For more than half a century, Native American tribes and their advocates tried unsuccessfully to persuade professional sports teams to drop names offensive to native peoples.
But in recent years, the movement has finally gained traction. Washington’s professional soccer team dropped the Redskins nickname in 2020 after decades of protest, announcing last month that it had adopted the Commanders name. In July, the Cleveland Indians, who dropped the club’s Chief Wahoo mascot in 2019, announced that it would change its name to the Guardians. The Major League Baseball club had been the Indians for over a century, since 1915.
And then there’s the holdouts: The Atlanta Braves baseball team, the National Football League’s Kansas City Chiefs, and the National Hockey League’s Chicago Blackhawks have no immediate plans to change their names, and Braves fans are still proudly simulating the arm-swinging “tomahawk chop” and Native American chants at home games.
However, Indian mascot opponents continue their public relations campaign to change that.
The San Manuel Band of Mission Indians in San Bernardino and the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation near Sacramento have joined forces with the film-making nonprofit The Ciesla Foundation to screen the documentary “Imagining the Indian: The Fight Against Native American Mascoting.” producing, which will premiere April 3 at the Pechanga Resort Casino in Temecula.
San Manuel, the executive producer, provided a $1 million grant for the documentary.
“What we hope to do with the film is education,” said Ben West, a Cheyenne Indian who co-directed the film. He said that making mascots in American Indians has deep, adverse psychological effects on indigenous peoples, especially children, and studies support that view.
“Indigenous youth have high levels of depression and suicide ideology, and there is a direct line that can be drawn between the impact that mascot has and some of the problems that indigenous communities have,” West said.
“Imagining the Indian” delves deep into the genesis of the exploitation of Native American culture in competitive sports, and how Indian mascot has harmed not only indigenous peoples but marginalized groups everywhere.
“This problem is not limited to Native American people. This affects how people view others – people of color in general,” said Aviva Kempner, a Washington, DC-based filmmaker and co-director of the film.
New traction after Floyd murder
She said that at the height of the Black Lives Matter movement, after the murder of George Floyd, there was heightened sensitivity and awareness about the racism rooted in American-Indian mascots.
“The Washington Football Team owner was eventually pressured by his sponsors to change their racist name,” Kempner said in an email. She said there are still three professional sports teams and hundreds of college and high school teams that have to give up their names and mascots.
Stephanie A. Fryberg, a psychology professor at the University of Michigan and a member of the Tulalip Tribes featured in the documentary, led a 2020 study that found that younger and more liberal individuals — people who didn’t identify as cisgender men – were more opposed to the use of American Indian mascots in general and were more harmed by it.
Far from being trivial, mascots are one of the many ways in which society dehumanizes Indigenous people and silences Indigenous voices,” Fryberg’s study states. “These representations determine not only how non-natives see Indigenous people, but also how Indigenous people understand themselves and what is possible for their communities.”
States push for laws
The pressure comes as states across the country pass or propose laws to remove American Indian mascots, symbols, images and logos from K-12-level public schools and other public places. According to the National Congress of American Indians, more than 1,900 K-12 schools across the country still have American Indian mascots.
In 2021, 60 K-12 schools across the country changed their names, while 16 have so far in 2022, according to the NCAI.
Assemblyman James Ramos, D-Highland, introduced Assembly Bill 2022 on Feb. 14, which would ban the use of the word “squaw” as a name for geographic features and place names in California. Existing places should be renamed by January 1, 2024 under the bill.
Ramos said in a press release that more than 100 places in California contain the “S word, and the U.S. Department of the Interior has erased the term “from the national landscape and replaced it forever” at its nearly 700 sites using the name on federal grounds. Montana, Oregon, Maine, and Minnesota have already banned the use of the word.
There are several schools of thought regarding the word ‘squaw’, its origin and meaning. In his September 13, 2018 article “The S Word: Offensive or Not?” Vincent Schilling presented an etymological examination of the word and its interpretation. While some defended the term’s use, saying its historical meaning was that of a Native American “woman” or “young woman,” others denounced the word, saying it denoted a woman’s sexuality and vagina.
Word encourages violence
Ramos agrees that the word “squaw” emphasizes sexual desires and female genitalia. He also claims that the word encourages and punishes violence against Native American women.
“The word reflects the demeaning attitude towards Indigenous women that has contributed to the crisis of missing and murdered women and girls in the Native American community,” Ramos said in an email.
Ramos, a San Manuel tribesman and former president of the tribe, said of the topic of American Indian mascoting: “It belittles people by creating permission and tolerance to ridicule and belittle Native American culture.
“It also feeds stereotypes that are silly and offensive and allows others to participate in disrespectful treatment of Native Americans and our culture,” he said. “Why does anyone need that?”
When asked why it took so long for states and sports teams to finally recognize American Indians’ time-honored grievances about mascots and the exploitation of their ancestors, West said the practice is so steeped in tradition that sports teams, schools and other institutions have a hard time letting go. to leave.
“I think it’s just so ingrained in people’s lives and their idea of tradition,” West said. “It is time to make people realize that Indigenous people live and breathe and that we exist today. We are not relics behind glass in a museum.”
“Imagining the Indian” will circulate on the festival circuit in April, with screenings scheduled in Boston and Washington, DC. West said the plan is to also package the film with other educational materials and teaching guides to offer to schools and tribal communities.
For more information, visit the websites https://imaginingtheindianfilm.org/ and https://sanmanuel-nsn.gov/.