Native American mascots akin to ‘Blackface’; Ohio resolution seeks to eliminate them in schools

COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Native American mascots and imagery in sports are as damaging as Blackface, said a lawyer who commends a resolution to retire them at the high school level in Ohio.

“It’s unconscionable to think of another non-white group of people … as our mascot,” says Chase Iron Eyes, a member of the Lakota Nation and attorney with The Lakota People’s Law Project.

In central Ohio, several high schools have Native American-derived mascot names and/or imagery in their logos, including: Coshocton Redskins, Utica Redskins, Bucyrus Redmen, Hillsboro Indians, Canal Winchester Indians, Mt. Gilead Indians, Logan Chieftains, Bellefontaine Chieftains, Watkins Memorial Warriors, and Adena Warriors.

“Braves” at Olentangy High School and Columbus city’s Whetstone High School recently changed their logos, keeping a nod to their past. Olentangy kept two feathers on a block O, and Whetstone an arrow behind a W.

Resolution to retire Native American mascots in Ohio schools

Reps. Adam Miller (D-Columbus) and Jessica E. Miranda (D-Forest Park) in August introduced a resolution encouraging Ohio’s schools to retire the use of Native American mascots and to engage Native American groups as part of that process.

“Changing tradition is hard — this is not an easy thing,” said Krista Davis, chief communications officer at Olentangy Local Schools. She spearheaded a three-year drive to overhaul imagery, mascots and logos for 26 buildings.

“Our overall goal in our brand project was to eliminate Native American imagery and also to eliminate trademark infringements which we had across the board at our high school level. We did talk about that quite a bit with schools that did have Native American imagery.”

Parents of Native American descent also weighed in.

“We did have community members that shared Native American perspectives with us, and individual people on brand committees who shared feelings and opinions,” Davis said.

Some mascot names are racial slurs for Native Americans

Iron Eyes says using Native American-derived names, some of which are racial slurs, for mascots and logo imagery damages kids.

“There may not be an ill intent inside of every person who says, ‘Look, this is my culture, my tradition, this is our tradition. We grew up with the Redmen, we grew up with the Savages, or the Redskins.’

“But what people don’t realize is that we have children, too. Those who [are called] Redmen or Savages or Redskins, we’ve got to take our children to these games if we want to participate in life.”

Native American mascots akin to Blackface

Native American psychologists know these mascots cause a degradation in self esteem.

“We need concrete examples, and the best [parallel] I can think of is the Blackface.”

Iron Eyes regards the word “redskins” as a racial slur equivalent to the n-word, and in this interview often said “r-word” when referring to the former name of Washington’s NFL team.

NBC4 reached out to superintendents of schools in central Ohio about the mascot resolution. Only Olentangy Local Schools and Columbus City Schools responded.

“Whetstone High School has phased out the official use of Native American imagery in its school and athletic program branding over the past several years,” said a Columbus City Schools spokesperson. “The Whetstone High School community recognizes that, while once a widely used practice, the use of any community of people as mascots is not in line with who we are.”

Eleven Redskins and Five Redmen in Ohio high school mascot names

In Ohio, 79 high schools have Native American-derived nicknames and mascots, according to the Ohio High School Athletic Association. The list includes 24 with the name Indians, 11 with Redskins and five with Redmen. Others included Apaches, Arrows, Braves, Chieftains, Chipps, Mohawks, Raiders, Seminoles, Senecas and Warriors.

In an email statement OHSAA provided a link to the list and said: “Each school district chooses its own school colors, fight song, mascot, motto, etc., without OHSAA involvement.  That is a school district decision.”