First Nations Continue to Be Savaged and Ravaged by Mascots

Simon Moya-Smith

No right-wing GOP chubby-belly apologist would dare attempt to persuade civil rights activist Al Sharpton into believing that black-faced caricatures of young African Americans, clad in ripped overalls and Afros, are not disrespectful.

“Wait a minute, Al. You’ve got it all wrong! We’re honoring you.”

No. If this sort of affront took place, the party would be instantly lambasted on CNN and MSNBC, and anti-discrimination organizations like the NAACP and the ACLU would slap the party so hard with racist accusations and lawsuits that even the Romneys and Bushes of the world would flee the GOP like a sinking cruise vessel in the Mediterranean.

Yet it was recently that a high school principal in Colorado attempted to persuade an American Indian mother that a stereotypical cartoon of a shirtless Indian boy sporting a loincloth and gripping a spear is not offensive—that he and his school are honoring Indian peoples with their caustic caricature. His curt comments were in response to the concerns of a Denver parent who questions the use of the school’s mascot, which she argues is distasteful and offensive.

Patricia “Pat” Pino, a member of the Laguna Pueblo Nation and a behavioral health counselor at Denver Indian Health and Family Services, said that her daughter, Abby, went with her classmates in early February to Strasburg High School in Strasburg, Colo., to participate in a Future Business Leaders of America competition. When her daughter entered the gymnasium, Pino said that Abby was immediately offended by the depiction of the Indian boy dancing around a fire.

Abby said that she began to send her mother pictures of the images via her cell phone.

“I was very, very angry,” said Abby. “I felt disrespected by the cartoon. That’s not how we look!”

Abby said that she tried to ignore the “racist images” that surrounded her, but she couldn’t. She said it wasn’t long before she succumbed to emotion.

“When I picked her up that afternoon, Abby was upset,” said Patricia. “She was so angry that she had tears. The next day when I got to work I started drafting a letter to the principal.”

According to Patricia, it took one month and a second letter to receive a response from Strasburg High School Principal Jeff Rasp. When it came, it reeked of entitlement and read like a didactic declaration:

“I have reviewed the posters and other representations of Native Americans in our school,” wrote Rasp. “I do not find the way Native Americans are portrayed to be offensive or mocking as you suggested. Our school is named to honor the native Indians who once resided here. In fact, the posters that are in every room in our building have the phrase ‘Indian Pride’ to emphasize the pride of the Native American people.”

I asked Patricia what she thought of the letter. She said that she considers it a “further insult” and that Rasp is being “patronizing.”

“(This) carefully worded letter did nothing to acknowledge even the possibility that the issues I raised could be seen by Natives as offensive,” she wrote.

Frankly, folks, the tragic reality of this situation is that Strasburg High is merely one of 15 schools in Colorado that have appropriated the American Indian image for its mascot. And only one of the 15 schools—Arapahoe High School—has worked closely with American Indians to ensure that no offense is made in their attempt to honor the First Nation community.

Yet, the other 14 schools—one being the Lamar High School Savages in Lamar, Colo.—are riddled with utterly intransigent ninnyhammers. Lamar High administrators, in fact, have publicly declared that they consider the nefarious noun savage to have a meaning divorced from its actual definition.

And why not look up the definition? It’s been a while …

Well I just learned that Dictionary.com defines savage as “uncivilized; barbarous: savage tribes.”

Where does it end? I don’t know, but I’d argue that there was nothing quite as wild or savage in the west as the gold-hungry, insatiable settler.


And if you’re not American Indian, I think it’s imperative to inform you at this juncture that mordant school administrators aren’t the only ones who believe Indian mascots should be permitted from sea to shinning sea.

A grandiloquent gargoyle at the University of Denver “challenged” me a couple of weeks ago during a public discussion on stereotypes, American Indian mascots and Cowboys and Indians parties hosted by campus fraternities by asserting that Indians are the epitome of the “P.C. Police.”

“I’m Han Chinese,” he said. “And I wouldn’t mind at all if my people were honored as mascots.”

“Neither would I,” I blistered, "were we being honored.”

The hardhearted polemic sat glaring at me as I reeled about how mawkish Indian mascots are the antithesis of honor and should be immediately outlawed by the next affluent politico to usurp the American throne.

Today, Patricia said she has yet to hear back from Rasp.

Until then, there are always more rugs to lift and Redskins to ravage.

Simon Moya-Smith, 28, is an Oglala Lakota journalist and blogger from Denver. He'll attend Columbia University School of Journalism in the fall.

