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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


December 29, 2001 - Issue 52


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Writer Finds Out What's in a Name

typical mascot logoMonths ago, I accidentally waded into the middle of a debate - should we, the news media, use Native American nicknames in sports stories?

The topic came up when I used a lead that played on a game's location - The Burial Grounds, where the Liberal Redskins play football games - for a Sept. 15 story about the Hays Indians' win. I never thought that it would get me in trouble.

But it did. Some peers told me to brush it off, that it was a politically correct culture telling us what's acceptable and what's not.

We've grown up with these nicknames and mascots, from the Atlanta Braves' tomahawk chop to the Cleveland Indians' Chief Wahoo down to Florida State's Chief Osceola and Renegade. I've never really thought about what they mean, though.

I've never associated the Native American nicknames and mascots with tribes themselves. I associated them with a school or team, and to me, that seemed harmless.

After doing some research, I had a choice to make: Do I keep using the nicknames, find a middle ground or not use them at all? I chose not to use Native American nicknames anymore.

It's not because we live in a culture where Crayola decided to remove the "Indian Red" color.

Or because Hank Aaron has lashed out against the Atlanta Braves to change their nickname because some find it offensive.

Or because more than 40 universities and just five professional teams continue to use Native American nicknames and mascots.

Or because we live in a P.C. society where Los Angeles - which is the second largest school district in the nation - and Dallas have decided to ban the use of Native American nicknames and mascots.

Or because the NAACP and some government groups have joined the fight to see whether the use of such nicknames and mascots violates any anti-discrimination laws.

Rather, I'm not going to use the nicknames because someone doesn't like them. We should adhere to the people's wishes not to use them.

If a term offends someone, I'm not going to use it. Simple as that. I'm into tolerance and respect for all people.

Here are some of the arguments for not using those Native American nicknames or mascots.

Most schools with such names use the Plains Indian religious leader as their mascot, which is insulting because it's used at sporting events and not a religious ceremony. Imagine using a priest, rabbi, minister or perhaps the pope to root on your team.

Just doesn't take, does it? Besides, we're not supposed to have religion in public schools.

Then there's the harsh reality that the average Native American's life span is only 45 years, and that their teenage suicide rate is more than double the national average.

Part of the reason, according to some people hoping to ban Native American sports nicknames and mascots, is that teams oppress Indian society by stealing from their heritage. Some consider it racism to use such nicknames.

Perhaps what struck me most was something I saw on my second trip last fall to Liberal, when it beat Bishop Carroll in district play.

A group of four or maybe five students were cheering for Liberal in the stands. They had gone shirtless and painted their torsos and faces red to show their school spirit.

It got me thinking - what if the Liberal Redskins were actually the Blackskins? Would African Americans be offended to see someone show up at a game in black face, mocking an entire culture?

To me, it's no different than someone donning war paint to watch the Kansas City Chiefs. A fan may have good intentions and may not mean to offend anyone, but racism offends.

That's why I won't use Native American nicknames anymore, even if it means that I'll have to use city names like "Hays" or "Liberal" or "Little River" in my stories over and over again.

It may be redundant, and nicknames do add flavor to stories. But I cannot bring myself to use Native American nicknames any longer.

I can only speak for myself. A lot of journalists continue to debate the issue.

But not me. I've made my decision.

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  Canku Ota is a free Newsletter celebrating Native America, its traditions and accomplishments . We do not provide subscriber or visitor names to anyone. Some articles presented in Canku Ota may contain copyright material. We have received appropriate permissions for republishing any articles. Material appearing here is distributed without profit or monetary gain to those who have expressed an interest. This is in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. section 107.  

Canku Ota is a copyright © 2000, 2001, 2002 of Vicki Lockard and Paul Barry.


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