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


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


Indigenous People School Board Federal Court National Football League Grand Fork 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  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
  2. 3.
    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
  3. and Cornel Pewewardy, “Renaming Ourselves and On Our Own Terms: Race, Tribal Nations, and Representation in Education,” Indigenous Nations Studies Journal 1 (Spring 2000): 11–28.Google Scholar
  4. 5.
    Linking this pathology of anti-Indigenous racism to the social, political, and cultural abnormality of anti-Semitism, Crow Creek Dakota scholar and author Elizabeth Cook-Lynn designates it anti-Indianism. See Cook-Lynn, Anti-Indianism in North America: A Voice from Tatekeya’s Earth (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2001), especially x.Google Scholar
  5. See also Jack D. Forbes, Columbus and Other Cannibals: The Wétiko Disease of Exploitation, Imperialism, and Terrorism (Brooklyn, NY: Autonomedia, 1992). I use the term anti-Indigenous racism for three reasons. First, like the designation “Indian” in cultures of politics and entertainment in the United States, the term anti-Indianism can be imprecise; Nepali nationalism, for instance, has been termed anti-Indianism. While the dynamics of both may be similar, I am not concerned with nationalism as a necessarily counterproductive force. Second, the term “Indigenous” links antiracism struggles for social justice among Natives in the United States and North America to even broader global efforts among Indigenous Peoples. For discussions of racism as a process,Google Scholar
  6. see Susan Thomas, “Race, Gender, and Welfare Reform: The Antinatalist Response,” Journal of Black Studies 28 (March 1998): 441;Google Scholar
  7. and Cheryl Townsend Gilkes, “From Slavery to Social Welfare: Racism and the Control of Black Women,” in Class, Race, and Sex: The Dynamics of Control, ed. Amy Swerdlow and Hanna Lessinger (Boston: G.K. Hall and Co., 1983), 289.Google Scholar
  8. 6.
    See Stuart Hall, ed., Representation: Cultural Representations and Signifying Practices (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications Inc., 1997);Google Scholar
  9. Hall, “Subjects in History: Making Diasporic Identities,” in The House That Race Built: Black Americans, U.S. Terrain, ed. Wahneema Lubiano (New York: Pantheon Books, 1997), 289–299;Google Scholar
  10. and Hall, “Encoding/Decoding,” in Culture, Media, Language: Working Papers in Cultural Studies, 1972–79, eds. Stuart Hall, et al. (London: Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies, University of Birmingham, 1980), 128–138.Google Scholar
  11. 7.
    Antonio Gramsci’s theory of hegemony not only is helpful in making sense of the antagonism, but also in pinpointing, and understanding, the operations of noncoercive power. Unlike earlier Marxist theories of repression, Gramsci deemphasized overt state-sponsored force and instead stressed the role of public intellectuals, popular culture, and consumption in negotiating broad and spontaneous consent to rule. Writing in prison after 1928, Gramsci suggested that express attention must be devoted to the “everyday” and “common sense” when laboring to locate the instruments of domination. Antonio Gramsci, Selections From the Prison Notebook, edited and translated by Quintin Hoare and Geoffrey Nowell Smith (New York: International Publishers, 1971), 12, 57, 178, 195, 334, 352. Domination and the homogenizing of Indigenous voices are processes located in the state—in federal Indian law, for instance— but, as Gramsci suggests, power also is located in the business and popular culture of athletic entertainment.Google Scholar
  12. 8.
    For a more thorough discussion of identity among Natives in the United States, see Eva Marie Garroutte, Real Indians: Identity and Survival of Native America (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003);Google Scholar
  13. and Devon A. Mihesuah, “American Indian Identities: Issues of Individual Choice and Development,” in Contemporary Native American Cultural Issues, ed. Duane Champagne (Walnut Creek, CA: Alta Mira Press, 1999), 13–38.Google Scholar
  14. 9.
    For more on Dashner, see Tara Browner, Heartbeat of the People: Music and Dance of the Northern Pow-wow (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2002), 38–45;Google Scholar
