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Obama takes aim at racist mascots and harmful stereotypes

President Barack Obama delivers remarks at the White House Tribal Nations Conference in Washington, D.C, on November 5, 2015. Still image from White House / YouTube

President Barack Obama spoke out against racist mascots and harmful stereotypes at the seventh annual White House Tribal Nations Conference on Thursday.

Obama said the presence of "Indian" mascots in schools affects American Indian and Alaska Native youth. Studies have confirmed the negative impacts of stereotypical images, symbols and logos on a population that already faces cultural, economic and societal pressures.

"If you’re living in a society that devalues your culture, or perpetuates stereotypes, you may be devaluing yourself," Obama told tribal leaders and Native youth who gathered in Washington, D.C., for the event. "We have to preserve those bonds, break stereotypes. I believe that includes our sports teams -- because we all need to do more to make sure that our young people feel supported and respected."

Obama also thanked adidas for launching an initiative to help high schools eliminate their "Indian" mascots. The sports apparel company is offering design support and financial assistance to ensure that such changes aren't cost prohibitive.

Indianz.Com SoundCloud: President Barack Obama at the White House Tribal Nations Conference November 5, 2015

"For Adidas to make that commitment, it's a very smart thing to do because those schools now really don't have an excuse, Obama said.

But Obama doesn't think schools are the only ones who should be held accountable. He again singled out the Washington NFL team for maintaining its racist mascot despite opposition from prominent Native activists of all ages, hundreds of tribal leaders and nearly every inter-tribal and Indian organization in the United States.

"I don't know if Adidas made the same offer to a certain NFL team here in Washington but they might want to think about that as well," Obama said.

Adidas is not focusing on professional teams or those at the collegiate level but the Washington NFL franchise quickly accused the company of hypocrisy.

“Adidas make hundreds of millions of dollars selling uniforms to teams like the Chicago Blackhawks and the Golden State Warriors, while profiting off sales of fan apparel for the Cleveland Indians, Florida State Seminoles, Atlanta Braves and many other like-named teams," a spokesperson said in a statement that was quoted in numerous media outlets. The team, however, does not appear to have responded directly to Obama's remarks.

The company otherwise drew praise for its initiative, the first of its kind for a major corporation.

“This remarkable stand against racism by adidas illustrates that the issue of ending the use of the R-word is not going away, but is instead gaining momentum as people understand the damaging impacts of this racial slur," Oneida Nation Representative Ray Halbritter said in a press release. The tribe is leading the Change the Mascot campaign against the NFL team's racist symbol.

"There is no room for intolerance and discrimination in our schools and communities," Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Washington), a former chairwoman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, said in a press release. "Adidas’ decision today shows leadership in breaking down barriers to achieve diversity and inclusion. I hope other companies take a page from their playbook."

Adidas is asking schools that are interested in eliminating their mascots to email

Additional Coverage:
Obama again urges Redskins name change (USA Today 11/6)
Adidas Will Pay Your High School to Change Its Offensive Mascot (Bloomberg News 11/6)
Obama praises Adidas move to help schools eliminate Native American mascots (Philly Voice 11/6)
Adidas stand against Native American high school mascots praised by Obama, condemned by Redskins (The Washington Post 11/5)
Adidas offers to help eliminate Native American mascots (AP 11/5)
Obama takes jab at Washington Redskins’ name (ABC 11/5)
Obama Puts Redskins Debate Back in Play (The Wall Street Journal 11/5)
Obama commends Adidas for discouraging Native American mascots (CBS News 11/5)
Obama backs effort to remove Native American mascots from sports teams (The Guardian 11/5)
Lisa Blatt: The legal mind behind the Redskins ‘Take Yo Panties Off’ trademark defense (The Washington Post 11/5)
Should the ‘R-word’ be banned on attire at schools? One parent thinks so. (The Washington Post 11/5)
Dispute over 'Redskins' name hits home at Montgomery County school (The Baltimore Sun 11/4)

Related Stories:
Transcript: President Obama at Tribal Nations Conference (11/6)
Adidas launches effort to help schools with Indian mascots (11/5)
Annual White House Tribal Nations Conference opens in DC (11/5)
Fact Sheet: White House Tribal Nations Conference in 2015 (11/5)
President Obama welcomes Karen Diver as Native advisor (11/5)
Obama to speak with Native youth at Tribal Nations Conference (11/2)
Obama issues proclamation for Native American Heritage Month (10/30)
Vice President Biden reflects on triumphs of key Indian policies (10/28)
White House Tribal Nations Conference on November 5 in D.C. (10/20)

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