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.

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funnygirl's picture
Please see my comment above in response to quinzy's comment. What's with all the hating on an educated young Native journalist? Did he do something to offend folks that I am unaware of? I don't get it! Someone please help me understand. If there are so many pressing important things to worry about and focus on as you both claim...why are you and quinzy both spending time attacking what another Native deems worthwhile?? Please someone help me...I just don't get it!
quinzy's picture
Funnygirl, sorry I didn't mean to offend either you or the author of this column, and for offending you I apologize. As a blogger pointed out, most people have the attention span of a tweet these days. Couple this with the fact is that media outlets in this country collude together and "manufacture" news with the malicious intent of drowning out REAL news stories. A typical example would be the old Monica Lewinsky saga or Michael Jackson or O J Simpson. When I saw every newspaper in the country focus on O J Simpson, O J Simpson and O J Simpson, I wondered what news item they were trying to bury and why they were trying to distract us. In the same vein, it is really very annoying to see clueless whites with Indian status or educated whites with Indian status bombard the media with non-issues like mascots, debates about whether we should be called Indian or Native American or First Nations, and other such total non-issues, because they detract people from the REAL issues that affect those of us on reservations. People have the attention span of a tweet and if you distract them with mascots, our real issues get buried. Then there is also the troubling fact that sports-loving fans are increasingly hating Indians and the mascot problem is creating a strong anti-Indian sentiment in the country. Please stop focusing on mascots and move on to the real issues affecting skins. It is damaging to focus on mascots!
funnygirl's picture
Your last paragraph is the best argument EVER for convincing skins that mascots are a real issue that should be focused on! Let me see if I am understanding your statement correctly because it seems ludricrous. Are you saying that the sports loving fans that are intent on "honoring" Indians with their "Indian" mascots hate REAL LIVING BREATHING Indians because SOME Indians object to being "honored" in this way? The article states that the proponents of "Indian" mascots say the are honoring Indians with their "Indian" mascots. If they hate us, how can they honor us at the same time? I personally don't want to be honored by someone that hates the very people that they claim to honor because those being honored don't want the honor that has been bestowed upon them. What hypocrites! Unbelievable!! I could have gone either way on the mascot issue until now. Thank YOU so much for bringing this anti-Indian sentiment to my attention!! I now honor YOU for creating the best ever anti-mascot argument and highlighting the need for all skins to focus on this issue. I am sure you are delighted and honored because of this high honor I have bestowed upon you. But like it or NOT, you earned it and it is intended as a high honor so I don't really care what you say about it. See what I did there? I don't want you to miss it. Also, by this logic, no social change would ever take place. Do you think there wasn't strong anti black sentiment during the abolition movement? So blacks should have abandoned the freedom issue because of the strong backlash and anti black sentiment and focused on issues that didn't upset whitey? Sounds ridiculous when I use that analogy doesn't it. That's not a real question...it's rhetorical. What whitey thinks about this issue is not my main concern and if there is anti Indian sentiment and hatred as a result of the "mascot problem" that further justifies the movement against it and makes me convinced that they are not honoring us with these mascots. Perhaps you should focus more on what skins think about mascots rather than what whitey thinks about mascots and whites response to Indian thoughts on the issue. I understand your points regarding short attention spans and manufactured news but what's interesting to me about your comment is that you go on and on giving examples of manufactured news where one would suffice yet you never mention one REAL issue that we should be focusing on. You even take the time to mention a few other "total non issues" that "clueless and educated whites with Indian status" waste time debating. In addition to being extremely judgemental about people you don't even know with that statement, YOU are also distracting people with all that nonesense and accusations of someone not being Indian enough? (btw....I don't recall ever voting for quinzy as the person who will make all determinations as to who is Indian or NOT in spite of having Indian status.) This is a perfect opportunity and forum for you to highlight some of those REAL issues that are buried not only by everyone you condemn for doing so but by YOU too! So here's a challenge for you quinzy....why don't you tell the rest of us skins what the real issues are we should be focusing on. I haven't heard one from you in all your manufactured and distracting comments. Back to the last paragraph of your comment which is the most disturbing to me. Are you serious? It made me stop and wonder if you are really a skin or some white sports fan trying to convince skins that mascots are a non issue thinking you might be able to convince someone with your insults that skins that focus on mascots are not real skins focusing on real skin issues! Maybe even worse than that....I wonder....some skin that is making money selling "Indian costumes"(and I use the word costume intentionally here) or artwork or support to schools and teams using "Indian" mascots. 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.
forbiss's picture
Bravo to Patricia "Pat" Pino: Your letter to Strasburg High School Principal Rasp expressing your objections to his school's disrespectful depiction and stereotypical representation of American Indians was a loving and brave mother's completely understandable response. It taught your daughter Abby the best lesson she will ever have. Years ago, a loving aunt put an ice cream cone in my small hands, sat me down on a bench outside a grocery store before going inside to shop because she knew the owner did not like Indians. How it became the centerpiece of a family fuss, I don't know, but my loving aunt spent the rest of her life making it up to both my Indian mother and me. By your action, you've taken care of a burden that never happened. Nonetheless, origins of the humiliation Abby had to endure still exist; and not forgetting for a moment the Strasburg milieu is quite deserving of continued, hard-pressed disparagement here, this comment speaks to a different topic, namely, exploitation of Abby's hurtful experience, as exemplified by Moya-Smith's eagerness to publish for a second time, even in the face of having effected nothing in the way of redress, turnaround, or accountability; or by any type of conciliatory discourse by the first. Though my comments here might seem quite tangential to Moya-Smith's replicate Strasburg carp, it will become obvious that Abby's belief in herself; a restoration of the proprietary relationship between Indian and culture that she knows to be her sovereign right is the only reason for my taking a different direction than Moya-Smith had planned. All of which leads to my assertion that Moya-Smith's true & uppermost purpose in submitting to ICTMN another airing of the Strasburg encounter is a cowering and surreptitious payback for the pain & embarrassment inflicted upon him by individuals of suspected GOP leanings, of which the first three paragraphs offer undeniable proof. This is Moya-Smith's Mission Accomplished moment. GOP vituperative, Republican vitriolic is in vogue & "goes with the territory". And Simon thinks,"Who will be the wiser about its singular target?"--other than his chosen mark. At this point, the argument could rest, except for another detriment to Abby that Moya-Smith has overlooked. What honest person would advocate to her that, as a moral mandate, scourging Indian mascots from any venue in which an Indian child would ever have to encounter or gaze upon does not abound among Republicans? Moreover, how is Abby's welfare served by Moya-Smith's own self-serving journalistic prerogative? To bring more light to Moya-Smith's renunciation or ignorance of requisite journalistic standards, let's assume such Republicans do exist in substantially fewer numbers. Should not Moya-Smith be loathe to squander any miniscule of scorn that could be gathered to heap upon Principal Rasp for Abby's sake, unless a vindicated Abby was never really the 'brass ring" in this instance? Transparency is the cardinal hallmark of an honest journalist. Transparency is paramount; it relieves society the burden of not ever having to ask, "What's really going on here?" Not being from a rez, ever, and having idiosyncratic notions of 'half-breed-ishness' that puts him on a par with an Elizabeth Warren, he reports with inexact knowledge about how deflecting racist affront away from Indian youth is bred-in-the-bone. This is a goal that ranks about +25 on a scale of 1 to 10 for parents, grandparents and respected Elders. And the end certainly justifies accepting Republican allies. Respectfully, Pino family, now's the time to take another look at the opening paragraphs.
pletcherwsi's picture
they can be worthless.