National Coaltion on Racism in Sports and Media
November 20, 2001

For Release: November 15, 2001

Press Contact: Vernon Bellecourt
Call: 612-721-3914 or Fax: 612-721-7826
Web Address:

Tuesday, November 20, 2001, 10:00 a.m.
Re: American Indian Forum on Racism in Sports and Media,
11:00 a.m. - 3:30 p.m.

Location: Black Bear Crossing, Pavilion Place Meeting Center
1360 N. Lexington Parkway (on Lake Como)
St. Paul, MN

Participants: Billy Mills, Oglala Lakota Nation, 1964 Gold Medal Olympian; Charlene Teters, Spokane Nation, Vice-President NCRSM; Juanita Helphrey, Hidatsa Nation, Justice and Witness Ministries United Church of Christ, and Secretary Treasurer of NCRSM; Mary Kettering, Cheyenne River Lakota, University of North Dakota faculty; and Vernon Bellecourt, President NCRSM and Chair of the American Indian Forum on Racism in Sports and Media.


The purpose of the forum is to bring awareness and understanding to the use of American Indian names, logos and mascots as identities for sports teams and to gain commitment from the members of the media to discontinue this activity.

All influential media personnel in Minnesota from newspapers, radios and television networks are invited to attend including St. Paul, Minneapolis, Rochester, Duluth, St. Cloud, Bemidji, Brainerd, Grand Forks and Moorhead/Fargo. Those invited include senior editors, sports editors, senior writers, program managers, producers, sports radio personalities, sports broadcasters, sports journalists. The forum hosts include the National Coalition on Racism in Sports and Media, the Cultural Voices Program, Inter-Race, Minnesota News Council, Black Bear Crossing, and MIGIZI Communications, Inc.

Don Shelby, distinguished WCCO TV Anchor will serve as Master of Ceremonies for the event. Tim McGuire, Senior Vice-President and Editor of the Minneapolis Star Tribune and President of the American Society of Newspaper Editors will deliver a keynote address. Tim McGuire played a key role in the Minneapolis Star Tribune's decision to implement a policy of not publishing or referencing sports teams with Indian names, logos, or mascots.

We are honored to present keynote speakers, Billy Mills, a member of the Oglala Lakota Nation, who is the only American athlete to have ever won a gold medal for the 10,000 meters. He accomplished this feat at the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo, Japan. Also, Charlene Teters of the Spokane Nation is Vice-President of the National Coalition on Racism in Sports and Media, and a professor at the Institute of American Indian Art in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Charlene was the subject of the award winning documentary, In Whose Honor? The film documents her efforts to change the name and remove the mascot, chief illiniwek from the University of Illinois. Dr. Will Antell will also present. During his 25 year tenure at the Minnesota Department of Education, he was responsible for implementing the State Board's order to all school districts that had Indian names, logos, and mascots to change. His work brought about the elimination of the practice at 48 out of 55 high schools.

Richard Lapchick, PhD, was founder and is now Director Emeritus of the Center for the Study of Sport in Society. In August 2001, he accepted a new role at the University of Central Florida as the DeVos Eminent Scholar and Sport Business Management Program Director. Richard Lapchick serves as President and Chief Executive Officer of the National Consortium for Academics and Sports (NCAS); and Floyd Red Crow Westerman, Sisseton-Wahpeton Dakota Nation, Actor, Activist, Songwriter, National Chairman of NCRSM will present live via, video conferencing.

A panel discussion will take place followed by a question and answer session. The distinguished panelists include Vivian Jenkins Nelson, President and CEO of Inter-Race; Laura Waterman Wittstock, President of Migizi Communications; Dr. Matthew Stark, Executive Director Emeritus, Minnesota Civil Liberties Union; Hector Garcia, The Cultural Voices; Phil St. John, Concerned American Indian Parents; Mary Kettering, University of North Dakota faculty; and Al White, University of North Dakota student; Francis Yellow, Artist, Activist, Cheyenne River Lakota. Juanita Helphrey, Hidatsa Nation, Team Leader for Justice and Witness Ministries United Church of Christ will also present. Gary Gilson, Executive Director of the Minnesota News Council will serve as panel facilitator.

Francis Yellow will be exhibiting his art showing of "Lifeways of the Common People; Voices of Humans Being; The Battle of the Little Big Horn as a Metaphor for Defending Against Racial Stereotypes."

