When images harm

The Mascot Ruling in Oregon

One lesson I’m learning is that conflict requires you to get inside the head of your opponent.

And while this perspective presumes you’re wearing battle fatigues, the point is to understand someone else’s viewpoint in order to reach a resolution.

This week the Oregon Department of Education reaffirmed its policy to ban American Indian mascots at public schools by striking down an amendment to keep the team names intact–an issue that’s been discussed formally for more than a decade here in Oregon.

But the Oregon ruling won’t take effect until 2017, which means the law will be enacted more than a quarter of a century after I began writing about mascots.

The issue drew my interest during my graduate years when I began studying news framing in mainstream and Indian press.

Native American press were devoting coverage to the mascot issue in the 1990s and one recurring critique from mainstream media was that Indians should instead attend to issues about alcoholism and poverty.

I took the mainstream media to task in an editorial for Quill magazine, published by SPJ—The Society for Professional Journalists, and the piece went on to earn a top prize in editorial writing in 1992 from NAJA—the Native American Journalists Association.

My message was that Indian people—not mainstream press—should set our own agendas for what’s important to us.

While organizations that oppose mascots have made strides—many schools and colleges have dropped mascot imagery and names—the issue still draws ire in some circles.

Just take a look at the online responses to the Oregon story this week:

Proudly wear my Washington REDSKIN jersey all the time. Pity the fool that tries to take it away. Wearing it means that my free speech rights trump your hurt feeling. WAAAAAAAAAA, mommy dey hurt my fewins; make it better. I want trophy for just participating

Another reason the miscreant regressives bully the politically incorrect public. Teachers unions and government go hand in hand and have lost the ability to educate effectively all the while increasing taxes

Indians had no idea of title to properties, or an alphabet or the wheel for God’s sake. Lucky they had fire

To get inside the head of these folks I drill down to seems to be the core of the feelings and beliefs.

There is real hurt felt by the folks who want to keep their mascots, and many cling to the idea of tradition: something Native Americans understand.

Citizens opposing the mascot changes in Oregon tell reporters how deeply attached they feel to their teams: the warriors, braves and chiefs.

At the core of the imbroglio are real feelings.

The issue is that no one likes to be told what to do—especially by outsiders.

Sometimes the outsider is a stranger to your community, and sometimes the outsider is the state legislature.

So it’s hardly a surprise that fans of the Lebanon Warriors cry foul when they are told their mascot must go.

And for Native Americans there is real hurt, real sorrow, real feelings.

The kind of feeling that washes over you when you see a photograph of the babies, women and men who were massacred at Wounded Knee.

Or when the hair on your scalp stands up when you see a poster that offers $1 to anyone who sends an Indian skull to the Surgeon General in 1865.

Or seeing a fake “Indian” dance and chant delivered by an actor-cum-mascot at the University of Illinois through the eyes of Charlene Teters, a Spokane Indian and student, who protested the practice back in 1989.

American Indians have long been the objects of humiliation, and when the musicians at the ballpark strike up the Hollywood version of an ersatz Native song, it’s not an honor. It’s an insult.

For both sides of the debate the story is also about change.

Change can seem hurtful, especially when you don’t control it, so the sorrow felt at schools in Lebanon and Scappoose and Philomath is understandable.

Pity the solution arrived through legal channels rather than through conversation.

While it’s understandable that all of us cling to tradition, sometimes we need to leave traditions behind–like Indian mascots–to avoid inflicting unnecessary harm.

Today’s blog is dedicated to Charlene Teters and Cornel Pewewardy.

Image from http://nativenewsonline.net/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/6-teams.png



About Cynthia Coleman Emery

Professor and researcher at Portland State University who studies science communication, particularly issues that impact American Indians. Dr. Coleman is an enrolled citizen of the Osage Nation.
This entry was posted in authenticity, framing, Indian, journalism, mascots, native american, native press, Native Science, writing and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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