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The elimination of indigenous mascots, logos, and nicknames: organizing on college campuses.

In this article a brief history of activism on the American Indian mascot issue in Minnesota will be discussed with a specific focus on college campuses. The approaches taken at St. Cloud State University (SCSU) to create awareness on this issue and the successes and failures of actions taken to push for meaningful changes at the policy level at SCSU and the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) will also be discussed. Possible responses to arguments made by opponents of these changes as well as tactics for organizing on campuses that play schools with American Indian mascots and nicknames will be considered.


The first documented evidence of activism on this issue in Minnesota was in 1967 when Mankato State University began a ten-year debate to change its logo and nickname from the Indians to the Mavericks. (1) A new president and the efforts of university activists ended the debate in 1977 when the Indians became the Mavericks on July 1, 1977. (2) Thus, the long history of activism on issues of American Indian mascots and nicknames in Minnesota seems to have found its roots on the Mankato campus, not far from the location of the largest federal execution in U.S. history when thirty-eight Dakota Indians were hanged in 1862. (3) The origins of activism on this issue in Minnesota sprang from the same geographic area that silenced the voices and extinguished the lives of American Indians a century earlier.

There is little documentation of activism in Minnesota regarding American Indian mascots from 1977 until the summer of 1986 when three students in the Department of Human Relations and Multicultural Education at SCSU wrote letters to the Sauk Rapids Rice School District superintendent asking that the school board address the racist use of the school's nickname, "The Indians." (4) The students asked that this issue be placed on the school board's next agenda, and a St. Cloud Times reporter at that meeting wrote a story about the controversy that was picked up by the Associated Press. Subsequently, the executive director of the Minnesota office of the American Civil Liberties Union decided to pursue some type of action to require that all Minnesota schools using American Indian mascots and nicknames cease this practice. (5) In June of 1987, Phil St. John, a parent at Southwest High School in Minneapolis, challenged the school regarding its Indian nickname and logo. He formed Concerned American Indian Parents (CAIP) and successfully lobbied the school district to change the school nickname to Lakers in June of 1987. (6) In 1988 the Minnesota Board of Education, with courageous leadership from Will Antell, White Earth Anishinaabe and State Director of Equal Educational Opportunities in the State Department of Education, worked collectively with the Minnesota Civil Liberties Union, CAIP, and the Minnesota Dakotas Region of the National Conference of Christians and Jews, to draft a policy that required all school districts in Minnesota with American Indian nicknames to cease using them. (7)

Minnesota, specifically Minneapolis, is also the birthplace and national headquarters of the American Indian Movement (AIM). (8) In October of 1991, members of AIM along with CAIP and American Indian dignitaries founded the National Coalition on Racism in Sports and the Media. (9) This coalition planned and coordinated protests in Minneapolis in October 1991 during the World Series and again in January of 1992 during the Super Bowl. (10) Although the hundreds of demonstrators were derided and heckled by fans, the protests received national attention and helped sharpen the issues for many social justice activists in p-12 settings as well as on college campuses. (11) Scholarly journal articles and commentaries in newspapers forced schools and universities to examine their level of commitment to issues of diversity and to creating more welcoming environments for students, staff, and teachers. (12)

A setback occurred in May of 1992 when the Minnesota Board of Education, reacting to specific interest groups, modified its policy by changing its requirement to discontinue the use of American Indian mascots and nicknames to a voluntary request. (13) The setback was minor since most schools with American Indian mascots and nicknames were already actively engaged in the process of educating students and alumni about the implicit and explicit racism in the use of mascots and nicknames and chose to complete the transition to a new name. (14) Of the fifty public schools that had American Indian mascots and nicknames in 1988, only seven remain in 2005. (15)

The '90s saw many policy changes on this issue on college campuses as well as in the media. In 1993 the Minneapolis Star Tribune implemented a policy requiring sports writers to avoid using American Indian nicknames in reporting by using the name of the city or school. (16)

Some universities in Minnesota, Iowa, and Wisconsin instituted policies that prohibited any visiting universities from bringing their American Indian mascots to their campuses to perform during halftime, and student and faculty senates passed resolutions condemning the use of American Indian mascots and nicknames. (17) School districts in the Midwest were working with students and alumni to creatively address the issue of their current nicknames and select new nicknames that respectfully incorporated the history and local interests of the school or area.


Activism around the mascot issue at St. Cloud State University (SCSU) in Central Minnesota began in the early 1990s and has reflected an effective blend of scholarship and grassroots organizing. Although neither SCSU nor any public college or university in Minnesota has an American Indian mascot or nickname, these institutions are hosts to schools each year that do, such as the University of Illinois and the University of North Dakota. (18) Faculty and students have conducted research as well as sponsored and coordinated debates and programs on this issue for a number of years that has motivated the campus and surrounding community to move from awareness to social change.

