In Rhode Island: “I Am Not Your Mascot” Presentation

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The mascot issue doesn’t just get attention on Opening Day, although that is probably when you hear about it most.  One of my fellow members of the Lake Erie Professional Chapter of the American Indian Science & Engineering Society recently shared with me an event she helped run in New London, Connecticut to educate people on the issue.  The event, called “I am Not a Mascot”, was held June 9th at the All Souls Unitarian Universalist congregation (http://www.allsoulsnewlondon.org).  Alex is the Task Force Chair for the Growing Racial and Cultural Equity group (G.R.A.C.E.) in the congregation, and the presentation was a G.R.A.C.E. event.  Many UU congregations, which focus on respect for everyone and everything despite their differences, have been adapting similar programs.

The “I am Not a Mascot” presentation was given by Lorén Spears, a citizen of the Narragansett Indian Tribe which is surrounded by Rhode Island State.  Lorén is also the executive director of the Tomaquag Museum, dedicated to indigenous education and located in Exeter, Rhode Island.  She received a Bachelor’s of Science in Elementary Education from the University of Rhode Island, a Master’s in Education from the University of New England, spent years teaching in public schools and also as an adjunct professor at the University of Rhode Island (Native literature), and even founded the Nuweetooun School.  She works to educate the public in traditional knowledge passed down from her Elders, including traditional cooking, beadwork, language, basketry, weaving, traditional dance, music, and oral history.  The Tomaquaq Museum (http://www.tomaquaqmuseum.org/home) also has a number of podcasts and videos on its website.

Alex provided some notes for how the presentation went and what was covered.  Some highlights included discussions of the term “r*dskin” – a racial slur that came from a time when Natives were skinned and the skins were exchanged for money.  This led into talking about the Washington team and its refusal to change the name despite the fact that the name is offensive and comes from a violent part of American history.  The history of the Cleveland team was also discussed, its logo having started with just a “C” which progressively became offensive (a pictured slide is shown below with the logo changes by year).  High schools are still using stereotypical and offensive mascots and names, though that is starting to change.  (Several State school boards have outlawed such things and require schools to make a change in the next couple of years.)  Social Media has made It easier for Natives to combat these stereotypes as they can rally from far and wide and made an online presence where they would otherwise be left unheard.  Finally, psychologists have proven that these negative (and allegedly “positive”) stereotypes, misrepresentations, and cultural appropriations have all caused psychological harm to indigenous peoples.  Lorén also gave examples of other logos that have been changed, like the Golden State Warriors, but also examples of mascots with African-American references that have been terminated.

On one slide, some facts are shared that counter the argument often heard that nothing’s going to change.  Rather, 2/3 of over 2000 “Indian” references in sports have been eliminated in the last 35 or so years.  28 high schools, to date, have changed their “R-word” name.  In addition to this information, the Cleveland baseball team is largely phasing out to a Block C logo.  The Washington football team was stripped of all its trademark rights.  Oregon has recently joined the growing list of states that ban Native mascots in schools, including California’s advancement of the bill to ban the “R-word” name at schools.  In Madison schools, clothing with Native American logos have been banned.  Furthermore, public statements have been made by dozens of tribes and national organizations, such as the American Psychological Society and the American Sociological Society, which share the position that these mascots are unnecessary, harmful, and should be immediately eliminated.  This is especially crucial as these organizations are capitalizing on stereotypes, making these images seem acceptable, perpetuating the feelings of inadequacies in Native youth, playing a role in racial inequality, and most certainly contributing to before battling against the suicide rates and race crimes experienced by Native people, statistics which are all alarmingly the highest by far than any other group, despite being a minority among minorities.

Alex said that everyone who attended the workshop say they learned a lot.

Below are photos provided by Alex from the educational event:

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