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Reclaiming Native Truth: Why we cannot support racist mascots and images

The following is the text of a letter from the Reclaiming Native Truth Project to USA Today in response to an announcement from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation regarding racist mascots.

We are writing to share our appreciation of the actions of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to end its practice of recognizing sports teams with racist mascots through its RWJF sports awards. We also want to call attention to important research about mascots and their impact on American Indian and Alaska Native youth.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation led with courage in making this decision. As organizations that work with Native youth and in Native communities, we honor that leadership and courage.

In their opinion piece shared in the Monday, May 7 edition of USA Today, the Foundation acknowledged a 2016 Washington Post survey that stated that 90% of Native Americans polled in the survey weren’t offended by the NFL’s Washington football team’s name.

We would like to call attention to additional research that contributes to a deeper understanding of why we cannot support continued use of racist mascots and images. An examination of four studies conducted of American Indian and Alaska Native youth found that exposure to racist mascots affected the self-worth of young people because they viewed the representations as demonstrating how others perceive, this perception reduces their image of themselves to caricatures. This research conducted in 2008 provided early affirmation of the harmful psychological effects of mascots (See: Of Warrior Chiefs and Indian Princesses: The Psychological Consequences of American Indian Mascots by Fryberg, Marcus, Oyserman and Stone,

Additional research conducted in 2014 demonstrated that such images foster a hostile learning environment and diminish the capability of Native youth to respond to challenging socio-economic conditions. (See: Missing the Point: The Real Impact of Native Mascots and Team Names on American Indian and Alaska Native Youth by Phillips and Stegman,

Moreover, the Reclaiming Native Truth Project (RNT), a two-year initiative that conducted unprecedented public opinion with diverse demographics across the U.S.—including with Native Americans, indicates that Native peoples understand the harm caused by mascots. Our research with Native American groups and individual Native Americans throughout the country shows this community is highly offended by Native American mascots.

We urge the American public to learn more about the impact of racist mascots and team names on Native children. And we encourage the American public to learn more about Native people and the values we bring to society. We love our children and our families just as others in United States do – we want what is best for them – healthy, supportive environments where they can thrive.

For more information please visit the Reclaiming Native Truth Project and the National Congress of American Indians.

In appreciation and with hope for a better and more just society,

The Reclaiming Native Truth Project:

Crystal Echo Hawk, Co-Project Leader (Echo Hawk Consulting)

Michael E. Roberts, Co-Project Leader (First Nations Development Institute)

Cheryl Crazy Bull, National Advisory Committee Member (American Indian College Fund)

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