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Last of the Redskins

What can sports mascots teach us about Native American relations today?
By RICK WORMWOOD  |  December 2, 2008


feat_redskins_FoamFinger.jpg
The term’s first users were Native Americans
describing themselves.

It’s been asked before, but what’s in a name? Scarborough voters had the chance to ponder a variation of the Bard’s tricky question on Election Day, when they were asked if the School Board should reconsider Scarborough High School’s mascot nickname, the “Red Storm.” The non-binding referendum, which narrowly failed to pass, came in response to a petition from a group of Scarborough alumni who were calling for a return to its previous nickname, the “Redskins.”

The Scarborough School Board changed from “Redskins” to the “Red Storm” eight years ago, at a time when high school and college teams around the country were trending away from using Native American mascots, because they were deemed offensive and exploitative by Native Americans. According to the New England Anti-Mascot Coalition’s Web site, six Maine high schools still represent their teams with Native American names and images. Three high schools call their teams the “Warriors” (Nokomis Regional, Southern Aroostook Community School, and Wells High); only one school, Skowhegan High, calls its teams the “Indians.” As for the most contentious of Native American mascot names, “Redskins,” Scarborough’s change left only two high schools employing the term: Wiscasset and Sanford (from which this reporter graduated in 1988).

Putting aside whether or not the names Warriors or Indians were questionable on their own merits, when considering Maine’s remaining “Redskins” teams, a question arises, as we commemorate the pilgrims and the Indians breaking bread together in brotherhood, way back in the colonial day. That question, with apologies to James Fenimore Cooper, was which town will be the last “Redskins” holdout, Sanford or Wiscasset?

College and the Pros: Two Messages
The National Collegiate Athletic Association has been at the forefront of the Native American mascot battle for years. Although they cannot force member schools to abandon Native American mascots, in 2005 the NCAA’s executive committee adopted a policy forbidding schools from “displaying hostile and abusive racial/ethnic/national origin mascots, nicknames or imagery at any of the 88 NCAA championships.”

That might not sound like much leverage, but many school officials looking down the road saw the potential for their institutions to be embarrassed on a national stage and got the message. According to the NCAA’s Web site, as of February of 2007, at least 11 colleges and universities had changed, or indicated their intent to change, their Native American nicknames. Other schools, most notably the University of North Dakota’s Fighting Sioux, are negotiating with the tribes they are named after, seeking approval to continue the name. In 2005, the Florida State Seminoles received permission to keep their nickname from Seminole tribes in Florida and Oklahoma. As of 2007, one of the three Sioux tribes in North Dakota had refused their permission for the university to retain the nickname, and according to an agreement the school reached with the NCAA in October 2007, if the remaining tribe cannot be swayed by 2010 the mascot must be retired. No NCAA schools use the nickname “Redskins.”

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  Topics: Lifestyle Features , Baseball, Sports, College Football,  More more >
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[ 08/22 ]   Jim Jefferies  @ Newport Yachting Center
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