The 1992 emergence of American Indian activism at SCSU was spawned from the impetus of a newly established American Indian Center, the first Annual American Indian Powwow, and the receptive nature to the protests in Minneapolis during the Super Bowl and World Series. These dynamics coupled with the organization of the group First Nation's People, founded by an American Indian elder rooted in the ideals of social justice and eight nontraditional American Indian students, made it possible to further challenge society's social paradigms. The organization immediately realized that reaching its goal without the support of SCSU would be difficult. Its first objective in 1993-94 was to persuade the SCSU administration to support its efforts and develop a policy prohibiting American Indian mascots from being present during sporting events. After a period of negotiation, SCSU conceived and implemented a favorable policy. (19)

The next step was to solidify allies in the media. The student organization began to apply pressure toward the campus newspaper in the fall of 1993. The objective was to convince the staff not to use American Indian mascots or rhetorical dehumanization when reporting sports stories. This avenue has been a constant source of frustration. The newspaper's editors consistently hid behind misinterpretations of the First Amendment. (20)

A second aspect of securing a media presence, however, was much more successful. The campus radio station (KVSC) was approached with a proposal to create the nation's first American Indian radio program to originate from a college campus. The radio station was receptive, and the program became a significant part of the strategy to address various forms of discrimination faced by American Indians on campus. In addition to the commitment to the radio program, KVSC implemented a policy in 1993 that states, in part, "KVSC's sports and programming departments have adopted the policy of not broadcasting Indian team mascot names in stories, within KVSC play by play coverage, and during daily sports updates. This policy is in place to recognize and respect Native Americans and indigenous people's perspective on team mascot names." (21)

In 1995 a new organization, Students Advocating American Indian Liberties (SAAIL) was formed to renew awareness around American Indian dehumanization. The organization began an educational campaign designed to disseminate information across the campus and into the community. This signified the first student activist efforts to educate the community about the American Indian mascot issue as well as other issues of cultural appropriation, civil rights, and discrimination on campus. SAAIL initiated and coordinated a speaker/consultant bureau as way to distribute educational materials to schools, businesses, and community organizations and ultimately worked with over thirty groups in Central Minnesota. (22)

A significant part of SAAIL'S work was organizing educational protests that afforded the group the opportunity to make clear, concise arguments for the elimination of American Indian mascots and nicknames through leafleting and dialogue. By having American Indians handing out educational material and speaking directly to people, organizers were able to put a human face on the issue. Leafleting was not the only strategy used in the protests. A stereotypical plains style teepee was set up during the protests to generate discussion about inaccurate images in Hollywood movies and children's cartoons.

SAAIL leaders, together with protest veterans, spent many hours preparing first-time protesters to react to every conceivable situation. It was vital that no altercations occur and that students understood how to remain calm in the face of angry fans. It was communicated to campus officers and city police what was expected of them in terms of keeping protesters safe. SAAIL disbanded in 1996 as students left campus, but its members continued to work on the issue in other ways as parents, professionals, and civic leaders. (23)

Objections to the use of American Indian mascots had subsided somewhat in 1997. This led to a renewed interest in organizing protests at sporting events on campus. The decision was made to protest at a basketball game between SCSU and the University of North Dakota (UND) on January 11, 1997. (24) The SCSU administration attempted to quarantine the protest by designating certain walls where signs could be hung, restricted the movement of the protesters around the gymnasium, and inspected the literature being distributed. The protest, however, proved to be an important turning point in activism at SCSU in that it received statewide media attention, both positive and negative. The debate was center-stage again and pressure was placed on the administration to reconcile the inconsistencies between its stated institutional goals of diversity and the practice of hosting athletic teams which created hostile environments for American Indian students, faculty, and staff.

Activism on the issue of American Indian mascots continued at SCSU through 1997 with class presentations, teach-ins, and student activism. Another protest was planned when UND played the university in a hockey contest on January 23, 1998. (25) Tempers flared on both sides when several students confronted the SCSU president in his private box at the game. Media attention focused on the altercation that created much needed, albeit sensationalized, coverage of the issue. Within weeks of the protest, a policy was approved by the SCSU administration that states:

St. Cloud State University supports individuals' rights to express their opinions about the University of North Dakota's team name and symbols. With regard to any protest of the presence of that team on the SCSU campus, the university heartily supports the right of free expression guaranteed by the First Amendment. The university will make all necessary and reasonable arrangements to provide for the exercise of that expression.

St. Cloud State also recognizes that its players, hockey fans and UND players and fans have the right to play and enjoy the game. This university will ensure that they are free to do so.

With regard to the UND team name and symbol of the University of North Dakota team on its campus. This university does not print that name on its tickets, nor do its game announcers use it. The university has requested of UP9 that its announcers not use the team name during play-by-play or any other part of its coverage of the SCSU-UND hockey contest. (26)

Activists have often invoked this policy during and after subsequent demonstrations on the SCSU campus, with considerable success.

