BILLINGS, Mont. — The use of American Indian mascots for sports teams can demean a culture still fighting discrimination and can be a barrier to learning, a panel of experts told a gathering of Indian educators Tuesday.
“We ... have a multiethnic society, and we basically still are culturally illiterate,” Jeff Sanders, who teaches Native American studies at Montana State University-Billings, said.
The chants and caricatures often associated with teams with Indian nicknames are distracting and humiliating for Indians, Charlene Teters said in a forum during the National Indian Education Association conference.
To simply tolerate it, “you get sick,” she said.
But fighting back means fighting strong opposition, with die-hard sports fans loathe to see the names of their favorite teams changed, and division even among Indians, experts said.
Teters said she’s not afraid of the debate in Indian communities. “Ignorance continues to be our biggest enemy,” she said.
Michael Jetty, an adjunct professor of multicultural education at Montana State University, said he roots against teams with Indian mascots, “because the bottom line for them is money. And if they’re losing, they’re not making money.”
The issue is an important one, Jetty said. “It’s an issue of people treating people with respect.”
Jetty said, however, some reservation schools continue to use such team nicknames.
John Orendorff, a counselor at a high school in Los Angeles, said he and his son should not have to see derogatory signs if they go to local sporting events. Similar references to other groups of people would not be tolerated, he said.
“My fear is that Indians are seen as less than human,” he said.
The message sent by mascots and nicknames is a confusing one for Indian children, Orendorff said.
If he roots against a team called the Indians, “what does that do to my son?” he said. “He’s wondering, Who’s an Indian?”