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Columnist Amalia FourHawks: Explains need for statewide ban on Native American mascots

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Thursday, June 15, 2017

The editorial in Thursday’s Gazette was titled “Keep mascot decisions in local hands.” It may as well have been titled “Let locals continue racist behavior as long as they are in the majority.”

People, please, think about the logic of this: The Massachusetts communities that have appropriated native “mascots” do not have a majority of Native Americans in their population. To allow the nonaffected majority to decide what affects the minority is absurd.

What if this “majority rules” logic had been applied during the civil rights movement? What if one town decided that it was perfectly fine to discriminate against one race of people, refusing them housing or service within that community, because the “local hands” decided to make it so? Would women be able to vote today if their rights had been dependent upon winning a majority of men’s votes?

The fact of the matter is that this is a civil rights issue, plain and simple. The majority of Native Americans who have weighed in on this matter have said they find the use of their living, active culture as a mascot to be demeaning and offensive.

Many of the largest representative organizations of Native American people and tribes have requested for years that this practice be ended: the National Congress of American Indians, Intertribal Council of the Five Civilized Tribes (Chickasaw, Creek, Cherokee, Seminole, and Choctaw nations), National Indian Education Association, American Indian Movement, and many more.

Banning race-based mascots is supported by the Massachusetts Teachers Association, National Education Association, American Psychological Association, U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, and United Nations special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, all of whom state that the use of a race-based mascot is harmful to all students, not just the race directly affected.

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights in 2001 clearly stated: “The stereotyping of any racial, ethnic, religious or other groups when promoted by our public educational institutions, teaches all students that stereotyping of minority groups is acceptable, a dangerous lesson in a diverse society. Schools have a responsibility to educate their students; they should not use their influence to perpetuate misrepresentations of any culture or people.”

The American Psychological Association’s 2005 resolution states, “The continued use of American Indian mascots, symbols, images, and personalities establishes an unwelcome and oftentimes hostile learning environment that affirms negative images and stereotypes that are promoted in mainstream society.”

The fact is that no other race of people would ever be appropriated as a mascot. No one would ever stand for a sports team that used a stereotyped image of another race and then claim that it was to “honor” that race.

No team would ever be allowed to be named the “Asians” or the “African-Americans,” never mind any demeaning, slang derivatives of those race names.

It is a shame that communities cannot take it upon themselves to understand that these race-based mascots are outdated, offensive and harmful to children. They have closed their ears to the words of native people and allies who have tried to reason with them. They insist that native people should feel “honored,” when so many native people have told them that they are not.

So, if these communities refuse to listen to reason, it is indeed time for there to be a statewide bill banning those mascots.

Amalia FourHawks, of Florence, is a Native American artist and activist.