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NCRSM BOARD OF DIRECTORS
Charlene Teters, MFA
Dr. Anita Hill
Don Messec, MFA
Kenith S. Stern, JD
Richard Lapchick, PhD
Rennard Strickland, SJD
i n t r o d u c t i o n
The National Coalition on Racism in Sports and Media exists to fight the powerful influence of major media who choose to promulgate messages of oppression. The impetus which formed NCRSM was the clear case of media coupling imagery with widely held misconceptions of American Indians in the form of sports team identities resulting in racial, cultural, and spiritual stereotyping. NCRSM formed in October of 1991 at a meeting of American Indian dignitaries and activists held at Augsburg College, Minneapolis, Minnesota. NCRSM, while best known for its front-line demonstrations outside sports stadiums across America has been responsible for an educational effort which has made the issue of racial stereotyping a household discussion. NCRSM takes a long term view of the struggle against learned hatred and disrespect. We are in a fight for the very soul of the United States against long ingrained willful and self serving ignorance. Components of major media which from public and government opinion includes: film vido, sports entertainment, and educational institutions, publications, news organization, television, cable satellite, internet, retail practices and merchandising, marketing and radio.|
AMERICAN INDIANS ARE PEOPLE, NOT MASCOTS
Charlene Teters, Spokane
On the verge of the millenium, Indian people are still involved in what Michael Haney has described as the longest undeclared war against the American Indian, here in our own homeland. This war, no longer on battlefields is now being fought in the courtrooms, corporation boardrooms, and classrooms over the appropriation of Native American names, spiritual and cultural symbols by professional sports, Hollywood, schools, and universities. The issue for us is the right to self identification and self determination this is the fight of the National Coalition on Racism in Sports and the Media.
The American Indian community for 50 years has worked to banish images and names like Cleveland's chief wahoo, Washington redskins, Kansas City chiefs, Atlanta braves. We work to remind people of consciousness of the use of the symbols resemblance to other historic, racist images of the past. Chief wahoo offends Indian people the same way that little black sambo offended African Americans and the frito bandito offended the Hispanic community and should have offended all of us. It assaults the principle of justice.
Last year during the media hype that surrounded the baseball playoff games between New York and Cleveland, the New York Post caught up in the hype covered its front page with the headline, "Take the Tribe and Scalp 'Em." Little concern was shown for the Indian children, or community living in New York City, or around the country. The American public has been conditioned by sports industry, educational institutions, and the media to trivialize Indigenous culture as common and harmless entertainment. On high school and college campuses Native American students do not feel welcome if the school uses as its mascot (not a clown, a mythical creature, or an animal) a Chief, the highest political position you can attain in our society. Using our names, likeness and religious symbols to excite the crowd does not feel like honor or respect, it is hurtful and confusing to our young people. To reduce the victims of genocide to a mascot is unthinking, at least, and immoral at worst. An educational institution's mission is to educate, not mis-educate, and to alleviate the ignorance behind racist stereotypes, not perpetuate them and to provide a nondiscriminatory environment for all its students, conducive to learning.
Student leadership has played a significant role in bringing the mascot issue forward. In the 1970's students at Stanford and Dartmouth 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 with little chance of change against an arrogant and entrenched governor-appointed Board of Trustees.
Still, in recent years, significant contributions to this movement to eradicate racist mascots have been made. 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 issues is being debated and these debates are being led by young Native people finding a new found pride in reclaiming themselves. The Interfaith Center for Corporate Responsibility, a national interfaith organization of investors with combined portfolios worth an estimated 80 billion, have appealed to companies to discontinue using stereotypes that negativelyimpact Native American people of color and women. Also tribal leadership who once thought, there were more important issues in Indian country are now making the connection between mass media stereotyping and disrespect of tribal sovereignty. The tomahawk chop = the budget chop. Native artists, who reflect the consciousness of Native nations are addressing this issue of stereotyping in their paintings, installations, and writings. Arecent example is, Edgar Heap of Bird's public art pience commissioned by the Cleveland Institute of Art in 1996. The controversial billboard juxtaposed a likeness of the Cleveland logo, chief wahoo with the phrase, "Smile for Racism." The work was nearly banned by the commissioning agency because it was perceived as offensive to the Cleveland community. While the Cleveland American Indian community continues to protest outside the Cleveland baseball stadium, every home game because of the objectionable, red faced, big-nosed, buckteeth Cleveland Indian logo.
For Native leadership and allies working on the mascot issue, the call nationwide is to work towards the elimination of the misrepresentation and abuses of Indian images, names and spiritual way of life by the year 2000. And the rallying call is, American Indians are a People, Not Mascots for Americas fun and games. We are human beings.
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