indianz.com your internet resource indianz.com on facebook indianz.com on twitter indianz.com on Google+
ph: 202 630 8439   fax: 202 318 2182
Indian Law Online Master Degree
Advertise on Indianz.Com
Home > News > Headlines
Print   Subscribe
Doug George-Kanentiio: Students show courage on mascot

Filed Under: Opinion
More on: doug george-kanentiio, mascots, mohawk, new york, redskins
   

The students of the Cooperstown Central Junior/Senior High School had the courage to do what Daniel Snyder, the billionaire owner of the Washington Redskins, lacks; the willingness to tolerate abuse and condemnation by electing to remove a team mascot deemed offensive by those it was supposed to honor.

For the past generation indigenous people, organizations and nations have appealed to sports teams, which use derogatory nicknames like Redskins, Savages, Braves and Squaws. These mascots are rooted in racism, stemming from an era when Natives were seen as little more than stone-age brutes, war-like, primitive and barely human. They were impediments to the expansion of Europeans into the continent. By reducing Natives to subhuman status the theft of their lands, the reduction of their culture and the forcible indoctrination of their children have been justified.

The suffering and harm endured by those Natives who survived were barely acknowledged and further qualified by the distortions and outright lies in school books, popular literature and the mass media, particularly movies. It is not surprising that American academic institutions, which should be places to learn and disseminate knowledge, were among the worse perpetrators of these stereotypes since schools represent the era and circumstances of their place.

Cooperstown is one of those secure small towns, which are not easily swayed by popular social movements. It is the home of James Fenimore Cooper, the author of the Leatherstocking Tales, a series of books that entrenched the idea of the woodland savage. Located 60 miles southwest of Albany, the area is within the aboriginal territory of the Mohawk Nation. It is called Oh:sten:ha:nat (Otsego) the Rock Town, named after a boulder where the Mohawk people met before descending the Ka:wa:no:nen:ne (Susquehanna River) for points south.

The Mohawks lost active control over the area during the American Revolution when they elected to fight alongside their British allies and were driven from their homes to find refuge across the Great Lakes or on a tiny strip of land on the banks of the St. Lawrence River. In their place, the land was lost to avaricious land speculators including William Cooper, the father of James.

A thousand years, if not more, of Mohawk history in the region was lost. But the image of Native men lurking in the forests, scalping tomahawk in hand, persisted. It endured in the mascots chosen by sports teams and school across New York State and the nation. No effort was made to actually consult with the Native nations to ask them how they felt when reduced to cartoons. But in recent years the tide of history has changed and most universities and high schools realize the harm such images have caused followed by decisions to retire these names.

The reaction has been powerful, emotional and hostile by some factions who accuse the advocates for change as victims of political correctness. This despite the overwhelming opposition to Native mascots by reputable indigenous leaders and organizations. Now it was time for Cooperstown to make its decision.

The background to the motion made by the Cooperstown high school was rooted in the student council led by president Jake Burnham. For years the Mohawks and other Iroquois have been taking part in various cultural events at the Fenimore Museum. Its current manager of education programs is Maria Vann. She has accelerated the Museum's Native presence from sponsoring contemporary art shows to live music concerts featuring Joanne Shenandoah among others. This work prepared the grounds for the students to act.

There were many opponents to the retiring of the Redskins moniker with some of the most vocal coming from within the high school. But C.J. Herbert, the superintendent of the Cooperstown Central Schools and David Borgstrom, president of the area's Board of Education, saw the need to hold public forums about the mascot issue. After heated debate the school board voted 6-1 on March 6 to honor the request of the students and remove the Redskins effective June 30. During that time submissions will be accepted for a new team name.

On March 11 I went to the Junior/Senior High School to make a presentation I called "'Who Do the Mohawks Think They Are?" accompanied by my wife Joanne Shenandoah. Grades four to 12 met at the auditorium to listen to my summation of Mohawk history, our current status and the profound way in which racist images such as the Redskins cause us harm. I used a large screen to project photographs of our people, our athletes and our sports teams with particular emphasis on the Iroquois Nationals lacrosse team.

I summarized the ways in which Native technologies have affected each one them from the clothes they wore to the food they ate. I walked them through our culture given them a sense of our moral beliefs, our spirituality and customs. I also spoke about the origins of the sports they enjoy from lacrosse to basketball. In addition, the students heard Native music as Joanne sang to them to set the conditions for the lectures.

The younger students were particularly enthusiastic about new names for their teams with some of those rooted in Iroquois epics: wolves, fire dragons, celestial bears, stone giants, panthers and water serpents. My suggestion was to call themselves the Cooperstown Rock after the boulder on the south shore of the nearby lake. Or, if they wanted to honor the best ironworkers in the world, the Skywalkers.

Whatever they decide the students, faculty and administration of Cooperstown Central School deserve praise for the manner in which the Redskins were removed. Perhaps Mr. Snyder and the Washington Redskins team could learn true honor from the Cooperstown students as to doing the right and moral thing.

