From fashion design to athletics, the appropriation of Native American cultural symbols is pervasive throughout the US. According to #PeopleNotMascots, a digital resource bringing attention to the detrimental misappropriation of Indigenous-inspired symbols in the US educational system, one in 26 secondary schools nationwide brandish a Native American mascot; in North Dakota, the number climbs to one in 15.
Recognizing Indigenous Peoples’ Day, Diné Tiktoker and crochet artist Lily (@sheshortnbrown) spread the word about the resource for identifying and protesting these mascots in your area. The website allows site visitors to search mascots appropriating Indigenous symbols in their state, also offering a template letter addressed to state legislators “to demand that they eliminate Native mascots within your state.”
For decades, Indigenous activists have lambasted the common trend of schools, sports teams, and other organizations appropriating Native American symbols as mascots. The usage of Native mascots is a pervasive issue. Debates around the appropriation of these images have been most visible in the realm of athletics, with several sports teams in recent years conceding to decades of protests and agreeing to change their names, including the Cleveland Indians.
Currently, just Washington, Maine, and Colorado have banned the use of Native mascots. The letter encourages lawmakers to follow in the footsteps of these states, stating: “Historically, Natives have not been treated as human beings. This has been seen through the atrocities such as residential schools, the Long Walk, the Trail of Tears, and mass genocide through colonization, and now Native mascots.”
According to the letter, “Native children that are overly exposed to racist stereotypes are more likely to have lower self-esteem, distance themselves from their culture, have a lower belief in personal achievement, and worsen mood.”
“Native people are not caricatures,” the letter beseeches. “Native people are not a monolith, they are diverse in customs and values. […] By bringing forth a bill alongside the aforementioned states, tax-payer’s funds will no longer be used to propagate harmful and dehumanizing depictions of Indigenous people — a vital step in reckoning with our nation’s past.”