Honor Treaties, Not Mascots! By: Matt RemleTweet
On June 24th, the Port Townsend school board formally ended its use of Redskins as its high school mascot. The decision came one year after the Washington State Board of Education (WSBE) passed a resolution calling on Washington state public schools to end the use of Indian mascots.
Last spring, after seeing the momentum the Oregon State Board of Education was having towards the elimination of Indian mascots in its schools, I was inspired to see if we could accomplish something similar in Washington State.
After circulating a petition calling on the WSBE to ban the use of Indian mascots in our public schools, a close friend and I presented the petition to board members. Following our presentation, board member Bernal Baca approached and thanked us for the presentation. Baca, who had been active with both American Indian Movement and Latino rights issues in the 60’s and 70’s, told us that if we drafted him a resolution he would bring it to vote at an upcoming WSBE meeting.
Months later the resolution passed the WSBE unanimously.
Port Townsend began its use of the Redskins mascot in the 1920’s and had long been a source of controversy. The mascot had been opposed by many members of the nearby Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe and in particular it’s Chairman Ron Allen, who had been vocal in his opposition to the mascot for years.
The passage of the WSBE resolution and the retirement of the Port Townsend Redskins mascot are but one of numerous examples in a long history of Native peoples fighting to end the use of racist Indian mascots from high school, college and professional sports teams. Countless campaigns have been waged across Turtle Island to end this racist practice.
Honoring the Sacred
The wapaha, eagle bonnet (mistakenly called a war-bonnet), is worn only by those men who have achieved and demonstrated generosity, fortitude and bravery and for whom if his people are threatened will defend them. The sacred meaning of the wapaha is lost when drunken sports fans don faux pas Halloween style “head dresses” at sporting events. It is in this vein that those who stand against the degradation of the wapaha are also fighting to protect the values of the people.
In the same fashion the sacred meaning of wearing, and earning the right to wear, paint is also lost when it is so callously worn at sporting events. Individuals earn the right to wear paint whether through certain actions or visions.
The historical use of the term Redskins, considered by many to be a racial epithet, has been well documented by Suzan Harjo and others to refer to a time when bounties were placed on Indian peoples scalps.
Understanding the sacredness of the wapaha, and of wearing paint and knowing the historical implications of the term Redskin, it is difficult for me to understand the argument that mascots, and its game day related behavior, has anything to do with honoring Native peoples.
I would think that pushing for the inclusion of Native history, culture, knowledge and governance in school curriculum would be a much better example, and way, of honoring Native peoples than the use of Indian mascots. Or, for that matter, people who are for the “honoring” of Native peoples could push their governments to honor treaties, protect sacred sites and waterways, and return stolen lands.
Since rabid Indian mascot fans are about as likely to do any of the above as the Washington Redskins renaming itself the Washington “Sambos”, it would seem that playing Indian has little to nothing to do with actually honoring Native peoples.
I am more inclined to believe this behavior has more to do with imperialist nostalgia, a mood of nostalgia that makes racial domination appear innocent and pure, than any actual honoring of Native peoples.
If you think this is too far of a stretch, I invite you to go read any comments section of any local news source anytime the issue of ending the use of Indian mascots is brought up and judge for yourself.
Honor the Sacred, Honor Treaties, Not Mascots!