Other supporters say the term “Redskin” is steeped in respect of our local history, as evidenced by James Fenimore Cooper’s novels and our art museum’s collection of Indian “artifacts.” “The Last of the Mohicans” is a captivity narrative, a popular and sexy literary genre when it was written, portraying indigenous people as a dying breed. Far from a dying breed, many indigenous people, including our neighbors of the Onondaga Nation, have proven themselves resilient and strong. Understandably, many indigenous people resent museums portraying their recent ancestors’ belongings as novelties from an archaic past. Another nickname could highlight prouder moments of our local history.
Still others argue against changing our school nickname for the sake of tradition, since our nickname apparently dates from the mid-1920’s. While I love tradition and its ability to teach us who we are, I am also wary that tradition may sometimes stop us from becoming who we ought to be. Our nation has a tradition of racism, and dare I use the g-word, genocide. It’s best to let go of some traditions.
I am not alone in suggesting that our nickname is hurtful. The NAACP, the NYS Department of Education, the US Civil Rights Commission, and numerous other organizations and governmental bodies have advocated against the use of Indian symbols and mascots. The Society of Indian Psychologists believes that the use of Indians as symbols and mascots, however well-intentioned, is “incongruous with the philosophy espoused by many Americans as promoting inclusivity and diversity.”
The American Psychological Association called for the retirement of Indian mascots in schools. Former APA President Ronald F. Levant, is quoted on their website. “The use of American Indian mascots as symbols in schools and university athletic programs is particularly troubling because schools are places of learning. These mascots are teaching stereotypical, misleading and too often, insulting images of American Indians. These negative lessons are not just affecting American Indian students; they are sending the wrong message to all students.” Dr. Lisa Thomas, APA Committee on Ethnic and Minority Affairs, goes further. “We know from the literature that oppression, covert and overt racism, and perceived racism can have serious negative consequences for the mental health of American Indian and Alaska native people. The discontinued use of American Indian mascots is a gesture to show that this kind of racism toward and the disrespect of, all people in our country and in the larger global context, will not be tolerated.”