Mascot forum draws hundreds of students

by Jeffrey Tanenhaus | 11/20/98 6:00am

A forum concerning Native American images in sports mascots on a local and national scope drew a diverse crowd of about 300 to the Hinman Forum in Rockefeller Center last night.

Keynote speaker and Director of the national Native American organization the Morning Star Institute Suzan Harjo gears some of her activist efforts toward removing Indian depictions from sporting mascots and related imagery and spoke about her involvement last night.

After both Harjo and Bruce Duthu '80, a law professor who was a part of the Native Americans at Dartmouth program while at the College, spoke, they and six other people spoke on a panel and fielded questions from the audience about the Indian as a mascot.

Harjo filed a lawsuit six years ago against what she perceives to be the derogatory use of the Redskins football team name.

"Native people are used as cartoons and team names because we're seen as a past era and not as human beings. These names do us no honor and are terrible," Harjo said.

A slide show contrasted actual photos of Native Americans and the caricatures and logos that dominate the Native American image.

Harjo stressed what she sees as the racism in sports and the distortion of Indian logos and mascots.

"I don't like Indians being presented solely in a violent context or as warriors, like the [Braves'] violent chop, or by the color of their skin, such as the Redskins," she said.

In the campaign to erase offensive mascot images, Harjo spoke of "ground-breaking" laws that would eliminate the need to cumbersomely address the issue one school and one mascot at a time.

"Cartooning, mascotting and name-calling are the most fundamental issues. When we can get rid of that, we'll be taken more seriously in public policy."

"The most important thing in educating people is to deal with very basic issues that go into discrimination and stereotypes against Indians," she said.

Harjo said Dartmouth "is an early success story, and was one of the first enlightened schools to drop the Indian in the '70s."

The Dartmouth Indian was officially abolished as the College mascot in 1974.

The evening, organized by Native Americans at Dartmouth, funded by the McSpadden Public Affairs fund and co-sponsored by several other campus organizations, began with a short film on the crusade of Charlene Teters, a Native American student at the University of Illinois who was deeply offended by the Illini mascot, Chief Illiniwek.

The film documented her unpopular struggle in attempting to remove the mascot, which she believed mimicked her culture and heritage.

She continued her efforts on a national scale by speaking out against the Redskins' name.

During the panel, the topic centered on the Indian mascot at Dartmouth and the moose which currently serves as fan entertainment.

"Forty years ago the Indian was done in a naive environment to instill Dartmouth and class spirit," panelist and former Dartmouth cheerleader Doug Wise '59 said. Although he dressed up as the Indian for sporting events, he said, "If I were a freshman today, I would say no way."

Football player and member of Gamma Delta Chi fraternity Michael Poncy '00 said he just recently learned that people were offended by the Indian mascot.

Gamma Delt produced homecoming t-shirts which depicted a Yale bulldog performing oral sex on a caricatured American Indian and said "Yale sucks." Poncy said ignorance is prevalent on campus and the motivations of those who created the shirt were not bad.

He said members of sports teams "look for something to rally around," and the football team has used the Indian because it is a "strong symbol to show we will beat the crap out of the other team."

Panelist Spencer Morgan '60 said he thought if the Native American mascot offended people, then it should not be used. But he said he thinks the moose which currently entertains fans "sucks."

When asked by an audience member if he could recommend another mascot the College could adopt, he pointed to the glass casing in Hinman Forum housing paraphernalia from Nelson A. Rockefeller and said, "I'd like us to be known as the Rock. And if people want to say, 'Dartmouth rocks,' hell yes."

Harjo also stressed the principle that in a compatible society, an inherent requirement is respect for one another, and that through this humanity America will culturally mature.

"The constant bombardment of negative imaging has a bearing on the psyche of our children -- Native Americans have four times the suicide rate," Harjo said.

She said Native Americans have survived past debasing treatment, and they will continue to exist as an improving people in the future.

Harjo, who lives in Washington DC., said "I would like to go to a [Redskins] home game again and root for the home team; the last game I went to was in 1974."

She concluded the evening addressing the white students in the audience. "If you are not like the historic white man, then don't take offense when you hear a person of color talk about the white man," she said.

John Villapiano '02, who wears the moose outfit at sporting events, also spoke on the panel, as did Native American student Adam Carvell '02 and Native scholar Joseph Gone.

Acting Senior Associate Dean of the College Kate Burke moderated the panel.