You Think Team Names Are Bad? 12 Images of Propaganda Against Natives

You Think Team Names Are Bad? 12 Images of Propaganda Against Natives

Christina Rose


Racist team names and mascots get their fair share of media play, so why is it still so hard for the mainstream to get it? One look at these historic images makes it clear, the extermination of Native peoples was glorified in toys, books, films, even in the town seal of Whitesboro, New York. The town still uses an image of a Native being bested (they say it’s a wrestling match, but most agree the Native looks as if he is being strangled) by a white dude.

A Wisconsin-based exhibit called “Bittersweet Winds” takes some of the worst historic propaganda and lays it out amidst beautiful items of traditional Native life. Richie Plass, the exhibit’s director, said it helps expose stereotypes for what they are, and allows the viewer to come to that conclusion on their own.

One item in the exhibit is a tall mascot costume, which Plass calls Wolfman. “I tell people it is still used today. At the University of North Dakota, one little guy, maybe 8 or 9 years old, came in and sat down, and as he is sitting there, he can’t take his eyes off of Wolfman. He looked at that and looked at me and he finally asked what it was. I said it’s an Indian, and the kid looked at me hard and said, ‘No its not.’”

Dr. James Coates, professor at University of Wisconsin, Green Bay, teaches the class Cultural Images in Materials and Literature for Children and Adolescents. The class is mainly for people who are going to be educators. Coates hosts the “Bittersweet Winds” exhibit each year in his classroom. “We try to take the students away from their ideas of stereotypes about different groups and cultures. We encourage them to look at the individual,” Coates said.

“People here in Green Bay don’t even know that Natives are among them, and they say things that are unreal. Richie has brought to light that these things did not just exist in the past but are still happening in the present. I think Dan Snyder and the Washington franchise need to see the exhibit, see how offensive the name is and let them see how it can affect Native children. They say, ‘It doesn’t apply to you,’ but of course it does.”

The exhibit really opens student’s eyes, Coates said. “They never knew this existed. There is a bottle from ‘Indian Beer’ that was sold to fight spearfishing in Wisconsin. It was made by whites and only sold to Native Americans. The whites used the money to fight the Native fishing rights. That’s the kind of things people learn. Once students see this, they become sensitive to the fact they might be saying something offensive. They might even get upset or say, ‘That isn’t right.’”

According to Coates, when students learn about the way historic propaganda has formed mainstream ideas of Natives, they ask, ‘Did that really happen?’”

“They don’t understand that it was embedding racism and ethnic degradation into white society. It made whites seem like superior beings, and that is exactly what you see in these types of toys,” Coates said. “Students are shocked. After we view his exhibit, it takes us two to three days to get back into our routine. There is so much to discuss.”

Talking about his exhibit, Plass said, “I was gifted a poster from Bull Durham tobacco products, from the late ‘20s. It has images of black guys, Uncle Tom, slave like images. I had it up at Minnesota protesting the Washington team, and there were people there from all over the world. This guy walks up to me, and he was from Africa. He points at the picture and he says, ‘How come in America they portray us with big lips? I don’t have them.’ A man from Kenya comes over and said, ‘There is a story in our homeland that when they would come to capture the young men, if they were vocal, they would padlock their lips until they got to America, and when they took off the locks, their lips were swollen, and they stayed like that.’”

When one of the men asked Richie why he would have something like that in a Native exhibit, Plass answered, “Bull Durham is still in business, but you no longer see those really bad images about African Americans used in marketing. But today our image is still used.”

The exhibit will be on display at these locations over the next two months. It was on display during a listening session on the mascot/logo/team name issue for the U.S. Department of Education in Milwaukee on October 10. From October 24 to December 1, a portion of the exhibit will be on display at the Student Union Building at the University of Minnesota. From November 3 to 9 it will be at the Harmony Cafe in Green Bay, Wisconsin and from November 17 to 20 it will be at the University of Wisconsin, Green Bay Campus.

For more information about the exhibit and locations, contact Richie Plass at [email protected].

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Michael Madrid's picture
Michael Madrid
Aw, that was a long time ago. YOU PEOPLE should just get over it. We're honoring you by putting you in our advertisements. Besides, don't YOU PEOPLE have more important things to fix than some inaccurate caricatures? / SARCASM OFF.


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