In the Game pp 137-166 | Cite as

Wa a o, wa ba ski na me ska ta!

“Indian” Mascots and the Pathology of Anti-Indigenous Racism
  • David Anthony Tyeeme Clark

Abstract

When the Florida State University (FSU) football team rushes onto the playing field of Doak S. Campbell Stadium, it follows an athletic mascot wearing colored turkey feathers, riding a spotted pony, and carrying a flaming spear that he plants on the fifty-yard line with a war-whoop. While this activity unfolds on the field, over eighty thousand FSU fans chant a pseudo-Indian melody while swinging their arms together in a tomahawk chop. The FSU spectacle is a common one; resolute FSU fans recognize it as authentically Seminole, as authoritatively American Indian. For many American Indians these sorts of activities are understood as offensive, as deeply fatal to the well-being of Indigenous nations, communities, extended families, and young people. Most Native professionals and our allies comprehend them as yet another disturbing appropriation in a long and ongoing history of colonization that includes forced removals and fraudulent land transfers away from Indigenous Peoples.3

Keywords

Marketing Beach Adrenalin Arena Reso 

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Notes

  1. 2.
    Deloria, “Forward,” in Team Spirits: The Native American Mascots Controversy, eds. C. Richard King and Charles Fruehling Springwood (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2001), ix.Google Scholar
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    Among Indigenous Peoples we name ourselves, in our own languages, by terms that sometimes translate into English as “The People” or as “The Human Beings,” that sometimes translate into English as entities associated with and connected to specific places, or in languages that resist easy translation into English. When using the two words “Indigenous Peoples,” I am thinking of human beings who are related to thousands of distinct families, groups, kinship communities, clans, tribes, bands, councils, reservations, colonies, towns, villages, rancherías, pueblos, confederacies, and nations. This diversity troubles generalizations about how Indigenous Peoples “feel” or think about any issue, including the matter of mascots. For more on names and naming, see Michael Yellow Bird, “What We Want to Be Called: Indigenous Peoples’ Perspectives on Racial and Ethnic Identity Labels,” American Indian Quarterly 23 (Spring 1999): 1–21;CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    For an interdisciplinary reading of “The Indian Wars,” see C. Richard King, Ellen J. Staurowsky, Lawrence Baca, Laurel R. Davis, and Cornel Pewewardy, “Of Polls and Race Prejudice: Sport Illustrated’s Errant ‘Indian Wars’,” Journal of Sport and Social Issues 26 (November 2002): 381–402.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    Roger Huddleston, “Honor the Chief Society Challenges NCAA Mascot Report,” April 4, 2003, accessed August 31, 2003, available from http://www.honorthechief.org/news_NCAArelease.html. For a well-rounded treatment of the mascot controversy at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign through 1999,Google Scholar
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    “Editorial: Change in Nickname Strategy,” Grand Forks Herald, March 7, 2002, accessed August 27, 2003, available from http://www.grandforks.com/mld/grandforksherald/news/opinion/2808472.htm. For the context of the struggle in Grand Forks, see Raúl Tovares, “Mascot Matters: Race, History, and the University of North Dakota’s ‘Fighting Sioux’ Logo,” Journal of Communication Inquiry 26 (January 2002): 76–94. Departing from sentiments expressed among other members of the Herald’s editorial board, Dorreen Yellow Bird suggested the market research poll might have its own problems. See Dorreen Yellow Bird, “Don’t Take Sports Illustrated Poll at Face Value,” Grand Forks Herald, March 9, 2002, accessed August 31, 2003, available from http://www.grandforks.com/mld/grandforksherald/news/opinion/2824341.htm. While the methodology used in the Ross survey has been examined by two courts and an expert commissioned by Pro-Football, Inc., the methodology used by the Harris group has not been made available for public scrutiny. For a thoughtful discussion regarding the telephone survey conducted by the Peter Harris Research Group, see King, et al., “Of Polls and Race Prejudice,” 386–391; and Staurowsky, “A Tale of Two Surveys.”CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. 69.
    For a discussion of this phenomenon of non-Natives strategically asserting “Indian” identity in mascot debates, see Charles Fruehling Springwood, “‘I’m Indian Too!’: Claiming Native American Identity, Crafting Authority in Mascot Debates,” Journal of Sport and Social Issues 28 (February 2004): 56–70.Google Scholar
  28. See also Philip J. Deloria, Playing Indian (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1999);Google Scholar
  29. and Shari M. Huhndorf, Going Native: Indians in the American Cultural Imagination (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2001).Google Scholar
  30. 88.
    For a broader discussion of the problem posed by discursive constructions of “universal” and “minor,” see David Palumbo-Liu, “Universalisms and Minority Culture,” differences 7, no. 1 (1995): 188, who argues that universalism “erases contingencies of time and space, history and location, and with the same gesture elides its operations of domination, projecting instead the appearance of being democratic.”Google Scholar
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    Raymond Williams, Marxism and Literature (New York: Oxford University Press, 1977), 112.Google Scholar
  32. 90.
    A good deal of critical theory in recent years has centered around performativity, most notably and widely read discussions as Jacque Derrida, “Signature Event Context,” in Margins of Philosophy, trans. Alan Bass (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982);Google Scholar
  33. Judith Butler, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (New York: Routledge, 1990);Google Scholar
  34. and Butler, Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of “Sex” (New York: Routledge, 1993). In brief, performativity, a consequence of complex and multidimensional citational processes, is the suggestion that doing something is also saying something, and vice versa. Mascot and fan antics, as well as team logos, cite and stand in for something that came before. They do Indian. And they do Indian in the present.Google Scholar
  35. For a recent effort to read the performative of race in sports, see the essays in John Bloom and Michael Nevin Willard, eds., Sports Matters: Race, Recreation, and Culture (New York: New York University Press, 2002), especially John Bloom and Randy Hanson, “Warriors and Thieves: Appropriations of the Warrior Motif in Representations of Native American Athletes,” 246–263. For a discussion of when and how doing something is saying something,Google Scholar
  36. see Andrew Parker and Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, eds., Performativity and Performance (New York: Routledge, 1995).Google Scholar
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    Vine Deloria, Jr., “Marginal and Submarginal,” in Indigenizing the Academy: Transforming Scholarship and Empowering Communities, eds. Devon Abbott Mihesuah and Angela Cavender Wilson (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2004), 16–30.Google Scholar

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© Amy Bass 2005

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  • David Anthony Tyeeme Clark

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