Native Nicknames

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More news from the department of mildly offensive college mascots: a new Wisconsin law allows the state to ban all ethnic sports nicknames. According to an NPR piece by Brian Bull:

The day Wisconsin’s new sports-mascot law took effect, Oneida tribal member Carol Gunderson and her husband, Harvey, drove three hours to the state capital, Madison, to file their complaint in person.

The reason, Carol Gunderson says, is “because it’s the first law in the whole United States that addresses this issue. We didn’t want it to get lost in the mail.”

Gunderson was very careful nothing got lost. In seeking to the name of her local public high school’s team from the Chieftains, the Gundersons “submitted 550 pages of research that they say proves discrimination against Native Americans.”

In 1968 the National Congress of American Indians began a campaign to challenge widespread use of Indian mascots. Dartmouth College appears to be the first school in the country to discontinue the use of an Indian mascot due to offensiveness. In 1969 Dartmouth teams became the “Big Green.” They had previously been the Indians.

Gunderson maintains that the Indian mascots promote discrimination and stereotyping.

Some disagree, arguing that giving largely white (or black) teams Indian nicknames actually honors the tribes that used to populate the United States. According to the article:

Bob Kliebenstein of Tomah, Wis., says that was the case with the Tomah Indians. He’s still upset that the school board changed the mascot to the Timberwolves a few years ago. He says there’s no telling where the mascot wars will go next.

“Right now, the trendy thing seems to be to get rid of Native American mascots. And in three to five years, the trendy thing might be to get rid of animal mascots. And after that, who knows? We might all have to just be one mascot, just real generic.”

Technically, Wisconsin schools are allowed to keep their mascots if they make specific reference to an actual, recognized Indian tribe. That means that Indians, Chiefs, and certainly Redskins are out, but Sioux, Cherokee, and Blackfoot are allowed. [Image via]

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer