How can you compromise with something that some people find inherently racist?
An ongoing political hot-topic among indigenous peoples is the use of our likeness in the corporate branding of sports teams and mascots.
There is a very fine line between honoring indigenous peoples and turning them into a caricature, people that are pro-use of indigenous imagery must understand that. Ironically, the tribalist mentality that leads the pro-use argument is exactly what is compelling the anti-use activists in the first place. Indigenous peoples have an inherent duty to protect the image of their tribes and nations for the means of self-preservation, and pro-use activists are just as protective over their symbols.
In the case of my high school, our mascot is the ‘Mt. Edgecumbe Brave’ in the context that a brave has historically been used by white people to describe American Indian warriors. You’ll find that many indigenous peoples are fine with this depiction, however, there are two glaring inconsistencies with our mascot falling on the ‘honor’ side of the argument.
- First, our logo is adopted directly from the Washington R**skins football team, which is outright unacceptable considering the racist connotations the name brings with the logo.
- Second, the logo portrays an American Indian, and is supposed to ‘honor’ a school full of Alaska Natives? This is an offense comparable to mistaking an Englishman for an Italian, you’d have to be pretty ignorant to not see the difference.
This leads me to the conclusion that any anger directed towards the mascot is tied to the R**skins controversy as well as the lack of proper representation. You can’t honor a people if you get it wrong, and the school has a duty to address this or otherwise risk being associated with a team named for a racial slur.
In any case, adopting our imagery beings with it a sacred responsibility to defend our traditions and values, something that not many organizations are prepared to do. It’s absolutely okay to disagree with the caricature argument, not even the entirety of the indigenous community is on the same page with this issue. We have plenty of other issues such as ongoing loss of land and culture that are higher on our list of priorities, but in the end, as with any kind of cultural appropriation, it’s best to leave it up to the experts – the people you’re appropriating. If an indigenous person says they’re offended by the use of THEIR likeness, it’s not your place to tell them they’re wrong. Disagreement is a natural part of the human condition, being an asshole is not.
For further reading on the topic, check out what our other talented authors have written on the issue: