Native American Ethnic Team Names

Vincent Methot

Aboriginal people have been living on the American continent for thousands of years now and the colonization by the European lead to changes in their lifestyle and habits. Barely 500 years after Christopher Colombus landed on the eastern shore of North America and a century after the opening of residential schools,non-native professional and amateur sports teams are now closing their eyes on the miserable treatments that the Natives endured due to mercantilism and eurocentrism and now appropriate aboriginal nicknames and images to represent their teams. The stereotyping and misrepresentation that surrounds the appropriation of indigenous symbols in sports have been a subject of cultural debate in North America since the 1960's.

Back in 1845, a painter named Paul Kane made a trip out west into indian country where he though he would be able to portray the perfect indian, an entity that he characterised as the noble savage in his natural setting.(16-17) Allready then, White people wanted to get memoirs and imagery of what they defined as the ''vanishing race''. They travelled miles to capture a memory of those mysterious people. What the painters and photographers did however was appropriating and taking possession of the Indian image. The identity of Natives is displayed by painters through appropriation, they would represent the Indian as they wanted and people would believe that these representations were the purest because they had never seen an Indian before. (43) There is a relation between the oldest Native paintings and the sports team using aboriginal names as an identity that is misrepresented. The paintings falsely represent the Natives because they have allready been acculturated to White culture at the moment of the drawing, therefore it is not the pure Indian that is represented. Similar with the appropriation of images and names to represent a team that isn't related to Native tribes and culture which is a misrepresentation because few aspect of the team's culture, if any, are linked with Natives initially. It doesn't seperate the Indian image of the past and present realities from the fictional past. No non-native know how indigenous live before their arrival and their image of the aboriginal life is an idealised one of what they thougth life might have been beofre contact. (41)

Some might find the use of classic Native American image as heroic and romantic, but other might find it disrepectful and perceive it as an offensive use of stereotyping. The appropriation of aboriginality to represent a non-native teams is mischosen and misrepresents its identity because Native culture is unknown by members of the team who would be characterised by francis as ''narrow-minded about many aspects of their culture.'' (21) Adding to that, the appropriation of Native images and nicknames is hypocritical since the westerners have totaly acculturated the Indigenous tribes into western culture and used force against them by placing Indians into reserves and throwing youngsters into residential school in order to force a cultural genocide. The persecutions experienced are put aside when teams use Natives to represent an organisation, Francis states that, ''Having first of all destroyed many aspects of native culture, White society now turned around and admire dits own recreation of what it had destroyed.'' (36) They wipe off the past and forget the treatments that the White population have inplemented to Natives and now use them as a symbol without any guilt.

In a world where the control is maintained by the rich and the powerful, minorities like Natives try to strike back and defend their right as a population and culture but their voices are silenced. However, for this particular case, their voice might emerge and lead to some changes. In fact, charges are taken by Natives to overthrow ethnic identity theft in sports. In February 2013 the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian held a symposium, "Racist Stereotypes and Cultural Appropriation in American Sports."' (Commito, 2013) Conferences are held by Natives where they are able to express themselves in front of influent people in sports about a subject by which they are affected greatly. While lucrative business in professional sports are making enormous amount of money, Natives representant argue that their identity isn't being portrayed and depicted as it should be. Teams claim that they are honoring the history of the Native Americans by associating their name with courage, ferocity and strenght of the Indian. But activist claim that the ''Aboriginals are never portrayed in contemporary fashion nor have teams selected other, more fitting qualities like intelligence or generosity.'' (Commito, 2013) The image that is represented by teams of either the Major League of Baseball, the National Hockey League or the National Football League pictures the misrepresented historic Indian and it's wildness rather that the contemporary Indian and their values.

Suzan Shown Harjo, a prominent Native-American activist and author, predicts that ''along with the NFL's Redskins and Chiefs, the Braves and Indians' monikers in Major League Baseball and the Blackhawks' name in the National Hockey League will be "all gone in five years." (Gianatasio, 2013) Changing the name of a professional organization is never easy but some teams have done it in the past, the Washington Bullets in the National Basketball League became the Wizards. Even know the process is complicated, the success of an organization revolves around its fan base and a simple change in the name won't lead into a shift in someone's favorite team. The change of a derogatory racist name like the 'redskins' would be a turning point into the tolerance and acceptance of Native rights and respecting their population by depicting and portraying them respectfully. I am questioning myself about the fairness and ethical concern about this, if another race was concerned, ''would these types of misrepresentations and racist stereotypes be allowed to continue?'' (Commito, 2013) The situation with Native Americans has kept on going and first nation's image have been appropriated and misrepresented in a racist way by professional sports organization for 50 years now.


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