In December 2000 a coalition of student, faculty, and staff campus activists met with Roy Saigo, the new president of SCSU who had just completed his fifth month in the position. The coalition hoped to appeal to the president's experience as a former internee in a Japanese American internment camp and as a person of color in an administrative position at a large university. Although the first meeting did not meet the expectations of the coalition, which were to arrive at a stronger policy governing the presence of American Indian logos on visiting teams' jerseys and cheerleader shorts as well as pursuing the ramifications of forfeiture of games, the president agreed to study the issue further. He viewed "In Whose Honor" and read scholarly articles on the subject. (27) He also shared the video with his staff and assured the coalition that after consulting with his cabinet, he would take some measures to address the discriminatory nature of the American Indian logos and nicknames used by visiting teams. (28)

In the early months of 2001, the coalition formally became the Coalition Against Cultural Genocide. Members of this group were a cross section of experienced activists as well as students, faculty, and staff new to campus organizing. They represented other campus and community social action groups advocating for populations who experience discrimination based on race, gender, disability, sexual orientation, religion, and country of origin. The coalition was energized by the merging of issues on campus, and the solidarity that was created in coalition meetings was only further strengthened at protests when campus and community groups visibly demonstrated their support with banners and signs. The media and fans could not avoid the growing awareness that the dehumanization of American Indians through the use of mascots and logos extends to the dehumanization of all disenfranchised groups.

Broadening the base of support for the elimination of American Indian mascots became a priority for the coalition as well as for Roy Saigo. (29) A summit at SCSU was planned for March 2001 at which representatives from American Indian centers and social action groups at Midwest universities came together to plan a strategy to challenge universities with American indian mascots and nicknames as well as formulate policies to address the practice of hosting schools that have American Indian mascots and nicknames. (30) Over 1,200 people attended the summit, and national media attention was substantial for the weeks that followed. Although many calls to the campus were negative and confrontational in nature, primarily from AM radio stations and alumni, the issue of American Indian mascots became a central civil rights concern in collegiate sports across the country. (31)

Eventually, in the late spring of 2001, Roy Saigo unveiled his plan to address the coalition's request to strengthen the 1998 policy. He agreed to enlist the support of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MNSCU) board that served as his employer in approving a policy prohibiting MNSCU institutions from adopting American Indian mascots or nicknames and also prohibiting visiting teams from wearing jerseys with these logos on them. (32) Saigo solicited the help of Will Antell, formerly with the State Department of Education and now an MNSCU trustee, who once again demonstrated his unfailing commitment to the mascot issue by assisting Saigo in bringing the issue before the MNSCU Board. The policy passed on February 21, 2002, with the clause regarding jerseys omitted and making clear that universities visiting MNSCU campuses would not be subject to the policy. Since MNSCU has no institutions with American Indian mascots or logos, but did play schools from other states that had American Indian mascots and logos, the policy had no real effect. The MNSCU policy had the same impact as the 1862 Emancipation Proclamation in that it freed slaves where Abraham Lincoln had no control and did not free them where he did. (33)

The second part of the president's plan had the potential for a far greater impact. It proposed that the use of American Indian mascots and logos be challenged at the national level by the NCAA. On March 15, 2001, Saigo submitted a draft resolution to the NCAA Division II Presidents Council that stated:


We are proud members of the National Collegiate Athletic Association for the purpose off

* Supporting governing bodies

* Contributing to the Association's Overall Development of Student-Athletes

* Promoting intercollegiate athletics

* Administering national championships

* Maintaining a healthy and productive work environment

* Developing and empowering staff

* Maintaining integrity and standards of fair play

* Communicating NCAA purposes and activities

* Community outreach

* Promoting diversity

* Managing fiscal resources

Be it Resolved,

That we, the members of the National Collegiate Athletic Association will not tolerate any activity that constitutes illegal discrimination against any person or group. The NCAA also seeks to provide an environment that acknowledges and values diversity of all kinds, including but not limited to race, religion and ethnicity.

Be it Further Resolved,

That we, the members of the National Collegiate Athletic Association, do not condone the use of Native American logos and nicknames, and we request that opposing teams not wear uniforms that reflect these logos and names. We promote good sportsmanship by student-athletes, coaches, and spectators. Profanity, racial or sexist comments, or other intimidating actions, whether or not directed at officials, student-athletes, coaches or team representatives will not be tolerated. (34)