Additionally, a collection of American Indian racial stereotypes by Gary Brouse of the Inter-Faith Center for Corporate Responsibility will be on display before and during the event.


Racism in sports and media results in racial, cultural and spiritual stereotyping promoting widely held misconceptions of American Indians. It promotes racial conflict and widens the gap between American Indians and other Americans. The issue is fought in courtrooms, corporation boardrooms, and classrooms. Student leadership has played a significant role in bringing the mascot issue forward. In the 1970's students at Stanford, Dartmouth and the University of Oklahoma were successful in changing the athletic identity from Indians to a race-neutral name and symbol. Since 1988, the student-led struggle to retire the dancing Indian mascot/symbol at the University of Illinois continues against the Board of Trustees. At least six universities have changed their names, the Los Angeles Board of Education voted to ban Indian images and names. In schools across the country the mascot issue is being debated. The New York Board of Education recently directed all schools to eliminate Indian team names and logos. Here in the State of Minnesota, the State Board of Education directed that Minnesota's 55 high schools to change. To date, 48 schools have changed. These debates are led by young American Indians with a new found pride in reclaiming themselves.

The issue of racism in sports and media against American Indians is not an issue of the past. Stereotypes are being perpetuated this very moment. They are the same stereotypes that are seen in old cowboy and Indian movies in which American Indians are seen always going to war. The University of North Dakota in Grand Forks was on the verge of changing its name, "the fighting Sioux," and its logo of an American Indian caricature. Ralph Engelstead offered $100,000 for the funding of the construction of the new hockey stadium under the condition that the school keep its name and logo. In addition to the University of North Dakota, and the University of Illinois, campaigns are underway against the Universities of Utah, Florida State, and others nationwide. Professional sports teams using American Indian names or symbols include Cleveland's chief wahoo, Washington redskins, Kansas City chiefs and Atlanta braves. The front page of the New York Post referred to a game between New York and Cleveland with the headline, "Take the Tribe and Scalp Em."

The core of the problem is ignorance. Many people do not understand that using racial, cultural and spiritual stereotyping against American Indians is disrespectful and harmful. They see it as insignificant, as something that is fun and amusing. They do not understand the American Indian culture or spirituality. Muslims would understand the depth of the offensiveness, if a mascot were a caricature of an Arab wearing a turban. If a team's name were the Washington Muslim Fanatics, how would the American Muslim community react? Christians would understand if Jesus Christ were used as a mascot why it is offensive. If a mascot of Jesus Christ danced around, yelled and was obnoxious, would Christians find it disrespectful, inconceivable, if not sacrilegious? If a Caucasian put black face paint on and was the African American mascot, would the African-American community be offended? Chief wahoo offends American Indians in the same way that little black sambo offended African Americans and the frito bandito offended Spanish speaking people.

Why is it so difficult for Americans to understand the depth of the offensiveness of American Indian mascots and the use of names such as redskins and braves? It is difficult because many Americans do not know much at all about American Indian culture. Many people have grown up seeing trivializing images of indigenous culture and view them as common and harmless entertainment. Out of that ignorance comes the lack of understanding of the importance of this issue. Many schools and organizations refuse to change because they do not view the issue as offensive or important. They have nostalgia for their mascot or team name. Community members, alumni and board directors connect the image with the good old days of their college experience. There is nothing wrong with the nostalgia and wanting to remember good times but American Indian symbols should not have been used in the first place. It is time to find other symbols and have good times with them. Change is long overdue. Change is imminent and change is possible.

The solution is to bring awareness and understanding to the use of American Indian names, logos and mascots as identities for sports teams and to gain commitment from the members of the media to discontinue this activity. The American Indian Forum on Racism in Sports and Media will provide an opportunity for decision makers in the media across Minnesota to gain awareness and understanding of this issue, and bring about the commitment of the media to end the use of American Indian mascots, logos and names.

The speakers and panel represent the whole spectrum of people who are affected by this issue including American Indian students, an American Indian mother, Senators, media representatives and professional athletes have been invited.

There will be an American Indian Grand Entry with American Indian Drum Group and Dancers followed by a traditional prayer ceremony. In the end participants will walk away with a better understanding of racism against American Indians in sports and media. Participants will better understand American Indian culture and why mascots, logos and names are disrespectful and harmful. They will gain knowledge about how to take action and what they can do individually. Across the country people are recognizing that it is time for people to come together, to learn about one another and make real progress for change.