An Indian mascots exhibit in Cincinnati, Ohio, geared to prompt discussions about cultural appropriation in sports, is "disappointing," said a visitor.

‘Disappointing’ Exhibit on Native American Mascots in Ohio Confounds

Mary Annette Pember

Despite the impressive exterior signage announcing the new “Mascots”exhibit  at the National Underground Freedom Center in Cincinnati, Ohio, the exhibit itself is tiny and confusing.

“Mascots,” according to a Freedom Center press release is “a special exhibit exploring national conversations on cultural appropriation in athletics.” It opened Saturday with a panel presentation held in the museum’s third floor entryway. An estimated 50 people attended the discussion that included Dusty Baker, former manager of the Cincinnati Reds Baseball team, his friend Alex Tortes of the Torres Martinez Cahuilla tribe in California, Dennis Limberhand of the Northern Cheyenne tribe in Montana, and Rose Wetterau, M.D., licensed clinical psychologist from Xavier University.

Baker, who was just hired as manager of the Washington Nationals, stated that he knew little about the controversy surrounding the use of Native American mascots in athletics, but was in Cincinnati to learn more. His fellow panelists, although pleasant, appeared similarly uninformed about the issue. Only one panelist, Wetterau, was from the Cincinnati area. All, with the exception of Baker, expressed concern about the appropriateness of the National Football League’s Washington team’s use of the R-word as its mascot.

“If Native Americans think it’s hurtful, then it is,” said Wetterau.

Audience members were not offered the opportunity for public discussion during the panel presentation. The exhibit, housed in a hallway leading off the main thoroughfare of the museum’s third floor galleries, consisted of one wall of photographs mostly of Limberhand’s family by Greg Rust, photographer for Xavier University. The photographs were taken by Rust during his visits to the Northern Cheyenne reservation in Montana. Rust, good friends with Baker and Limberhand, coordinated the exhibit and panel, which was funded by Xavier.

The images, although nicely photographed and mounted, appeared to have little connection to the mascot issue.

Freedom Center staff created some foam core text display boards presenting terse historical information about the mascot issue; these boards hang on the hallway’s opposite wall.

Michael Battle, executive vice president of the Freedom Center, explained that the exhibit is part of the museum’s series of “Stories that Must be Told,” that includes conversations that encourage people to engage in collective social transformation.

Freedom Center coordinators, however, seemed unaware of the smoldering controversies in the local community surrounding high schools’ use of Native American mascot names and logos until local advocates brought it to their attention.

According to local racial peace and social justice advocate Louise Lawarre, there are 13 schools in the immediate region that use Native American mascot names for their athletic teams, including the Anderson High School R-words. Lawarre, executive director of Greater Anderson Promotes Peace (GAAP), described the Freedom Center’s Mascot exhibit, panel and failure to engage the local community as “disappointing.”

Lawarre noted recent national developments encouraging high schools to drop the use of Native mascots and names including Adidas initiative to offer design resources to high schools wishing to change their Native American mascots as well as President Obama’s lauding of these efforts last week during his speech to White House Tribal Nations Conference in Washington D.C.

As reported by ICTMN, President Obama noted that schools with Native mascots “really don’t have an excuse anymore.”

RELATED: Obama Hails Adidas Stepping Up to End Indian Mascots

GAAP was involved in encouraging Anderson High School to drop the use of the R-word name beginning in 1999. Community members have consistently and vehemently opposed any changes, though school officials no longer allow students to dress as the mascot, a depiction of a Plains Indian, during games.

In response to media questions in 2014 about changing the mascot name due to the Washington professional football team’s loss of trademark protections, Anderson Principal Mike Broadwater told Fox19 News, “The community has spoken pretty loudly that it is a name that is steeped in tradition and it’s meant to show dignity and we treat it with as much respect as we can.”

Forest Hills School District officials, including Mike Broadwater, did not respond to ICTMN’s questions about encouraging Anderson students to attend the Mascot’s exhibition at the Freedom Center. Anderson High School is a part of the Forest Hills School district.

Rich Cooper, Freedom Center’s Exhibition Experience director, admitted that the museum was scrambling to find a means to engage the local community and high schools on the issue.

Freedom Center leaders are considering holding a town hall meeting to discuss the mascot issue sometime next year. Town Hall events at the museum are free to the public. General admission to the museum, which includes admission to the Mascot exhibit, is $15 for adults.

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Michael Madrid's picture
Michael Madrid
Submitted by Michael Madrid on
(from the article): Anderson Principal Mike Broadwater told Fox19 News, “The community has spoken pretty loudly that it is a name that is steeped in tradition and it’s meant to show dignity and we treat it with as much respect as we can." _____________________________________________________________ That’s precisely the problem! You CAN’T use a mascot to show dignity and respect! Where is the dignity in a White guy running around in buckskins dancing like an idiot to spur on the crowd of drunken sports fans? Where is the respect in taking the representations of our greatest leaders and turning them into mere cheerleaders? If you REALLY want to show dignity and respect toward Native people you’ll join with us in removing these symbols of racist times past!

DennisLimberhand's picture
Submitted by DennisLimberhand on
Gee Mary Annette! Show a little respect. Uninformed and Dumb mean the same thing to me. I am only an older Cheyenne man trying to promote awareness about our people and our culture. Never again! No more!