Saigo was then invited to make a presentation to the NCAA Division II executive officers at a luncheon in Indianapolis on January 13, 2002, and again to the Minority Opportunities and Interests Committee (MOIC) on January 28, 2002. (35) His talk focused on the impact of racial stereotyping and the important role higher education can play in educating the community about the overt as well as subliminal influences of these stereotypes. To his critics at home, claiming that no one cares about this issue, Saigo stated,
   Many people DO care and care deeply about this issue. While
   St. Cloud State University does not have an American Indian mascot,
   we do compete in athletics with a university that does. When its
   teams come to our campus, we are faced with upholding the principle
   that our campus has long asserted, that we decry any form of
   racism. And many, many people do believe that the issue of American
   Indian mascots in college athletics Is one of full-fledged,
   anachronistic, institutionalized racism. This issue cannot be
   trivialized as simply a matter of political correctness. Rather it
   truly is an EDUCATIONAL issue. It is directly related to the key
   role of a public university in supporting social justice, equality,
   and educational opportunity. (36)

The NCAA summarily rejected the Saigo resolution and ultimately referred the matter to the MOIC for a year-long study. (37) Upon completion of the study, the MOIC submitted it to the executive committee with fairly strong "possible courses of action" ranging from legislation prohibiting "institutions from utilizing offensive American Indian mascots" to restricting championship opportunities, limiting revenue distribution, and the imposition of fines. (38) However, the only specific recommendations that were supported by MOIC involved self-monitoring and completion of self-analysis checklists by institutions using American Indian mascots and nicknames. (39)

From January 2002 to the present, the issue of American Indian mascots and nicknames has traveled a circuitous route from the NCAA Executive Committee to the MOIC, to the Subcommittee on Gender and Diversity, to the Executive Committee, to the MOIC and NCAA Championship staff for self analysis material development, with the next step back at the Executive Committee Subcommittee on Gender and Diversity Issues on August 1, 2005. (40) Critics of the NCAA recommendations argue that self-monitoring of institutional practices regarding the use of racist monikers and mascots by universities that have been openly hostile and litigious toward Indigenous activists on their campuses seems unlikely to be done in good faith with input from Indigenous communities. (41)

In response to the NCAA'S lack of leadership on this issue, Vernon Bellecourt, founding member of AIM, states, "The NCAA decision is like referring the issue of slavery, segregation, and lynching from the federal courts to the state courts. The NCAA is avoiding its responsibility to make an important landmark decision. " (42)

The pressure that will ultimately result in the elimination of American Indian mascots and logos will likely come, in part, from college campuses that do not have these racist symbols. Wealthy, influential alumni supporting American Indian mascots at their alma maters present formidable opponents for social justice activists with limited resources. Campus groups and coalitions need to find strength in numbers and in their level of passion for preserving the dignity and culture of Indigenous communities, both past and present. Marshaling arguments that challenge specific commentary in campus newspapers or local media and defining strategies that are conducive to the current political climate on campus are essential before planning protests or working with the university administration.


The most common argument used against activists at schools that do not have American Indian mascots, but are challenging this practice, is that the schools with the mascots and nicknames should choose for themselves what they want to be called. "They should decide" or "it is an internal matter" are often the arguments to which activists are forced to respond. One strategy activists can use is to point out that the term "they" needs to be more clearly defined. Generally, the non-Indigenous students and alumni support the continued use of the school's American Indian mascot and nickname while the Indigenous students and alumni favor the adoption of a new one. Since the latter is always considerably a smaller group, the majority rules. This is an illustration of one of the problematic aspects of majoritarianism. A minority group, which is directly affected by a policy, does not have the strength in numbers to influence its own destiny.

Another approach in dealing with this argument is educating the campus community about the far reaching impact a visiting school with American Indian mascots and nicknames has on the campus and surrounding area. Banners hung from apartment building windows with slogans such as "Kill the Sioux" and "Destroy the Chiefs" are powerful messages to adults and children in attendance at games. Violent, inhuman, and often ludicrous images of American Indians on promotional flyers and buttons are not lost on sports enthusiasts. Fans of teams opposing schools such as the University North Dakota have proudly sported T-shirts with American Indians performing oral sex on the opposing team's animal mascot with the caption, "Blow Us. We Saw, They Sucked, We Came." (43) Another shirt was debuted by UND fans the night of the grand opening of the Ralph Engelstad Arena in Grand Forks that portrayed an American Indian having sex with a bison with the caption "Buck the Bison Under." (44)

Chief Illiniwek, portrayed by a white undergraduate at the University of Illinois, performs a leaping contortion at games, similar to Peter Pan's mating dance in the big production number "Why is the Red Man Red" in the classic Disney film. (45) The practice of using American Indian mascots and nicknames does affect everyone who attends schools where these teams play by witnessing these racist acts, and it perpetuates negative stereotypes in the wider community through attendance at games, sports reporting, and televising of games.

It would be difficult to attend a protest opposing American Indian mascots without hearing angry fans shout, "Get a life" and "Get a job." These directives are usually accompanied with a fair dose of profanity. Some assumptions are made here. One is that all protesters are American Indian and by some fate of genetics or culture are either unwilling or unable to find employment and have nothing else to do on a cold Friday night but stand outside a sports venue.

