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Tim Giago: American Indians are not mascots

Two things stuck in my mind while watching the New York Yankees lose the last game they played in Cleveland. The first is the three fans the television cameras panned every now and then sitting in the bleachers wearing feathers and hideous painted faces. This detestable display is meant to honor American Indians? Wow, what an honor. Pardon me if I am insulted.

The second was the racist cartoon character of a bucktoothed, red faced, caricature of an Indian logo prominently displayed upon the caps of the Cleveland baseball team. What if that dreadful cartoon character had depicted an African American, a Hispanic American or an Asian American? Would members of these ethnic minorities find this cartoon character to be obnoxious? I think so.

I suppose it ironic that the Cleveland team now travels to play in Boston against the Red Sox. History taught us that while objecting to taxation without representation a bunch of Bostonians painted themselves up as Indians, donned the attire they had probably taken from the bodies of Indians that had been slaughtered in New England, and raided a ship tied up in the harbor in order to dump its cargo of tea.

Did these “patriots” dress up as Indians to honor Indians or did they mimic Indians in order to place the blame for their deeds upon them? History will also tell you that when the Mormons massacred about 120 settlers traveling through Mormon territory at Mountain Meadows on September 11, 1857 they first dressed themselves as Indians. Hey, we all know that no respectable Mormon would take part in a massacre of innocent white men, women and children, so therefore it had to be those savage Indians, right? Everybody should see the movie September Dawn about this terrible massacre. Ask Mitt Romney about it.

Many years ago, when I owned the newspaper Indian Country Today, I had my cartoonist, Thom Little Moon, an Oglala Lakota; draw a cartoon using the Cleveland baseball team logo as the model. He drew the same character as an African American, Hispanic and as an Asian American. The caption was, “Now you know how American Indians feel.”

A poster printed by The National Conference on Christians and Jews, an organization in Minneapolis, MN, portrayed the flags of the New York Fighting Jews, Chicago Blackskins, the San Francisco Orientals and the St. Paul Caucasians. The poster can still be seen hanging on the walls of many Indian organizations and tribes. The poster also said, “Now you know how American Indians feel.” But do you really know how we feel?

To most American Indians it is absolutely abhorrent for a professional football team to use the color of their skin as their team mascot. As a matter of fact, we oftentimes refer to the mascot of the Washington professional football team as the “R” word because to us it is as hideous as the “N” word is to African Americans. I ask you, how can a supposed civilized nation in the year 2007 still use a racist logo and name like “Redskin” and feel that it is an honor to Native Americans? What a terrible way to be honored!

When the four minority media organizations, the National Association of Black Journalists, National Association of Hispanic Journalists, National Association of Asian Journalists, and the Native American Journalists Association meet at the UNITY Convention in Chicago in 2008, I pray that the use of American Indians as mascots for America’s fun and games is high on the list of subjects they bring to the table. So far the Indian people of America have fought this battle alone. UNITY should know that racism in any form against any minority is racism that impacts all minorities and makes it much easier for racists to extend their form of racism to other races.

Perhaps Indians are alone in their fight to shed the dubious honor bestowed upon them by sports team owners, but it is indeed, an honor that should be equally shared by all minorities.

I ask anyone reading this column, whether you hate what I am writing here or not, just open your mind when you watch the playoffs between the Red Sox and the Indians and ask yourself if the grinning caricature of an American Indian is racist. Replace that face with another racial minority and see how the shoe fits. And if you saw the Washington professional football game where the team’s fanatical fans painted a pig red, planted feathers on its head, and chased it around the football field at halftime and were not repelled by it, you wouldn’t know racism if it bit you on the behind.

American Indians are human beings and not mascots for America’s high schools, colleges or professional sports teams’ fun and games.

Tim Giago, an Oglala Lakota, was born, raised and educated on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. He was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard in the Class of 1991 and founder of The Lakota Times and Indian Country Today newspapers. He founded and was the first president of the Native American Journalists Association. He can be reached at

More Tim Giago:
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Tim Giago: The origins of Native American Day (10/1)
Tim Giago: Growing up in Kyle, Pine Ridge Reservation (9/24)
Tim Giago: Healing the wounds that haunt Pine Ridge (9/17)
Tim Giago: Closing a dark chapter at Pine Ridge (9/10)
Tim Giago: AIM responsible for Anna Mae's death (9/4)
Tim Giago: 'Commod bods' going out of fashion (8/27)
Tim Giago: Tribes should include all their citizens (8/20)
Tim Giago: Hollywood dashes hopes of 'Wounded Knee' (8/6)
Tim Giago: Honeymoon is over for California tribes (7/30)
Tim Giago: Modern Indian heroes compiled in book (7/23)
Tim Giago: Media errors in 'State of Native Nations' (7/9)
Tim Giago: Columnist disparages Native people (7/2)
Tim Giago: Pine Ridge still needs a hand up (6/25)
Tim Giago: The great horse of the Pawnee Nation (6/18)
Tim Giago: Indians still the most misunderstood (6/11)
Tim Giago: The theft of the sacred Black Hills (6/4)
Tim Giago: Clear and present danger to sovereignty (5/28)
Tim Giago: Rich tribes still not helping poor ones (5/21)
Tim Giago: Standing ground against 'Dropout Nation' (5/14)
Tim Giago: Indian prophecies and medicine (5/7)
Tim Giago: Help the poorest county in America (4/30)
Tim Giago: Honoring those who died at Washita (4/23)
Tim Giago: Mainstream media ignores the real issues (4/16)
Tim Giago: Racism and hypocrisy over Imus (4/11)
Tim Giago: Kill the Indian and save the child (4/9)
Tim Giago: The dark legacy of boarding schools (4/2)
Tim Giago: Tribes continue to surrender sovereignty (3/26)
Tim Giago: Venezuela steps up for Indian nations (3/19)
Tim Giago: Cherokee Nation votes out Freedmen (3/12)
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Tim Giago: Thanksgiving - A holiday of the imagination (11/22)
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