Debate Over Native American Mascots Rages On
When I went to Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, in the early 1990s, the football team was known as the Redskins. The mascot wore face paint and a large headdress and skipped around the field with a tomahawk. Game day looked a bit like Valentine’s Day when thousands of freshmen and sports fans across campus wore their red shirts with the Indian head emblem.
I think it was my sophomore year when I learned the etymology of “redskins” and I was outraged. I remember informing a rather large linebacker that the term redskins was offensive, because it came from the practice of scalping. (This may or may not be true. I can’t find any evidence to back that up now. There was also a tribe that painted itself with ochre.) This football player told me how he and his teammates wore that name with pride. My heart jumped into my throat when he showed me the mascot tattooed on his muscular calf.
The National Congress of American Indians had been campaigning at the time to change similar sports names because it perpetuated an insensitivity and misunderstanding of tribes. Many teams continue to use these names saying they are paying homage to tribes' bravery and strength.
Miami’s student union -- where students met to study and get their caramel lattes -- was commonly referred to as the “rez” for reservation. It wasn’t until my senior year that I realized this was a bit ridiculous and probably offensive, as the student population was overwhelmingly white.
Today I’ve had the great opportunity to spend some time on reservations and they are nothing like Miami’s student union. Many tribal members don’t have indoor plumbing and often haul their water from several miles away. The Navajo Nation is dealing with high unemployment and crime rates. Indian Country in northern Arizona is also some of the most picturesque painted desert I’ve ever seen. And the people have some of the most beautiful traditions.
In 1996, the year after I graduated, my alma mater became the Red Hawks when the Miami Indian Tribe asked the school to change it. As an alumni I received a card in the mail requesting my mascot suggestion. I offered the “red bricks” because the campus buildings and streets were covered with them.