Another argument made by fans is that the issues being addressed are trivial and do not merit consideration. If dialogue does occur between protesters and fans, it often focuses on the fan's assertion that there are more important things to be concerned about such as unemployment or Fetal Alcohol Syndrome in the American Indian communities both on and off the reservation. It is difficult if not impossible to explain to an agitated fan that the dehumanization of a people through the use of mascots sustains and creates the condition under which discriminatory social and economic systems thrive. Carefully crafted, simple brochures that include this critical perspective should be offered to fans during demonstrations.

Many schools with American Indian nicknames feel their strongest argument for retaining their nickname is that it honors the local American Indian group. One need only research the local history of the area at the time that the school adopted the nickname and determine the level of support and respect for the American Indian community by assessing treaty rights in the area, resource allocation on the reservation, and inclusion of American Indian contributions in the school curriculum.

These same factors should be applied to an analysis of current conditions. If the research indicates a lack of respect and recognition, the argument of honoring American Indians through nicknames and mascots is a ruse and should be identified as such.

The 2002 Sports Illustrated poll, which maintained that a majority of American Indians were uninterested in the mascot/nickname controversy, and in many instances supported the "honor" argument, was only a temporary disappointment for activists as they came to realize that the results of the poll were superficial and misleading. (46) Conversations that took place in American Indian communities and articles published in Indigenous media following the published poll quickly framed the poll results in a way that was consistent with centuries of Indigenous voices. It was argued that the daily struggles of many American Indians confronting issues of oppression and discrimination prevent them from being part of the national conversation on this issue. The negative cultural or cult-like behaviors of sports fans promoting American Indian nicknames on college campuses are far removed from the realities of disenfranchised people fighting for basic resources. As the director of the "Indians into Medicine" program at the University of North Dakota wrote shortly after the Sports Illustrated poll, when he recruits on reservations he is often asked why the UND nickname and logo are such a "big deal." (47) When he provides them with evidence regarding the degradation of Indigenous culture used by fans on T-shirts and flyers and in chants, he did not "encounter one person who did not immediately find the usage offensive and change their mind." (48) The argument of honoring American Indians through the use of American Indian mascots and nicknames quickly loses its validity through this closer examination of the basic level of respect present in the community.

Arguments for retaining American Indian mascots and nicknames will often cite examples such as "What about the Dutchman?" "What about the Fighting Irish?" The differences that exist in these cases are that Germans chose Dutchmen (Deutchman) and Irish chose Irish as an institutional nickname. Within these specific communities, German and Irish people were not deprived of their land and basic human rights and were not targeted for harassment. There are also vast differences in power in these instances. Clearly Irish Americans have served as deans and presidents at Notre Dame while the University of North Dakota, Florida State University, and the University of Illinois have few American Indians in any part of senior levels of administration. (49) Comparing the Fighting Sioux to the Fighting Irish, for example, is ignoring centuries of racism and oppression suffered by American Indians.

When activists work with local and campus media concerning the use of American Indian nicknames in sports reporting, the discussion always focuses on issues of First Amendment rights. In order to proceed in a more productive way, activists must shift the discussion from one's right as a journalist in a democracy to one's role as a citizen within a society which values civil discourse. Although journalists argue that they have the right to freely use language they so desire in expressing their journalistic freedom and to accurately report reality, one could also argue that slanderous, profane, or lewd language is routinely avoided in reporting. For example, it is unthinkable that offensive terms that refer to female body parts would be used in mainstream newspapers.

Political perspectives or biases are also controlling forces. The argument could be made that reporters carefully select the language they use and that language reflects not only ideology but the formal and tacit rules governing his or her workplace. Activists need to appeal to the decency and moral convictions of the sportswriters who report on games against schools with American Indian mascots and nicknames. They need to link the myriad rules they already follow to one that includes an ethical relationship with American Indian communities.


Campus tactics for organizing are similar to other grassroots organizing but also pose some challenges as well as benefits for social action groups. The challenges stem from a continuously changing activist population with students leaving campus for periods of time to participate in internship programs or to pursue full-time employment. Many social action campus groups are primarily comprised of juniors and seniors who serve in leadership positions and consequently leave the group at critical times because graduation and employment offers take them out of the area.

The benefits of organizing on a college campus are numerous in that students have time to reflect on issues of ethics, justice, and responsible citizenship and are able to marshal their arguments for social change. Their raised consciousness about issues of race, class, gender, and so forth, often leads them to some type of social action or participation in campus events and demonstrations. Another benefit of organizing on campus is that activists can use university policies to bolster their plans for addressing social justice and equity issues in the curriculum and in campus politics. Policies governing university life are commonly more progressive and more specific to concerns of diversity and the social environment than the rules of conduct and standards for local government or industry. Lastly, the resources available on campus, both in expertise and reference materials are invaluable to activists in understanding the scope and history of the projects they take on as well as assisting spokespeople to work with the media.

