your internet resource on facebook on twitter on Google+ on soundcloud
phone: 202 630 8439
Health Coverage for American Indians and Alaska Natives
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: 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:
On Facebook

On Twitter

On Google+

On SoundCloud
Local Links:
Federal Register | Indian Gaming | Jobs & Notices | In The Hoop | Message Board
Latest News:
Native Sun News: Family questions FBI on reservation death (11/25)
Lakota Country Times: Rosebud students earn top scholarship (11/25)
Brandon Ecoffey: Making a difference for people on Pine Ridge (11/25)
Yurok Tribe: Mourning the passing of 'visionary' Troy Fletcher (11/25)
Ned Blackhawk: Supreme Court case jeopardizes tribal rights (11/25)
Steve Russell: The real origins of the world's terrorism crisis (11/25)
Ramona Peters: Sharing a Wampanoag story of Thanksgiving (11/25)
Yatibaey Evans: Let's all teach the truth about Native history (11/25)
Martie Simmons: Every Native parent dreads this time of year (11/25)
Eric Metaxas: The 'miracle' of Squanto and first Thanksgiving (11/25)
Presidential Medal of Freedom presented to late Billy Frank Jr (11/25)
Oneida Nation opens first branch location of tribal-owned bank (11/25)
Virginia tribes continue to pay tribute required by 1677 treaty (11/25)
Chukchansi Tribe reaches new agreement for shuttered casino (11/25)
Poarch Band to welcome visitors to $65M expansion at casino (11/25)
Stillaguamish Tribe debuts eatery and microbrewery at casino (11/25)
Connecticut tribes consider proposals for third gaming facilty (11/25)
Mark Pilarski: Why are games different at some tribal casinos? (11/25)
Tribes seek support for Native language instruction programs (11/24)
Rep. Mullin confirms divisions in Indian Country on Carcieri fix (11/24)
President Obama to award Medal of Freedom to Billy Frank Jr. (11/24)
Sault Tribe pushes for passage of Tribal Labor Sovereignty Act (11/24)
Lakota Country Times: Charles Trimble recognized for writings (11/24)
Native Sun News Editorial: Some new names in Indian Country (11/24)
Jim Kent: South Dakota lands in the news again for corruption (11/24)
John Yellowbird Steele: Bill tries to hijack recognition process (11/24)
Albert Bender: 'The Green Inferno' hits new low in racist films (11/24)
Peter d'Errico: Anti-Indian wars continue in US Supreme Court (11/24)
Anne Keala Kelly: US government wants to steal Hawaii again (11/24)
Counties ask Supreme Court to hear Ute Tribe boundary case (11/24)
Shinnecock Nation considers entering medical marijuana field (11/24)
USDA policy eases return of traditional food to tribal facilities (11/24)
Sitka Tribe asks FBI to consider racial bias in student's arrest (11/24)
Court sides with Indian inmates over closure of sweat lodge (11/24)
Former employee accused of cheating Grand Traverse Band (11/24)
Tribes with special acts of Congress face hurdles for gaming (11/24)
Enterprise Rancheria addresses concerns about gaming site (11/24)
Mohegan Tribe signs partner for $5B casino proposal in Korea (11/24)
Bart Hinkle: States trying to protect their gaming monopolies (11/24)
Blackfeet Nation wins ruling against development at sacred site (11/23)
Center for Native American Youth hires new executive director (11/23)
Quinault Nation slams approval of genetically modified salmon (11/23)
Native Sun News: Great Plains people key in defeating Keystone (11/23)
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.