You need to be logged in in order to post comments
Please use the log in option at the bottom of this page




forbiss's picture
funnygirl gives a strident rebuke to quinzey in the last paragraph: "Lastly, I would have never thought about the mascot issue as much as I have now if you hadn’t insulted and belittled a young Native jounalist with your original comment!! I was more upset about that than the mascot issue."----which totally collapses the entirety of her ardent argument for the priority of anti-mascot advocacy. Why such a strident rebuke? Seemingly over "a young "insulted...belittled...young Native..."--which, for her, takes precedence over anti-mascoteering. Talk about feeling deflated. Reminds one of the late & great Gilda Radner's signature "Never mind." Finally, f'girl seeks to score with the ultimate 'eye of the needle' test, i.e., "real or not-real "skins"? Ah, the easiest part. My nod goes to quinzey.
angryduck's picture
Great article. People forget that this is still an issue in a lot of high schools around the country. When my daughter entered high school, we also noticed a cartoon indian caricature in the school gym. The indian had a huge nose and looked like something out of the movie Peter Pan. I wrote a letter to our community paper and the school board to express my displeasure. Soon after, the Southern California Indian Center came to my rescue. To make a long story short, a measure to ban Indian mascots in public schools in the state of California was drawn up. The measure passed the appropriate committees, passed the state assembly and the state senate. It finally ended up on the desk of Governor Schwarzenegger to sign into law. Unfortunately, our ex-governor passed the buck and threw it back dow to the local levels. We should have had a clue when he told Californian's that the Indians were ripping them off. It's all about educating the parents, teachers and kids attending the schools with Indian mascots. One Armenian student stated, "It doesn't matter anyway because all Indians are dead". See what I mean? Don't give up!
quinzy's picture
Man, all I can say is that skins who attend schools like Columbia University are so ignorant of the harsh truths on our reservations that they actually focus on mascots! Mascots are a non issue dude.
barbaraannsaulnier's picture
there r forgotting natives too we who need help an when we ask 4 help we get no were my husband has ddd 3 deased dics in his spine i have cronic pain all over we r broke have no help fought for my grandchildren got 2 out of 11 lost because didnt have the proper help but still fighting they r discrimating against me because of my past that was along time ago but the never learned a thing talking to me but if anything i have a whole lot of life experience i was abused in care an looking to find someone to tex me so i can explain better i even got my case files for a book i still need my rcmp files an dr files i want to let people know there r still probs out there an as of today i have still to fight for my 7 month old grandson an another one on the way 2 more new grandchildren on the way 1 still fighting for today since the day he was born in dec 21 another grandchild is to b born need help please
thechief's picture
I agree. I think its one of the last things on my mind when talking about problems on reservations. One thing that has always puzzled me is why Haskell exempt from scrutiny for their Indian mascot.
curtj's picture
To begin with, it will stay the same as long as our so called leaders are content to be called and to call themselves "Indians". Are we from India? Famed lost rapist, slaver and mass murderer, Columbus was lost when he happened on our shores. He was lost and thought he was connected to the Indies. Why are the Indigenous content to celebrate thanksgiving day, even though the Pilgrims murdered the Indigenous people that saved their mangy butts from starvation 3 years prior? Our leaders are getting as corrupt as the descendants of the illegal European immigrants who stole their resources and lands for colonization. So much for the Indigenous leaders. No vision for the future, they're busy losing their peoples lands and resources because they refuse to take their complaints to the UN. Stuck on stupid.
tmsyr11's picture
I agree with the comments above. There are far too many greater issues to contend with particularly getting reasonable Indian Tribal representation based from tribal members voting. However, in giving out kudos to the article based on the Pino encounter, it is only remindful of how everyone else is an ‘expert’ or ‘understands’ American Indian relation affairs. If a NON (black, Mexican, disabled, or even the alternative lifestyle persuasion) PRE-JUDGED by stating ‘they’ understand and/or see NO LEGITIMACY to a complaint or concern being raised, I can only see the OUTCRY from the public and the TV news media. I don’t understand either in how Navajo reservation high schools can get away with names like – Tuba City Warriors, Navajo Pine Warriors, Window Rock Scouts, Shiprock Chieftians, etc. These are all PUBLIC SCHOOL DISTRICTS served by the representative Arizona and New Mexico States. If those indian groups are soo sensitive to mascot names, then these indian groups should turn to reservation State School districts and change their names to serve as examples. Mixed messages on the part of mascot groups?
kaplan's picture
If it weren't for their mascots they wouldn't even know we were ever here. Remember that their ignorance is their problem. Forget them. Ignorance is a dish well served to the masses, it doesn't mean that you have to sit at their table and eat it. Or on the other side of it we could make our own white parody of some kook who goes around taking everybody's stuff and land just so that he can take a crap on it and move to the moon. Yeah! Stay up my brothers and sisters! Prayers and Feathers!
professor's picture
Oh I get it! FIRST NATIONS are Canadian Tribes! In Canada the Indians are all 28 year old jounralists and bloggers that dont have to worry about more important things so they actually care about mascots! That was the point of this story! He was talkign to Canadians!
funnygirl's picture
Your comment is pretty amusing and annoying all at the same time! Congratulations...that's quite a feat but maybe it has more to do with my own sense of humor than with your writing skills. It's skins like you that sit around and complain about what other skins are doing or focusing on that MUST BE one of the harsh truths on the rez. If mascots are such a non issue, why did you bother reading the article and commenting on it???? It was clear from the title that that's what the article was about. How do you know that the author doesn't focus on many issues that you would consider serious issues in addition to this issue? You're a non issue dude and why do you find it necessary to belittle and complain about another skin...don't you have more important issues to focus on??...jeez...gimme a break! I just had to give you a little taste of your own medicine so hopefully next time you'll think about what a jerk you sound like. And against your own brother...a fellow skin...sickening. Now run along and take care of some the harsh realities on YOUR rez. Please stay away from mine...we don't need attitudes like yours.