PUBLISHERS NOTEBOOK: Minnesota changed in face of changing views; now it's NFL's turn
Tuesday, October 22, 2013 10:21 AM
A couple decades ago, most Minnesota high schools that had mascots related to American Indians made changes. The changes came from a 1988 resolution of the Minnesota State Board of Education that stated "the use of mascots, emblems or symbols depicting American Indian culture or race is unacceptable" and encouraged all districts to remove such mascots.
Coincidentally, the same year of the high school resolution, St. Mary's College in Minnesota changed its nickname from Red Men to the Cardinals. That change preceded a resolution in 2002 of the 34 presidents of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities Board that came out against discriminatory logos, names mascots and nicknames.
The resolution by the state board resulted in numerous high schools changing their mascot. In southeastern Minnesota, Wabasha-Kellogg changed its mascot from the Indians to the Falcons. Caledonia remained the Warriors, but changed its mascot to a more neutral warrior from the Indian that was featured previously.
In the Wabasha-Kellogg district, there was public resistance to the change and the board voted twice against it. The argument for retaining the American Indian nickname was that it honored its Indian heritage - Wabasha was named after a chief of the Sioux nation - and the school didn't use disrespectful practices, such as the "chop."
However, over the years, opinion shifted, mostly due to an American Indian woman from Wabasha who argued the logo wasn't an appropriate recognition of her people. She wasn't combative, but merely explained why she found the mascot disrespectful.
The school board, with a new understanding, decided to change the mascot to the Falcons.
Many other districts in the state went through the same educational process, leaving only a handful of Indian mascots left, none of which include the term redskin.
Making a change to a mascot can be as controversial as consolidation because alumni and students fear losing their identity. For example, not all Wabasha-Kellogg graduates are happy with the change since they grew up as Indians.
High schools have real tradition, particularly in rural areas, because they are an integral part of the community and often even a focus of the community.
Under pressure about the Redskins mascot, Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder says he doesn't want to change tradition by taking a new mascot.
Since when do NFL owners value tradition? Robert Irsay moved the Colts from Baltimore to Indianapolis secretly in the middle of the night. Every year, it seems, an owner threatens a move to Los Angeles or some other destination unless a new stadium is built using public funds.
Snyder also says he is following the will of the fans. Likely, most of their knowledge of American Indians comes from Hollywood as just 0.6 percent of the population is American Indian. Hollywood's representation of the American Indian over the years was more fiction than history.
Minnesotans are more sensitive to the thoughts of Native Americans since they live amongst us. A citizen of the Wabasha-Kellogg school district influenced the change there by telling how she felt.
Egotistical NFL owners, such as Snyder, don't care about the opinions of people unless it involves money. That's why a new strategy is taking place in Minnesota when the Redskins play the Minnesota Vikings Nov. 7.
A letter by representatives of the Minneapolis-based American Indian Movement asks the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority to refrain from printing or broadcasting the Redskins' name or logo within the Metrodome during the game. Doing so within a publicly owned facility violates federal labor laws, hate-speech protections and the civil rights of American Indians, they say. They are threatening legal action if no action is taken.
The use of American Indian elements in mascots is complex, and not even all Native Americans agree that they should be changed. However, the term redskin is noted in the Merriam-Webster online dictionary as "usually offensive" and although there are various interpretations of the history of the term, none of them are complimentary to the native population.
As announcer Bob Costas said on the nationally televised game between Dallas and Washington, "It's an insult, a slur, no matter how benign the present day intent."