North Dakota residents voted on Tuesday to let the University of North Dakota scrap its Fighting Sioux mascot nickname.
The result came as the issue reached a climax in North Dakota, after simmering on the campus for decades.
Should the University of North Dakota should save or scrap its Fighting Sioux nickname? The question — one with serious racial, cultural, and social ramification — boiled over seven years ago when UND was placed on a list of schools with American Indian nicknames the NCAA deemed hostile and abusive. Those colleges were told to dump the names or risk sanctions against their athletic teams.
Sioux County, home of the Standing Rock Sioux reservation, voted 184 to 159 to allow UND to retire it’s mascot.
A team mascot’s job is to encourage and bring fans together, right? So why are some mascots deemed “hostile and abusive” by the NCAA?
Most sports fans know their mascot and are just as enthusiastic about it as they are about the actual team. Whether the mascot is a little Irish man with fists held high or an angry ram, it is a vital part of a sports team. Mascot and team names that are disrespectful to specific groups of people should be changed in order to create a sense of community.
Last year, Bedford Road Collegiate high school in Saskatoon, Canada, was under fire for their sports team name, the “Redmen," and the mascot, a Native American warrior. The group hoping for change argued that the name and mascot are derogatory towards people of Native American descent.
Opponents of the change argued that the name and mascot are part of the team's tradition.
“This logo and name, like thousands other akin to it, does not come from indigenous people or their culture; it was created by a dominant Canadian culture that legally defined the First Nations people less than human,” said Sheelah McLean to Planet S Magazine, teacher at a Saskatoon public school.
In 2010, Ole Miss announced a new mascot: the Rebel Black Bear. The former mascot, Colonel Reb, a white haired, cane-holding old man, was criticized for being inappropriate because he appeared to be a Civil War-era plantation owner.
According to the New York Times, school administrators said they were trying to balance tolerance with tradition. Administrators are discouraging Confederate flags and singing of the unofficial fight song “Dixie” at sporting events.
Native American groups themselves also are working to banish team names like the Washington Redskins, the Kansas City Chiefs, and the Atlanta Braves.
In 2009, the Washington Redskins won a 17-year battle against a group of Native Americans who argued that their team name was racially offensive. The decision was not made based on the accusations, but on the legal technicality that those pressing charges waited too long to do so. Those who pressed charges did so decades after the Redskins trademarked the name, making the youngest plaintiff a 1-year-old at the time. The judge noted that this plaintiff waited eight years after he turned 18 to press charges.
However, this setback has not stopped Native American activist groups, who are lobbying all over the country, against high schools and national teams alike.
Americans would riot over a sports team named “the Asians” or “the Jews” or a mascot called "the Mexican" depicted by a Hispanic person wearing a sombrero. Why is it that we see these as inappropriate but not the use of Native Americans as team names and mascots? People need not forget that the Native Americans are a race, not a fictional group. Tradition should not be a good enough reason to keep these mascots. If a tradition is racist and disrespectful, it should not be longstanding. Americans have allowed these derogatory names for long enough, and it is time to give up the tradition and do the right thing.
“This is a human rights issue, we are being denied the most basic respect,” said Michael Haney, a Seminole American, to the Oregon State Education Department. “As long as our people are perceived as cartoon characters or static beings locked in the past, our socioeconomic problems will never be addressed. Also, this issue of imagery has a direct correlation with violence against Indian people and the high suicide rate of our youth.”