Doug George-Kanentiio, Akwesasne Mohawk, is a co-founder of the Native American Journalists Association, a former member of the Board of Trustees for the National Museum of the American Indian and the author of many books and articles about Native history and current issues. His latest book is "Iroquois on Fire". He may be reached via e-mail: Kanentiioaol.com. Kanentiio resides on Oneida Iroquois Territory in central New York State.

More from Doug George-Kanentiio:
Doug George-Kanentiio: Freeing Aboriginal people in Canada (3/15)
Doug George-Kanentiio: A Mohawk's perspective on 'Redskins' (2/15)


Copyright © Indianz.Com
More headlines...
Stay Connected:
Local Links:
Federal Register | Indian Gaming | Jobs & Notices | In The Hoop | Message Board
Latest News:
Tim Giago: An independent candidate awakens 'Party' zombies (9/22)
Mark Trahant: Huge crowd turns out for People's Climate March (9/22)
Native Sun News: Native women speaking out against violence (9/22)
Jon Tester: Bill protects Special Diabetes Program for Indians (9/22)
Dante Desiderio: Working together to address tribal tax issue (9/22)
Native Sun News: Tribes united against Keystone XL Pipeline (9/19)
Regina Brave: The earth that once was will soon be no more (9/19)
Chelsey Luger and Gyasi Ross: A conversation about suicide (9/19)
Cobell settlement checks being cashed across Indian Country (9/19)
Congress passes measure for tribal general welfare programs (9/19)
Native Sun News: US Senate candidates debate Native issues (9/18)
Cobell settlement checks landing in Indian Country mailboxes (9/18)
Sen. Walsh welcomes arrival of last Cobell settlement payout (9/18)
Rep. Daines praises House action on tribal general welfare bill (9/18)
Winnebago attorney joins BIA as a deputy assistant secretary (9/18)
NWIFC schedules briefing on 'Treaty Rights 101' on Capitol Hill (9/18)
Norbert Hill: It's past time to drop the Washington NFL mascot (9/18)
Peter d'Errico: Connecting mascots to racism and termination (9/18)
Opinion: Eliminating NFL team's racist mascot is just the start (9/18)
Student newspaper punished over refusal to print the R-word (9/18)
Officer investigated for 'drunk uneducated animals' comment (9/18)
9th Circuit rules against Chemehuevi Tribe in land deed case (9/18)
Mashable: Oglala Sioux man still pushing MazaCoin currency (9/18)
City won't allow vote on Tohono O'odham Nation casino plan (9/18)
9th Circuit poses tough questions in Big Lagoon casino case (9/18)
North Fork Rancheria banks on voter approval of casino deal (9/18)
KBIC judge dismisses lawsuit challenging plan for new casino (9/18)
Oneida Nation concerned about location of commercial casino (9/18)
Mashantucket Tribe's gaming executive to resign next month (9/18)
Column: Time for Mohegan Tribe to show its hand over casino (9/18)
Native Sun News: Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe honors veterans (9/17)
Mark Trahant: Is independence in the future for tribal nations? (9/17)
Audio: SCIA takes up bill to bar Tohono O'odham Nation casino (9/17)
House approves bill to address tribal general welfare programs (9/17)
House Natural Resources Committee sets markup on tribal bills (9/17)
House subcommittee to hold hearing on bill for Hualapai Tribe (9/17)
9th Circuit takes up Big Lagoon Rancheria gaming land dispute (9/17)
House passes bill to shield Gun Lake Tribe casino from litigation (9/17)
Andre Cramblit: Enjoying life at Dartmouth as a Native student (9/17)
Dina Gilio-Whitaker: Tribes need to lead climate change reform (9/17)
Sarah Deer wins genius grant for work to protect Native women (9/17)
Tex Hall loses bid for another term as chair of North Dakota tribe (9/17)
Group starts dragging of river in search of missing Native women (9/17)
Appeal filed over Navajo language ability of presidential hopeful (9/17)
Trial delayed for leader of Muscogee Nation accused in theft case (9/17)
Editorial: Pass bill to extend federal recognition to Virginia tribes (9/17)
NLRB reaffirms jurisdiction over Little River Band gaming facility (9/17)
Chumash Tribe to use labor unions for all work on casino project (9/17)
Student arrested over theft at Saginaw Chippewa Tribe's casino (9/17)
more headlines...

Home | Arts & Entertainment | Business | Canada | Cobell Lawsuit | Education | Environment | Federal Recognition | Federal Register | Forum | Health | Humor | Indian Gaming | Indian Trust | Jack Abramoff Scandal | Jobs & Notices | Law | National | News | Opinion | Politics | Sports | Technology | World

Indianz.Com Terms of Service | Indianz.Com Privacy Policy
About Indianz.Com | Advertise on Indianz.Com

Indianz.Com is a product of Noble Savage Media, LLC and Ho-Chunk, Inc.