Using Native Americans as Mascots

My American Lit class semi-recently picked up the text There There by Tommy Orange (review pending). The prologue of the book lays the historical foundation for a novel following several Native American characters as they gradually drift towards converging at The Big Oakland Powwow.

A section inside the prologue discussed our brutal history with Natives, particularly the common practice for early settlers to decapitate or remove limbs from Indigenous Americans, and carry them around like trophies. There’s some masterful writing here I won’t even attempt to replicate but the juxtaposition that Orange poses is powerful; the idea of keeping heads like souvenirs and the iconography of Natives on sports uniforms–or as some of you might just remember–the Indian head test pattern.

“We have all the logos and mascots…our heads are on flags, jerseys and coins.”

Orange, page 7

This sparked a rather interesting class discussion about people being mascots in general. In recent years you can find any number of articles about a cultural reckoning taking place in suburban high schools across the country. Sports teams named the Chiefs, Redskins, Mohawks, or simply just Indians exist in alarming numbers. This phenomenon is so extensive that there’s a hefty Wikipedia article dedicated to sports teams and mascots derived from Native tribes or cultures, not just within high schools but professional teams across the US.

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