Such resources include the preparation of simple, well-researched, and persuasive flyers for protests that cite resolutions passed or policies adopted by national as well as local groups, religious institutions, or commissions. Perhaps the most powerful message to be used on flyers is the April 13, 2001, United States Commission on Civil Rights Statement on the Use of Native American Images:
   The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights calls for an end to
   the use of Native American images and team names by non-Native
   schools. The Commission deeply respects the right of all Americans
   to freedom of expression under the First Amendment and in no way
   would attempt to prescribe how people can express themselves.
   However, the Commission believes that the use of Native American
   images and nicknames in schools is insensitive and should be
   avoided. In addition, some Native American and civil rights
   advocates maintain that these mascots and their performances,
   logos, or names, are disrespectful and offensive to American
   Indians and others who are offended by such stereotyping. They
   are particularly inappropriate and insensitive in light of the
   long history of forced assimilation that American Indian people
   have endured in this country. (50)

Keeping Indigenous students, staff, and faculty in leadership positions in the group will also prove to be invaluable. Typically whites tend to dominate in social action groups, and members need to be mindful of the dimensions of race in group dynamics. Allies need to shoulder much of the burden of weekly operational responsibilities without making major decisions. They should focus on coalition-building with other campus and local groups as well as prepare grant proposals and attend to administrative tasks.

Be careful not to be trapped by the argument often used by campus administrators, athletic booster clubs, campus media, or conservative student groups that the entire student body should vote on retaining Indigenous nicknames and mascots or continue hosting schools with these symbols. The majority of students on college campuses are either indifferent to this issue or openly hostile. If faculty have not laid the necessary groundwork through required general education courses such as ethnic studies, multicultural education, or history, non-Indigenous students are most likely to indicate that Indian mascots are not an issue for them. The results of these polls achieve the originally intended goal of invalidating the arguments of activists.

Tying campus politics and activism to any recent issues of racism in local school districts or the surrounding community has also proved effective. Help the community understand the intersections of the mascot issue with patterns of discrimination that, for example, a recent immigrant group might be experiencing.

Keep the media interested in your work or cause by formulating creative strategies. Protests tend to be ignored by the media when the same thing is being said at the same athletic events against the same school each year. (51) The use of humor or theatrical performances can function to get the attention of the fans and sometimes diffuses some of the aggressive behavior that has been perpetrated on protesters in recent years. However, the opposite can be true, given the particular sport and level of alcohol consumption.

Developing a relationship with a reporter at a local paper by keeping him/her apprised of your activities and planned events can also be a helpful tool. Reporters appreciate being the first to break a story and welcome any tips that are exclusive to his/her paper. Sending a small amount of materials that delineates the most salient points about the mascot issue is helpful in educating the reporter. Carefully prepare press releases with language that is simple and informative, and be clear about who may speak publicly for the group. Follow up by calling or e-mailing key reporters. Press releases often get overlooked or dismissed. Another effective way to use the media during the weeks prior to hosting a team with an American Indian mascot is to write letters to that team's campus and local newspapers, asking that fans leave their jerseys and jackets with racist images at home. The letters should extend a warm welcome, emphasize good sportsmanship, and highlight key sections of the school's mission statement on diversity.

Stay strongly connected to activists on campuses that have American Indian mascots and nicknames. They are on the frontlines on this issue and need support from allies within the same higher education system as well as from universities from neighboring states. Plan one-day conferences to enable representatives from different campuses to share information and collectively plan strategy. It has been exceedingly important and beneficial to have students and faculty from universities that have American Indian nicknames and mascots to attend demonstrations at other campuses and be available to speak to the media. This visible presence challenges the myth that there is little activism on this issue at American Indian mascot schools.

Solicit the help of local groups such as the NAACP or a human rights commission within city government. Ask for letters of support or statements that can be used on flyers to be handed out at protests. Use specific university documents such as the Student Code of Conduct or the mission statement of the university. These documents usually have language addressing issues of creating welcoming environments or prohibiting the targeting of any racial group. Activists can hold administrators who publicly support all the lofty goals of diversity but fall short of implementing them in significant ways accountable. Filing affirmative action complaints may be a viable approach for making these challenges public and pressuring the administration to respond to the social justice community on campus.

The use of listservs is effective in staying current with activities on other campuses. Strategies that are successful on one campus can usually be modified for use on another campus. For example, faculty and student senate resolutions are easily transferable to other institutions with minor language changes.

Take advantage of the substantial resources on this issue by using them in the classroom and in teach-ins on campus. Films such as "In Whose Honor" and "If the Name Has to Go" have a profound effect on audiences at all levels of understanding of this issue. (52) An Internet search will reveal countless articles and books that will prove useful with students of all ages.

