Opinion | Sports

Tim Giago: Native Americans are human beings and not mascots

The following editorial was written by Tim Giago, Publisher and Editor Emeritus of the Native Sun News. All content © Native Sun News.

In Native Sun News we use the ‘R-Word’ instead of ‘Redskins’
By Tim Giago

One of the first, if not the only, sports newscaster who decided not to use the word “Redskin” in his nightly newscast worked for KOTA-TV in Rapid City and his name was Bob Laskowski.

Bob was having lunch one day many years ago in the Big Boy Restaurant in Mitchell when I, then publisher of the Lakota Times, walked in the door on my way back from Brookings. I joined Bob and we talked about the use of Indians as mascots for America’s fun and games for more than an hour. Bob thought about all he had heard from me that day and when he got back to Rapid City he decided he would not say “Redskins” anymore, but would simply say the NFL team from Washington.

No other sports caster or newspaper reporter in the entire state of South Dakota caught on to Bob’s noble gesture and they continue to this day to use the offensive “Redskin” word in their newspapers, radio and television sports reports.

On page 6 of this issue of Native Sun News is an article that I wrote for Newsweek Magazine 21 years ago. I often used analogies to make my point. For example I would ask, “What if a white man walked into a room filled with Lakota men and said ‘How are all you redskins doing?’” I also spoke out against the use of the word “squaw” to describe an Indian woman. I once wrote, “If you think Indian women do not object to the word squaw walk up to an Indian woman sometime and say ‘hello, squaw’ and see if you don’t get your face slapped.”

I wrote my first column about mascots in 1982 and along with Susanne Harjo and Michael Haney, I appeared on the Oprah Winfrey show to talk about mascots particularly the use of the word “Redskin.” That was in 1991. It was the first time Indian mascots had been discussed on a national television show.

My dander about mascots was raised when I saw a game on national television with the Washington team. At half time they chased a pig painted red with a headband stuffed with feathers out on the field. I wrote, “What if they had taken a pig and painted it black and stuck an Afro wig on its head?” Of course the outrage among African Americans would have gone viral. I also took great exception to teams like the Kansas City Chiefs and the Atlanta Braves using a chant straight out of a Grade B Western movie pretending it was an Indian chant. The chanters usually were painted up as Indians and they did the infamous “tomahawk chop.”

What if the team was called the “Blackskins” and the fans painted their faces black put on Afro wigs and started to beat drums and wave spears in the air? It certainly would not be overlooked by the national media, a media that totally ignores the same insult every Sunday whenever Indians are concerned.

My point is that the name Braves, Warriors, and Chiefs may not be so bad in and of themselves, but the actions the fanatical fans use to play out the names is too often demeaning and insulting to Native Americans. The lone Indian woman who stood her ground while a student at the University of Illinois against the cartoonish Chief Illiniwek mascot, Charlene Teters, receives little or no credit for all of her efforts, efforts that often got her a club alongside of her head, caused her to duck burning cigarette butts flipped at her, and vulgar insults as she stood in front of the stadium fighting against the use of Indians as mascots. She will always have my respect and admiration for her courage and dedication.

It’s time all Native Americans stood together as one and forced those teams that use Indians as mascots to abandon some of their antics and insults they have built around their mascots and all of us should take particular umbrage at a team that would use the color of a people’s skin as a mascot for their fun and games. Vernon Bellecourt once carried a sign containing a comment I made at the end of one of my many columns about mascots, at a Cleveland Indians baseball game: The sign read “We are human beings and not mascots for America’s fun and games.”

(Tim Giago, Publisher of Native Sun News can be reached at editor@nsweekly.com)

Copyright permission by Native Sun News

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