Oklahoma-born American Indian rights advocate Suzan Shown Harjo has led the fight against team names and mascots deemed disparaging to Native Americans. She led a successful legal challenge in 1992 against the owner of the Washington Redskins. But the initial ruling by Trademark Trial and Appeal Board was overturned, and the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the case.
Now the torch has been passed, and a new generation of advocates is running with it.
Jennie Stockle, a member of the Cherokee Nation, is one of the founders of Eradicating Offensive Native Mascotry, or EONM. Mascotry is a termed coined by another founder.
“That's a term that Jacqueline Keeler actually started to encompass everything surrounds the mascot issue, like red face, cultural appropriation, clowning, abusive stereotypical imagery and language, that sort of thing. It was easier to say,” Stockle said.
EONM brought together Native Americans from across the country through the use of social media, in an effort to end the use of native themed mascots on a national level.
“A lot of times what we found in our local communities, were that the people would say, ‘oh, we don't want to rid of them because look at Washington, D.C. That's a native mascot so we get to keep ours too.’ So it had a real negative effect on what we were trying to accomplish in our own communities,” Stockle said.
Professional sports teams get national publicity merely by playing. With that comes the mascot, be it in on a t-shirt, hat or some person dressed up in their idea of what an Indian looks like, and that’s what America sees.
“Normal, everyday people can't tell the difference and the reason they can't is because these mascots, that are fake, get a platform nationally,” Stockle said.
Stockle said it was a form of “racial propaganda.”
“In 2005, the Associated Press made a resolution stating that these were harmful to Native American children and that's been largely ignored,” Stockle said.
In 2008 a number of studies were released, one by Dr. Stephanie Fryberg, a member of the Tulalip Tribes in Washington State and an associate professor of Social and Cultural Psychology at the University of Arizona.
Fryberg testified before the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs in September of 2011 that the effects on native high school and college students who attended a school with a native mascot was a significant lowering of self-esteem and feelings of community worth and increased levels of anxiety and depression.
“I think it’s time for America at large to realize that these types of negative imagery is having a detrimental effect and we should be able as people, as human beings, to want to help out any group that's suffering so traumatically with bullying or whatever the issue is, to lessen that load,” Stockle said.
EONM started by taking their fight to the FCC by filing complaints every time the Washington football team played.
Disturbed by legislation that abolished the Oklahoma Indian Affairs Commission and recent antics of public figures, Stockle in May took a petition to the Governor’s office hoping to meet with her.
EONM was told it would be a few months before an appointment could be made to see Fallin.
Stockle felt the petition’s requests, such as elevating the Native American liaison’s position to a cabinet position and introducing more Native American curriculum in the public schools, were reasonable.
“I'm not one for making large mandates in public schools. However in this case I think there's a lot of ignorance out there and we have a responsibility to all children, to educate them in a way that they don't grow up and act ignorantly,” Stockle said.
“I don't think saying we need Native American history and culture introduced into elementary and middle schools in Oklahoma is a misstep on anyone's part. We're talking about knowledge gained here and I think that's important,” Stockle said.
KGOU relies on voluntary contributions from readers and listeners to further its mission of public service to Oklahoma and beyond. To contribute to our efforts, make your donation online, or contact our Membership department.