Reyna-Lovelace: Stop Supporting Racist Mascots

Non-native people need to stop wearing Indian mascots.

by Olivia Reyna-Lovelace | 5/9/19 2:10am

For hundreds of years, Dartmouth did not fulfill its commitment to Native Americans. Dartmouth’s campus is built on the land of Abenaki indigenous people, and Dartmouth’s founding charter outlines that the school’s principal mission is to educate Native youth. But in its first 200 years of existence, Dartmouth only graduated 19 Native Americans. When Native students finally did matriculate to Dartmouth in meaningful numbers, many of them were not exactly thrilled to see that Dartmouth had an Indian mascot, and they widely protested it. Native students Howard Bad Hand ’73, Duane Bird Bear ’71 and Rick Buckanaga ’72 were among those who led the call to end the use of Dartmouth’s Indian mascot in the 1970s, and in 1974, the Board of Trustees agreed with the protestors that the mascot was inconsistent with the values that Dartmouth is supposed to uphold. 

Yet, half a century later, some students at Dartmouth still proudly purchase and wear jerseys with Indian mascots. It’s very jarring to me that non-Native people, especially Dartmouth students, would still support the existence of these mascots. 

Indian mascots do not honor, respect or uplift Native people. What they do instead is portray Natives as a monolithic group with backwards, antiquated traditions and exaggerated stereotypical attributes. Most of these mascots show caricatures of Native people with bright red skin, neon feathers in their hair, face paint, headdresses and loin cloths. They show little regard for the actual clothing, culture and traditions of the peoples that they supposedly represent. 

One especially egregious thing about these racist mascots is that they often feature depictions of redface or racial slurs against Natives. The National Congress of American Indians has weighed in on Indian mascots, redface and racial slurs for decades now. According to the NCAI website, Indian mascots have adverse effects on the self-esteem and mental health psyche of Native youth. In particular, the NCAI, along with hundreds of other tribal nations, condemn the use of the term redskins — a well-known racial slur against Natives which is very popularly associated with Indian mascots and redface. Yet, despite calls by groups like the NCAI to stop the use of these harmful terms and practices, many people proudly wear Redskins jerseys, and some even go as far as painting their faces red to match. I think it is a shame that sports fans feel they can dress up in racist clothing and “play Indian” in the name of supposed team spirit. Respecting the personhood and dignity of indigenous people should outweigh the personal pleasure that people get from wearing these offensive jerseys and red face paint. 

Unfortunately, indigenous students at Dartmouth are all too familiar with the history and use of Indian mascots, redface and racial slurs. Many of the indigenous students I have spoken with on campus have expressed that the continued use of the mascots is offensive, disgusting and highly disrespectful. Of all the students I’ve talked to, only one expressed any positive sentiments about Indian mascots. This student, however, was referring to indigenous students wearing the mascots as a symbol of their own pride in their culture, not of non-Natives wearing the mascots just for fun. 

I admit that there is a difference between non-Natives wearing offensive jerseys and a group of Native students wearing an Indian mascot. To Natives, it may be a symbol of their own indigeneity. The context between those two scenarios is different enough to warrant two separate discussions. But the fact that many Native people want these racist mascots to be discontinued should be, by itself, enough reason for non-Native people to stop wearing them. To continue to wear these mascots fails to take into account the history that America as a country and Dartmouth as an institution have with Native communities. I urge non-Native students at Dartmouth as well as non-Natives in general to stop using Indian mascots, as well as the racial slurs and redface that too often accompany these mascots. As a non-Native, if you want to honor Native people, wearing a racist jersey is not the way to do it. 

Reyna-Lovelace is a member of the Class of 2021. 

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