Keep participants, particularly students, safe at all events. The use of trained peacekeepers should be mandatory at all protests, and it is helpful to assemble before the event to review how to stay safe and not engage any fans who appear hostile or intoxicated. Some sports have a higher occurrence of alcohol use by fans than others, and organizers should consult with the athletic director or director of campus security to determine what the recent history has been. Fans have been known to attack protesters, and the local media is often ready for the photo opportunity. Advise demonstrators to quickly remove themselves from the situation to avoid potentially damaging media coverage. It is not uncommon for misleading photos to appear in the local press in which the implication is that the protestors provoked an altercation or perpetrated some type of violence when they were actually the victims of such behavior.

As part of coalition-building, make connections between a variety of issues of oppression involving, for example, race, age, gender, or religion. Encourage group members to identify the connections by illustrating how oppression stems from the same political and economic factors of power, dominance, and control. The unchallenged dehumanization of one group will affect the collective consciousness of the larger community, resulting in a support for the status quo.

Create a Web site that documents the struggle on one's campus that includes flyers used at protests, resources, contact names, and upcoming events.

The need to eliminate American Indian mascots, nicknames, and logos will only become more evident and urgent in the near future. With stronger commitments to multicultural education in PK--12 and higher education institutions, the practice of using American Indians as school mascots will certainly become more absurd and racist in time. Each generation will, on some level, perceive this aspect of sports history as a shameful blemish on the institutions that used them and will likely compare this bygone practice with school segregation or the use of separate drinking fountains in the Jim Crow South.


(1.) "Why the Mavericks," Minnesota State University Hockey, 2000-2001, 4.

(2.) "The History of Minnesota State University, Mankato," (accessed August 19, 2004).

(3.) Minnesota State Historical Society, history_topics/94dakota.html (accessed September 8, 2003).

(4.) Pat Helmberger, Indians as Mascots in Minnesota Schools (Burnsville MN: Friends of the Bill of Rights Foundation, 1999), 1.

(5.) Helmberger, Indians as Mascots, 5.

(6.) "Southwest Changes Its Nickname to Lakers," Star Tribune, May 30, 1987, 1B.

(7.) Dane Smith, "Indians Pleased by State Support on Team Names," Star Tribune, May 12, 1988, A1; Helmberger, Indians as Mascots, 13.

(8.) Peter Mattheissen, In the Spirit of Crazy Horse (New York: Penguin Books, 1980), 34.

(9.) National Coalition on Racism in Sports and Media, October 27, 1999, (accessed August 19, 2004).

(10.) Helmberger, Indians as Mascots, 47.

(11.) Laurel R. Davis, "Protest Against the Use of Native American Mascots: A Challenge to Traditional American Identity," Journal of Sport and Social Issues 17, no. 1 (1993): 9-22.

(12.) Suzan Shown Harjo, "Sports Fans," Winds of Change 4, no. 4 (1989): 3, 32; Arlene B. Hirschfelder, "The Seasonal Symbolic Indian Mocks the Native American Reality," Education and Society 1, no. 4 (1989): 31; Cornel Pewewardy, "Native American Mascots, Nicknames, Imagery and the 'Tomahawk Chop' as Cultural Violence," Multicultural Review 3 (1994): 67-71.

(13.) Rob Hotakainen, "Schools Won't Be Forced to Drop Indian Names," Star Tribune, May 12, 1992, 1a, 5A.

(14.) Matthew Stark, former executive director of Minnesota Civil Liberties Union, personal communication with author, July 20, 2003.

(15.) Yvonne Novack, Indian Education, Minnesota Department of Education, personal communication with author, March 21, 2005.

(16.) Tim J. McGuire and Julie Engebrecht, "To Our Readers," Star Tribune, January 25, 1994, 4C. This policy remained in effect until May 2003 when a new editor assumed leadership. Anders Gyllenhaal, "Star Tribune Changing Its Approach on Indian Team Names," Star Tribune, June 8, 2003, AA2.

(17.) See for example, the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Faculty document 1023 (September 13, 1993) regarding scheduling of teams with American Indian mascots or nicknames.

(18.) The Winona State University Warriors, who use a Greek or Spartan helmet as a logo, are often thought to have changed from an American Indian moniker to the helmet after Mankato State University changed its nickname in the 1970s. This false association of Winona Warriors to American Indians may originate from the city and county of Winona that were named for "Princess" Winona, daughter of Chief Wapasha. "WSTC Teams Now Known as Warriors," The Winonan, October 17, 1936, 1. Russ Dennison, Winona State University librarian, personal communication with author, January 19, 2001.

(19.) Gary Johnson Cheeseman, founding member of SAAIL, personal communication with author, July 30, 2003.