  15. and Mike Dashner, in Sound of the Drum: A Resource Guide, ed. Sam Cronk (Brantford, Ont.: Woodland Cultural Centre, 1991).Google Scholar
  16. 11.
    For a discussion of the genealogy of naming people Chippewa and Ojibwe, see Gerald Vizenor, The People Named the Chippewa: Narrative Histories (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984), 13–36. As this example offered by Dashner suggests, “Indian” (or, in this case, “Chippewa”) mascots represent signifieds such as certain desired qualities widely associated with normative forms of masculinity, sports, community, racial identity, and American Indians.Google Scholar
  17. 16.
    The body of scholarship devoted to critical assessments of so-called Indian mascots is growing. For sweeping treatments that draw from cultural theory, see C. Richard King and Charles Fruehling Springwood, Beyond the Cheers: Race as Spectacle in College Sport (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2001); and King and Springwood, eds., Team Spirits. See also the Journal of Sport and Social Issues 28 (January 2004), a special issue edited by King. Until the twenty-first century, as the voices of Native scholars increasingly have emerged in graduate programs, among university faculty, and in refereed journals and other publications, the scholarship on mascots among Natives concerned with decolonization, empowerment, and the well-being of Indian nations circulated through conversations at powwows and other face-to-face meeting grounds; in Akwesasne Notes (published in the Kahniakehaka Nation near Rooseveltown, New York) and ABC: Americans Before Columbus, the monthly newsletter of the National Indian Youth Council; and, more recently, in newspapers such as The Circle (Minneapolis), Indian Country Today (Canastota, New York; formerly Rapid City, South Dakota), Native (formerly Oklahoma) Indian Times (Tulsa), and News from Indian Country (Hayward, Wisconsin), to mention only a few. Tim Giago and Cornel D. Pewewardy, to name just two of many contributors, have been writing on this subject for well over a decade. A thorough and discerning review of this scholarship has yet to be published.Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    Dennis J. Banks, “Tribal Names and Mascots in Sports,” Journal of Sport and Social Issues 17 (April 1993), 5–8.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. 19.
    Russell Means, with Marvin J. Ross, Where White Men Fear to Tread: The Autobiography of Russell Means (New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 1995), 223. The American Indian Press Association, incorporated in Denver in 1971, represented 125 Indian newspapers. See Charles E. Trimble, “The American Indian Press Association … a look back,” Indian Country Today, March 28, 2003, accessed May 17, 2004, available from Scholar
  20. 21.
    Harjo described this incident for Brooke Lee Foster, “She’s No Redskin,” Washingtonian 38, no. 6 (2003): 60; and also for Adriene T. Washington, “Indian Activist Tackles Football,” Washington Times, April 26, 1999, C4.Google Scholar
  21. 42.
    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
  22. 43.
    Harris Research Group, Final Results, January 31, 2002, questions 5c and 6b,Google Scholar
  23. quoted in Gavin Clarkson, “Racial Imagery and Native Americans: A First Look at the Empirical Evidence Behind the Indian Mascot Controversy,” Cardozo Journal of International and Comparative Law 11, no. 2 (2003): 399.Google Scholar
  24. 47.
    Roger Huddleston, “Honor the Chief Society Challenges NCAA Mascot Report,” April 4, 2003, accessed August 31, 2003, available from For a well-rounded treatment of the mascot controversy at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign through 1999,Google Scholar
  25. see Carol Spindel, Dancing at Halftime: Sports and the Controversy over American Indian Mascots (New York: New York University Press, 2000).Google Scholar
  26. 55.
    “Editorial: Change in Nickname Strategy,” Grand Forks Herald, March 7, 2002, accessed August 27, 2003, available from 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 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
  31. 89.
    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
  37. 91.
    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

Copyright information

© Amy Bass 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • David Anthony Tyeeme Clark

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations