'I'm not your mascot'

April 26, 1994|By Tim Giago

FIRST of all, I don't want to be known as a "party pooper" or as someone with an axe to grind. But I have a very strong opinion about this subject matter and as one responsible to himself to uphold his own integrity, I feel the topic must be broached.

Let me begin at the beginning. Several years ago I watched, for a very short time, the antics of Atlanta Braves fans during the World Series. I was appalled, disgusted and nauseated.

There in the stands, for the world to take seriously, was the owner of the Braves and his wife, joining gleefully in the performance of the dreaded "tomahawk chop." Ted Turner and Jane Fonda appeared to be as maniacal as the most inebriated Brave fans.

Several American Indians, including Michael Haney, a Seminole, and Clyde Bellecourt, an Ojibwe, carried placards outside of the stadium to protest the use of Indians as mascots. Many brutish fans yelled racial epithets at them, spat on them and brandished their plastic tomahawks at them. "Why don't you go back to where you came from, you filthy redskin," screamed one indignant fan.

Now picture, if you will, this same scene and imagine the team mascot as a Watusi warrior. Also be aware that the name "redskin" is the equivalent of "nigger" to most traditional Indians. Would this same fan have yelled, "Why don't you go back to where you came from you filthy nigger?" Are you kidding? Not in this lifetime would he have been so stupid.

Several weeks later I wrote a column that appeared in the Atlanta Constitution, attempting to explain to Ted Turner and Jane Fonda why the use of Indians as mascots was primitive and racist. I wrote about the religious and spiritual significance of feathers and of the sacred way the faces of the Indian people were painted during a spiritual ceremony. I asked Turner to please consider the insults being heaped upon the Indian people in the name of a baseball team.

Although the article appeared in his hometown newspaper and drew many letters of comment, pro and con, I have not heard one word out of Ted Turner or his wife Jane in response to the column.

And this is the reason I will not attend the Unity '94 Media Convention to be held in Atlanta sometime in July. I do not want to discourage other attendees but this is the way I feel about it and nothing more.

As the founder of the Native American Journalist Association, one of the four journalist associations participating in the conference (the others are the National Association of Black Journalists, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists and the National Association of Asian-American Journalists), and as one who has fought racism and the use of Indians as mascots for more than 20 years, I speak from my heart.

I ask the participants to accept my reason for not attending the conference in the way it is intended. Please recall that when the state of Arizona refused to recognize the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. as a state holiday, many minority conventions were canceled in Phoenix and other Arizona cities. The Native American lawyers canceled their annual convention at Phoenix and moved it to Albuquerque, N.M.

To me it is a matter of principle. As a journalist, columnist and as the editor of the largest Indian newspaper in America, I have been writing about the use of Indians as mascots for more than 13 years. As my writing gained a national forum, good friends such as William Hilliard, editor of the Portland Oregonian and president of the American Society of Newspaper Editors, a black man, stood firmly behind me by refusing to run racist mascot names on his sports pages. The Minneapolis Star Tribune recently followed suit. The St. John's Redmen and the Marquette Warriors dropped their mascot names.

The March 13 issue of the New York Times recently allowed me a half page in their sports section to express my points of view on Indians as mascots. The support that took so long to gain is now materializing. As Indians, when finally given the forum to educate the non-Indians as to why we find the use of Indians as mascots reprehensible, we are gaining support nationally and internationally. There are those who are beginning to understand that we are not attempting to be politically correct, but are merely trying to reclaim the dignity stripped from us by those who consider us in the same breath as "lions, tigers and bears." Oh my!

I wish the four journalist associations the very best and I hope the issue of Indians as mascots becomes a part of your discussions. I hope my friends in all of the minority associations understand why I cannot compromise my beliefs.

As long as there are the Ted Turners, Jane Fondas and Jack Kent Cookes in this world who think it is all right to use human beings as mascots for the sporting fans of America and who cannot be educated to the fact that whenever they do their "tomahawk chop" or allow their fans to dress in turkey feathers, paint their faces in Dayglo paint, and insult our religion, our self-esteem, and our culture, America will never be the great country it aspires to be.

It is for these reasons I will not visit Atlanta in July.

Tim Giago is editor-in-chief and publisher of Indian Country Today, a national weekly newspaper on American Indian issues. His Lakota name, Nanwica Kciji, means "Stands Up for Them."

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