(20.) Betsy Cahill, "Mascot Names Will Be Used in Reporting," University Chronicle, October 22, 1998, 2; Sheila Bussinger, Jake Muonio, and Marcae Woodward, "Mascot Names to Remain in Print," University Chronicle, November 30, 2000, 6.

(21.) St. Cloud State University KVSC 88.1, "Team Mascot Policy," Staff Handbook (policy adopted November 1993). This policy can now be found at (accessed March 20, 2005).

(22.) Gary Johnson Cheeseman, July 31, 2003.

(23.) Gary Johnson Cheeseman, August 10, 2003.

(24.) Lloyd Dalton, "Sioux Team Name Protested," University Chronicle, January 14, 1999, 1, 3.

(25.) Sarah Tieck, "Groups Protest Mascot: UND'S Controversy Revolves Around Team Mascot," University Chronicle, January 28, 1998, 1,5.

(26.) Marsha Shoemaker, "UND Policy," personal e-mail to author, December 8, 2000.

(27.) In Whose Honor? video recording, directed by Jay Rosenstein (Ho-ho-kus NJ: New Day Films, 1997).

(28.) Roy Saigo, personal letter to author, December 14, 2000.

(29.) Roy Saigo, personal letter to author, November 8, 2001.

(30.) Michelle Tan, "SCSU to Hold American Indian Mascot Summit," St. Cloud Times, March 19, 2001, 1a.

(31.) Kay Hawes "American Indian Mascots, Nicknames, and Imagery Increasingly Controversial in College Athletics," The NCAA News, April 23, 2001, 1, 20, 22.

(32.) Board of Trustees, Minnesota State Colleges and Universities, meeting minutes, February 21, 2002 http://www.und./dept/registrar/curriculutn/cur 21Feb02/htm (accessed August 24, 2004).

(33.) John Franklin, From Slavery to Freedom: A History of African Americans (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2000), 228-33.

(34.) NCAA draft resolution sent to author by SCSU president Roy Saigo, March 15, 2001.

(35.) Michelle Tan, "SCSU's Saigo says American Indian Logos Hurt People," St. Cloud Times, January 15, 2002, 1B; Michelle Tan, "Saigo to Discuss Mascots with NCAA Committee," St. Cloud Times, January 28, 2002, 1B; Michelle Tan, "SCSU's Saigo Speaks Mind to NCAA: University President Says American Indian Nicknames Cannot be 'Trivialized' Matter," St. Cloud Times, January 29, 2002, 2B.

(36.) "SCSU President Roy H. Saigo's Presentation on the Use of American Indian Mascots to the NCAA Minority Opportunities and Interests Committee on Monday, January 28, 2002," January 29, 2002, issues/mascot.html (accessed 2 February 2002).

(37.) "Other Highlights," The NCAA News, May 7, 2001, 27.

(38.) "NCAA Minority Opportunities and Interests Committee Report on the Use of American Indian Mascots in Intercollegiate Athletics to the NCAA Executive Committee Subcommittee on Gender and Diversity Issues," October 2002, 2003/mascot_report/mascotreport.htm (accessed March 18, 2005).

(39.) "NCAA Minority Opportunities and Interests Committee Report."

(40.) Jeff Howard, "NCAA Executive Committee Pass Recommendation Regarding American Indian Mascots, Confederate Flag and NCAA Budget," press release, August 11, 2003, (accessed August 26, 2004).

(41.) Stephen Kaufman, "Source," personal e-mail to author, September 10, 2003.

(42.) Vernon Bellecourt, personal communication with author, August 15, 2003.

(43.) UND'S Bridges Web site,

(44.) UND's Bridges Web site.

(45.) Disney Enterprises, Inc., Peter Pan, (Burbank CA: Buena Vista Home Entertainment, 1953), video recording.

(46.) S. L. Price, "The Indian Wars," Sports Illustrated, March 4, 2002, 67-72.

(47.) Eugene DeLorme, "Old email," 28 August 2003, personal e-mail to author, August 29, 2003.

(48.) DeLorme, August 28, 2003.

(49.) James McKenzie, "Differences Exist Between the Fighting Irish and the Sioux," Grand Forks Herald, November 10, 1997, B2.

(50.) "US Commission on Civil Rights Condemns the Use of Native American Images and Nicknames as Sports Symbols," April 16, 2001, (accessed 23 August 2004).

(51.) Saul Alinsky, Rules for Radicals: A Pragmatic Primer for Realistic Radicals (New York: Vintage Books, 1971), 128.

(52.) In Whose Honor? video recording; If the Name Has to Go, video recording, directed by Monica Braine (Rockville MD: Quiet Coyote Video Productions, 2005).
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Author:Hofmann, Sudie
Publication:The American Indian Quarterly
Geographic Code:1U4MN
Date:Jan 1, 2005
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