic since 1982. Come join in our fight. If any African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Asian Americans or White Americans are offended by the 2 scenarios I presented, you should know how most Native Americans every Sunday during the NFL season. UNITY wake up!

Tim Giago, an Oglala Lakota, was born, raised and educated on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. He was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard in the Class of 1991. He can be reached at najournalist@msn.com.

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