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Government and Politics

New report shows racist mascots harm Native American students
The Center for American Progress recommends retiring racist team names and mascots that denigrate Native Americans

University of Illinois mascot Chief Illiniwek performed for the last time during a basketball game in 2007. A study by the Center for American Progress shows that racist team names and mascots can establish an unwelcome and hostile learning environment for American Indian students.
Courtesy of AP/Seth Perlman; Center for American Progress
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A liberal leaning research institute in Washington says all schools and professional teams around the country should retire any sports mascots that adversely affect the well-being of Native Americans.

For State Impact Ohio, Brian Bull reports.

Bull on retiring sports mascots

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The Center for American Progress’ report says native-themed team names and displays during pep rallies or “spirit weeks can cause confusion, embarrassment, or alienation among native students.

Erik Stegman is co-author of the report

“School’s a tough enough place it to be as it is," according to Stegman, "And when you have to see your culture boiled down to what some non-native person decides they want it to be…that sticks with you the rest of your life."

He says, "when you have to grow up in a place like Cleveland and deal with things like the Cleveland Indians, it really makes native people feel like non-native people A) don’t’ understand them and B) don’t really care what their issues are.” 

Stegman says this isolated feeling can contribute to poor grades, conflicts with classmates and teachers, and substance abuse.

Cynthia Connolly is a member of the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians, and guest columnist for the Plain Dealer.

She agrees with the Center’s report and says it’s hard to work and live near Progressive Field during baseball season.

Connolly says, “It’s really hard to see these young kids wearing face paint and head dresses, and knowing full well that they just don’t fully understand why they’re doing it. But then they’re going to grow up with that tradition and they’re going to think it’s okay. And so that’s where the cycle needs to stop.” 

The Center for American Progress recommends that the U.S. Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights use its full power to eliminate what it calls “hostile environments” in schools.

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